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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.

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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