I love young people’s language. They creatively invert it and invent new vocabulary. Only a young person could come up with “on fleek” or tell us they “ain’t bout that life!” That notion of not being “bout that life” means there are some things that are not compatible with the person one sees herself as. I think of myself as a relatively positive person. I’m not “optimistic” in that Pollyannish sort of way but I try to remain hopeful in the face of some overwhelming odds. In order to do that, I have to do my best to stay away from negative people. Negative people suck all the air out of the room. They disturb the “molecules” that surround me and rarely understand the concept of possibility.
A long time ago I had a neighbor who fashioned himself a real baller. He was running drugs, women, and all manner of things all the while holding down a job as a bus driver. I found him puzzling because although he had everything he thought he wanted or needed he was always so negative. I never judged how he lived his life. In fact, I felt a little honored that he would tell me all manner of things like I was someone he felt he could trust. He often sought my advice and I think he knew I didn’t judge him. But one afternoon after he had finished one of his mini rants about how he didn’t have enough money and how the women he was dealing with weren’t to be trusted (“these h— ain’t loyal) I noticed my houseplant located closest to the chair where he’d been sitting was wilting. The next time he stopped over I spoke to him from my doorway and would not let him in. When he inquired why I wasn’t inviting him in I said, “Bruh, your vibe is bringing my space down!” He looked at me like I was some new-agey, crystal-gazing freak. But I just knew I had to keep him out of my house.
I have the same concern about some of the people I have to be around on a regular basis in the academy. Everything about them is negative. They complain about their salaries, their work, their colleagues, and their administrators. All I can think of is how much easier this job is than the work my parents did. My dad was a laborer and my mom was a clerk. The sheer monotony of their work would have driven me out of my mind but yet, my parents were joyful and loved life. My dad was a wonderful jokester and my mom was “Miss Sunnyside Up.” I come by my smile honestly. My colleagues and I live a life of luxury compared to that of my sharecropping grandparents but my grandfather attacked life like it was a huge bowl of ice cream. He was a practical joker and what folks used to call a rascal. Negativity—he wasn’t bout that life!
It is almost all I can do to listen to another complaint about people who live solidly middle class lives with comfortable homes, nice cars, and a secure retirement fund. What will it take for them to show some positive signs? I might be wrong but from what I’ve seen most of my colleagues have lived comfortably for a very long time, yet they still complain within their privilege.
I work hard not to be rude—blame it on my well-mannered mom—but when people who have so much start complaining about what they don’t have I have to just walk away, ‘cause “I ain’t bout that life!”
Stay Black & Smart!