A thoughtful, personal essay by photographer Hank Willis Thomas makes the case that the cultures of America’s inner-city black communities, once dignified by the gains of the civil rights movement, have been steadily degraded over the last three decades by corporate capitalism.
The piece begins below and deserves a full reading despite its length. —ARK
Hank Willis Thomas at The Root:
The generation before me was defined by soul. Soul was a virtue born out of the spirituality of gospel, the pain of blues, and the progressive pride of being the standard-bearers of civil rights. They were stylish like Shaft, but noble like Martin. They sang on Sunday mornings, after “sangin’” on Saturday nights. They pressed their thrift store suits with so much starch that the bare-threaded knees were as stiff as if they’d just bought them new at Brooks Brothers. Almost everyone was poor, so there wasn’t any shame in it.
Not my generation. We were defined by “cool,” an emotionally detached word that provokes a cold response to the world with a narrowly focused ambition for its ice, its bling, and its things. We heard stories of our parents and grandparents fighting for the right to be fully recognized Americans. We saw some folks from the neighborhood come up—way up. They became ballers, rappers, hustlers, actors—even a few doctors and lawyers. On TV we saw it happening right before our eyes: the Jeffersons, the Cosbys, Jesse Jackson running for president, and Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Whitney Houston dominating the airwaves.
But the majority of us saw the dreams, passions, and hopes of our parents dashed by the regression of a Black community linked to the welfare system, project housing, rising unemployment, deteriorating education, addiction, and an increase in Black men in the penal system. Good Times and What’s Happening!! were funny in the 1970s, but by the eighties they were in reruns and the joke seemed to be on us.
A sparkling new pair of Nike Air Jordans, a product that filmmaker Spike Lee and basketball star Michael Jordan were enlisted to endorse.