The Lived Experience of the College Educated Black Hoodlum

“Dirty nigger!” or simply “Look! A Negro!” I came into this world anxious to uncover the meaning of things, my soul desirous to be at the origin of the world, and here I am an object among other objects.Locked in this suffocating reification, I appealed to the Other so that his liberating gaze, gliding over my body.Suddenly smoothed of rough edges, would give me back the lightness of being I thought I had lost, and taking me out of the world put me back in the world. But just as I get to the other slope I stumble, and the Other fixes me with his gaze, his gestures and attitude, the same way you fix a preparation with a dye. I lose my temper, demand an explanation…. Nothing doing. I explode. Here are the fragments put together by another me.

           I am an Afro-Latino; a Black man. I am a Black man who is from the Manhattanville public housing projects in Harlem; I am from the “hood,” a “hood-nigga.” That is my identity. I am a Black man who attends one of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the nation; I am a Black, low-income, first generation college student. An intelligent scholar. That too, is my identity. In the eyes of the Other, I am an anomaly. For how can I be a Black man from the “hood” and still be a scholar of this caliber? When faced with this question by the Other, I laugh at the ignorance. I respond “Why can’t I be from the hood and be a college educated scholar? Do I confuse you? When you see me wearing a black hood over my head, pants a tad bit below my waist, and some fresh tims on Monday, but in a tailored suit, polka dot bow tie and polished wingtip shoes on Tuesday, do I throw you off? Why can’t I be from the hood and be a college educated scholar?” As I navigate through the world, I come back to this question, and ask myself the same thing. Shifting between these two identities, I struggle to make them one. To be one with my “ghetto-ness” and my “scholar-ness.” Frustrated, I explode. Here, in this essay, are the fragments of a college educated Black hoodlum, put together by another me.

Fanon’s explosion in Black Skin, White Masks is one I am too familiar with. It is an explosion that comes from being an educated Black scholar, and still being nothing but a Negro in the eyes of the Other; an explosion that comes from trying your best to present your whole self to the world, and still failing to be recognized as anything more than a Negro. It is an explosion that comes from being nothing but a spectacle to be examined: “Look a Negro!” This explosion however does not come after examining the outside world and encountering the Other’s “gaze”. It comes from within. This explosion comes after reexamining your lived experiences and questioning who you are. You have tried to be part of the Other’s world and be accepted by them; then when you still encounter this reality, you explode. Although it is caused by a slightly different experience, the explosion of the college educated hoodlum is strikingly similar to Fanon’s. The explosion of the college educated hoodlum occurs when he is forced to choose between the world that raised him, and the Other’s world that offers him all the opportunities he’s ever wanted.

The college educated Black hoodlum knows two worlds: the “Hood” and the world of the Other. To exist in both worlds, he must be able to shift between his two identities. The educated hoodlum has successfully navigated through the world of the Other through the use of his double consciousness, and by applying a white mask over his black skin. This is necessary because, as Fanon points out, “not only must the black man be black; he must be black in relation to the white man.” When he notices that no matter how well he has navigated through the Other’s world, he still won’t be fully recognized, or will only be considered an “exception” at best; he explodes. He begins to question if there is any use in suppressing his “hood-ness” in order to acquire the opportunities the Other’s world has to offer. He begins to question why his “hood-ness” isn’t good enough. Why must he strive to be someone he is not if this transformation will never lead to acceptance? Why does he even need this acceptance? The college educated hoodlum begins to momentarily reject everything that has suppressed his “hood-ness.” He peels off his white mask and yells “Yeah I’m a hood nigga! And?” He formulates a new sense of Negritude he calls “Niggertude.” He becomes a proud nigger.

This frustration is subdued when he is reminded he needs to conform in order to progress. The college educated hoodlum puts his “Niggertude” to the side and puts his white mask back on. The college educated hoodlum fears that this white mask will force him to lose sight of his “hood-ness” and become detached from the world that raised him. At what point does his “scholar-ness” make him too much like the Other? There is no difference between a Black hoodlum who has become educated and leaves the ghetto, and the national bourgeoisie (the Fanonian colonial intellectual.) For Fanon, the intellectual elite in a postcolonial context are typically those who have acquired and accepted the knowledge of the colonizers. They are also the ones who have access to their colonizer’s best schools. Fanon explains how colonized intellectuals talk, think, and act like the colonizers. This is the result of the white masks. “The colonized intellectual fails to realize he is using techniques and a language borrowed from the occupier….The colonized intellectual who returns to his people behaves in fact like a foreigner.” The colonized intellectual has spent too much time behind a white mask to recognize that he has become exactly like the colonizer. Will the college educated Black hoodlum share the same fate and behave like a “foreigner” to his people in the “hood?”

           The fragments from the explosion of the college educated hoodlum are slowly coming back together. He is no longer struggling to be both hood and scholarly; now he only wishes to be human. He realizes that even if he embraces his “hood-ness” and “Niggertude,” he will still only be fitting into an identity he has not defined himself. The idea of the “hood” was constructed by the Other. Whether he decides to be “hood” or scholarly, he will still only be conforming to the identities the Other has created for him. He must create his own identity and find his own humanism. Most importantly, he has realized that if he is human (not “hood” or “scholarly”) anything in the human world is his to take and to make his own. The White Other’s world filled with opportunities does not belong to the White Other. In fact, it is not the White Other’s world. It is our world just as much as it is theirs. Our Blackness and our Humanity must be recognized as one in the same; for we are humans, yes, but we should never be Black people whitewashed by the Other’s colorblind rhetoric and agenda. In recollecting the fragments of himself, the college educated Black hoodlum recognizes his humanity and realizes that we are as entitled as anyone else to everything this world has to offer. With self-recognition, he begins to put his plan into motion, and seizes the world.

By Dariel Vasquez

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