Become M.A.D.E. It’s A Lifestyle: How to Live a Good Life by Building Great Relationships

MADE ReviewAmong the many genres of literature that are available for public consumption perhaps the least appealing is the so-called “self-help” book. Often they adopt formulaic approaches to life’s most pressing challenges leaving readers completely unsatisfied and their innermost questions unanswered. Yet sometimes books appear in print that are written for the explicit purpose of edifying others and they manage to light a spark, not necessarily from the artistry of the written word alone but through the authenticity of the experiences reflected upon by the author. Eldredge E. Washington’s Become M.A.D.E. It’s a Lifestyle: How to Live a Good Life by Building Great Relationships delivers in this respect, which makes it an excellent primer for youth of any background seeking purpose or direction in a world where the costs of inaction are steadily rising. A self-described “hard-headed kid, who thought he was a thug because his pants were three sizes too big,” Washington takes the reader on a journey through his life as a Monroe native who moved to the heart of Atlanta and became infected by the hustling spirit that permeates the city. As he phrased it, “areas like Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead help me to stay on track and work hard … being around people who look like they are doing something productive makes me more productive.”

The theme of managing one’s environment is dominant throughout Become M.A.D.E. Barely beneath the surface in each chapter is a constant tug of war between the author’s efforts to remain psychologically centered and true to himself and ensuring that the people he surrounds himself with facilitate rather than impede this process of self-discovery. Consequently, Become M.A.D.E. acquires a dual function as part autobiographical snapshot and part Socratic dialogue. Several dialogues are taking place: between the author and his environment, the author and his family, and perhaps most significantly from a pedagogical perspective, the author and the reader.

Each chapter is framed by a series of questions, designed to stimulate introspection and a weighing of one’s priorities. Do you feel you need to create new relationships with people who support your dream? What do you normally do for fun with your friends? Name one mentor you feel you should model? Explain.

These queries serve as handy interludes which allow the reader to insert themselves as interlocutors in the conversation of self-development. Here we see another theme rise to the fore: the centrality of family and community as the foundation for one’s personal and professional development. Defying the capitalist myth of the “self-made man”, Eldredge overflows with appreciation when it comes to acknowledging the pivotal role that his parents, his sisters, and even some of his earliest employers played in helping him to achieve the level of success he has reached.

When his parents had to leave Georgia for a job opportunity Eldredge was tasked with the responsibility to exercise guardianship over his two younger sisters Winnie and Victoria. “In my head, I was their new daddy and in their head, I was the overprotective big brother who kept getting on their nerves,” he observed reflecting on the enormity of the challenge before him. Far from a choice, Washington embraced tasks of this kind as obligatory. Speaking on mentoring younger siblings he writes, “this relationship is sometimes overlooked … but the truth is that person is watching your every move and you are their mentor.” In fact, a careful reader may notice that Eldredge navigates roles from a mentor (with regard to being a guardian to his two younger sisters), to “peer” as it relates to the competitive relationship with his older sister Paula, to an “apprentice” (the third form of relationship) under his older brother Nick of who he admiringly writes, “where he went, I went; what he wore, I wore,” and eldest sister Shardia who “showed him that practice does make perfect and hard work will pay off in the end.” Indeed, a rich psychological portrait of the human self and its many permutations within the family unit is provided within these pages. Parts of it come off as a contemporary Anton Chekhov play.
huey o newtonIn this regard, Eldredge resonates in the text as the archetypal dreamer who through a variety of human experiences becomes a revolutionary. Again, this component of the book could be more keenly perceived in the context of the author’s full story which is given partial, though in-depth, treatment here. Nonetheless, subtle indications of this revolutionary mindset appear near the end of the text where he memorably intones, “Your name is the only thing you will have when it’s all said and done, so make it stand for something when people mention you.” Such appeals to legacy building is a trademark feature in the writings of all revolutionaries whether it be Thomas Paine who wrote “We have the power to begin the world over again,” in his radical 18th century pamphlet Common Sense, Malcolm X’s prescient closing remarks in his autobiography that he had “cherished [his] ‘demagogue’ role,” under the knowledge that “societies have often killed the people who have helped to change these societies,” or Marcus Garvey’s fiery proclamation that “If I die in Atlanta my work shall then only begin, but I shall live, in the physical or spiritual to see the day of Africa’s glory.”

Apart from the situation within his own family, it’s obvious by the end of the book that Eldredge has internalized this ethic of guardianship, an ethic he had to adopt at an unusually young age, and expanded it as a social doctrine to be implemented in our everyday lives and throughout the world. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may be the best example I can think of when it comes to starting a M.A.D.E. Generation. He discovered his purpose in life and he realized where he could help his generation.” The radical possibilities latent in this message cannot be overstated.

We currently live in a period where many of the civilizational traumas and evils that Dr. King faced loom large over any attempt toward self-determination or collective progress. #BlackLivesMatter has risen as the clarion call of a generation of youth discontent with the status quo and fully prepared to sever the generational chains that have bound them to lives of despair for far too long (the recent protest and removal of Mizzou University President Wolfe is a clear example of this). These cultural and political waves can only be sustained if we uplift and celebrate those who are not only willing to critically analyze the concentration of forces arrayed against the oppressed but leverage that analysis to constructively engage and undermine existing powers (if necessary to the point of collapse). However clearly it’s conveyed in the pages of his book, there can be no doubt that Eldredge Washington is among this number in the overlooked streets and alley ways of empire and for this reason Become M.A.D.E. is an essential read. A practical tool for liberation in the hands of Black youth and a valuable historical document for those who come after.

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Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

WDWGFHConventional narratives terminate the Civil Rights Movement after the signing of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965. The iconic photograph of President Lyndon Johnson signing the landmark piece of legislation as Dr. King admiringly watches on is portrayed as the culminating moment of many years of mass marches and civil disobedience. While the significance of this achievement should not be understated, this only offers a partial picture of the crises and challenges that defined Dr. King. Beneath all the fanfare of signing ceremonies and presidential speeches was a nation stubborn in its attachment to economic injustice, white supremacy, and imperial warfare. It is this post-1965 America that Dr. King confronts in his urgent appeal to a dramatically polarized society Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? “The paths of Negro-white unity that had been converging crossed at Selma, and like a giant X began to diverge,” observes King. This loss of support from white liberal allies, what King terms the “white backlash”, serves as a dominant theme in his writing and illustrates the necessity of a systemic, rather than piecemeal, critique of the status quo. Central to Dr. King’s indictment of the status quo is his condemnation of poverty, a plague as “cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism.” In an America indelibly altered by the emergence of mass based social justice movements like Occupy Wall Street King’s words resonate with a disturbing relevance. Furthermore, solutions were proposed to eradicate this “curse of poverty.” “Two conditions are indispensable if we are to ensure that the guaranteed income operates as a consistently progressive measure,” King insisted. “First, it must be pegged to the median income of society, not at the lowest levels of income … Second, the guaranteed income must be dynamic; it must automatically increase as the total social income grows.”

A brief look at contemporary America reveals an economic order passionately hostile to these prescriptions. Neoliberalism and its most committed enthusiasts in the business class have all but destroyed the possibility of a genuine social democracy. Foreshadowing the rise of this highly corporatized and anti-democratic organization of power King notes, “Automation is imperceptibly but inexorably producing dislocations, skimming off unskilled labor from the industrial labor force. The displaced are flowing into proliferating service occupations.” Faced with this exploitation King stressed the importance of unionized workplaces: “In days to come, organized labor will increase its importance in the destinies of Negroes.” As with the proposal for a guaranteed income, much work remains to be done in this domain.

Beyond the radical injustices of poverty in the US, King also directed his outrage abroad where America sent “black young men to burn Vietnamese with napalm, to slaughter men, women, and children …” The glaring contradiction within a country that “applauds nonviolence whenever Negroes face white people in the United States but then applauds violence and burning to death when these same Negroes are sent to the fields of Vietnam,” was indicative of a deeply rooted hypocrisy that permeated American life. “All of this represents a disappointment,” stated King. “It is disappointment with timid white moderates who feel that they can set a timetable for the Negro’s freedom.”

Similarly, Black men and women today are met with bitter condemnation in Ferguson and Baltimore. The burning of buildings and the shattering of store windows often arouses more outrage than the systematic murder of Black people at the hands of police officers or white vigilantes. And lest we imagine the immorality of the Vietnam War to be an artifact of history, it was not too long ago when America sent young men to burn Iraqis with white phosphorous, “to slaughter men, women, and children …” under the banner of “Western democracy.” In the occupied territories of Palestine such horrors also continue to unfold with Washington’s blessing. Furious denunciations could more productively be directed here.
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Perhaps this is the most intriguing aspect about King’s writings. Even a surface reading of the text compels readers to engage critically with the world around them as it currently exists. Apart from ruminating on the contents of King’s famous “Dream”, Where Do We Go from Here inserts the reader squarely in King’s reality. In his description of the Black Power movement one can’t help but see many of the features it embodied echoed in the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s disregard for the politics of respectability, its forceful critique of white supremacy, its passionate demand that Black humanity be affirmed by a criminal justice system designed to dehumanize Black bodies are all points of contact between these two popular movements. Simultaneously attentive to the grievances of the Black Power movement as “a reaction to the failure of white power,” while critical of it as “a nihilistic philosophy born out the conviction that the Negro can’t win,”—“… that American society is so hopelessly corrupt and enmeshed in evil that there is no possibility of salvation from within”—King offers a nuanced perspective of what happens within oppressed populations when lofty promises by those in positions of power are crushed under the weight of venal self-interest and political calculation. “This gulf between the laws and their enforcement is one of the basic reasons why Black Power advocates express contempt for the legislative process.”

Closing this “gulf between the laws and their enforcement” is likely what compelled King to take up residence in Lawndale, Chicago, where “the problems of poverty and despair are graphically illustrated,” and “the phone rings daily with countless stories of man’s inhumanity to man …” Disturbed by the intensity of suffering, the “emotional and environmental deprivation” that surrounded him, King ominously added, “I understood anew the conditions which make of the ghetto an emotional pressure cooker.” Recall this is in the aftermath of the Watts Rebellion of 1965, a social and political conflagration that “signaled the end of the monopoly previously held by advocates of nonviolence as a method of protest among blacks”, Ebony magazine’s description of the uprising in its 1971 Pictorial History of Black America. Indeed, the unfulfilled hopes of Selma and Montgomery birthed the righteous indignation of Watts.

The King assassinated in 1968 was a King acutely aware of this sea change and the revolutionary potential that it held for America and the world at large. Political and economic elites are perfectly comfortable to erect monuments to a King conveniently reduced to idyllic visions of multi-racial and multi-religious harmony shorn of the particulars of authentic justice. More threatening is the King who observed “the cold hard facts today indicate that the hope of the people of color in the world may well rest on the American Negro and his ability to reform the structure of racist imperialism from within and thereby turn the technology and wealth of the West to the task of liberating the world from want.”

This is the same King who declared, according to his close colleague and author Vincent Harding, “something is wrong with the economic system of our nation … something is wrong with capitalism,” and “maybe America should move toward democratic socialism.” Washington cannot erect monuments to this King, principally because these views, and those who take the challenge they present seriously, continue to pose a grave threat to illegitimate authority wherever it brings down its oppressive boot. While the King imagined by power centers is immortalized in carefully chiseled statutes, the King of the oppressed was subversively mortal and many of his current celebrants would have much rather seen him in a morgue than on the DC mall. It is the spirit of this radical King that must be revived to guide us through the chaos of our current situation. The fate of future generations depends on it.

Source:

Ebony Pictorial History of Black America: Civil Rights Movement to Black Revolution. Vol. III. Chicago: Johnson Pub., 1971. Print.