Confessions (And Lessons) of A Hood Rat

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[Beneath The Spin]

Why Knowledge Is Power

Some people take umbrage with my defining myself as a hood rat.

They say that by doing so, I’m not only demeaning myself, but I’m also demeaning other Black people in the process. But people who think like that are violating one of the most important principles in life -- that we should always seek to be independent thinkers. That entails being self-defining, never giving the thoughts of others priority over your own, and never allowing others to define your terms.

People who see the phrase "hood rat" as demeaning have been brainwashed. They no longer think for themselves. They've allowed the attitude of others to take priority over their own, and they've also allowed society to define their terms. As a result, they've embraced the belief that people with their background are somehow less than others. I take pride in challenging that contention because the fact is, I grew up in the hood, so that's what makes me who I am, and since God made birds to fly, fish to swim, and man to think, in order for anybody to contend that I'm less than human, they're going to have to demonstrate that they can out-think me.

You see, it's not enough to merely say, "I'm Black and I'm proud." We must put enough work into our intellectual development to say it, and mean it. Therefore, I proudly embrace the phrase "hood rat" as symbolic of my challenge to society to come show me that I'm inferior, since it's my contention that it's society that's guilty of flawed thinking, not I..

A perfect example of the flaw in society's thinking can be found in the fact that attendant to the negativity that society assigns to the term "rat" is the false assumption that a rat is something nasty, and therefore, beneath man. But the fact is, man himself is the nastiest animal on Earth. While a rat may leave droppings in his environment, and one might consider that nasty, man is so prolific with his own droppings - in the ocean, in the air, in space, and within the Earth itself - that he threatens the very survival of everything on the planet. So what’s nastier, a rat, or man?

That illustrates why it’s so important to clean man’s droppings from our minds and become independent thinkers. Because much of what we think of as true, is actually the corruption of truth that we’ve been taught by other men in order to promote their own self-interest.

So while others are scrambling among themselves in an attempt to service their corruption and greed, it presents the Black community with the perfect opportunity to spend that same time becoming independent thinkers, and reassessing the mores that we've inherited from this corrupt society. Thereafter, we should replace the meaningless pursuit of the "American Dream" (bling), with the pursuit of character, wisdom, and knowledge. Because since knowledge is power, one invariably leads to the other, and much, much more.

I’ve been fortunate enough to obtain a small measure of the American dream, but it was certainly not as a result of any kind of pursuit. I only stumbled upon it while on a mission to educate myself, because along with education comes skills. But I also during my educational process, I found that what I was actually looking for was not so much the American dream, but happiness and self-fulfillment. Yes, I wanted to live a comfortable life, but along with a true education, you tend to develop a new definition of what that entails. And one of the things that I learn was that the American dream is only the illusion of happiness, since the mere acquisition of "things" can bring you neither happiness, nor fulfillment. True happiness and fulfillment can only be found in becoming the best you that you can be. Our failure to understand that is the primary problem that we have as a nation - we're in hotter pursuit of riches than we are of character.

I wasted literally all of my teenage years - those years between 12 and 19 years of age, when I should have been educating myself - running the street. I spent that time dropping out of school, going in and out of various institutions, and using any kind of drug that I could get my hands on.

But fortunately, I was arrested as an adult, at 19 years-old, and an insightful cop and a benevolent judge joined forces to get me to agree to go into the military --the army, I thought-- in return for not being sent to prison, and expunging my record if I came out with an honorable discharge. Naturally, I eagerly agreed. But it was only later, to my complete shock and horror, did I learn that they had also managed to get the Marine Corps to ignore all of its regulations against accepting an illiterate delinquent. But once I got in there I found out why - they needed a warm body to use as a close combat dummy in order to train the "Real Marines."

But once the marines finished showing me what a gangster really was, they had me take the GED, and to everybody's amazement, I did really well on it. Although I did a lot of guessing, I scored in the 97 percentile. So they sent me to the Army/Navy Academy to get an actual dipolma and further my educational development-- I'm eternally grateful to them for that.

That's where I learned that knowledge was power. Instead of being called "dummy," I was making a fortune writing love letters for other marines, and later I started working for the battalion commander. I did all of his writing, including the officers' fitness reports, which gave me a tremendous amout of clout ("Come on, Wattree! Why be so formal? There's no one around, so spare me the Captain crap. Just call me Larry.")

Later, it was arranged for me to get out 90 days early to attend college - which, by that time, was just a matter of staying awake and filling in the dots.

But during that process I fell in love with knowledge, and I also began to realize that since what I loved most was free, it couldn’t be denied me. And as I became increasingly more independent of thought, a couple of other things also began to come into focus. First, contrary to our national values, the only mature and productive form of competition is to compete against the person that I was the day before. And secondly, I learned that the only true road to perfect happiness and fulfillment is to dedicate your life to becoming your own hero.

That’s the knowledge that I would like to pass along to my brothers in the hood. Because our failure to understand those two very fundamental facts are not only the source of most of our misery, but to 99% of all of our problems in general. We rightly complain that we’re deprived of a level playing field, so why not dedicate ourselves to the acquisition of knowledge to equalize that situation? And by the way, that's the message that Tavis Smiley and Cornel West should be preaching, instead of helping to elect Republicans by attacking our first Black president.

So yes, I’m a hood rat, and I never let myself forget it. But I’m a hood rat with the understanding that if we equate knowledge to water, the White man's water is no wetter than our own. In addition, since every experience in life is a source of knowledge, the experience of overcoming the adversity that we’ve endured as hood rats makes us more, rather than less.

The bottom line is this - with very few exceptions, we cannot depend on others to help us, Black or White. 

We're engaged in a class war, so we've got to combine the unique knowledge that we've gained in the hood, with the education and wisdom to become the masters of our own fate. Thus, knowledge, is the key to our survival. Period.

Think about that.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

For more columns by Wattree please visit

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