Volume 88: The Fallacy of Proximity:The Failure of Urban Adolescents to Recognize Their Distance From Prosperity.

Posted on 07/11/2017


Hello good people! It’s that time again for another post from your favorite blogger, Sillethoughts! LOL! I decided to engage in hyperbole to begin this message as a warm up for what I have planned for today. But, before I begin, I need to  set the backstory.

I came up with the title to this post on April 2 a few years ago and put it on my Facebook page to get some initial responses from my friends. Boy, I did not expect the firestorm that would be caused by this title. Well, I may be exaggerating just a little. I mean, I wrote the title in such a way to illicit an emotional response. At the same time, I didn’t expect the types of responses – positive and negative. I knew then and there the post had to be written. Then, spring break happened, and Easter happened and, a few years later, it has yet to be posted. If the cliche is correct about “good things coming to those who wait” then this post should be about as good as it gets, LOL!

One last thing before I begin: Please read the post with objectivity! Too often we let our biases serve as a filter for opinions that may be contradictory to our own. This post is an observation based upon experience and backed by theory and research. It is neither a mandate, nor an indictment. It is mearly some criticial thought applied to a situation that is plaguing the African American community.

I encourage everyone who reads this post to add it to your personal collection of experiences, thoughts, and theory to come up with your decision on whether you agree or disagree with my premise. With that being said (written), let’s begin.

The Fallacy of Proximity: The Failure of Urban Adolescents to Recognize Their Distance From Prosperity



One of my co-hosts on the 3 Degrees of Separation Talk Show metioned that she came across the Dunning-Kruger Effect and how it gave her a paradigm shift when it came to understanding parts of the general population. In short, the effect is a cognitive bias that manifests in one of two ways:

  • Unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude.
  • Those persons to whom a skill or set of skills come easily may find themselves with weak self-confidence, as they may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.

Please note that both the unskilled and highly skilled can suffer from this effect. It is based on erroneous assumptions regarding the self or others.

How does this apply to urban adolescents? I’ll answer that question shortly; however, there is another theory that needs to be introduced. In psychoanalytic theory, reaction formation is a defensive process (defense mechanism) in which emotions and impulses which are anxiety-producing or perceived to be unacceptable are mastered by exaggeration (hypertrophy) of the directly opposing tendency. For example, someone who may have some homosexual feelings reacts to the anxiety of this revelation by displaying homophobic actions, thoughts, and behaviors.

So, we have the Dunning-Kruger effect where the unskilled mistakenly rate their abilities much higher than is accurate; and Reaction Formation, where someone deals with anxiety-producing stimulus by expousing the opposite tendency. And, while these theories were conceived in isolation of one another, if they are combined they can produce the following behavior(s):

  • The un- or underskilled student mistakenly overestimates their abilities and, in turn, reduces those activities that are paramount to their success, e.g. studying, reading, attending tutorials, etc. The dissonance caused by failing grades can be assuaged by blaming external sources, e.g. teachers, and/or by developing a “lightswitch mentality”, where the student believes achievement can be attained at any time – like turning on a light switch.
  • The student recognizes their deficiencies and reacts by forming attitudes and opinions diminishing the importance of school.

The Proximity Principle

The original question was, “How does this apply to urban adolescents?” Specifically, “What role does proximity play in distorting their ability to achieve prosperity?”

When I was in college, I met many people from major metropolitan centers. Invariably, they would begin a dialogue regarding the benefits of being from (insert city here). Additionally, they would attempt to explain how much further along in life they were simply by being from (insert city here). They would know more about sports because their home town team won the championship. They would know more about movies because X-number of films were shot there, and on and on… Many of us from smaller cities would fall for the false sense of “proximity bravado” expoused by our more urban brethren.

However, what I understood from them is the premise of this post. It seemed that the kids from larger metro cities were also more likely to attempt to emmulate the myths/stereotypes created about (insert city here). Because (insert city here) was big, they had to live big too – regardless of their financial situation. Geograpic stereotypes had to be validated, despite the cost(s).

You could be saying, “Sille, that was twenty-plus years ago. How is this relevant today?”

Ok. The social climate twenty-plus years ago was not necessarily as prosperity focused as it is today. Music and culture had variety and was about expressing all facets of a culture. For example, Public Enemy, N.W.A., MC Hammer, Brand Nubian, Erick B. and Rakim, Nas – even Jay-Z were all played on the radio. Unfortunately, current music has been reduced to fantasies of living lavish lifestyles free from rules, accountability, and responsibility.

And it’s not just music. Reality TV is following the same formula. I’m not going to go too deep into my feelings about “reality TV”, but you can read it here.  In short, Black culture is being segmented into two groups:

  1. Those who have and want/need to let you know they have; and,
  2. Those who do not have and want people to believe that they do.

Note: Before you get mad and tell me that Black culture is more than what is listed above, I know this. Read my statement again. I said Black culture is being segmented this way, not that it is this way.

Moving on…

Teens, in general, are significantly influenced by their friends and culture. African-American teens are no exception. We are being told everyday how we need to “keep up with the Joneses” and even the most mature of us have been seduced by this notion. Designer clothes, shoes, and purses. Luxury cars, homes, and vacations. We are bombarded with messages telling us our lives will be upgraded by a new phone, car, home, boat, etc. Our personal values have become intertwined with our quest for material gain and it is suffocating our children.

The fallacy of proximity is simple: Our desire to keep up with the Joneses is exponentially increased by our proximity and/or exposure to them. For example, I never saw a Maserati, Bently, or Rolls Royce until I moved to Atlanta. I also had no concept of what a mansion was until I moved here. The blessing of living in a large metro city is that my beliefs regarding how far I could go in my career and how much I could make increased significantly. The curse is what I wanted and expected for myself and my family also increased. I wanted a life that I hadn’t imagined before I moved here. One that I only saw on TV. Now, “the pie” was real and I wanted a piece. Thanks George and Weezy, LOL!


On my original Facebook post, I was warned against writing another post about what is wrong with Black teens. I agree. We don’t need more posts or papers or books telling us that the milenials are on an inevitable path towards destruction. However, I cannot ignore what I see. You see, I worked at an urban high school in the metro-Atlanta area, and what I saw was disturbing. I saw more Gucci than good grammar. I saw more ratchet than writing. I saw more Louis Vutton than life values. I worked with kids that can tell you more about what they wanted materially, than what they wanted vocationally. Yes, they seemingly were on a path towards destruction. And yet, I also saw hope.

The best way to alter this path is for those of us that know some pathways to success to mentor those students that don’t. I can’t hold a child responsible for never being taught “how to fish.” We must instill in them and increase the value of education while dimishing the quest for material fulfillment. We must replace the word “rich” with the word “wealth”. We must redefine success. We must demonstrate sound principles, accountability, responsibility, humility, and respect. We must foster a sense of community and oneness, and we must remove the “nots” from our vocabulary. The can-nots, the will nots, the do nots, the have nots, etc. We must understand that the further we can move our definition of success from obtaining the material representations of it; the closer we can come to actually achieving it.

The “trap” and its music can teach you a lot about life, but what it can’t teach you is how not to become trapped by it.



“Peep my ver-na-cular cuz I don’t know how to act…”