Keep Your Eye on the Hustle
“Hustler’s Law” show’s the author-JW Brown-fits this category throughout much of his story, and is a remarkable memoir of one of the most common, but least focused-on byproducts of “the truth;” the art of the double-life. In fact, after I finished reading it I concluded, “finally, a book written about the Witnesses by one of those “in-and-out” guys. If you been around the Kingdom Hall long enough, you know who I’m talking about. 1-The multiple-times disfellowshipped follower or 2- the chronic-fader (the one JW seems to fit the most). You see them for a while and then they’re gone, and in a few years they come back, only to leave again, only to… well you know the rest. Somebody's gotta tell their story. In this book you can at least circumvent Kingdom Hall gossip and really find out what was going on during both the absentee and present-and-accounted-for periods of one JW.
Brother Brown opens with “most of this book was written before I returned to the Jehovah’s Witness faith… I have retained some passages in the entirety to assure the book’s authenticity-even though I do not ascribe to certain activities as described.” This is a humble way of saying ‘I ain’t admitting to nothing.’ This may or may not work with the judicial committee, but I suspect with the Watchtower it’s as good as "sitting on the fence." What I think is going on with Brother Brown is something a lot of JWs go through, having a lingering voice chasing them that asks ‘what if the Watchtower is right?’ After the child-molestation discoveries I chased that voice away a long time ago, but I was remiss in understanding all the voice does is find a new home.
Our story begins with JW at a tender age wrestling with questions about race sometime around 1970. His mom strove to avoid his questions on the subject, being a devout Witness. Between the ‘50’s -’70’s came a new breed of black Jehovah’s Witness who seemed more or less willing to use their membership to dodge the race issue because this is what the Watchtower was pitching, "neutrality." They simply awaited the promise of “paradise” in an a-racial world, while concurrently living around "worldly" blacks fighting in the Civil Rights Movement, and then the Black Liberation Movement of the late-’60’s-’70’s. For JW her lack of dialogue almost cost him his life, he had a 6 or 7-year-old friend next door named Nancy who’s parents no-doubt informed her of her heritage. She was a young aggressive little white girl who had a habit of talking JW into risky situations:
“For instance I climbed a tree at Nancy’s behest of course. To mom’s dismay she saw me up in a tree with a rope around my neck, as she drove up to our home, Nancy was urging me to jump off the tree branch but ran to her house when she saw my mom pulling up the drive.” Brown-like a lot of us raised in what is errantly called “the truth”-had a Cinderella view of life that took a while for him to shake.
JW’s first realization of inequality came from within his own congregation “there was one significantly glaring scenario, however. Of course those men (comprised of elders from various congregations in the distant) who gave the talks (or discourses), most if not all, seemed to be white. This scenario almost exclusively applied to the ‘Circuit and District Overseers… if I ever asked about such things as race, I would be immediately told ‘everyone is equal in God’s eyes.’” He knew as a black man he would have to hustle harder than anyone else and that’s what he set out to do. “If you happened to be black, if you wanted to succeed on your own terms, you had better be a hustler.” In time questions like “why does American Bandstand only have white dancers, while Soul Train only has black dancers” would give way to why aren’t their female Elders and Ministerial Servants in his Kingdom Hall?
It took a while for me to understand the Watchtower Society was an insecure old white man’s dream come true, because I have personally met some women in there who were smarter than all the elders combined, depending on what congregation you attend. But most of these women happily suppress themselves, some being hip to the game, others not. JW noticed some hidden trait in his mom’s thinking over time, “I noticed my mom would have no problem at all with me playing with as many white girls as I wanted. But - as soon as a black girl would come around, my mom would act the same as the parents of those little white girls… it explained why there was a lack of unity, even a subtle form of self-hate, among American blacks.”
On top of this just imagine having to go through school with a school sports-restriction placed on you. Brown learned he was an official hustler while a junior in high school one day when he just so happened to stumble onto a metal container with four ziplock bags of marijuana along with another bag filled with rolled joints. This could only have been a gift from Jehovah, okay it just seemed that way because he devised a way to make his own cash-cow. By the time he graduated his dad was disfellowshipped and parents were already divorced, he had three younger sisters and his mom became what I call ROF (Religion Over Family; a psychological term that is self-explanatory pretty much, but I will explain in an upcoming book) with them. It’s important to note the different levels of enthusiasm with various Witness families, and JW mentions one during this period that had a profound effect on him, the Flynns:
“The Flynns were a remarkable family. They were black but lived in a nicer neighborhood than my family lived… While my family rarely, if ever, talked about class and race, the Flynns spoke openly to their children about racism and prejudice… even within the Jehovah’s Witness faith.” It was the Flynns who inspired JW to read books on black militancy and history like the Autobiography of Malcolm X. He would also read books about Wall Street, this fascination would instill the urge for higher education of which he would follow through on. Both the black issues and college are virtually the opposite of what the Watchtower wants out out of it’s members, but by then he had become adept at living a “double-life.” But enough about race, this book is about hustle, of which JW shows himself to be very good at through various points of his life. His ability to multi-task would cross-over into juggling several women at a time.
In time he would enroll in college, graduate and then enter in law school: “Finally, when it was time to take the bar exam, I got a very large book from a bar review course that completely summarized all the first year course work. I learned that it was disallowed for any law student to have the book during the law school process… Then my light came on. It finally dawned on me how the Partier students were breezing through. They all had access to this book from the very beginning, and even before their law school career began. They did not have to study like the rest of us because they already had the answers ahead of time.”
JW thinks I'm not into his book as I have been with others because he has of late been an active Jehovah's Witness in good standing. In actuality I find it to be an interesting read by and of a complex man drawn both to the real world and insular world, I can't help but see some of myself in this story (I too am a crazy woman-magnet. lol). You'll find yourself fascinated by an across-the-board smart young man who breezed his way through two high schools concurrently, while belonging to an organization that wanted him to not figure out that YHWH ain't gonna pay his rent.
Chris Stevenson is a regular columnist for blackcommentator, and a contributor to the Hampton Institute, his own blog www.thebuffalobullet.com, and a syndicated columnist. Follow him on Twitter, and Facebook (pointblank009), you don't have to join any of them. Watch his video commentary Policy & Prejudice & Follow his Blogtalkradio interviews on 36OOseconds. Respond to him on the link below.