In 2004, Prof. Nat Irvin II wrote a document entitled, “The Arrival of the Thrivals”. In the document, he defines “Thrivals” as:
The post-struggle generation of Africans and African-Americans, characterized by a keen awareness of an appreciation for multiculturalism, globalization, and change. Drawing on strengths derived from historical victimization and oppression, they actively participate in global economics and politics and are a strong influence on social change. Individuals are typically competitive, critical, savvy, and educated, and have an outlook that is international and multicultural.
I read this a few months ago and was like, “YES”, someone understands “us”, meaning a real adult has figured out a way to define many of the Black young adults that I call good friends, admire, and expect to be quite successful one day.
The reason I read this in the first place was because I saw friends referring to themselves as “Thrivals” or as part of the “Thrival Movement”. After a quick Google search to figure out what they were talking about, I stumbled upon the manifesto.
If you haven’t read it, click HERE, because the rest of this is dependent on an understanding of the text.
If you have read it, LET’S DO THIS.
For the first 4.5 pages of his work, I’m right with him. I’m with him, because he’s accurately depicting a great deal of the things I find true about myself and those around me, which I think is a feat for an older gentleman, no offense. He splits it up into a series of categories, each of which has, in my mind, very compelling arguments. The categories are “What Drives the Thrivals”, “Economic Clout”, “Educational Achievement”, “Describing the Thrivals”, and “Thrival Values”. The next category, however, began what was to be the beginning of the end of the lovefest.
Category number 6 is “Thrival Culture”. The point he’s trying to make with this is that these Thrivals have a diverse set of likes, interests, and passions. So far, so good. He lists the books that he sees Thrivals enjoying, from Harry Potter to The Autobiography of Malcolm X to works by Orwell and hooks. I don’t really mess with wizards and/or boarding schools, but whatever… I’ll let him slide.
Then he moves on to the musical likings of Thrivals, focusing on artists that will “get a Thrival’s attention”. This list is Badu, Kravitz, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Goapele, Mohlabane, Seal, and Cree Summer. This is when I started to get worried. For one, don’t list Cree Summer to me as a musician, she’s Freddie from A Different World. Secondly, I happen to enjoy neo-soul as a genre, but only neo-soul? Really?
At this point, he’s starting to walk on thin ice, but I’m still giving him the benefit of the doubt.
I cautiously jump into the next paragraph and immediately start throwing out red flags, so many in fact, that I ran out of red flags and just started throwing my quasi-red belongings in the air.
These were the lines that got me:
While Thrivals may celebrate the power of the hip-hop movement, they do not embrace hip-hop culture blindly.
When asked about television, Thrivals commonly say that they don’t watch it, but when they do, they tune into Discovery Channel, History Channel, Animal Planet, CNN, BBC, and other news channels.
On the Internet, they visit places like Africana.com, Black-Voices.com, BlackPlanet.com, and similar places for community information.
Thrivals are very specific and intentional in naming their progeny. Look for them to name their children in honor of a specific ancestor who was an early visionary or someone who worked hard making it possible for others to survive.
Quoting a Thrival: “She is considering names such as “Oluwatimileyin” (God is pushing me from behind”)
Quoting a Thrival: “I don’t like people with filthy mouths. I like people who can have a good time and who want to have direction in their lives”
Quoting a Thrival: “I am a serious person and I am interested in people that are serious-minded.”
While I don’t wholly disagree with all of these quotations (just most of them), what he seems to be doing by including these passages and beliefs are, in my mind, extremely counterproductive. It’s extremely subtle, but what he’s doing is polarizing young Blacks and describing an ideal group that seems to have no true connection to aspects of Black culture that I would guess he would describe as “unrefined”. Only the “positive” aspects.
I read these descriptions of “Thrival Culture” and it unfortunately makes me want to run as fast as possible from the label, which is funny, because I very well know my similar friends and I are in the group that he believes will be influential in the upcoming years. If it were not for the first 4.5 pages of his text, I wouldn’t so readily assume that, but after reading it, I’m sure of it.
For example, pitting wholesome neo-soul over more grimy hip-hop is insulting to me. It’s like screaming through a megaphone that you might be slightly out of touch.
To suggest almost turning a blind eye to all that is pop culture, and never taking your head out of an Octavia Butler novel is almost laughable. I’d rather pay to see Gucci Mane than get paid to see Seal. And no offense, but I don’t have time to be browsing on BlackPlanet.com, and the only reason you’ll see BlackVoices in my internet history is because they got bought out by The Huffington Post.
I’m not going to really get into the “naming your offspring” issue, mainly because I just turned 24, but let me just say after growing up with a name like “Rembert”, please know that Lil Oluwatimileyin better know how to play basketball, or he’s going to have a rough ages 6-15.
And last, but not least, the major issue of who Thrivals choose to associate with. Few things anger me more than judging the life decisions and choices of others,as to exclude them from a group and assuming they aren’t fit to be a part of a group because of these choices. I have very good friends that do a great deal of things Mr. Irvin would probably scoff at. These are the same friends that, for the first 4.5 pages of his document, were described to the T.
In all honesty, I should stop projecting and throw myself in that group as well, because my education, my goals, and my potential to do awesome things would probably be cancelled out in his mind by the fact that I prefer a party to a library, a happy hour to a drum circle, and a dirty joke to a proverb.
You can have an “appreciation for multiculturalism, globalism, and change”, but designate a significant portion of your day to saying outlandish things, being ignorant from time to time, and, oh I don’t know, living life. It sounds really rude to say this, but the people he describes don’t sound like people I’d ever really want to hang out with. And to Mr. Irvin’s credit, he isn’t describing an imaginary group–they’re real–but they typically aren’t big fans of me, especially when we are equals on paper, but I’ve got a Mighty Ducks snapback in my hand, not a copy of Chicken Soup for the Very Serious Person’s Soul.
I’m extremely happy that Mr. Irvin started a dialogue about this, because dialogues are good and at the core, I want to be 100% on board. With that said, I assure you this group that he is describing is not going to be the group to cause significant change in society. That group will think they are changing the world, but their inherent nature of socially distancing themselves from those that occasionally act in an uncouth manner will do nothing but polarize those that should be working together.
Mr. Irvin, I’m sure you’ll never read this because you probably have a spam filter setting for “Gucci Mane” (not the absolute worst thing to have), but if you do please note that this is a constructive critique, not a scholarly bashing. I’m eager for you to meet some of us that might be the solution you’re actually looking for.
p.s. Not using “Wack” once in this article was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Just wanted to say that.