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Educators Weaponizing Authority: Jabari Talbot Arrest and the School to Prison Pipeline

Across the country, people have been engaging in intense debates about the 11 year old student Jabari Talbot in Florida who was arrested for not saluting the standing up during the Pledge of Allegiance. Of course, there are lots of debates going on about what actually led to the arrest. People are saying he wasn’t actually arrested for not saluting the flag but arrested for refusing to leave the room and disobeying orders of the resource officer, At the end of the day, the semantics are irrelevant. The challenge we have today, particularly for those who are in the education field, is seeing how educators are weaponizing their position, whether they are regular assigned teachers or substitute teachers. We saw other similar cases like this in terms of substitute teachers challenging students. For example, the teacher in North Carolina who told children that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. killed himself, that they would be going to jail because they’re dressed like gangsters, and that they’re not real Christians if they don’t really support President Donald Trump. The list goes on.

What we see here with the Talbot situation is that it’s the latest example of what people call the preschool to prison pipeline or the cradle to prison pipeline, championed by the Children’s Defense Fund and Marian Wright Edelman. The idea is that situations happening in our schools are preparing our students for a life of incarceration, particularly our African American students and particularly our African American male students. Numerous studies have shown that in many of our schools there’s a correlation between special education and incarceration or at least involvement with the judicial system. They have also shown that some of the conditions in which we put our students in school are actually doing nothing but preparing them for doing a prison bid where they’re sitting around all day, not really being challenged intellectually and being punished for basically trying to engage themselves in in classrooms.

It was JAY Z who said:

I felt so inspired about what my teacher said
Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer head
I don’t know if that’s how you’re supposed to talk to kids
When all I tried to do was speak in class.

JAY Z, who has a sixth grader, was scoring as a senior in high school on citywide exams, dropped out of high school to sell drugs because the school system failed him. He left the supposedly safe environment of school and went down a trajectory that would put him in confrontation with law enforcement. For example, Laquan McDonald was a 17-year old male who was slain in Chicago by the Chicago Police Department. The killer put himself in between himself and Laquan and then said his life was in danger ad then shot him 16 times, including while he was still on the ground and the smoke form the bullets coming out of his body (other officers called for a taser). Laquan McDonald was such a troubled child that a former teacher of his said she feared what would happen in a world that abandoned him.

Going back to Talbot, there is again a correlation, particularly as it relates to zero tolerance policies. We have a student who says he refuses to salute the flag because he calls it racist. The teacher tells him if he doesn’t like America, he can go back to Africa and then he’s asked to leave the room, even though it’s not illegal to not stand for the flag. If it’s not illegal to not stand for the pledge of allegiance, then he should have never been asked to leave the room in the first place. So from that point on, the teacher weaponized her authority, leading to the boy’s arrest and a potential criminal record, whereas the teacher who instigated this gets no penalty other than not being able to teach in that school system.

Some argue that the teacher should have been arrested for trying to force the student to do something that he legally didn’t have to do. But this teacher gets to go on with her life while the student now has the potential of a police record at the age of 11 for defending his rights for standing up for himself. Luckily JAY Z and TEAM ROC intervened and got the charges dropped. This is a problem and we see this in many situations and even if you look at some of your schools, you will see sometimes that some of the language that is used to most described African Americans who don’t do what they’re told is they’re being insubordinate, they don’t follow the rules, they are not listening, and they don’t comply. These types of behaviors and this terminology corresponds with language that is also used in our criminal justice system.

So whether you feel Talbot should have stood for the Pledge of Allegiance or not is really irrelevant. What you should be frustrated with is that through this incident, through the arrogance of this teacher and through her ignorance of the law, she almost added another child to the preschool to prison pipeline and that should disturb us all. There are many teachable moments from this. Maybe in your schools you’re not having kids arrested, but I have seen students taken out of class and disciplined maybe just from writing on a desk and some are getting expelled. We’ve seen people like Glenn Singleton who wrote Courageous Conversations About Race, who talks about over at one point over 5,000 black boys getting expelled every year from preschool.

Under President Obama’s administration, efforts were made to challenge discipline issues in schools but the Trump administration ended it. The main issue relates to disparities and discipline. This is real. We’re sacrificing our children, we’re making them feel like they don’t really belong. I talked about JAY Z and Talbot is the same age as JAY Z was when he was testing as a senior in high school. We are wasting talent in America. We are not valuing children as they should be valued and this is just the latest example. We need to support the work of so many working actively to keep our students in the classroom as well as engaged in the classroom through culturally relevant instruction. We can, and we must do better for the sake of our children.

New Album Intro (lyrics)

This is my 8thalbum 7 years since the last

Had a lot on my mind let a lot of stuff pass

Chose to focus on my kids, enjoy being a father

Watched too many brothers & sisters on tv get slaughtered

Hot and bothered, why they use us as fodder

Mothers, fathers, aunts & uncles, cousins, sons and daughters

Silenced by the pain, by cops my people get slain

So many stories I can make a song just sayin’ they names

Sandra bland, Stephon Clark, Philando, Eric garner

Robert white, mike brown, Danny Thomas, John Crawford

Willard & Walter Scott, Tamir rice, and Yarber

Tarika Wilson, Oscar Grant, James Brisette, Shem Walker

I ain’t got enough bars I know they up in the stars

But back on my earth we in a state of constant shock & awe

With the weight of the world on our shoulders Jehovah

In my daughters’ eyes I see the hope that saved this soldier

In my son I see the pride that keeps wakin’ me up

To fight harder every day and stop givin’ a…

What the deal I really feel like I live in a reel

Waitin’ to wake from a nightmare Freddy Kruger for real

Nightmare on my street everyday Friday the 13th

A president who don’t give a damn about my peeps

I see what the hell I got to lose I ain’t confused

And as long as I breathe I’m a challenge these fools

I got my ancestors watching’ I refuse to lose

For the future I be plottin’ on these blasé dudes

Cause everything is love and that’s how it should be

In those 7 years got a PhD in JAY Z

So y’all ain’t heard from me but yo boy ain’t stop

I never let go of the bars never stopped hip-hop

We been through hell but oh well got more stories to tell

Cause we ain’t goin’ nowhere this land’s our for real

4:44 – The Album JAY-Z Always Wanted To Make…But We Wouldn’t Let Him

This article appears in The Huffington Post, where I am a contributor: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/444-the-album-jay-z-always-wanted-to-makebut_us_595e6066e4b08f5c97d067b3

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.

I am LIVING, not marching for Trayvon Martin

 

             I have a great deal of respect for everyone across the country who is marching to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. Like many, I do believe that Zimmerman should have been found guilty of something. Deep in my heart, however, I knew that a “Not guilty” verdict was going to most likely be the decision. For days, I spent time thinking about my own mortality. I was reminded once again that, should something as tragic as this befall me, half the country will be in support of getting “justice” for me and half the country will seek to paint me as a criminal based on my past writings, emails, films, and songs. After a few days, however, I decided that I am not going to worry about this. I have decided that the best way to honor Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Emmett Till, Danroy Henry, Amadou Diallo, Jordan Davis, and countless others is to live and live to the best of my ability and be an example for others.

            At the end of the day, marching is not going to do much to challenge our justice system. Those who do not want to watch will just change the channel or stay in their air-conditioned homes on a hot summer day. How do I know this? I know this by the fact that there are no rallies for George Zimmerman taking place across the country. Those who support the verdict and even proclaim Zimmerman to be a hero will focus on legislative efforts to make sure that Stand Your Grand laws stay on the books. They will focus on midterm elections and the 2016 elections to make sure they are putting the politicians in place who will support them. At the end of the day, the rallies will end and America will go back to business as usual, but there is a way that this time can be different.

            Rather than march for Trayvon, let’s live for him. What does that mean? It means increasing our efforts to save our youth across the country who are victims and perpetrators of violence. As someone who has been a community activist all of my life, I know that there are Americans of all races and faiths working in inner city neighborhoods to halt the violence that persists in our communities. Unfortunately, our efforts will never make it to the mainstream media because mass black-on-black crime is expected. With all due respect, we have to step it up. We have to do more to show our youth that we care about them but will we?

            While many who will march for Trayvon are people dedicated to their families and communities, I know for a fact that there are some protesters who will go home and beat their own children like they don’t know them just for looking at them the wrong way. Some protesters will go home and call their own children the most vile names imaginable. Many more will go home and let their children continue to listen to music and watch movies that degrade people who look just like them. This is not living for Trayvon.

            If we want to live for Trayvon, we have to increase our efforts in showing the world, starting with our own community, that we care for our youth. In addition to boycotts, we need to organize BUYcotts to buy and fund artists, music and movies that showcase us in a more positive spotlight. Juror B37 was able to refer to Zimmerman as “George” and Trayvon and Rachel Jeantel as “they” because she has only been informed about black people by the images that have placed before her by mass media. If you did not live in a black community, what would your view of the black community be based on watching TV?

            Living for Trayvon means demanding more of us. While not perfect, I see the Jewish, Latino, and Asian communities demanding respect in this nation by building their own institutions and participating more in the political and business process of America. Many of us in the black community are still letting our votes be taken for granted by democrats, pimping ourselves out on YouTube for record deals and “exposure”, and showing by the way we let our young black boys walk outside of their homes half naked that we don’t care about them. I reiterate: living for Trayvon means demanding more from us. It means rappers realizing that their lyrics celebrating violence may be entertainment for some, but it’s the only form of education on black people for others. If we demand more from us, the country will be forced to change its impression of who we are.

And please notice that I am saying “We” and not “You” because I am as much a part of the problem as anyone else. Whenever I see young brothers and sisters repping themselves incorrectly on the streets or in the schools where I speak as a youth speaker, I am guilty as charged. My pledge to Trayvon and so many others we have lost is to do my best to not let them down. I will continue to promote peace in my lyrics, and be a role model wherever I go. I’ll work to smile more at the young brothers I see in the streets. When I slip up in this mission (as we all do at some point), hopefully my community will not let me fall but rather help pick me back up. Justice for Trayvon starts with me, not fighting to have the justice system pick the verdict I would I have preferred. Let’s join together and build ourselves up after the rallies on the shoulders of all who have died unjustly. That’s the least we can do.

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Jay-Z is more of an activist than you think

 

In Jay-Z’s 2001 song “Renegade,” He shares the following lyrics:

[People] say that I’m foolish I only talk about jewels

Do you [people] listen to music or do you just skim through it?

            I find these comments very poignant in light of Ms. Jenée Desmond-Harris’ article on the Root.com entitled What Young Activists Could Teach Jay Z. While Ms. Desmond-Harris bases her argument off of Jay-Z’s statement in response to Mr. Harry Belafonte calling on him to be more socially responsible, too many rap critics and fans alike base their opinion of rappers based on listening to one or two lyrics and use those lyrics to pass judgment on the entire life of a rapper. For his entire career, Jay-Z has been vilified as being only concerned about sex, guns, violence, and the glorification of his past days as a drug dealer. In reality, Jay-Z is more of a socially responsible activist than many of us know.

For my doctoral dissertation, I am writing an intellectual biography of Jay-Z from 1969-2012. In short, an intellectual biography situates an individual life in the context of ideas and perspectives as expressed and revealed in the life of an individual.  The goal of this type of biography is not just to chronicle Jay-Z’s life, but also to contextualize his life within a broader historical framework. As I am growing in my expertise on the life of Jay-Z, I have found at least three examples of how Jay-Z has demonstrated service beyond just using his presence as a form of charity.

The first is Jay-Z’s trip to several African countries as part of the United Nations & MTV’s “Water for Life” project. In the summer of 2006, as president of Def Jam Records, Jay-Z partnered with these two groups to use his global influence to get young people especially involved in the fight against the global water crisis. In his efforts to be more of a humanitarian and less of a hustler, Jay-Z partnered with the United Nations to build 1,000 “play pumps” across the African continent. These pumps use a simple merry-go-round that pumps water as children play with it. While Jay-Z, did not build every pump, he did participate in the building of some of these pumps and used his influence to get kids in America thinking about this crisis.

Second is Jay-Z’s charitable project with The Shawn Carter Foundation. This foundation has raised millions of dollars for prospective college students, and created a toy & meal drive for Hurricane Sandy victims. My mentor, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, once told me that he personally attended one of these fundraisers with Jay-Z and his mother where over $2,000,000 was raised in one night. This is not Jay-Z just showing up. He uses his foundation to call other people of influence to action.

Lastly, one can look at Jay-Z’s efforts over two elections to elect then re-elect President Barack Obama as can be seen in this video of Jay-Z with Beyoncé praising, Dr. King, Rosa Parks, and Obama. Jay-Z did not just contribute financially to Obama’s campaign and raise millions of dollars for him through fundraisers at his restaurant, he also campaigned vigorously across the country encouraging others to vote.  This is coming from someone who proudly claimed to never vote in his life.

By these three examples alone, one can clearly see that Jay-Z has gone way beyond using his presence as a present. While people criticized he and Kanye West for writing “luxury rap” during a recession with the video “Otis”, the Maybach that was smashed up was actually auctioned off to benefit victims of drought in East Africa. Jay-Z is using his platform to draw attention to issues that neither me nor our esteemed members of the Dream Defenders can do at an international level. It is not accurate for us to consider Jay-Z as someone who is not committed to creating change through his actions.  He has clearly demonstrated the opposite.

At the end of the day, we should accept individuals for where they are in the level of service they choose to provide. We need groups like the Dream Defenders that Desmond-Harris references in her article to create change on the local level and international superstars like Jay-Z to draw attention to national issues such as the Trayvon Martin case and international issues such as the earthquake in Haiti. While I did object to Jay-Z referring to Harry Belafonte as a “boy” in his song “Nickels and Dimes”, I have learned through my studies to go beyond Jay-Z’s individual lyrics or songs to look at the entire life of an individual who is actively learning how to be a better humanitarian through mentorship of individuals such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

We should, as Jay-Z suggests, go beyond the music and look at an artist in his or her totality, which is the same thing we would want in our own lives.  Love him or hate him, we cannot deny that Jay-Z is socially responsible and doing his own brand of activism. We need all hands on deck in our movement for social justice and I am glad that Jay-Z is on board.

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