How do we as African Americans define selling out? Is it dating outside of our race? Is it the shuck-and-jive entertainers? Is it the black Republican? Is it the overly ambitious, material-driven civil rights activist? Or, is it the well-spoken and studious black child?
I believe we need a new paradigm of selling out. Today's sellouts are blacks who perpetuate violence and destruction in the black community and participate in the globalization of negative stereotypes and images of African Americans.
Not long ago, I was eating lunch at a restaurant near downtown Chicago, and a young black man walked in with a scantily dressed white woman on his arm. They were both in their early 20s and dressed the part. I saw a few ''sisters'' sigh as they entered. Yes, the brother -- smiley gold teeth and all -- looked real proud to have ''Becky,'' and she seemed even prouder to be on a safari with her African guide. They sat down near me and spoke very loudly, apparently wanting all to hear. I overheard a young black woman say, ''It's bad enough that he is a sellout, but do they have to be so ignorant, too?'' I gave her a nod of approval.
Then, as I gazed at the local newspaper, I read an interesting story about hip-hop and its alleged misogynistic and materialistic culture. This caused me to ask: What is selling out? According to Wikipedia, it refers to ''compromising one's integrity, morality and principles in exchange for money, success or other personal gain. It is commonly associated with attempts to increase mass appeal or acceptability to mainstream society. A person who does this is labeled a sellout. Selling out may be seen as gaining success at the cost of credibility.'' This is a pretty good definition. In the context of race relations, sellouts compromise racial solidarity and group identity and integrity for perceived societal acceptance, adventure or mere escape by dating outside of their race or ethnic genre. To many, love gives no amnesty to selling out.
However, given the poor state of black America, I believe we should redefine if not expand the term. African Americans rank at the bottom of nearly every social, political, economic and health indicator in the country. We are among America's poorest, financially in debt and illiterate. Proportionate to the population, we comprise the single largest racial group in prison and are disproportionately the unhealthiest.
Based on this reality, perhaps we need to redefine selling out to castigate blacks who enable this condition. I mean blacks who are destroying our communities: the real terrorists. I mean those who murder, rape and molest, sell drugs, and gang-bang; those who keep our communities looking pillaged. I mean blacks who perpetuate and celebrate violent and destructive culture. I mean blacks who reinforce the global pathology of violence against black women. I mean black entertainers and athletes who sell out to corporate America and consciously pimp a materialistic, misogynistic and violent culture to our youth. I mean black media that are raising a generation of young dummies on a diet of racially disparaging music and sleazy reality television.
Today's sellouts are individuals who wreak havoc in the black community through various forms of violence, including degrading imagery, and those black-owned institutions and corporations that exploit the consumer strength of African Americans by overfeeding us with niggardly products.
It's time to quit blaming others; to call a spade a spade, not a role model.
Jeremy Levitt is a professor of law at Florida International University and distinguished scholar at Northern Illinois University College of Law.