I started HGM in 2004. Yes, it’s been around that long. Seems life a lifetime ago. While the site has become a bit of an internet institution, few people know the story behind the birth of HGM. And probably fewer people actually care.
At this time I was in law school and my dad was dying so I spent a lot of time studying, drinking and escaping into the glowing screen of my laptop. I started to notice a disturbing trend. Well, truth be told, it wasn’t disturbing at first. It was funny as hell. Many of my friends, and everyone else within six degrees of separation (except Kevin Bacon), began to send around “ghetto pictures” for fun. And like the rest of my friends, I typically would laugh my ass off. The girl with the hair weave done in the shape of a helicopter, color coordinated pimps and ho’s, prom students in pasties, bedazzled pimp cups, cars with chandeliers and Burberry-pattern paint jobs. Although they are now popular internet classics, back then they were novel and great material for folly. It’s what we did for internet entertainment before YouTube. People would create elaborate Power Point slide shows titled, “Wedding in the Projects”, “Fight at a Funeral,” and the oft used “Look at Your Mama.” Everyone would try to one-up everyone else with the funniest “ghetto” picture. And we just had a ball with it. A bunch of professionals and students sitting at computers all day passing these pics around like a virtual blunt, and laughing just as hysterically as if the weed was real.
And one day, it just wasn’t funny anymore.
I think it was somewhere between the woman in the t-shirt which proudly read “Pregnant Pussy is the Best Pussy” and the 8 year old boy simulating sex with a grown woman that I suddenly stopped laughing. All of a sudden, I couldn’t believe that I ever thought any of this stuff was funny (even if it was just 11 minutes ago). I stopped everything, shut down the laptop, and asked myself, “what in the hell is going on in our communities… and why are we laughing at it?” Because although I may not have understood the law against perpetuities, I did know one thing for sure—those pictures were not funny.
And so it began. My intense renewal of my “relationship” with my people, our images, our culture, our behavior, and what role we play in how the world views us and how we view each other.
I was suddenly seeing everything about us in a new, though admittedly dim, light. I was confused. It seemed that all my ideals and assumptions about my people and our struggles were being challenged. There was an uncomfortable paradigm shift taking place in my mind. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t quite understand how what I was seeing in my community was somehow society’s (read: “white people’s”) fault. And if it wasn’t their fault, whose was it? (Cue dramatic music here.) It was ours. And only we can fix it.
Sure the economic disparities and educational inequality that exist among the African American community today can certainly be argued as the vestiges of Jim Crow and slavery, but I couldn’t, never mind the amount of intellectual gymnastics I tried, figure out why we weren’t responsible for the images I was seeing every day. We’re talking about basic decency and values here. I mean, did Whitey send your daughter to the prom with her tittays hanging out? No, you did. And the rest of us just stood around, and laughed.
The argument that the current pathos in the black community is the result of white racism and the systematic oppression of the Negro is a tricky one. If the precarious state of black America today is a direct and continuing result of a white supremacist government, then can someone please explain to me why my parents’ generation was so damn classy? Why, in a generation that was closer in proximity to slavery and segregation, did the community exhibit more of a work ethic, more of a focus on education, more focus on family, and more pride in their image? We have more opportunities than they could have ever dreamed of today, yet we are failing in all these basic tenets of a strong community and success in America.
How could I argue with any integrity at all that my generation has suddenly lost its way because of slavery and the white man? Oh God! Was I becoming a conservative? Was I becoming a Republican? Was I becoming (gasp) Herman Cain? Were there others who thought the same way I did? I felt compelled to start the conversation.
Being an eighties baby, the world of the civil rights movement seemed an eternity away. That had been the Golden Age of Protest. A master class in civil disobedience. The goals were clear and common, the people generally united, and the cause noble. It was a time when there were causes greater than oneself.
So now, here I am in the twenty-first century. Common goals have morphed into individualism. Brown v. Board is the distant past for most. Unlike our parents, we grew up integrated and watching the Cosby Show. Wanting more for us than they had, our parents heralded us with tales of opportunity. We were told we could be whoever we wanted, there were no limits. Generations before us had sacrificed their lives so we could live the American Dream. This generation doesn’t know protests or sit-ins or lynchings. We know House Party movies and Good Times and hip-hop. The Rodney King beating seemed like an aberration; racial profiling an inconvenience. Most of us never had to fight for anything in our lives. Generally, life is pretty good.
This certainly isn’t to say that we aren’t aware of racism, but do our protestations over cab rides denied, Mumia, and crack sentencing touch our collective black souls like integration and civil rights? Unfortunately not. Sure we can talk until the cows come home about hip hop and the N-word and Driving While Black and the ignorance of the Housewives of Everywhere, but it all seems so ethereal compared with the civil rights movement. And this lack of a common condition, a common enemy, a common cause, has fragmented our communities into oblivion. We were so quick to celebrate what we gained, we never stopped to think what we lost.
Believe me, I wasn’t doing this to be some kind of asshole or to be provocative for provocative’s sake. I really thought that the solutions to some of the problems plaguing our communities might be found in the conversations we could have about our role in how the world sees us. Our role in the state of our communities. It’s like on Soul Food. I just wanted the whole family to come to the table with some collards and ribs and talk honestly with one another. Because my mission was not about trivial fashion mistakes. It wasn’t about being ageist or classist. It was about recognizing what was in front of our faces, and that is a community that has become dominated by negative influences, and the effects are devastating.
I decided to use our own images to challenge our notions of ourselves. Not Hollywood’s images or the music industry’s images, but images we take of one another, images we pose for and display with pride. These pictures are like a hieroglyphic tale of our downward spiral. These images show the hypersexualization of our young women, our obsession with thug living and ho life. The images that came across my computer screen were walking, talking, booty-shaking examples of a generation that has lost its way. And I was determined not to let us get away with it. They show our vapid consumerism, our lack of focus on work and family, and just a general losing of the damn mind. Like the test to see if pasta is done, I was gonna throw all these images on the wall and see what stuck.
No matter what Eric Holder says, I’m no coward about race. But he is right. Everyone is so scared shitless to have honest discussions that involve race, that the conversations end up dominated by the loud mouths at the extremes. We tap dance around race, afraid someone will think we are a racist or an Uncle Tom. But too often you will be called a racist or an Uncle Tom if you express any opinion besides the one that happens to be politically correct at the time.
So must of us just say the hell with it and relegate our conversations to hushed tones among friends in church basements, beauty shops, college campuses, and on the Internet. And the conversation continues to be dominated by those on the far left or the far right, when most of us are somewhere in between. Meanwhile, the concerns, issues, conflicts, solutions, and analyses that we come up among ourselves in “private” just continue to smolder because they are never given the oxygen of a public forum. It’s a virtual race gag order. Certain things just cannot be spoken of in public (read: “in front of white people”). But anyway, life was short, my dad was dying, and all of a sudden I didn’t care about the gag order anymore.
I decided the Internet, which has managed to replace money as the root of all evil, would be my conduit to a conversation I wanted to desperately have with my beloved people. I would give a public voice to all those cell-phone convos and DMV line venting sessions and IM rants. The gag was coming off. Hotghettomess.com was born.
My new mission: using images that we promulgate and promote of ourselves to start discussions about the state of our communities. See, these weren’t images I scrounged around finding under people’s beds, raiding their box of private photos to get. These were photos that individuals had placed on the Internet with pride. Men and women posed for these pictures or took them of themselves. And the fact that these were images that people, especially young people, were proud of, was an indication that there was definitely trouble in River City.
How can we rail against negative stereotypes in the media and at the same time choose to perpetuate these images ourselves? HGM is my way of talking about it.