I enjoy a good album title. Atrocity Exhibition. This is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About. Dear Science [, Please Start Solving Problems and Curing Diseases or Shut the Fuck Up]. And if you want to reach peak difficulty, When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing ‘fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might so When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You’ll Know That You’re Right.
That’s a lot, I know. Let me give you a simpler one: As Cruel as School Children.
There was no point to that introduction, but I’ve always like that album title because it’s absolutely true. As adults, we know how conniving, ruthless, and greedy other adults can be. We know this because it’s what we learned that in middle school. You’re supposed to grow older, wiser and more mature but do we ever really shake that off? Middle school is the make it or break it era. You must learn how to tame the lions or you’ll be eaten alive. Long story short, I could relate to the “Fubu” episode in a way I wasn’t expecting. For the most part, middle school was tough because this was the time where I didn’t have the best clothes or coolest shoes. I was a runt, which is funny because I’m tall now. My face was breaking out with acne (leave sodas alone and drink more water). I had huge, coke bottle glasses. When I fell asleep on the band bus, kids drew a lightning bolt on my forehead and called me Harry Potter. Not the worst nickname one could have but it was annoying because it stuck. I had to make a decision, allow this to continue or deal with it. Now, I don’t think I’m laugh-out-loud funny but I do think my wit was cultivated in middle school. When I was joked on, I hurled a joke back. Sometimes, twice as hurtful. My ability to quip took pressure off me. It took attention away from my hand-me-down jeans because people knew “Ronnie is kinda funny…”. Not every kid can tame their lions.
Especially not Earn. “Fubu” is about the ruthlessness of middle school. Young Earn gets a FUBU jersey from the Marshall’s and he’s excited to wear it to school. At school, a kid shows up wearing the same jersey but he has a patch and extra sleeve stripe. If there was one thing middle school kids loved more than watch Dragon Ball Z, it was playing a good ol game of “spot the fake”. Wearing clothes without a name brand was already a no-no but wearing something fake was a cardinal sin. Earn maneuvered through his day trying to dodge the jersey appraisers. When he faces the final test, Al comes along to bail him out. The attention now shifts to the other kid who gets joked on all the way to his bus. The next morning, the principal tells the classroom that the boy has committed suicide.
Now, there are two ways to attack this episode. The bigger picture in this episode is bullying in the black community. As a whole, what considered “bullying” isn’t called by such in our community. We call it by its regional jargon: janking, roasting, joning, take your pick. It’s a rite of passage. You’re not supposed to be affected by it because that makes you weak and we can’t be weak. Usually, the subject was tangible goods. Shoes, clothes, etc. Being from single-parent homes or living on fixed incomes didn’t matter. Nobody cared if your mom had to work two jobs to pick up the slack. Having the coolest gear was all that mattered. The scene that sticks with me the most is when Earn is walking with his white friend to their next class. His friend says (paraphrase) “I don’t see why it matters; This is my second time wearing this shirt this week”. I don’t think this episode is making the case that luxury items/tangible goods are bad but it’s focusing on the importance of those things. It shouldn’t matter that Earn had a fake jersey as long as he had a shirt to put on in the first place. Not having those tangible goods affects those later in life. Like getting your first big check and blowing it by racing Michael Vick in the parking lot of a strip club.
Now, small scale. “Fubu” explains the ending of last week’s episode perfectly. It’s why Earn carries that chip on the shoulder and thinks the world is out to get him. I, too, lived through kids bringing an Eastbay catalog to school to see if your shoes were in there and checking tags to make sure your shirt was name brand. You dreaded the morning someone yelled out “YOUR SHIRT IS FADED!”. This didn’t mean your shirt was actually faded, it meant they knew your shirt was from Wal-Mart’s signature brand Faded Glory. I found a way to live with it but Earn internalized it. Earn has always been the little guy. Tracy joking on him made Earn fight back in ways he wishes he could have back in middle school. He lost but he still fought. That’s…also dangerous. Not processing the trauma of the past leads to very stupid decisions in the future. Carrying a chip on one’s shoulder makes them a selfish asshole later and these are all traits that adult Earn carries.
“Fubu” is more or less the retelling of a song from Donald Glover’s debut album, Camp. It’s a story about a kid surviving conditions he/she didn’t choose. No kid chooses to be poor or fatherless because if they had a choice, they’d choose otherwise. Even when it comes to being on the receiving end of jokes because of these things, some kids can’t control their reality. Not every kid has a defense mechanism to make it through. Not all kids can be physically imposing or a class clown. Those kids are left to deal with these things in their own way before they have the tools to do so. Damaged kids grow up to be damaged adults
As usual, thanks for live tweeting with us all season. It’s crazy how quickly this season has flown by but yes, we only have one more left to go.