Throwback Week: Keeping Up

keeping up pic

So I’m in the mall and I look around. I look around to see a whole bunch of us – buying  purses, shoes, watches and everything else in Dillard’s. The store was 80% full of us. And it was a Tuesday. And all the while, everybody and their momma is crying broke.

But here’s the kicker – I was in there too! And I had my heart set on a BAD gold watch. And I already have not one, not two, not three, but four watches at home.

Am I missing something here?

Lyrics constantly promoting being irresponsible with money: “20 on my right wrist, 30 on my left wrist, 100 on my neck iced out for my respect 20 f*****g 10 I’ma blow the whole check

Waiting in lines for shoes – and valuing them so much, we’re killing each other for them: “Right here in Houston, another young African-American man has lost his life over the latest pair of Air Jordans, and his death has left a family grieving and seeking justice. What began as a simple trip to the mall for two young men, took an unfortunate turn for the worse, when 22-year old Joshua Woods was shot in a northwest Houston subdivision. Woods was shot about 10:30 a.m. Friday, December 21, in the 1700 block of Plumwood near Hallfield in northwest Harris County.” (Houston Forward Times)

And equating our self-worth with material things: “She’s so precious with the peer pressure; couldn’t afford a car so she named her daughter Alexus”


Wait. That’s it – Equating our self-worth with material things. We ALL do it to a certain extent.

“The higher self-esteem, the less clothing affects it, but the opposite is also true – the lower self-esteem, the more power clothes and fashion have over a person.”  Says Edward Rybacov of Ezine Articles. But why? Why are these material items so interrelated with how we feel about ourselves? Many scholars point to history.

“Africans would go and capture their people and sell them to Arabs and later to white folks. They did this for over one thousand years. Historical records show that they were already selling themselves to Arab Muslims by 700 AD and did not really stop doing so until around 1900 (when Europeans finally took over most of Africa and stopped slave trade).  Around 1500 AD Africans added selling themselves to Europeans.  You can see the product of that heinous behavior in the millions of African-Arabs and African Americans. Can people who sell their people have good self- esteem?”  — Ozodi Osuji, Ph.D.

The history – it’s all there. Osuji’s historical standpoint still stands today. Because our ancestors, our communities have been so conditioned to be so divisive, to compare ourselves to one another, many of us are CONSTANTLY on a mission to keep up.

“Man I spent $400 bucks on this – just to be like ‘nigga, you ain’t up on this!’”

And just imagine how much African slaves looked up to the slave owners themselves? Many rich slave owners boasted fine china, gold, the nicest clothes and the finest foods. Meanwhile, our ancestors, often dressed in rags and viewed as having just as much worth as a farm animal, co-existed in these lush plantations alongside wealthy slave masters, admiring the free life – a life seemingly filled with the splendors of the world.  And the closer a slave could get to these splendors, the better – whether it meant a house slave selling out a field slave for a quick come up or a brotha entering the Mandingo fighting ring to kill another brotha for a night in the mansion, away from the condemnable slave quarters. This slave mentality, although from years and years ago, still sits thick in today’s air.

Dr. Osuji, a Nigerian  professor, suggests a possible solution:

“Africans that put other Africans down, desecrate them have particularly low self-esteem; their low self-esteem is as bad as their ancestors who captured their people and sold them into slavery.  People who have good self-esteem, who like themselves do not sell their people, and do not insult people. People with good self-esteem love their selves and love those around them, respect their selves and respect those around them.

If you have good self-esteem and you see poor people or suffering people what you are motivated to do is do your best to help them. People with good self-esteem uplift downtrodden mankind.  They do whatever they can do to make sure that those around them feel worthwhile and value themselves.”


Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with liking nice things – I like nice things myself – believe me. But when it gets to the point where we’re willing to sell our souls, put down or even kill others for these things, its gone way too far.

Let’s take a step back – recognize, realize and re-evaluate. If slavery was abolished way back when, why are we still running around with the mindsets of the house slaves and field slaves, the self-hatred of Mandingo Fighters and a desire for the slave master’s riches?

We’re all in this together, remember.

“We’re all self-conscious, I’m just the first to admit it” – Kanye West

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