by Zettler Clay
The King stay the King.
This is not a tribute to The Wire. There will plenty of time for that later. This is the acknowledgement that certain arts get it when it comes to certain topics. When it comes to the topic of black masculinity, this show hits it right on the head (though that’s not what it set out to do). Of course The Wire is fiction, but that doesn’t make it any less true. The greatest truths in art are often cloaked in fiction, as a way to desensitize us to the actual horrors that occur.
The current illusion of black masculinity began many years ago, and can be summarized by the tales of Vito Andolini, Avon Barksdale and Marlo Stanfield.
Young Vito was a product of Sicily, which was at one point the most dangerous country in the world (give or take a couple of countries). His father rebelled against a local Mafia chief and as a result, the chief had him executed by luparas (shotguns). The Mafia came after Vito, fearing that he would come for vengeance. Vito, with the help of his mother and other locals, ended up escaping to America. In the early 20th century, the story of an American crime organization began.
About 40 years later, a conference of the major underworld heads of the United States is being held. They are discussing methods of disseminating drugs in America. Vito Corleone, who by now is known as The Godfather, sits in anguish because he is highly ambivalent about initiating major wholesale drugs in America. It’s too dangerous, he thought. We have the political contacts and the police on our side, but how can we control a substance as potent as heroine? One mafia leader stood up and prophetically stated, “I don’t want it sold near schools. I don’t want it sold to children…in my city, we would keep the traffic in the dark community, the colored. They’re animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.”
“Aha! That is how we can profit from this with impunity!” Thus, the pact was made: Drugs are to be sold, but controlled.
Years later, true to form, the consequences of that meeting was gravely evident. It is the 1970’s, and heroine started to take hold in Harlem. Cocaine was there, but mainly for the actors, entertainers, and business execs. “Lay people” used, but for them it was quite expensive. Things began to change in the 1980’s, cocaine became accessible in the form of crack. For addicts, the lower classes of America, crack was a godsend. Black neighborhoods deteriorated to the point where Ronald Reagan declared the War on Drugs. Avon Barksdale and Marlo Stanfield are suddenly the targets, and before long the incarceration rate among Black men spikes. Educational achievements plummet. Single parent households rise and women in the projects start to outnumber men 3 to 1.
Barksdale and Stanfield are the master purveyors of the drugs in the Black community. They are the drug lords that are glorified in their sector. Want to be a teacher or a dope dealer? It’s not even close. Why deal with somebody else’s seed and teach them when I can make easy money and drive Dodge Chargers and Escalades? The Barksdales and Stanfields of the world are vilified as the scoundrels who steal the lifeblood of their community. Rightfully so, but the blame usually stops there. The government’s involvement in the deliverance of these drugs is concealed for the most part and Barksdale and Stanfield are made to be convenient scapegoats. But many people – men – of darker hue don’t realize that. There are certain rules to the game.
Growing up in the richly chocolate area of Cascade Road in Atlanta, Ga. – where you would see an affluent middle class neighborhood a block away from the business of dope fiends, liquor and check cashing joints and daily stick ups – I have seen many of my peers who came from nice families attempt to imitate the life of the “men” they see on television. Being a man to them took on a connotation of aggression. Complicity in iniquity. Mediocre grades. And the women. You can never have too much women.
It’s funny how in high school these certain people stood tall to me in social status. When I come across them today, five years later, they have a totally different aura. They are not doing much with their lives, not nearly as virile, as charismatic, as esteemed as they had been in high school. It made me realize how distorted and limited my thinking was as a result of a faux definition of masculinity.
Why am I talking about drugs when it comes to black masculinity? Easy. Drugs have not impacted another group of men as much as it has impacted the men in the black community. This has all been designed, but people have yet to learn the patterns of the design.
This is the world from which I come from. Drugs have played a big part in my life, and I’ve seen the effect that it has on families, on neighborhoods, on men. As a curious kid, I was always fascinated to get to the root of this phenomenon. That’s why The Godfather and The Wire are essential to the understanding of black masculinity. Both show us there are certain rules to this game, and there are three groups of people in this world:
1) Those who play the game
2) Those who watch those who play
3) Those who don’t even know that the game is being played.
Which category are you in?