There are many things that could be said about the upcoming fight between Chris Brown and Soulja Boy… but I will stick to what came to mind when I found out that people were taking it seriously. So seriously, in fact, that Mayweather and 50 Cent picked their “winners” and bet on them. Then Mayweather said he was going to train Soulja (because he put money on him) and 50, not to be outdone, got Mike Tyson to train Brown. The bizarre part of this story, for me, is not that they are fighting over in Dubai or even that it will be Pay-Per-View. The bizarre part is how the situation got started in the first place. On social media, over a girl named Karreuche, who Chris Brown cheated on with all her friends (his words, not mine), and had a baby on. Seriously?
But what came to mind when I contemplated it was the fight scene between the “Mandingos” from Django Unchained…
… and between Carl Lucas and the prisoners in the Netflix series Luke Cage…
… and all the other black men who were forced to fight, sometimes even to their death, for the entertainment of whites.
Now, the parallel in this case is a stretch. Brown and Soulja have chosen to escalate their “beef” beyond the realm of the internet and onto the world stage. But who is enabling them? Rich black men, who – as Wendy Williams rightly pointed out – should have taken them aside and counseled them to work out their issues in private. This particular display of masculinity in the form of violence is troubling… not simply because it is happening, but because of the way in which it is happening. In this case, Brown and Souljah are simply tools in other people’s hands, being trained to win (or lose) not for the sake of their pride, but for the sake of other people’s money and entertainment.
Yes, I am aware that people make careers out of fighting in the ring… but, this started out as a personal problem between two young men, that could have been resolved otherwise. Chike Jeffers, a philosopher, recently wrote an essay that I find relevant to this discussion. It is entitled “Silence as a Virtue: A Study in the History of Ancient African Philosophy.” In the piece, he discusses an ancient Egyptian collection of moral teachings entitled The Instruction of Ptahhotep, said to be “the oldest book in the world” (5). Jeffers’ focus is on three of the passages, wherein Ptahhotep (a government official) is speaking to his son about how to deal with a “disputant.” There are three circumstances described in the passage: his son being confronted by one who is above his social station, one who is his equal, and one who is socially beneath him: “In the case where one’s opponent is of superior social standing, silence communicates humility through submission… In the case where one’s opponent is of equal standing, silence communicates one’s superiority – it makes it clear that the person who seemed to be ‘a match for you’ is not and that you are, in fact, better. Finally, when one’s opponent is of low social standing, silence communicates one’s ability to calmly ignore evil speech” (7).
Jeffers argues that what is powerful about silence is that it can be used in different contexts to communicate different things. What makes it virtuous is that it demonstrates not only self control, but prudence (sometimes it is better to say nothing at all), and can also allow for the acquisition of knowledge and understanding (9 – 11). He ends his article with the 25th maxim from the Ptahhotep:
If you are powerful, promote respect for yourself,
by wisdom, by calmness of speech!
Give no instructions except according to circumstances!
The provoker always begins to go wrong.
Do not be haughty, lest your heart be humiliated!
Do not be silent – but beware lest you offend
when you answer a speech with ardour!
Turn away your face! Govern yourself!
The flame of the hot-hearted disperses (11).
In other words, when people come at us sideways or get on our nerves, sometimes (most of the time, even) we should just:
Had Brown or Soulja taken this advice, they wouldn’t be training as we speak to fight over someone who is not a part of their lives, and probably never will be.
T. M. G.
Jeffers, Chike. “Silence as a Virtue: A Study in the History of Ancient Philosophy.” Accessed January 13, 2016. Academia. https://www.academia.edu/27876095/Silence_as_a_Virtue_A_Study_in_the_History_of_Ancient_African_Philosophy.