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The African American Addict

Junior's Crucible

By Jonathan MosbyPublished 3 years ago 9 min read
Don't you know the law? Existing-while-black is a crime, punishable by death!

The African American Addict

Is it still easier find dope, than it is to get a job? Langston Hughes was an American poet, but he was also a social activist, among other things. The most fascinating thing about his work perhaps, is that it is still as relevant today as it was the day he wrote “Junior Addict”; the problems posing African Americans due to their marginalization by a social hierarchal system deep-rooted in sympathies to slavery have never gone away. In fact, one could argue that the problems have increased exponentially. In America today, there are more African Americans under correctional control—in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race. How blacks were presented to the world by the media played a huge role in solidifying their place as a “problem.” It seemed the only solution to this problem was to fan the flames of discontent (through things like felon disenfranchisement laws) in the hearts and minds of the very people who were in many cases innocent, while at the same time cooling the tongues of the very people who did in fact commit the crime, setting them free—letting them off on a “technicality”.

This paper will explore the “problem of the Negro”, using literature and an ever-changing culture (from Nat Turner’s rebellion to Trayvon Martin’s assassination) as a frame, while emphasizing aspects of Langston Hughes’ work “Junior Addict” in its arguments.

The slave revolt of Nat Turner was the largest slave revolt in U.S. history. It led to a wave of oppressive legislation prohibiting the movement, assembly, and education of slaves. Indeed, arguably, it was the launchpad for what would come to be known as the “negro problem” itself. What followed that justified rebellion was a reign of terror against all blacks in Virginia. State and federal troops tortured, beat, and murdered some 200 Blacks, many of whom had nothing to do with the rebellion. Much like their innocent descendants, like Emmett Till, who committed the horrible crime of whistling at a white woman, the punishment never fits the crime, if a crime at all had been committed. Meanwhile, the real crimes were being committed by the real criminals—the ones of power and privilege.

It was very easy after that rebellion to present blacks as something to be feared, like a monster or animal to be avoided at all costs, and caged or murdered if caught. This had a negative effect on the “black mind,” causing African Americans to see themselves as the beasts they were told they were all over the world. This caused a drop in self-confidence across the board, and, if there was no one to lead, African Americans too often acted out their stereotypical descriptors and gave up easily in the face of adversity. For a moment, I’d like to recall a story my grandmother once told me. When she was a little girl, she had five brothers.

When one of those brothers, who was the oldest, was in high school, he got beat up by five white boys every day on his way home. This was the year 1946, in Dania Florida. Upon telling four of his friends of his plight, they decided they’d help him fight the white boys, so that at least they’d be evenly matched. That afternoon, when they got to the spot where the white boys were waiting, at that old rickety railroad bridge, true colors were shown after the four black boys ran off before the fight even begun, leaving my grand-uncle to fight off the boys himself. He’d gotten tired of being picked on, and even though his friends left him, he fought as hard as he could. After this, the white boys left him alone.

The point of that short story was to ask the following question: Why did the other black kids run off? The answer? They were not leaders. There is usually one leader who rallies others around him for some cause. If this cause is just and true, such as standing up for oneself or for the “greater good” of humanity, like the story of Jesus, or the preservation of identity, like MLK, or Nat Turner, then they are always struck down because of it.

However, on this day, my grand-uncle learned a valuable lesson: that even though they may strike you down, you earn their respect when you get up and fight back, even if what you sought after was peace. However, only a leader would fight back. And there are always fewer leaders than those who follow them, of which most of the followers are disingenuous and would run away if it came time to put their words in action. The Black boys who ran off, did so because of the effect on their black mindset. They saw themselves as feeble, so they believed it when it was time to show otherwise. This “hurt” their identity, and even though they were never struck, the ones who ran off still lost that fight, trying to save their own skin.

This same dynamic takes place in Hughes’ poem. Who is this junior addict? A boy, probably the same age as a high schooler, who seeks peace in a world where there is none to be found. So he hurts himself to achieve that peace, even if it kills him in the process. His drugs allow him to close his ears to the "Harlem screams" and shut his eyes to the desperation all around him. He has no way to understand, Hughes tells us, that a sunrise beginning in some other land will soon flood his darkness and create a new world. Hughes also tells us that this boy may not make it to this new world, and urges the sun to quickly rise to save this poor soul from himself. Junior Addict is not just one person, but rather, a group of the oppressed, who seek to “solve” their plight in this way.

He feels he has no other choice, since the moment he steps out that door he is going to regret it. Even if he had a job, how long would he be able to stay there? Who would hire him? Would they be fair in paying him, and would they treat him like a human being? These questions and more had to be swirling around Junior's mind as he lifted the flame under the spoon in that dark room.

“Only a few more seconds,” he must have said. “Only a few more seconds and I won’t have to think about that stuff anymore.”

Yes, but only for a time--and it is during this time that this “peace” is achieved by “running off” or away from the “fight” to a self-induced euphoria to “save” his skin, but the price may be more than Junior is willing to pay. A fact many drug users find out all too late. Junior could have just sucked it up and dealt with the adversity. We see, however, that Junior is not a leader. How could he be though? The world around him is falling apart, and the only peace he knows potentially kills him.

Hughes also alludes to nuclear war in the poem.

“Quick, sunrise, come,” he writes―”Before the mushroom bomb/Pollutes his stinking air/With better death/Than is his living here/With viler drugs/Than bring today’s release/In poison from the fallout/Of our peace.”

He likens Junior's plight as dangerous as nuclear war, whose fall out, or death, will result in the loss of peace. This is no doubt, true to anyone who ever has lost a child to drug abuse in a dark and frozen world, because of adversity— or any reason—stuck in a situation they were born in and could do nothing about, except try to run away from it somehow. Another black man tried to run too, and was killed for it. Trayvon Martin.

In early 2012, this young man was killed for being black. “Armed” with a bag of skittles and a can of Arizona drink, he fought to the death with a man hell-bent on seeing his demise. At just 17 years old, this child was struck down in the middle of his struggle. A struggle that Junior succumbed to also trying to “run”, speaking to the greater problem for African Americans in America—they are easy to target because of their past portrayals in the media and other social outlets in Western society.

Black people have long been portrayed in a variety of stereotypical ways in Western societies. Africans have variously been depicted as savages and brutes, apes, cannibals and helpless, childlike defendants. Black people living in the West were routinely caricatured as slaves, servants or entertainers throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. By the mid-to-late 20th century, racist images gradually became less acceptable, although some stereotypes still endure. I got a question for you: Why was King Kong black? I have another one: How would his character come off if he was as white as a polar bear, climbing those buildings in New York, yelling his head off like a deranged lunatic?

The answer would no doubt vary from person to person, but overall there would arguably be something “missing” if we made him white instead of black. Something would be off. The fact that something would be off in the minds who would think so, speaks to how indoctrinated society has become to accepting racial (mis)representations and superimposing them on unrelated things, like deranged animals. King Kong, like the black man, in that context, would have no choice but to be a raving lunatic, because the very sight of him makes people act in such a way where he has to defend himself (whether through peaceful or nonpeaceful means) just to walk down the street at night—but he’s the monster, right?

No. He is the victim. The victim of circumstance who has no chance, other than the one he takes for himself in trying to live a normal life. Junior probably wanted a normal life too, and would have had one, if not for being born into the world he was born into. Being racially profiled can distract one from pursuing their dreams, causing them to become the very thing they were lied on about being. Ironic, isn't it?

So, is it still easier to find dope, than it is to find a job? Yes, it is. It is not only easier, the establishment makes it readily available! On purpose! In the 80’s, Reagan’s Administration provided cocaine to drug dealers, who then flooded poor black neighborhoods with it. Why poor black neighborhoods? Well, it’s hard to fight when your hands are tied, that's why. The chains are no longer on our hands and feet though—they have become shackled around our minds. Money makes the links, and dead-end jobs make the prisons. And still it continues!

The Million Man March anniversary took place in 2015, and was there extensive news coverage? Fox? CNN? NBC? Hell, even BET? Anyone? Nope. Why? Because it was so peaceful, it went against what was expected of a group of African Americans in America. Now, had there been some fighting, shooting, stabbing, and drug dealing, all the news outlets would have been there, their executives behind closed doors saying, “look! Look at them! We knew it! They will always be animals! By the way, get a close-up shot of that man shanking that other man, Gibbons. That's front-page worthy right there!”


About the Creator

Jonathan Mosby

Born and raised in Atlanta Ga, Flow brings an introspective flavor to hip-hop. Beginning in 2003 with beat making, and 2005 with protools, there has been an exponential growth in both productivity and creativity. Won't let me say more smh

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