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A freestyle rhyme on #timesup, #blacklivesmatter, #metoo, water, and more!

The learning burn

Preserve flows like an urn

Other folks had their shot, it’s my turn

Classic Mobb Deep, my mob deep and we creep

Straight from the streets of the hood in Southeast

DC, home of the sloppy dreams

Where the words “#allcaps” don’t represent a hockey team

Grand Washington Wizard occupies 16

Still rock the name of a racist football team

Jockey dreams, trap brothers and broke teens

Gentrification, still killin’ dreams

Triple beam pay like $1.15

Freakonomic ebonic brother, the flow’s clean

Can’t say the same for water up in Flint, MI

Where government intentionally watched folks die

Drank ‘em to death, whole towns nothin’ left

Glad they changed the gov cause homey was tone def

Speakin’ of dyin’, dunno why they keep lyin’

Shootin’ our brothers down unarmed too many cryin’

And sisters too, get it as bad as we do

For every Sandra bland that never made the news

Yo we got you too, never forget you

Cause #blacklivesmatter #timesup #metoo

And forget Cosby, watchin’ him was my hobby

But when you disrespect a woman you get kicked out the lobby

Or get bodied, we gotta have higher standards

Let me make it clear so you overstand, word

Ya heard, lyrically I’m flippin’ birds

To anyone defendin’ rapists and drugging herbs

Cosby, Weinstein, Kevin Spacey yo

Shout out to Tarana and Lupita Nyong’o

And all those who found the courage to come forward

And other silent victims still looking for words

I’m bringin’ havoc, I told y’all it’s the learnin’

I’m a standup for anybody out their yearnin’

For a day when we don’t care for what a predator’s earnin’

And care more for the victims still cryin’ and hurtin’

So if you’re heart lurkin’ and somehow stopped workin’

Hear my now and help us all stop the burnin’

Yeah it burns deep when the world don’t believe you

And money makin’ media keep wantin’ to deceive you

They just care about ratings and clicks, what up Moonves

Bout to make a midnight run but I ain’t Nunes

More like Fabian or Ocasio-Cortes

New voice need no roscoe to rock flows breth-

-ren, I go hard like Bushmaster

I’m a hard man fi dead you gon’ feel the rapture

Wildfires, floods, crazy natural disasters

Like the world’s comin’ to an end but it don’t have ta

If we show the world good sermons don’t preach ’em

If each one grab one and just teach ‘em

We’ll see how quick the tide can suddenly turn

Like switching the learning burn to the burning learn

It’s OD, don’t act like you don’t know me,

Next prodigy on the flow the one and only

I’m an upstander, I will never stand by

Think you can shut the people down don’t even try

Bye!

 

We must stop using the term “Hotep Brother”

Over the years, I have constantly heard people in the black community use the term “Hotep brother.” It has permeated our music, literature, television shows, and more. There are several definitions of this term, but I think Damon Young captures it best in his article on The Root. He states that signs of Hotep brothers include:

  1. a steadfast belief in illogical conspiracy theories
  2. an arrogant adherence to respectability politics
  3. sexism and homophobia that vacillate from “thinly veiled” to “If being gay is natural, how come there ain’t any gay elephants?”
  4. unbowed and uncompromising support for any black man accused of any wrongdoing, even if said man’s guilt is clear
  5. ashy ankles

While some of these ideas may be meant to be tongue and cheek, the overarching idea is that there are brothers and sisters (especially brothers) in our community who could be considered “trifling” (sneaky, shady, insignificant, etc.). There is an inherent danger in using the term “Hotep brother” as a derogatory term.  The problem is that I couple this term with another term that has made its way into the American lexicon—ISIS.

If you google “ISIS”, 99% of hits on the first page will tell you that ISIS is a terrorist group meaning Islamic State In Syria as well as Iraq. In other countries, the term Da’ish or Daeshis used to refer to ISIS in other countries but ISIS has taken hold in America. Chances are you probably have casually used the term ISIS in casual conversations about terrorism but why is this is a problem for black America?

Imhotep was an ancient Egyptian deified polymath or a person with wide ranging knowledge. He was a poet, judge,engineer, scribe,astronomer,astrologer,and a physician. Isis was an Egyptian goddess and part of the original holy trinity along with her husband Osiris and son Horus. In short, these are two of the most powerful symbols that we as black people have tracing back to the earliest days of civilization and we allow these terms to be used negatively.

Between “Hotep brother”, ISIS, “nigga”, “bitch” and several other terms that fall in between, we should not be using terms that refer to our ancestors as demeaning and degrading terms. In the era we live in today, we are having several conversations about our direction. We are looking at ways to become more active in the political process, take control of our education like LeBron James and others, create and support more black businesses, and so much more. Part of our conversation about nation building has to focus on not using language that degrades us or our history.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen parodies of Harriet Tubman having sex with her slave master, our first African American President and First Lady of The United States be portrayed as monkeys and terrorists, history books being re-written to reflect Slavery as a system for voluntary migrant workers, unarmed members of our community being slain by law enforcement and then their character further slain in the media, people calling the police on us for just living #whileblack, and so much more. We are in a continued battle in this country to preserve our history and culture. We have to be more intentional about the language we use towards each other. We can challenge the members of our community whom we do not feel bring out our best without degrading our ancestors and the few symbols that have stood the test of time. We can and must do better if we are serious about nation building.

TV Show Arrow Has Every Right To Discuss #BlackLivesMatter

This article appears in The Huffington Post, where I am a contributor: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/tv-show-arrow-has-every-right-to-discuss-blacklivesmatter_us_59babf92e4b02c642e4a14a7

Ask “Where do I go?” not “Where do WE go?” from here

          Everyone is asking where we go from here. I think the real question to ask is “Where do go from here?” By “I” I mean YOU. At the end of the day, all you can control is yourself and your reaction to all of the tragedies we witnessed this week. Asking where “we” go almost allows us to point fingers at what everyone else is not doing. Doing so means that you are not focusing on what you can do. As cliche as it sounds, it is indeed true that when you point in the mirror, there are three fingers pointing back at you.
          As Oprah said, what you think about expands. If you think about how you can add to the climate of positivity and not negativity, to the climate of peace and not division, than you are doing your part to move us forward. Your actions will speak louder than your words so make sure you give yourself the time needed to reflect on a way forward and then move forward expeditiously so that we can make this country as great for everyone as its promise. Peace always. Take care!

Alton Sterling & Philando Castile killings: I will no longer watch videos of police shootings

I will never forget the day the video of the killing of Laquan McDonald, the unarmed teen who was shot 16 times by one police officer while he lay on the ground, was released. The image of smoke discharge from the bullets that riddled his lifeless body as he lay on the concrete is as seared into my head as is the face of Emmett Till, the 14-year old boy who was lynched in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. His heavily disfigured face juxtaposed against his pre-lynching photos are still too much to bear, even though his murder occurred before I was even born. Despite the horrific nature of McDonald’s killing and the cover-up that was revealed in how he actually was murdered (read – executed), there was one other aspect of the killing that was almost as bad as the killing itself—the way in which the video of his murder became must-see-TV.

Throughout the day, every news outlet I watched almost boasted on how they would have the video primed and ready for the evening news. It was being billed as if it was a major sporting event, a speech by The President, or an impending visit by The Pope. For the life of me, I just could not figure out why a boy’s murder was turning into such a spectacle until I remembered the words of Jason Silverstein who wrote in his article “I don’t feel your pain” that there exists a “racial empathy gap” in America. In short, he says that when we (people of all races) see black people experiencing pain, we do not feel as much empathy as when we see white people experiencing pain. In fact, Silverstein goes as far as to say that we feel no pain when we see a black person harmed. His argument makes perfect sense.

Do you remember WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward? They were tragically shot to death while reporting live by a gunman whose name I will not share and add to his notoriety. The video of McDonald’s murder was released a month before Parker and Ward. While the world waited to watch McDonald get murdered, all media outlets found Parker and Ward’s murders “too graphic” to show or chose to not show the video out of respect to Parker and Ward’s family. Even on YouTube, you must be signed in and prove you are an adult to possibly see the full video. I completely agree and supported the decision to not show Parker and Ward get murdered but the question has to be asked: what makes the killing of a black man “must-see-TV” but the killing of anyone else too graphic?

From Latasha Harlins (25 years ago), Scott Walker and John Crawford to Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and now Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and everyone in between, we keep killings of black people on loop, almost as if they were public lynchings from earlier times. It is as if we cannot believe a black person can be killed unjustly. Furthermore, even after seeing these videos, many of us either stay in denial or come up with justifications as to why these Americans (yes, Americans) deserved to die. Meanwhile, many of us who know that we or our loved ones can easily be next repost the videos for everyone to see and then take to the streets in tear-filled anger and protest. I for one will no longer participate in this incessant song and dance routine.

I will not be watching the videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile being killed by the police. I have seen enough. Watching these videos do not move me to do anything productive. When I have watched these videos in the past, my emotions run from blood boiling to crying. I see myself in John Crawford’s face as his family hears him say over the phone “[the gun] is not real” as he bled to death. I see too many faces of people I know in the faces of Rice, Amadou Diallo, and others. Lastly, watching these videos impede my ability to be a fully participating husband and father because I become consumed with thinking when my turn is coming, even when I should be enjoying precious moments like birthday parties. Rather than participate in this endless cycle, I choose to remember the beautiful faces of these people smiling from the pictures showed by their families. I will look at Alton Sterling’s image and become more inspired to fight for justice without living under a cloud of rage and without harboring any thoughts of exacting revenge on the shooters or hoping someone else does. None of those thoughts help me work as an upstander to advance peace in our society.

So what will you do? Will you participate in the media-murder circus? Will you watch another murder and justify it somehow in your head? Will you change the channel for something more interesting after your bloodlust has been satisfied? Or will you be moved to do something different? Something better? Something more productive? My hope is that we will be just as proactive in fighting  for justice without having to indulge ourselves in a human being’s final moments. If for some reason you must watch the video, ask yourself what it does for you and be honest in your emotions and choose to be proactive and not reactive. That is the best way to honor those unjustly slain and actually show that we feel their pain. It is what these victims need. It is what they deserve.

I’m Black, I rap, I’m Under 40, And I Don’t Use The Word “Nigga”

              I haven’t felt as embarrassed as an African American as I did when I heard comedian Larry Wilmore call President Barack Obama “my nigga” at The White House Correspondence Dinner. Don’t get me wrong. There have been many moments that I have considered low points for our culture but this was the lowest. The only thing that is more offensive to Wilmore’s ignorance is the response by people who have no problem with the use of the word because it’s just “Keepin’ it 100” or “Keepin’ it real.” Yes, Wilmore kept it real—real stupid. For anyone who says that this is just a natural term for us to use and that we’re used to it,” let me explain the three reasons why they’re wrong.

Nigga is not a term of endearment

Let’s really “keep it 100.” I am a rapper. I also have been “hip-hop” since birth so I am no newcomer to hip-hop culture. It’s the soundtrack of my life and so I will always love hip-hop. Anyone who listens to hip-hop knows full well that in our music, the term “nigga” is used more negatively than positively. Even Tupac who stated that “NIGGA” meant “Never Ignorant Getting’ Goals Accomplished” rarely used the term “nigga” in an endearing way. Sure there are verses where rappers talk about rollin’ with “my niggas” or bringing their “niggas” through the door once they became successful. In reality however, the overwhelming use of the term “nigga” is negative as in “niggas hatin’” on each other or “killin’ niggas” as well as their kids and other family members. Whenever I hear a term like “brother” being used in rap, it is indeed use positively as it should be. We cannot believe the terms “brother” and “nigga” to be synonymous and anyone who says “nigga” is used as a term of endearment particularly in our mainstream hip-hop music is just wrong. Don’t believe the hype.

Acceptance of the term nigga is not generational

A few years ago, rapper and mogul Jay Z appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and they had an honest debate about the word “nigga.” Jay Z made the argument that many users of the word use. He said that it’s generational and that the overuse of the word has taken the power out of the word. He also said that the intent behind the word is important, a point to which I agree. The fact of the matter however is that many black people younger than Jay Z do not use the term “nigga” and find it deplorable. I am younger than Jay Z and Nas and many rappers who rose to prominence in the 1990s and the 2000s. I work with youth across the country and run into students from kindergarten to college who deplore use of the word. It is also clear by Wilmore’s use of “nigga” that there are people of Oprah’s generation and older who are quite comfortable with the word. To accept, however, that people of my generation and younger have just accepted the term is flat out wrong. I am a Jay Z fan and even wrote my doctoral dissertation on Jay Z but on this point, I couldn’t disagree more with him.

White people still own the word “nigga”

There is always a debate about whether white people can use the word but we cannot reclaim a word we never owned. The argument is a waste of time. Not only can white people use the word, they still own the word. Some believe that Kendrick Lamar’s explanation of “nigga” coming from “negus” in ancient Africa. Please. I doubt Master John was thinking about ancient Africa while whipping his slaves. White people still use the word on a regular basis. I am a professor of cross cultural communication at American University. When I discussed hip-hop and the term “nigga” to my 70 plus majority white students (many wealthy) I asked them if they repeat the word “nigga” when singing their favorite rap songs. They all honestly raised their hands. I was not mad because they were just being honest but it revealed to me that an endless debate over use of the word is pointless because we live in a society where historical context doesn’t matter and all students on college campuses hear the word every day in music or from their black classmates.

At the end of the day, we as black people have lost the ability to make a case for the termination of “nigga.” I’ve heard some gay people refer to each other as “faggot.” I believe that there are Jewish people who may refer to each other as “kikes”, Latinos who refer to each other as “spics” and maybe even some Chinese people who use term “chink.” The difference with these groups is that they have not mainstreamed the most derogatory terms into global lexicon. Rapper Drake is half Jewish but you would never hear him utter the word “kike” in his music. Michael Jackson, probably the most not-racist person in history had his album pulled and was roundly condemned by his “friends” like Steven Spielberg because he used the word “kike” in his anti-racist song “They don’t care about us.” That should have made the message very clear to black people: degrade yourselves all day but as soon as you go beyond the plantation, expect to be whipped back into form.

As KRS-ONE so eloquently put it, “That mic you speak through/goes from here to Mogadishu/and how you represent us is the issue.” Across the globe, from Japan to Israel, we have made it acceptable to use the term “nigga” without providing any context because too many of us don’t know the context. I’ve been called “nigga” in Senegal and South Africa by people who thought they were being cool. I’ve watched Japanese sitcoms where they call each other “nigga.” At the same time the word becomes globalized, the #blacklivesmatter movement and the overall fight for black dignity has not. People want to dress in “our” clothes and play “our” music but take it all off when they go home. They want everything but the burden. All Larry Wilmore did was make the word acceptable for an entire new generation of black and non-black people to get comfortable with the word by referring the first black President in that way. There is nothing funny about that and as Joe Madison said, he tainted the legacy of the first black president and, as Reverend Al Sharpton said, it was at best tasteless. We can and need to do better.

How student leaders can respond to controversial topics in the news

It is beyond an understatement to say that we are living in very dangerous times. It seems as though every time we turn on the television, there is another story on some hot button issue from mass shootings to police/civilian interactions. From racism, anti-Semitism, and islamophobia, to immigration, education, and terrorism, it is very easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges we face today. In my work as a youth speaker and an UPstander, I encounter leaders like you every single day who may not be sure on how to respond to these challenges from a leadership perspective.

It is easy for any of your peers who are not leaders to say whatever is on their mind with no concern for the ramifications but as a leader, you took an oath to work towards bringing people together, be it in your school community or beyond, depending on the issue. But how can you honestly speak about an issue like #blacklivesmatter or a tragic mass shooting if it is far removed from your daily experience? Here are 3 steps you can take to become a more effective leader on hot button issues.

  1. Educate yourself on the issue

We live in the information age. There is simply no excuse to not be able to educate yourself on an issue. The challenge, however is whether you will diversify your sources of information. For example, if you are reading about the tragic shootings in San Bernardino or the killing of Laquan McDonald in Chicago, you should not only consult one media source, as most people do. Remember, you are a leader! Don’t only watch CNN, MSNBC, or FOX for example. Watch all three plus additional sources like NPR and other reputable websites and journals that can educate you. Require that your team do the same thing and then make an informed decision on how to move forward.

  1. Survey your community

It is very easy to not address an issue because you do not believe it affects you directly but chances are that there is someone in your community that is affected. Is the Muslim student in your school being looked at differently after the San Bernardino killings? Is the police officer in your school or neighborhood being looked at more suspiciously after videos that surface showing police officers on the other side of the country shooting unarmed individuals? Is the Spanish speaking student more on edge over the immigration debate? You have to survey your community to find out who is feeling isolated and engage them. One of the mistakes I made as a high school student council leader was not listening as often as I should have to the people who did not speak up. Remember, silence can speak just as loudly as the loudest megaphone.

  1. Actively reach out to the affected community

The word “active” is extremely important here. Your entire school community needs to see that you are making efforts to be an inclusive community. Yes it’s cliché but you have to lead by example. Be the person to sit at a different table in the cafeteria, which is still one of the most segregated area in many schools today. Create speakout events where opinions can be expressed or have a unity rally. There is no shortage of things you can do once you are committed to be an UPstander and not a bystander. Once people know that they are still accepted in the community they share with you, they may be more likely to open up to you and also less likely to resort to some form of negative behavior due to the isolation or mistrust they may be experiencing.

Leadership is an easy job if you only preach to your choir but here is the problem, preaching to the choir is not leadership. It’s preaching. You ran for office and though you were not elected by everyone, you noe represent everyone. Take that responsibility seriously. Get educated on the issues of the day and use your knowledge to build your community, not keep it divided. That is the sign of a true leader!