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Monday, December 3, 2007
Updated: December 4, 2:56 PM ET
Pursuit of street cred is a dangerous choice

By LZ Granderson
Page 2

This should've been a banner year for Clifford Joseph Harris.

He has a supporting role in one of the biggest movies of the year, "American Gangster," he won his second Grammy for his collaboration with Justin Timberlake, and his latest CD debuted at No. 1.

Most would kill to have a career like this.

Harris, who also goes by the name T.I., appears more interested in killing his career.

This fall, the feds nabbed him for felony gun possession; he was forced to post $3 million bail and is currently under house arrest. This comes a year after his best friend was shot and killed after an altercation at a night club.

I would say his rap sheet is longer than his rap sheet, but that would be too cheeky.

Besides, it's not like T.I. is the only high-profile brotha with legal trouble this year. Michael Vick, Tank Johnson, Pacman Jones, Chris Henry -- even Detroit's "hip-hop mayor," Kwame Kilpatrick, found himself on the wrong end of an $8.4 million settlement after firing two cops who were investigating possible misconduct by his security guards.

These black men, who seem to be on top of the world, are throwing it all away in a genocidal quest for street cred.

It's laughable to think of all the fervor we raised over the insensitive words of a washed-up shock jock, yet the real danger to blacks is met with "Free Vick" T-shirts and BET Awards.

Forget the fall and resurrection of Don Imus.

I will remember 2007 as the year of the "real niggas."

Growing up I tried to be "real." I held my first gun at 13. Survived drive-by shootings. Needed summer classes to graduate from high school because I was out getting high instead of going to class. The thing is, I didn't really have to do any of that. I had two parents in the house and had moved out of the 'hood before I actually started to get in trouble. I was doing it to gain respect from people who really didn't have my best interest in mind. It literally took a blow to the head -- courtesy of a baseball bat -- to help me see that. Believe it or not, I consider myself lucky. Last year, when I made a surprise visit to one of my favorite high school teachers, she acted as if she was shocked that I wasn't in jail. Not that I blame her. I wasn't doing right and really had no one to blame but myself.

The thing is, systematic racism and slavery has nothing to do with purchasing illegal weapons, Bad Newz Kennels or making it rain. Sometimes that's just us trying to be "real" -- manufacturing criminal scenarios in order to project an image of street authenticity that's loosely based on fictional characters from gangster movies such as "Scarface" and "The Godfather." This mentality is evident on the MySpace page of 17-year-old Eric Rivera, one of the suspects in the Sean Taylor murder. Reportedly "Mr. Florida" -- as he called himself -- posed for pictures lying in a bed covered with $100 bills and lists counting money among his interests.

Al Pacino is chilling in his multimillion-dollar home with Oscars tucked under his arms, and we're sporting XXXL T-shirts with Tony Montana's face on them and gats tucked in our jeans -- trapped inside some warped psychosis that makes us quick to point out the problems with whites but sluggish to recognize our own self-destructive behavior.

Does racism still exist? Absolutely.

Is racism the reason why T.I. and Vick face prison sentences or why Taylor and the Broncos' Darrent Williams are dead through no fault of their own? No. That's on us brothas, and we'd do something about it if we stayed in school long enough to learn the meaning of the word "ironic."

I remember leaving the Million Man March back in 1995 feeling as if black men were finally going to rise up and right the wrongs in our community.

More than a decade later, we're absentmindedly headed in the wrong direction.

Nearly one in three of us is either in prison or is an ex-con, according to the U.S. Justice Department. Though we make up only 6 percent of the general population, we represent 41 percent of society's inmates.

Each night I pray the words I've planted in my soon-to-be 11-year-old son's heart will take root and prevent his mind from making the same dumb decisions his old man did. Decisions that could add to those grim numbers -- or worse. Recent university studies show that black men are six times more likely to be murdered than our white counterparts.

Such was the case for Taylor, who, by all accounts, was turning his life around after his own "real" run-ins with the law. When I think about Taylor and the four brown faces accused of his murder, my soul just aches: five young lives ruined by one bullet.

I know it's simple addition, but that kind of math doesn't make any sense to me.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Page 2. He can be reached at l_granderson@yahoo.com.