Why ‘ghetto fab’ style will keep you out of work

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I watched a video the other day about a woman named Jazz Ison Sinkfield and couldn’t help but laugh. For some reason, Jazz thought it would be a good idea to start growing her fingernails for almost a quarter of a century without ever cutting them. Now, the woman is stuck with a set of peculiar monstrosities hanging from both of her hands that keep her from typing on a computer, tying her own shoes and perhaps even wiping her own behind. I’m not necessarily one to judge another human being so harshly, but I found it most interesting that Jazz truly believes that other women are jealous of her fingernails.

Jazz is not the only person in our community who has gathered a set of habits that some might consider to be a “ghetto fab.” I am not sure where all of these habits come from, and when I see them, I try to process things without becoming a hater. But when I put it all together, I can’t help but quote someone whom I disagree with regularly by the name of Bill Cosby, who once made this simple comment: “Come on people.”

When one rolls through “the hood,” they will usually see a few interesting things. First, we see the pants sagging down below the butt, with a brother who has to use one hand to constantly keep his pants from falling to the ground. You might then see someone else with tattoos up and down both arms, and maybe some additional tattoos on the neck. Actually face tattoos have become all the rage among rappers who don’t seem to remember that these things are difficult to remove.

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Finally, on my trip through the hood, I might see the woman who somehow thinks that purple and pink hair is attractive, along with the perpetually entertaining gold or platinum grill across the front of one’s teeth. This tends to match the Air Jordans, Coach purses and other expensive items that most of us can’t afford. Perhaps this has become the high cost of “staying fly.”

It’s hard to disconnect the influence of hip-hop on some of these odd choices, since everyone seems to want to imitate their favorite rapper or R&B singer. The song “Still Fly” by the group Big Tymers tells it all with the following lyrics: “Gator Boots, with the pimped out Gucci suit; Ain’t got no job, but I stay sharp; Can’t pay my rent, cause all my money’s spent, but thats OK, cause I’m still fly; got a quarter tank gas in my new E-class, But that’s alright cause I’m gon’ ride; got everything in my momma’s name, but I’m hood rich da dada dada da”

Some of these oddities are simply a symptom of changing times. Most old folks think that young people are headed to hell in a hand basket, so this is nothing new. The problem is that many of the people engaging in this strange behavior are women like Ms. Sinkfield, who is actually a grandmother. Additionally, most of us simply cannot afford many of the material items we chase, making us look that much more counter-productive and ridiculous in the process.

When I analyze high black unemployment rates, foreclosure problems, educational issues and the like, I wonder how many of us are voluntarily marginalizing ourselves with neck tattoos, gold grills, sagging pants or a commitment to speaking with Ebonics. While we certainly cannot let good old-fashioned racism off the hook, there is something to be said about doing things that will undermine your ability to compete in the American marketplace. This is not as much a matter of being a conformist as it is about giving your potential client, customer or employer something that they can understand.

Overall, there is a long list of cultural habits that African-Americans may want to reconsider. Eating greasy foods that kill us, cheering for basketball players more than honor roll students, and tattooing ourselves beyond recognition are just a few things we might want to discourage. It’s OK to be a little bit different, but there’s no excuse for being flat out “trifling.”

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the initiator of the National Conversation on Race. For more information, please visit BoyceWatkins.com>