In John Singleton’s hood classic “Baby Boy”, Melvin (played by Ving Rhames) gives a profound motivational speech about “guns and butter.” He explains to Jody and Sweetpea (played by Tyrese Gibson and Omar Gooding respectively) that the difference between material goods that depreciate and commodities that appreciate.
“There are two types of ni***s in this world; there are those with guns and the ones with butter. The guns; that’s the real estate, the stocks and bonds, artwork that appreciates with value. The “butta”; cars, clothes, jewelry that don’t mean s**t after you buy it.”
He goes on the call the youngsters “little dumb mofos” and goes back into the bathroom to finish shaving his bald head. It was like a classic Shakespearean moment in hood history.
Melvin drew his analogy from the macroeconomic model of guns and butter. It deals with the relationship between a nation’s investment in defense versus civilian goods; two options when spending its finite resources.
In 2015 military spending accounted for approximately 54% of its federal spending (according to nationalpriorities.org.); somewhere upwards of 600 billion dollars. America has borrowed so much money from her creditors that she needs to make sure her guns are big and powerful enough to wipe out anyone who might want to come and collect before she can pay. But, I digress. Let me get back to Melvin in Baby Boy. He was onto something.
What is rooted in our love affair with goods that depreciate vs. commodities that appreciate? Why is Black America considered a “consumer nation” who squanders her wealth on name brand clothing, high-priced automobiles, liquor and social activities that bear no fruit?
It is stated that we collectively have over $1 trillion dollars in spending power, yet have nothing to show for it collectively. Where does this money go?
It’s largely spent on material goods that “ain’t worth a penny with a hole in it” once it’s purchased. Too many of us are willing to overpay for what we want, yet suffer when we can’t get what we need. We treat what is mandatory like it is optional. We treat what is optional like it is mandatory.
This week, I’ve been attending the trial of 22-year old Neal Bland who is charged with capital murder for the 2012 murder of Joshua Woods. By the time this article is published, a jury may very well have sent this young brother to prison for the rest of his life. Bland, along with his “so-called” friends, were attempting to rob Woods of a pair of “special edition” Nike Air Jordan sneakers that he’d just purchased for himself and his sister. He was shot in the head with a 40-caliber pistol. This case makes me furious every time I think about it. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how anyone can kill another human being over a pair of sneakers. It is a disease of the soul that we must diagnose and cure if we are to survive.
Four-hundred sixty years of slavery, suffering and death all but completely robbed Black people of our identity. We were victims of the worst type of identity theft. The transatlantic slave trade and the horrors that followed robbed us of our names, our culture, our dignity, our history, our religion, our family dynamic, our man and womanhood, our God, our religion, etc.
Once the “Emancipation Proclamation” was issued in 1862, former slaves were not afforded a “reentry program” that restored to our ancestors all that was lost. This left a gaping psychological void that we have yet to fill. We thought that integration and acceptance into the society of our former slave masters would fill the void but it couldn’t. Since our identity has yet to be restored, we spend our hard earned resources trying to identify with name brands that America’s propaganda machine has convinced us will add value to our devalued sense of Blackness.
The acquisition of “things” will never empower us with the dignity that we lost in our slave experience. Only the reacquisition of the knowledge of self will fill the void. Material goods may very well provide you with a “temporary high”, but knowing who you are and the discovery of your divine purpose will give you a natural high that will last a lifetime. It’s okay to shop for new things. However, you must shop in your mind (not their mall) with new ideas (not new items); then go to work turning those ideas into reality. Ideas rule the world; not items.
We must create conversations in our homes, barber shops, beauty salons and in our social media discourse about Melvin’s “guns and butter” philosophy. We must become Black revolutionaries in our spending and stop being Negroes. Malcolm X said that there is a difference between a Black Revolution and a Negro Revolution. The Negro Revolution says lets buy Bentleys. The Black Revolution says let’s buy land. The Negro Revolution says let’s find jobs. The Black Revolution says let’s create jobs. Our mentality must change if our reality is to change. Black America can supply all of its own needs without government intervention if we simply would listen to Melvin and invest in macroeconomic guns over butter.
Anyone wishing to be a part of a national collective effort to purchase land for Black America for the purpose of growing food and creating commerce should visit the website, www.economicblueprint.org. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and other brilliant economists and scholars have created a program to address the issue of poverty, want and unemployment through a painless program that asks of us only 35 cents a day. If our future is to be brighter than our past we must make wiser investments from a position of unprecedented unity. We should be tired of being the “Baby Boy” of the civilized world.
Deric Muhammad is a Houston-based activist and author of ASAP (A Street Activist Perspective). Purchase his book at www.dericmuhammad.com.