Black Stereotypes: Who Are You Calling a Sellout?

Tyree Harris, Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), December 5, 2010

Through high school, I struggled with my identity as a black male. I was sometimes called “white” because of the way I talked, and I was called “weird” because of the classes I took. But nothing offended me quite like when I heard people calling me a “sellout.”

That was by far the most offensive thing I’ve ever been called. Calling me a sellout is accusing me of sacrificing the beauty of my culture for an assimilation into “the white way.”

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Just about any black person who does well in school faces these accusations. It’s an issue that’s exclusive to our culture–the smarter we get, the harder it is to be accepted by our community.

To many of us, being black means being like what we see on TV: It’s the clothes we wear, the dialect we speak with and the dysfunctional bad attitude we’re stereotyped to have. We’ve fallen so deeply into the mold we’ve been handed that we’ve allowed ignorance to be associated with blackness and intelligence to be associated with whiteness.

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Being called a sellout because I don’t accept the media-spun perceptions of blackness made me paranoid and uncomfortable. I was afraid to hang out with white people because I didn’t want to look like a sellout, and when I did my white “friends” would make snarky little race jokes to remind me I was different.

On the same note, I didn’t care to hang with a lot of black people because I felt insulted and betrayed by them, and when I did they would make fun of me for trying to be smart or for hanging out with white people.

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Half asleep on a sofa at my friend’s house last month, I flipped the TV on to “MTV Jams.” A music video came on with a very obese Rick Ross flaunting his unreasonable amount of tattoos, unreasonable amount of jewelry and half-naked black women in the background.

At first I laughed to myself thinking it was ridiculous, but then T.I., Nelly, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Birdman and Waka Flocka Flame came on doing the same thing.

But I’m the sellout? We see these rappers as well-grounded in blackness, but we never question the fact that they are millionaires portraying blacks as violent, egotistical and uneducated for the love of money. {snip}

At the risk of making young black minds believe that foolishness is blackness, and at the cost of putting black women in an even worse position, they are recklessly releasing songs that promote the bad aspects of our culture. They go as far as to imply that if we don’t take part in them, we’re somehow not black.

Standing in front of that camera, flashing that gold, that woman or that car, the rapper is the modern-day Uncle Tom. Bought like livestock, his millions make record labels billions. He loves his record label like the house slave loved his master. He’s selling the negative connotations of his culture for money and protecting the hierarchy that’s in place–but it’s the students who do well in school and try to empower their peers we deem sellouts.

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columnist

Tyree Harris.

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