“Following The Joneses &…..The Smiths?!”

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There are certain phrases in African American households that are seemingly universal, one such phrase is, “don’t follow the Joneses!” In African American households, “The Joneses/Smiths” refer to comparing what you do or what you have to anyone, and everyone, outside of our immediate families. But we tend to go way overboard with it. No one really knows much about the Joneses except that apparently they are evil incarnate and NEVER make the right choices. If your last name is Jones or your new last name is Jones I suppose your family says, “don’t follow the Smith’s?” Either way, no African American family with a different last name seems to trust you, except maybe….ME! If the Joneses (or the Smiths) Chronically make bad decisions, I know what NOT to do when it’s my turn to be challenged. I believe “The Joneses” are a valuable commodity in our society because they potentially save us from defeat and heartbreak. “Following the Joneses” could potentially be the best decision you’ve ever made.

I can’t recall ever “following the Joneses” but I have followed the: Void’s, Williams’, Furlow’s, Biven’s, Purnell’s, Crum’s, Shields’, Greene’s, and the list continues on for miles. The fundamental concept of why we’re taught not to follow the Joneses is to provide a base point of reference for those who lack (or have poor) discernment skills. In my adolescence, my moral compass polarity changed according to emotion rather than fact, so certain phrases I grew up with kept me safe. The expectation is that with mental and spiritual maturity, discernment would take precedence so those quotes from childhood wouldn’t be needed anymore. Post college, I discovered that many of the phrases I grew up with were based on biblical principles. However, with generation after generation, after generation, after generation, all playing the game of “telephone” with the same phrases, it becomes hard to keep track of what’s based on biblical principles and what the Bible actually says.

“God don’t like ugly” is NOT in the Bible. As a matter of fact, according to the Bible, God has redeemed “ugly” many, many times over. This phrase is a prime example as to how convoluted our ideals become when we forgo research for hearsay. I’m one to admit that some of the phrases we grew up with could use a facelift, but they do help us develop a foundation of morality. There are a plethora of phrases we could cover but I’ll stick to how the namesake of this entry helped me. So, as you can imagine, college is a melting pot of moral concepts. As much as everyone had in common ethnically, most of us were disjointed morally, testing the boundaries of what we’d been taught and breaking the chains of safety restrictions our families had established. In such a diverse environment, if I followed every “Joneses” that I encountered, my own principles would begin to resemble a kaleidoscope of concepts without a sustainable structure to lean on. “Don’t follow the Joneses” prevented me from adopting every new concept conceived in a thinktank of young adults on a Friday night (because there was nothing else to do). Back then, it was necessary but as a grown woman, I’ve matured well past relying on phrases and into asking questions to help me make well-informed decisions.

Here’s an example, there’s a story about a little girl who asked her mother why she always cut the ends off of a roast before she cooked it. It’s not until the question reached the great-great grandmother that the question was answered; back then there weren’t pots large enough to fit an entire roast so cutting the ends off made it fit. Think about this story for a moment: time, food and money all wasted because everyone decided to play “follow the leader” instead of “detective”. In a majority of African American families, we’re accustomed to following everything you’re told without question, so it’s no wonder why all that food was wasted in the aforementioned story. But the world is evolving and so is the Black family, we now allow an average of one question a month and we’re learning which phrases we’re meant to grow past. See, we can change too!

Whether you follow the Joneses, Smiths, Brown’s or you’re “strictly bib-ly” (strictly by the bible) developing discernment skills you can rely on is going to be your best option in any situation. I can learn something from those who make all the wrong decisions just as much as I can from those who have the discernment to make all the right ones. I fear neither the Joneses nor the Smiths, they don’t have any effect on turning me into someone I’m not. I’m pretty pleased with the foundation I’ve built based on the choices I’ve made thus far. I see beauty in imperfections, in humanity, so I’m not going to fall apart from the consequences of a wrong decision (should I make one). We need the Joneses/Smiths and we need you and me. Like my Grandmother used to say, “it takes all kinds (of people) to make the world!”

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