by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Watching the life of Katt Williams is like watching a plane crash in slow motion, the kind of crash where the pilot tells you that you’re going down 20 minutes before you’re actually dead. The slow decay of one of the great comedians of our time is painful to watch, since we saw another great comedian by the name of Richard Pryor go through the same thing 30 years ago.
I don’t presume to know why Katt engages in one form of odd behavior after another, but I do know he loves bragging about getting high all the time. In fact, the brother seems to get arrested more often than President Obama appears on television, and many of his antics are indicative of drug use, mental illness or both. Sadly, it appears that Katt’s extraordinary genius and all that he’s worked for are going right down the drain, and he honestly doesn’t seem to care.
When I watch Katt make one faulty personal decision after another, I think about my older brother who died just six months ago. He wasn’t technically my older brother (he was a young uncle), but like a lot of black families, definitions of relatives are….well…..relative. He was eight years older than me and I looked up to him the way a stump looks up to an Oak tree. I followed him around for the bulk of my young life, and spent quite a few years hoping that he was the man that I wanted him to be, instead of the man that he actually was.
Like Katt, my brother also seemed to love drugs and alcohol. In fact, I give him credit for my decision to never touch either one, since his life taught me everything that I did NOT want to do in order to be successful. His demise was inevitable, just like Katt’s, and it was equally difficult to watch. Various addictions, compounded with a few stints in jail and prison, facilitated various forms of mental illness that made him socially, physically, spiritually and psychologically impotent. During his last three years, as he laid paralyzed in the hospital, I saw this as a fitting end to a life full of disappointment. By that time, I’d taken the role of the older brother, and when I reflect on his life, I can’t remember too many good times.
Both Katt and my brother’s experience, along with countless others being recalled by people reading this article, should remind us of the dangers of excessive drug and alcohol consumption in the African American community. Nearly every hip-hop artist put on the radio by some big, money hungry, racist corporation wants you to believe that every black man in America wants to stay high and drunk, popping bottles at the club every Friday night. Did you ever notice that commercialized hip-hop is the only genre of music that speaks consistently about the same things in nearly every single song?
Here’s a newsflash: Nothing great has ever been achieved by a group of people who spent all their time getting high and drunk every day. Part of the reason that others are glad to see black men sprinting toward the drug dealer and liquor bottle is because they know that if we are obsessed with obtaining the next high, then we won’t be competing for PhDs, JDs and multi-million dollar contracts. Katt Williams is a perfect case-in-point, since his antics are going to end up costing he and his family at least $10 million dollars over the course of his career.
So, here’s the point: Maybe it’s OK to tell our boys to avoid drugs and alcohol all together. Sure, some of them aren’t going to listen, but a positive message must be pushed in order to counter all of the destructive imagery that’s being fed to our boys on a daily basis. In my own feeble effort to turn a negative into a positive, my brother was the reason I created the Building Outstanding Men and Boys Family Empowerment Series, to talk about principles that our boys must learn in order to survive in a world that is designed to kill them. The reality is that if we don’t teach good principles to young men, then they have little chance of growing into adequate husbands and fathers.
When I met with Min. Louis Farrakhan last week, he and I were both in agreement that it is not a coincidence that destructive music with a toxic message has taken over the airwaves of most black communities across America: A black man with a bottle in his hand is not nearly as intimidating as a black man holding a book – The first man seeks to perpetuate racist institutions, and the second one might be enlightened enough to fight them. By speaking honestly about the dangers of drugs and alcohol in our society, we can protect our sons, save ourselves and elevate our community. This nonsense must be confronted by us all.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, “Commercialized Hip-Hop: The Gospel of Self Destruction.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.