The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.
— Malcolm X
There is no obstacle in the path of young people who are poor or members of minority groups that hard work and preparation cannot cure.
— Barbara Jordan
We can’t become what we need to be by remaining what we are.
— Oprah Winfrey
Young people, let us elevate to a new level of thinking. I understand that our language and our music can serve to help us maintain and negotiate our identities in ways. However, we must be careful not to further marginalize ourselves by perpetuating the stereotypes that do not accurately describe our existence, either in the present or the future.
Using Standard English or speaking correctly does not mean that we are rejecting who we are or that we are arrogantly distancing ourselves from whom or where we come. Instead, it creates opportunities for us to be included in discussions where we might be able to enlighten those unfamiliar with significant aspects of our culture.
A hip-hop vernacular may be a common way of communicating used as a means of connecting with others with whom we are familiar. Yet, it alienates us from the platforms from which our voices can be heard, respected, and appreciated. When we can express ourselves well, we can get people’s attention and they will start to listen.
Our music is often the language of our experiences, but it is OK for us to change our tune in order to live fuller lives. We appreciate rhythm and beats that entices us to dance, but beyond those rhythmic beats are messages. We must guard our minds against messages in music that debase us, rob us, and lie to us.
Our fashion is yet another way that we look to express ourselves, but do we consider what we communicate about ourselves with our dress? Are we mindful about how we carry ourselves? When we start to give some thought to questions like these, they might give us pause before taking our cues from images that are intended to sale records.
Sometimes, it seems that we are on a mission to conceal feelings of inferiority and to keep up with others. We are preoccupied with things that cover up our truth, but that fail to propel us forward in any meaningful way. As long as we are trying to outdo one another with the latest fashion, or gadget, we aren’t moving toward our futures with purpose. We must address this issue of self-oppression with candid conversations and begin to think critically about the consequences of our misguided pursuits.
Adaptability, not conformity, is part of the message. The notion of adapting implies our ability to move back and forth between established codes of appropriateness in speech, behavior, as well as in dress where such expectations exist. I am not calling for us to turn our backs on the colorful expressions of our culture in order to be seen as insiders. But, only when we begin to understand the difference, can we expect to sustain and re-negotiate our identities in situations where we are the outsiders.
If we are to survive and live lives of promise and purpose, we must learn to manage our identities within the context of the larger world, creating a narrative of which we can be proud.
Young people, in honor of our history and in hope for our future ... be encouraged.
Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.