My first contact with white america was marked by her violence, for when a white doctor pulled me from between my mother’s legs and slapped my wet ass, I, as every other negro in america, reacted to this man-inflicted pain with a cry. A cry that america has never allowed to cease; a cry that gets louder and more intense with age; a cry that can only be heard and understood by others who live behind the color curtain. A cry? Or was it a scream? Whatever it was, we accepted it.
I had been born in “america, the land of the free.” To insure my country’s freedom, my father was somewhere fighting, for this was a year of the second war to end all wars — World War II. This was October 4, 1943, and victory was in the air. The world would now be safe for democracy.
But who would insure my freedom? Who would make democracy safe for Black people? America recognized long ago what negroes now examine in disbelief: every Black birth in america is political. With each new birth comes a potential challenge to the existing order. Each new generation brings forth untested militancy. America’s ruling class now experiences what Herod must have at the birth of “Christ”: “Go and search . . . and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.” America doesn’t know which Black birth is going to be the birth that will overthrow this country.
The threat to america, however, does not exist in negro america, but rather as a result of negro america. If one examines the structure of this country closely he will note that there are three basic categories: they are white america, negro america, and Black america. The threat to the existing structure comes from Black america, which exists in contradiction to both white and negro america. It is the evolution of these contradictions that has given rise to the present revolutionary conditions. Revolution is indeed inevitable, and, as the cycle of change closes around america’s racist environment, the issue of color becomes more pertinent.
Color is the first thing Black people in america become aware of. You are born into a world that has given color meaning and color becomes the single most determining factor of your existence. Color determines where you live, how you live and, under certain circumstances, if you will live. Color determines your friends, your education, your mother’s and father’s jobs, where you play, what you play and, more importantly, what you think of yourself.
In and of itself, color has no meaning. But the white world has given it meaning — political, social, economic, historical, physiological and philosophical. Once color has been given meaning, an order is thereby established. If you are born Black in america, you are the last of that order. As kids we learned the formula for the structure of american society:
If you’re white,
You’re all right.
If you’re brown,
But if you’re black,
Get back, get back.
Because of the importance assigned to color, negroes choose only to legitimatize two americas: white and negro. When one examines the way in which these two americas are structured, it is obvious that the similarities between them are greater than the differences. The differences exist only in the external control of each and their internal order, which, in turn, create value contradictions. In other words, whites control both white america and negro america for the benefit of whites. And because of this kind of external control by whites in their own self-interest, negroes who structure their communities after those of whites are forced to enforce values of whites. They attempt to explain away their lack of control by saying that they are just members of the larger community of “americans.”A monologue is perpetually expounded by white america which is echoed by negroes afflicted with white patriotism.
Think white or I’ll kill you.
And if you think too white, I’ll kill you.
Think white or I’ll kill you.
And if you think too white “the man” will kill you.
So think colored.
Imitate the white man,
but not to perfection in front of him.
As Julian Moreau says in his novel, Black Commandos:
Attitudes necessary for survival were vigorously pounded into the wooly heads of black boys and girls by their loving mothers. The boys were reared to be Negroes, not men. A Negro might survive a while, but a black “man” didn’t live very long. . . . A black boy aiming to reach “manhood” rather than “Negro-hood” rarely lived that long.
For 400 years the internal contradictions and inconsistencies of white america have been dealt with through its institutions. In regard to race or color, these contradictions have always been on a national, never a local or individual level. Whites as individuals have always loved to be thought of as superior. They have always known that if they could justify and make their actions legal, either through their religion, their courts or their history (educational system), then it would be unnecessary to actually rectify them because the negro would accept their interpretation. White america’s most difficult problem thus becomes how to justify and not rectify national inconsistencies. If white nationalism is disguised as history or religion, then it is irrefutable. White nationalism divides history into two parts, B.C. and A.D. — before the white man’s religion and after it. And “progress,” of course, is considered to have taken place only after the white man’s religion came into being. The implication is evident: God is on the white man’s side, for white Jesus was the “son” of God.
White america has used religion and history to its advantage. Thus, the North never really differed from the South for they both taught the same history. Catholics never differed from other religions for they taught from the same text. Republicans are no different from Democrats, as Democrats are no different from Dixiecrats. As for liberals, Fanon says they are “as much the enemy of oppressed people and Freedom as the self-avowed enemy, because it is impossible to be both a member of the oppressor class and a friend of the oppressed.” So we can see that for white america the only real contradictions are those that arise from the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of her Constitution. These contradictions give rise to negro america.
Most Black persons of my time were born into negro america. The first thing you learn is that you are different from whites. The next thing you learn is that you are different from each other. You are born into a world of double standards where color is of paramount importance. In your community a color pattern exists which is closely akin to the white man’s, and likewise reinforced from both ends of the spectrum. Light-skinned negroes believe they are superior and darker negroes allow them to operate on that belief. Because of the wide color range which exists in negro america, an internal color colony has been created. Dark negroes are taught that they are inferior not only to whites but to lighter-skinned negroes. And lighter-skinned negroes assume a superior attitude.
Negro america is set up the same as white america. The lighter skinned a negro, the more significant a role he can play. (It has always been the one who looked white who made it in negro america. This was the man with the position, the influence, this was the man who usually got the white man’s best job.) In between light negro america and Black negro america (in terms of color), there is a special category of people, who are assigned the name of red niggers. These are the people who are light enough to go into light negro america, but do not have caucasian characteristics. They don’t have straight hair or white features. So they can go either way, depending on them. They can operate in Black negro america or at the outer fringes of light negro america. Race prejudice in america becomes color prejudice in negro america. That which is cultural prejudice by whites against Blacks becomes class prejudice in negro america. To distinguish themselves, negroes assign class distinctions. Here we find the instituting and substituting of parallel values. Negroes assume that what is good for white america is good for negro america.
Negroes are always confined to what can be called the “shit regiment.” I first became acquainted with the shit regiment in the cub scouts. In every parade, we always marched behind the horses, which meant that we always had to march in horseshit. All the way through life there are shit regiments in the negro community and negroes adhere to them. As a matter of fact, negroes will protect these regiments. The debate was never whether or not we had to march, but whether or not the whites were going to put machines down there to wash the horseshit away before we marched in it. There was never any discussion as to whether or not we should march behind the horses. Uh-uh. Everybody accepted that. They just wanted the horseshit washed out of the way before we came through. White america’s largest shit regiment is negro america.
Given that negroes are a colonized people, the most important phase of colonization is the sub-cultural phase. In negro america, negroes relate only to negroes of the same educational background. Dr. So-and-So talks only to Dr. So-and-So and the brother on the block better not act like he thinks he can go up to Dr. So-and-So and talk to him man-to-man. To Dr. So-and-So, the brother on the block is nothing but a nigger who’s holding the race back. Dr. So-and-So goes to the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian or the Catholic Church. The brother on the block goes to the Baptist Church, the Holy Rollers or the Sanctified Church. And the Methodist Church is in between the two. It ain’t as niggerish as the Baptist Church, but it’s not as high class as the Episcopal Church. As negroes become more “white-educated,” the transition in religion begins. All of a sudden, it’s beneath them to go to church and shout and get happy. That’s not dignified. As they get more “educated,” their religion gets more like the white man’s religion as if their heaven will be segregated too. “Education” even extends down to the naming of the children. The more “educated” the negro becomes, the more European names he picks for his children. Michele, Simone, Hubert, Whitney. All of a sudden, Sam and Bertha Lee ain’t good enough anymore. In other words, values are assigned to names. Names must now be more than functional.
The poor negro doesn’t aspire to be white, he just wants to make it into negro america. So he works hard all his life and finally rents a little house and puts some furniture in it which he keeps covered with plastic so it won’t get dirty. And he gets mad if anybody sits on it, because he’s trying to imitate negro america. Once he gets into negro america, he learns of so-called middle-class values, white values. Then he wants to get into white america.
When he tries to enter white america, he is rejected. The doors are shut. Even if he has a big job in some white firm, if he’s one of those “only” negroes, he still finds out that he’s Black when it’s quitting time. The white workers go their way and leave him to go his. They’re nice and friendly on the job and all buddy-buddy, but that doesn’t go outside the office. They don’t want their friends thinking that they’re nigger lovers. So this sets up a reaction in the negro. He gets frustrated and tries to live a contradiction and that’s why when the rebellions start, he’s all for them. He doesn’t have the courage to admit it to the white man. When the white folks he works with ask him what he thinks about “the riot,” he says it’s hurting the cause and all sorts of bull like that. But that night after work, he breaks records getting home to watch it on t.v., cheering like a muthafucka the whole time. Take the Washington, D.C., rebellion, for instance. They arrested something like 3,000 people and when they booked ’em, they found out that the great majority of them worked for the government. Had jobs, making money, still these were the dudes who were out in the street. In Detroit it was the same thing. It wasn’t only the unemployed brother. It was the one who was bringing home $110 every Friday. It was the one who had a Thunderbird, and some clean vines. He was the one who had tried to enter white america and had found that no matter what he did, he was still a nigger to the white man.
Those Black people who remain in the Black community, however, remain a viable force. They don’t have the frustrations that exist in negro america. In Black america the bonds are tighter. The fight is for freedom, not whiteness.
Negroes have always been treated like wild, caged animals by the white man, and have always felt the passions of caged animals (because they were living in cages), but they would always act civilized with whites, that is, what white people told them was civilized. But inside this “civilized” negro was an undying hate. This hate, however, could only be released in negro america. If it was ever released in white america, it would prove to white people that negroes were savages. That hate became a self-hate. So to preserve their sanity, their humanity and their white civilization, negroes had to hate themselves. And when they hated, they distinguished between those who were most like white people and those who were Black. And they hated Black people and poor negroes. (Poor negroes are those Black people with the values of negro america, but not the means.)
It is clear that the revolution will not come from negro america but from Black america, and Black america is growing. Black america is important because it is here that you will find the self-imposed exiles from both white and negro america. Black america has always offered Blacks human freedoms — a humanism uncommon to white and negro america. Some enter Black america because negro america rejects darker-skinned negroes, and, of course, if a person is rejected by negro america, he is automatically rejected by white america. Other people enter Black america because of some experience they had in their childhood. Still others, because of something they may have read that was written by someone in Black america. Black america has existed ever since the first slave despised the injustice that was done to him and did not seek to accommodate himself to that injustice. Thus, there have always been people who could articulate these injustices and could discuss what the response to these injustices should be. It is self-evident that people always rebel against oppression and there has been one continuous rebellion in Black america since the first slave got here.
I was born into a family of dark-skinned negroes, but I’m what many consider a red nigger. My mother, my father, my brother Ed and my sister are all darker than I am. Because I was lighter, it meant that I was supposed to get ahead. So my mother gave me what I would call preferential treatment. Because of this there was a lot of rivalry between my brother Ed and myself. He and I weren’t “tight” when we were young. He thought that our mother treated me better than she did him. In negro america the more you look like buttermilk, the prettier you’re supposed to be. This is color prejudice. I don’t think that my mother was conscious of all this, but it happened a lot of times. So Ed and I used to have a lot of conflicts. I didn’t want it that way. Ed was my older brother and I looked up to him. But he didn’t want me hanging around him.
Ed and I are very close now and that color thing doesn’t come between us anymore. But it’s a thing which could really damage the Black community if people don’t begin to understand it. There are nationalist groups that won’t accept light-complexioned Blacks. What they’re doing is helping the white man, because they’re creating the potential for a divisive fight inside the Black community. And it’s totally unnecessary and damaging. The government is doing enough to try and divide the Black community. We shouldn’t be helping them. We must learn that Black is not a color but the way you think.
If we are to succeed in the struggle we must eliminate the significance that we have assigned to color in our community. The range of Black runs from the brother who is Black enough to poot smoke, to the blood who is pale with the rape of Mothers. Among Black people color can have no value, no significance. Commitment will determine the value of individuals. If I had identified with the attitudes of white-minded negroes and then come home to my dark-skinned brother and family, I wouldn’t have been able to accept them. But that wasn’t a problem for me, because I knew who I wanted to identify with. It was the bloods in my neighborhood, the guys who hung out down on the corner. The Black community, in other words. I always hung out with cats who had made hanging out a profession. I found that it took special skills to hang out 14 hours just laying and playing.
My first institutionalized schooling came in an orphanage — Blundon Orphanage Home. It was operated by white missionaries whose role was similar to that of whites in Africa. Civilize the savage through Christianity. Savages in this case being Black kids from families too poor to support them. The school had the look of a huge plantation with two big shabby old buildings located near the bottom of the hill and a relatively well-kept building at the top. The grounds around the building at the top of the hill were also well-kept with trees and shrubs and Keep-Off signs. More attention, in fact, was paid to the grounds on the “hill” than was paid to the two buildings in the “Bottom.” Each of the “Big Houses,” as they were called, had classrooms on the bottom floors and living quarters above. All of the teachers and students in the school were Black. The Black residents were of all ages and basically responsible for each other. The older children attended to the needs of the smaller children. Children of all ages were expected to work and were assigned jobs.
This was my first real contact with a world bigger and badder than that of my street. You had to excel in either fighting, running or tomming; I integrated the three. In this world, the heroes were bloods who will never be remembered outside our Black community. Cats like Pie-man, Ig, Yank, Smokey, Hawk, Lil Nel — all bad muthafuckas. Young bloods wanted to be like these brothers. They were the men in our community. They had all the women and had made their way to the top through sports and knowing the streets. So to us, the most important thing was to excel in athletics. Recess was the most essential part of the school day, for we could practice our skills. One play could make or break you. We all lived for the big play. For many it never came.
Once I’d established my reputation, cats respected it. “You don’t mess with Rap, cause he’s our man.” If I went out of my neighborhood, though, it was another story. I’d be on somebody else’s turf and would have to make it or take it over there. So there was always a lot of fighting and competition among the young brothers.
It really gets bad when you get to high school. In high school there’s always rivalry between the football teams of the two high schools in town or something like that. But it’s more than athletic rivalry. It may start on the football field, but it’s carried to the street. In Baton Rouge there was a rivalry between McKinley High and Capitol High. You’d think the students were two totally different races. People were perpetually at war. I mean they were really at war. Gangs from South Baton Rouge would be expected to fight dudes from the Park. Dudes from the Park couldn’t come to South Baton Rouge and vice-versa unless they were bad muthafuckas. And if they were caught, being bad didn’t make no difference.
That type of rivalry still exists. It’s perpetuated by the schools, by the negroes in authority who pretend they’re handling it, but don’t. The whole fever pitch which builds up in those gangs is transferred from the people who are being “educated” to the cats who hang around the streets.
But when most of us rivals went on to college, then college made a kind of bond between us. The athletes who had scholarships and the cats who worked during the summer to get that tuition came to college and then they became allies against dudes from other cities. Like, “you my homeboy, and the dude who ain’t from around here, he ain’t one of us.” Yeah, well that’s part of that whole primitive thing and it’s very dangerous. Given the destruction by slavery of both tribe and culture, negroes created a new kind of american tribalism. A tribalism based on the exclusion of certain types. A deliberate attempt to make race a secondary consideration. There are tribes and tribes of negroes. The A.K.A. tribe, Kappa tribe, Doctor tribe, Teacher tribe, Entertainer tribe, High School tribe, College tribe, etc. This tribalism has extended into what is called the “Movement.” “Militant” tribes compete against other “militant” tribes and “moderate” tribes, to promote tribal interests and not the interests of the race or the masses. We treat revolution as if it is an historic process rather than an evolutionary movement. In other words, we all got a monopoly on truth. Whites who consider themselves allies add to this by deciding which tribe is “correct” and which is “incorrect.” In other words, the one which best fits their needs. As a result of this kind of external control, tribes engage in fratricide (unknowingly in most cases) to gain the favor of the white “ally.” Tribe is placed above race. It is not uncommon to hear negroes say, “My loyalty is to my Frat., God, and my country, in that order.”
When a race of people is oppressed within a system that fosters the idea of competitive individualism, the political polarization around individual interests prevents group interests. Each negro prides himself on his ability to reason or think as an individual. Therefore, any gains are to the individual and not to the group. So individuals join tribes or groups to further their own personal ambitions. It’s one of the things that keeps us fighting ourselves instead of the enemy. Black people have always been ready to shoot and cut each other up. The weekend is always wartime in the Black community. Every week when Friday rolls around, you know that somebody is gon’ get killed before church time Sunday morning. But let one white man come down the street acting bad and all he got in his pocket is a toothpick, all of them bad niggers, niggers ready to kill in a minute, be hiding in the alleys or be grinning and bowing. “Yassuh, Mr. White Man.” White bleeds just as red as Black does, but you can only prove it by hearsay. And the press has done a job on negroes and whites, because it makes you think that Black people are killing 14 white folks a day. But even J. Edgar Hoover, with his faggot ass, admits that more Black folks kill Black folks than Blacks kill whites. But everybody thinks that we’re killing white folks. Uh-uh. We’re still killing off each other. Even a lot of these so-called “militants” go around pulling their 22’s on Black people and “tomming” when the white man comes around. And they supposed to be so muthafucking bad. Yeah, we are bad when it comes to us. And the white man sits back and laughs ’cause niggers ain’t got no better sense than to be fighting one another.
However, we must understand the many ways in which the white man brainwashes people into acting and thinking like he wants them to so he can continue to control them.
You grow up in Black america and it’s like living in a pressure cooker. Babies become men without going through childhood. And when you become a man, you got nothing to look forward to and nothing to look back on. So what do you make it on? The wine bottle, the reefer or Jesus. A taste of grape, the weed or the cross. These are our painkillers.
I knew dudes who were old men by the time they were seven. That’s the age when little white kids are dreaming about fairy princesses and Cinderella and playing in tree houses and wondering whether they want two cars or four cars when they grow up. We didn’t have time for all that. Didn’t even have time for childhood. If you acted like a child, you didn’t survive and that’s all there was to it. Hell, you be walking home from school and up come some high school dudes who’d jack you up and take the little dime your mama had given you to buy some candy with. So what’d you do? Jump some dude who was younger and littler than you and take his dime. And pretty soon you started carrying a razor blade, a switch blade or just a pocketful of rocks so you could protect yourself as a man. You had to if you were going to survive.
White folks get all righteous and wonder why Black people steal and gamble. Same reason white folks do. We need money, because the society says you must have it to keep from starving. If you got it, you eat. If you don’t, tough. But white people are able to make their stealing and gambling legitimate. White man’ll sell you a $20 suit for $50 and call it good business. What he actually did was steal $30. White man’ll buy a watch for $5.00 sell it for $49.95 and call the difference, profit. Profit is a nice word for stealing which the society has legitimatized. Catholics go to church every week and gamble, but they call it Bingo. The Pope blesses ’em, so it’s all right. The state of Nevada is built on a deck of cards and a roulette wheel, but that’s okay, ’cause it’s white folks that passed the law saying it was okay. But you let us get over in the corner of the alley with some dice and try to make a little profit and here come the police, the judge, the jailer and the sociology student. We get thrown into jail for gambling or stealing. White folks go to Congress for stealing and they call that democracy.
America is a country that makes you want things, but doesn’t give you the means to get those things. Little Black children sit in front of the t.v. set and all they see are fine cars, perfumes, clothes and everything else they ain’t got. They sit there and watch it, telling the rats to sit down and stop blocking their view. Ain’t nobody told them, though, that they don’t have any way of getting any of that stuff. They couldn’t even get full at supper, but that don’t matter. They want an Oldsmobile. So next day during recess, they go off in a corner of the schoolyard and pitch pennies, play Odd Man Wins, Heads-up Basketball for a quarter, Pitty-Pat for a nickel, Old Maid for a penny. Once they become pros at that, they move on up to Tonk, Black Jack and Craps. After school, there’s the pinball machines. Some of them little dudes could barely see the game board, but they would be there, jim, shoving nickels in the machine, trying to manipulate the lights into a straight line. You could win 50 cents or a dollar and if you were lucky, $5.00. Once you graduated from the pinball machine, you entered the poolroom.
America’s a bitch. Being Black in this country is like somebody asking you to play white Russian roulette and giving you a gun with bullets in all the chambers. Any way you go, jim, that’s your ass. America says you got to have money to live and to get money you got to have a job. To get a job, you got to have an education. So along comes a Black man and he gets a worse than inferior education so he can’t qualify for a job he couldn’t get because he was Black to begin with and still he’s supposed to eat, keep his family together, pay the rent and buy an Oldsmobile. And white folks wonder why niggers steel and gamble. I only wish we would stop this petty stealing and take care of Chase Manhattan Bank, Fort Knox or some armories.
There was this blood I grew up with named J.S. He was a smart dude, particularly in math. Dude would have given a computer competition. He lived with his aunt, who worked as a maid, and three sisters. Cause his aunt was a maid, she didn’t make hardly nothing. White folks love to pay their niggers in old clothes and leftovers. So he couldn’t dress like some of the other students whose parents were making it in negro america. The teachers were all trying to make it in negro america too. They took a bath once a day and wiped under their arms and between their legs twice a day and always tried to smell like they lived in perfume bottles. Well, I know how my man must’ve felt sitting in class in front of some bitch like this. He felt like a piece of shit, particularly when the teacher would stand up in front of the class and talk about him ’cause his clothes were dirty. You damned right his clothes were dirty! His aunt worked from can to can’t, and by the time she got home at night she was too tired to bend over the scrub board to wash out some clothes for J.S. to wear every day. She did the best she could.
J.S. was as smart as anybody in school and he showed it, too, but in negro america if you didn’t have the right color, the right clothes, and the right manners, sorry for you. Them teachers were slick, though, when it came to telling a kid he wasn’t shit. They were always going out of the room to stand in the hall and gossip with the other teachers. When they did, they’d leave a student in charge to sit behind the desk and take the names of the students who talked or cut up. And always, the one left in charge was light, bright and almost white. If a light-skinned student was reciting in class, the teacher had the patience of Job, the understanding of Solomon and the expectations of God Almighty himself. But you let a sho-nuf blood just pause when he was reciting and the teacher told him to sit down in a voice filled with hatred. “I didn’t expect you to know it anyway,” the teacher would sometimes say, meaning, you’re black. You’re black! You’re black!
The teachers had to tell J.S. he was smart, ’cause it was so obvious. But they made a point of letting him know that being smart wasn’t enough if your hair was uncombed, your clothes a little dirty, your skin a little ashy and your manners not the best. In other words, you may be smart, but you black! So J.S. learned pretty quick that there wasn’t no reward in being smart and that it didn’t have a damned thing to do with surviving.
But this is the kind of education we were subjected to. Education ain’t just what comes out of the books, but it’s everything that goes on in the school. And if you leave school hating yourself, then it doesn’t matter how much you know. Education in america has to be viewed as propaganda machinery. All educational systems are propaganda machines, but for Black people, the american educational system is a propaganda machine we don’t need. It propagandizes against us. It makes us hate ourselves.
I began realizing this when I was in high school. I saw no sense in reading Shakespeare. After I read Othello, it was obvious that Shakespeare was a racist. From reading his poetry, I gathered that he was a faggot. But we never discussed the racist attitude expressed in his works. This was when I really began to raise questions. I was in constant conflict with my teachers in high school. I would interpret the thing one way and they would say it’s wrong. Well, how could they tell me what Shakespeare was thinking. I knew then that something was wrong, unless the teachers had a monopoly on truth or were communicating with the dead.
Part of my mother’s whole attempt to make us a part of negro america was that she took us out of McKinley High and sent us to Southern High. Anybody who could pay $12 a year could go and that was for the activities card. So, you see how jive the thing was. It was connected with the negro college in Baton Rouge, Southern University, and it was really set up so the teachers at Southern wouldn’t have to send their children to school with Black kids. It was a crock of shit, but it had an air of “respectability.” This was where all the bourgeois negroes were supposed to go.
It could’ve created problems for me, because if I had identified with most of the white-minded negroes at school, I wouldn’t have been able to relate to brothers on the block. Worse than that, I would’ve thought that I was better than them. It’s like the whole school busing thing now. Busing Black children to schools outside the Black community is nothing but a move to divide the community. If integration is what’s wanted, then bus the whole community. But to take individuals out of the community is a very dangerous and immoral thing. The “brightest” students are taken, students who can fit into the white man’s program best, and they’re bused out of the community so they can come back and articulate the white man’s program. That splits the community. Parents who sent their children to white schools in the South made a mistake. They injured those students mentally for life. To send a Black kid to a school full of howling maniacs. Madmen! Wildmen! Animals! And those Black kids got their minds messed up. You send a student to a white school and he has to come home to a Black family and a Black community. It messes him up and it messes the community up. This is a deliberate part of “the man’s” game.
I could’ve gotten messed up like that at Southern High if I hadn’t known where it was at and what was happening. But I didn’t change myself to fit that phony-ass atmosphere and try to be respectable and all that shit. Me and Southern High had quite a few conflicts. One time I got put out of school for wearing my shirt out of my pants. Another time I got put out for cursing out a teacher.
Ed and my sister, who’re both older than I, went to the same school. So when I came along, I had to go through the same teachers they’d gone through. The teachers said I should be just like them. I should open doors for them and shit like that. Just like my family had always said I should do things like Ed. So when I wouldn’t do all these things and started raising hell, my homeroom teacher started criticizing me. One day I got sick of that shit and I cussed her out. I got put out of school for that.
I was always at odds with teachers. There are certain things in negro institutions that you have to do if you expect to make good grades and certain things you don’t do. One of those things is you don’t talk back. You don’t challenge the existing order. Well, I challenge anything that doesn’t make good sense.
Another time in high school they called my mother in about me because I got into it with one of the dudes teaching shop. I knew he was screwing my homeroom teacher, so I didn’t have no respect for him, especially since I knew his wife. Us young dudes in the Black community directed our aggression against negroes who had these positions because there was a failure on their part to take out their aggression against white people. But, these negroes in position would always direct their grievances toward Black students. They got mad at us ’cause the white man was mistreating them, and we got mad at them ’cause they let the white man mistreat ’em and then turned around and mistreated us, on top of the white man mistreating all of us.
But I stayed in school, ’cause I wasn’t willing to get caught in another trick that eventually led to long sentences in jail or ending up in the gutter one night with a knife in your back. A lot of bloods, though, couldn’t cut school. When they came, it was to practice the education they’d been getting out in the street. While we were still in elementary school, J.S. would wait for recess to get out to the playground where he’d sneak a deck of cards out of his pocket, get way off in a corner and start gambling. After school, we’d go home and J.S. would go on down to the pool hall. By the time he was fourteen, he was dealing in a gambling club in West Baton Rouge. After a while he quit school. Working at the club like he was, he was ready to go to bed when the rest of us were getting up to go to classes. We used to see him in the afternoon, though. He’d drop by the school and be vined down. He was clean, jim. Had him a conk then and he knew he was ready.
After a while the state police started cracking down on gambling and J.S. cut out of Baton Rouge and started following the action from Biloxi, Mississippi, over to Houston, Texas, and back again. He was sixteen.
It was a couple of years later when I saw him again. I’d just entered college. I was thumbing my way to school when who should I see hanging out on the corner but J.S., looking clean. I went up to him. We greeted each other like we were ol’ cut-buddies, but after all the greeting and slapping hands, we found it hard to talk to each other. Too many different kinds of experience had come between us. He was my nigger, but J.S. had made a way of life on the block which I just figured had aged him. It was a rough life. Drinking, fighting, dodging the police, gambling — it can wear a man down fast. I looked at J.S. and it was beginning to show on him. His eyes once used to shine, but they’d gotten dull and red. His face was getting tight and there were wrinkles starting to crawl across his forehead. He told me that he’d just gotten out of the joint on a concealed weapons charge. Plus he told me that when gambling and living off women wasn’t enough to survive, he’d become a cat burglar and a fence on the side. But he definitely wasn’t feeling sorry for himself. Only thing he was unhappy about was that his luck in gambling was off. We went and got some “pluck” (wine) and I told him I was in college. He asked what I wanted to be. I told him rich. He looked up at the ceiling and paused for a minute before he said, “You know, I’ve never given any thought to what I want to become.” I told him he should think about it, but I knew I was shuckin’ and jivin’. Hell, hardly any of us had ever thought about what we wanted to become. What was the future? That was something white folks had. We just lived from day to day, expecting whatever life put on us and dealing with it the best way we knew how when it came. I had accepted the big lie of a Black man succeeding.
I remembered that J.S. was always good with math. I knew how to count money and always figured I didn’t need to know no more about numbers, but I had to take math in college. So I showed J.S. some of the math problems I had been having trouble with and he looked ’em over for a short while and knocked ’em out in no time. He said he’d tutor me in math. I told him that was cool. But that was the last time I saw him. A couple of weeks later he shot and killed some dude and the judge gave him life. He was eighteen.
That’s the way the deal goes down for a lot of bloods. Wiped out by the time they’re eighteen and don’t ever really know why. He was rebelling against the way the cards were stacked against him and even his rebellion was a stacked deck. He lived his life the way he saw it, made his own laws, but what was legal in our world wasn’t “legal” in the white world and eventually he went down.
My ol’ lady wanted to keep all that away from me. Didn’t want me to know anything about it. I guess she called it protecting me, but I had to be out there where the action was. She thought I should be in the house reading books like Ed so I could make my way in negro america, but I wasn’t hearing that. I never was one for too much reading anyway. Too, how was I supposed to stay on top of what was going down if I was sitting up in the house with a book. If you were going to stay in control, you had to be in the street.
The street is where young bloods get their education. I learned how to talk in the street, not from reading about Dick and Jane going to the zoo and all that simple shit. The teacher would test our vocabulary each week, but we knew the vocabulary we needed. They’d give us arithmetic to exercise our minds. Hell, we exercised our minds by playing the Dozens.
I fucked your mama
Till she went blind.
Her breath smells bad,
But she sure can grind.
I fucked your mama
For a solid hour.
Baby came out
Screaming, Black Power.
Elephant and the Baboon
Learning to screw.
Baby came out looking
Like Spiro Agnew.
And the teacher expected me to sit up in class and study poetry after I could run down shit like that. If anybody needed to study poetry, she needed to study mine. We played the Dozens for recreation, like white folks play Scrabble.
In many ways, though, the Dozens is a mean game because what you try to do is totally destroy somebody else with words. It’s that whole competition thing again, fighting each other. There’d be sometimes 40 or 50 dudes standing around and the winner was determined by the way they responded to what was said. If you fell all over each other laughing, then you knew you’d scored. It was a bad scene for the dude that was getting humiliated. I seldom was. That’s why they call me Rap, ’cause I could rap. (The name stuck because Ed would always say, “That my nigger Rap,” “Rap my nigger.”) But for dudes who couldn’t, it was like they were humiliated because they were born Black and then they turned around and got humiliated by their own people, which was really all they had left. But that’s the way it is. Those that feel most humiliated humiliate others. The real aim of the Dozens was to get a dude so mad that he’d cry or get mad enough to fight. You’d say shit like, “Man, tell your mama to stop coming around my house all the time. I’m tired of fucking her and I think you should know that it ain’t no accident you look like me.” And it could go on for hours sometimes. Some of the best Dozens players were girls.
Signifying is more humane. Instead of coming down on somebody’s mother, you come down on them. But, before you can signify you got to be able to rap. A session would start maybe by a brother saying, “Man, before you mess with me you’d rather run rabbits, eat shit and bark at the moon.” Then, if he was talking to me, I’d tell him:
Man, you must don’t know who I am.
I’m sweet peeter jeeter the womb beater
The baby maker the cradle shaker
The deerslayer the buckbinder the women finder
Known from the Gold Coast to the rocky shores of Maine
Rap is my name and love is my game.
I’m the bed tucker the cock plucker the motherfucker
The milkshaker the record breaker the population maker
The gun-slinger the baby bringer
The hum-dinger the pussy ringer
The man with the terrible middle finger.
The hard hitter the bullshitter the poly-nussy getter
The beast from the East the Judge the sludge
The women’s pet the men’s fret and the punks’ pin-up boy.
They call me Rap the dicker the ass kicker
The cherry picker the city slicker the titty licker
And I ain’t giving up nothing but bubble gum and hard times and I’m fresh out of bubble gum.
I’m giving up wooden nickels ’cause I know they won’t spend
And I got a pocketful of splinter change.
I’m a member of the bathtub club: I’m seeing a whole lot of ass but I ain’t taking no shit.
I’m the man who walked the water and tied the whale’s tail in a knot
Taught the little fishes how to swim
Crossed the burning sands and shook the devil’s hand
Rode round the world on the back of a snail carrying a sack saying AIR MAIL.
Walked 49 miles of barbwire and used a Cobra snake for a necktie
And got a brand new house on the roadside made from a cracker’s hide,
Got a brand new chimney setting on top made from the cracker’s skull
Took a hammer and nail and built the world and calls it “THE BUCKET OF BLOOD.”
Yes, I’m hemp the demp the women’s pimp
Women fight for my delight.
I’m a bad motherfucker. Rap the rip-saw the devil’s brother ‘n law.
I roam the world I’m known to wander and this .45 is where I get my thunder.
I’m the only man in the world who knows why white milk makes yellow butter.
I know where the lights go when you cut the switch off.
I might not be the best in the world, but I’m in the top two and my brother’s getting old.
And ain’t nothing bad ’bout you but your breath.
Man, I can’t win for losing.
If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.
I been having buzzard luck
Can’t kill nothing and won’t nothing die
I’m living on the welfare and things is stormy
They borrowing their shit from the Salvation Army
But things bound to get better ’cause they can’t get no worse
I’m just like the blind man, standing by a broken window
I don’t feel no pain.
But it’s your world
You the man I pay rent to
If I had your hands I’d give ‘way both my arms.
Cause I could do without them
I’m the man but you the main man
I read the books you write
You set the pace in the race I run
Why, you always in good form
You got more foam than Alka Seltzer. . .
Signifying at its best can be heard when brothers are exchanging tales. I used to hang out in the bars just to hear the old men “talking shit.” By the time I was nine, I could talk Shine and the Titanic, Signifying Monkey, three different ways, and Piss-Pot-Peet, for two hours without stopping.
Sometimes I wonder why I even bothered to go to school. Practically everything I know I learned on the corner. Today they’re talking about teaching sex in school. But that’s white folks for you. They got to be taught to screw. They got to intellectualize everything. Now how you gon’ intellectualize screwing? At the age when little white kids were finding out that there was something down there to play with, we knew where it went and what to do with it after it got there. You weren’t a man if you hadn’t gotten yourself a little piece by the time you were seven. When the white kids were out playing Hide and Go Seek, we were playing Hide and Go Get It. One dude would count to a hundred while the girls hid. Once the girls were hidden, you went and found one and you got it. That was the game. Hide and Go Get It. None of that ol’ simple tagging a tree and yelling, “I got in free.” Yeah, we got in free.
Some of the dudes started pimping early for their sisters and, sometimes, even their mama. Survival’ll make you do anything, jim. Anything! You’d be walking down the street one night and some white dude in a car would pull up next to you and say, “Hey, boy, you got a sister?” or, “You know any nice colored girls?” So whitey would get him a little taste of black gold for $10 or $15 and Black people helped him. It shows you just how low you can get when you sell your own women to a white man — or any man for that matter. But it’s particularly bad when they’re sold to white men. To this day, you can find the snakes in the Black community on the weekends trying to buy some Black pussy. And Black men see ’em, know what they’re there for and don’t run ’em out. Not even the so-called big, bad militants.” Hubert Gerold Brown, or, Jamil Abdullah el Amin; Chapter One & Chapter Two,Die, Nigger, Die!