Anywho, I walked into a drug store earlier today at the precise moment that an employee yelled to a customer about 30 feet away that the store was out of an item. "It's a sell-out," the employee hollered with a sympathetic smile.
I cringed. Seriously. For a black man, hearing those words is like hearing that you've been walking around with your fly open, or with a length of TP stuck to the bottom of your shoe, only not funny like those things.
"Sell out" is the label that for years has been slapped by pundits, community leaders, some of the cool kids, and underachievers on black men who allegedly have turned their backs on other black folks in the name of currying favor with the rich and powerful.
Lately, one of my favorite writers, Jason Whitlock, a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, has come under fire from pundits, community leaders, and cool kids. Some have called him sell out. And all have been very, very wrong.
Now, Whitlock needs me to defend him the way Jet Li needs Kung Fu lessons. Not.
But he's getting jabbed by people who are angry with him for telling rappers to clean up their acts and for telling some folks to quit taking their cues for behavior from the entertainment industry.
Whitlock is being accused of being too much like Bill Cosby, as if that's a bad thing, for saying he wants to see black children take pride in their school work and black parents telling their kids that "Stop Snitching" is a T-shirt catch phrase being marketed by a group of punks and shouldn't be taken literally by anyone with good sense.
The anger is misplaced. Whitlock isn't the problem. He's smart enough to know that rowdy hip-hoppers (not all hip-hoppers) and their fans have fallen for the okey-doke. They have bought into the hype that says saggy trousers, shiny teeth, and a practiced snarl make you a man, a tough man to be feared. Whitlock knows that when these kids reach a certain age they won't be "cute" anymore. They'll get tsk-tsked by everyone - black, white, Asian, and Latino - around them. He knows that there isn't a fine line, there is a huuuuuuuuge gap between coming off as cool and coming off as shiftless. And he knows that American society, as a whole, while perfectly content with being entertained by pretend thugs is not yet ready to embrace pretend thugs as everyday people. Whitlock knows that carrying oneself with a little pride and dignity and straight-backed carriage is not a bad thing and has nothing to do with fakin' the funk or losing sight of "who we are."
The real sell outs here are the people - black, white, Asian, and Latino - who are giving mush-headed kids the impression that acting like a knucklehead is synonymous with keepin' it "real." The sell outs are the people who have accepted thug rappers (not all rappers) as icons and elevated them to hero status, while ignoring or scoffing at the young black man who starts a business, or earns a Ph.D, or becomes a teacher, or maybe he does rap or play pro sports, but does so without drama.
You know that line, "I am Spartacus?" Well, this ain't that dramatic. I won't pretend it is. But next time someone wants to call out the Jason Whitlocks of the world for simply saying act right and prioritize, then add me to the list of Whitlocks. It's called buying in, investing in future, not selling out.