“Don’t let the noise of others opinions drown out your own inner voice…have the courage to follow your heart and intuition they somehow already know what you truly want to become…stay hungry, stay foolish”-Steve Jobs
“We have to work twice as hard to get half as much”- Common Black Aphorism
I’ve been inspired to write about this topic because of an interaction I had with a young man named Scott. According to Scott, he was an above average student who excelled at several sports in high school in the Houston area. After high school he went on to college at the University of North Texas (UNT) to major in Electrical Engineering. Scott says that the main reason he went to UNT was that he had a lot of family in the area, many of which are former UNT grads. Apparently, his family is very well connected at UNT with many of them being former Engineering majors currently working as engineers in the Dallas area. Scott mentioned that after leaving high school it seemed as if his immediate future was all planned out. He would attend UNT, major in engineering, then get a very well-paying job as an engineer at a large energy company his family had connections with. As Scott is telling me this, I am thinking “that sounds like a pretty good deal, I wish I had it like that coming up.” Scott went on to explain that when his grandfather passed during his freshmen year he came home for the summer to help out his grandmother. That is very understandable and not uncommon. What I did not understand was that against the wishes, and admonishment of his Grandmother, Father, and every other member of his family, Scott decided not to go back to school at UNT that fall.
Currently, at age 21 in what would be his junior year at UNT, Scott works a part-time job at a local Houston restaurant making about $10/hr. and plans to make his living building a business with Amway; a Multi-Level Marketing company selling vitamins, skin care products, and more. “The pressure was all just too much. I felt smothered. It just seemed like I didn’t have a choice in anything, I wasn’t very passionate about engineering, so I wasn’t taking the classes very seriously”, Scott explained. Scott, correctly points out that it’s not all about the money, and going to College isn’t for everyone. He believes that you must find what works for you, and that you can’t live in a box that others put you in. Scott’s statements reminded me of a Steve Jobs quote that I had heard before but really listened to on the “The Marathon Continues”, an album by Nipsey Hussle. The quote appears at the end of a song entitled “Who Detached Us?” Nipsey plays about a minute and a half of Steve Jobs commencement speech at Stanford in 2005.
“Don’t let the noise of others opinions drown out your own inner voice…have the courage to follow your heart and intuition-they somehow already know what you truly want to become…stay hungry, stay foolish”
I’ve always loved that song and that quote. It is very inspirational. I think the sentiment of the quote and of what Scott was saying is; if you find something you are passionate about do that, the money will come. The more I read books and consume content from “successful” people I hear this same sentiment- follow your heart! On one hand, Scott should be commended for taking a stand, going against his family’s wishes and doing what he feels will make him happy. That takes a certain level of confidence and Bravery. On the other hand, a couple other things need to be noted. 1. Scott is a young Black man. 2. Steve Jobs was giving that speech at Stanford. Although it takes bravery and confidence for Scott to follow his heart, it also takes a great deal of ignorance. Ignorance on two accounts. First, Scott seems to be ignorant of the responsibility he has to his family, the ones who have sacrificed so he could have a great future. Secondly, Scott has displayed a level of ignorance to the current situation of Black people in America, and to his responsibility to them as a Black man. Thinking about that ignorance, a second quote to mind. My mother and sisters told it to me and I’m sure someone told it to you in a similar fashion. If you didn’t hear it like I did, you for sure heard former First Lady Michelle Obama use a form of it in a speech.
“We have to work twice as hard to get half as much”.
This statement has proved itself true time and time again. If you need proof just look at all Barack Obama had to do get elected, and look at what Donald Trump had to do. If you don’t want to compare Trump, check out Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush’s school record. He was a C student. Then compare how hard Obama had to work to get elected, and then the lengths Obama had to go in order to get shit done vs. what others had to do to get elected, and how easy it is for them to get shit done. It was harder for Obama to get all Americans access to health care than it was to ban entire groups of people from entering the country. This is not about Barack, so let me get back to my point. My point is from early on this statement taught me that we as Black people don’t get to play by the same rules as our White counterparts. The essence of White Privilege is that White people get to just be themselves. They don’t have to represent White people every time they walk out the house or open their mouths. They have the opportunity to make a mistake, to bump their heads, to grow up and it not be the end for them. Black people just don’t have that luxury. From early on, most the decisions we make are essentially life or death, wealth or poverty, freedom or jail. We don’t get very many second chances. Steve Jobs can say those things to Stanford grads, because they are Stanford grads. No matter what they do they will probably land on their feet, they can follow their follow their heart, if they go broke, no big deal they can always go take that job starting at $150k at that firm their Dad, Uncle, or friend works at. If they are short on cash they can get a loan from their parents, or move back in with Mom and Dad. If all else fails, they can go work at the family business. Hell for some of them you can go bankrupt 6 times and still become President of the United States! Unfortunately for many of us and our children coming up you only get one chance at this, we can’t afford to fuck it up!
The truth is, we aren’t on the same plane as our white counterparts, at least not yet. Many of those we see today benefit from generations of inherited wealth. Generations of planned careers that set the family up for the long term. For most of us Black folk, we are generations behind. My Grandfathers’ parents were slaves in Alabama. My Father and Mother started out at segregated schools and neither received a High School diploma. My children are only 2 generations removed from planned systematic impediments to Black progress. We have to counteract those planned, coordinated attacks with planned coordinated advances. We have to build our communities purposefully. We need Black professionals, police officers, Fire Fighters, entrepreneurs, VP’s, and CEO’s. We can’t all be rappers, actors, ball players, gangsters, YouTube personalities, or reality stars. When we decide what we want to do with our lives we have to understand that whatever we do, we have to ‘do it for the culture’.
When I was young I thought I had to play football, because I have to get out and I can’t dance, sing, or rap. I had no idea about the millions of careers out there. The millions of ways to get out, I never met a Black doctor, professional, or business man. I just couldn’t see those careers as a possibility for me. Eventually, I made it out. I sucked it up and went to college, even though I didn’t want to. I took some jobs that I had to. I ultimately followed a career path, that is in line with my natural talents, but isn’t something I’m passionate about. I did that because, I knew it was bigger than me. Me making it out, meant my family made it out. It meant that I did it, without being an entertainer or a criminal. Now, as I raise kids of my own, it is important for me to expose them to as many ways to make it as possible. I feel a responsibility to prepare them for the real world by pushing them towards paths that will help build a society they and future generations can thrive in. Maybe in a generation or two they will be able to do whatever it is they want with their lives and have the luxury of being able to “figure things out”. For now, we have to push our kids to suck it up, to follow a career path that will set up the family for generations to come. Hopefully they can find a career that they can make them relatively happy. The reality is, that career path may not be in step with their ‘passion’. Keeping in 100, I’m not working this damn hard so they can sell Amway.
We need to teach our children their significance in the legacy their family. Let them know how special they are. Teach them what their responsibility is to those that came before and to those that will come after them. We cannot allow them to be ignorant of their responsibility. The conversations with my kids will go something like: You want to be a singer? Great, but you will also have a computer science degree. You want to be an Actor? Cool, but you are also going to learn to code or find a trade. You want to make your own candles and sell them at farmer’s markets? Ok, but you are going to have an MBA while doing that. We all know we gotta work twice as hard so, if they want to follow their passion they will just have to do twice the work. I wish things were different, but they aren’t. We gotta help our kids see that this is bigger than them. The tropes of White Supremacy aren’t meant for, don’t work for, or apply to Black people. Our Black young men and women need to understand that what is on one side of the coin White Privilege for them is on the other side of the coin the Black Burden for us.