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.

Beyoncé the latest example of women held to a higher standard than men

It has been more than a week since Super Bowl 50 and the world is still taking about Beyoncé’s performance, which was captivating at best, or a slap in the face to the family friendly event at worst. From The Jacksons to former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the performance either made you proud, angry, or somewhere in between. As some prepare to boycott the NFL or Beyoncé in anger, it seems that there is one point that we are missing—Beyoncé was not the only performer on stage, but she was the only woman. The critique she is receiving is yet another double standard in the way women are treated harshly for their actions while men get a pass.

Starting with Beyoncé, I find it shameful that few people are mentioning the fact that Coldplay and Bruno Mars also performed. While many on social media jokingly thanked Coldplay for opening up for Beyoncé and Bruno Mars, the fact remains that it was Coldplay’s performance and they added Beyoncé. Since they clearly rehearsed for the performance, Chris Martin knew exactly what Beyoncé was going to do as it relates to her Black Panther attire. Should he not be protested as well? What about Bruno Mars? Was he not also dressed in the traditional black leather attire of the Black Panthers? I started to wonder how common situations like this occur and I instantly harkened back to Super Bowl 38. 

At the end of the halftime show of Super Bowl 38, superstar singer Justin Timberlake, ripped off part of Janet Jackson’s costume and exposed her right nipple. This event, commonly referred to as the “wardrobe malfunction” or “nipplegate” led to Janet Jackson’s music being blacklisted by Viacom, CBS, MTV, Infinity Broadcasting, and Clear Channel. Justin Timberlake received no such penalty. I then found myself asking—are the Beyoncé and Janet Jackson examples both sexist and racist? Miley Cyrus reminded us that it is not always about race.

In 2013, Miley Cyrus performed her hit song “We Can’t Stop” at the Video Music Awards. She invited R&B crooner Robin Thicke out to sing his new hit song “Blurred Lines.” During his song, Miley Cyrus bent over and “twerked” (grinding her behind against his groin region) while the crowd raucously applauded. Many on social media and in the press, however, did not applaud. Miley was roundly criticized for her raunchy performance and Robin Thicke got a pass, even though Cyrus claims that the move was Thicke’s idea, they did rehearse it, and he wanted her to look “as naked as possible” to reflect the women in his video. None of that mattered though. America sided with a then 36-year old married man who was somehow seduced by a teenage girl. America has a problem.

While the three events written about here represent mainstream pop culture, we can see every day how in 2016, men are still held to a lower standard than women. It is evidenced in Secretary Clinton being condemned for “yelling” though I’ve heard every male candidate in this election yell at some point with the exception of Dr. Ben Carson. It is evidenced in the continued praise heaped over the great American dance icon Fred Astaire while few struggle to remember the name of his partner Ginger Rogers, who did everything Astaire did but backwards and wearing heels, as President Obama noted. When will we wake up?

So as the protests against Beyoncé or the #beycott continue, Coldplay and Bruno Mars play on with no repercussions. We shame Beyoncé but do not shame an America for not knowing that the bay area where the NFL celebrated its 50th Super Bowl is the same place where the Black Panthers also started 50 years ago. We do not shame America for the sweeps of homeless populations living around the San Francisco 49ers stadium while those inside the Super Bowl ate hot dogs with gold flake toppings, celebrating American excess at its best. No. At the end of the day, we condemn the sole female performer who used her opportunity to shed light on a moment in American history that too many of us are either unwilling or incapable of studying and understanding and that is the real affront to American values.

When Boston Latin School Students Wore White Sheets In Protest…Against Me

I entered my senior year at Boston Latin School (BLS) with a spirit of triumph. I felt like I finally made it. In earnest, I was on the extended plan, having repeated my seventh grade year. BLS was every bit the challenge I was told it would be by then Headmaster Michael Contompasis who said on our first day of school: “Look to your left, look to your right. By graduation time, many of you won’t be here.” I spent most of my years at BLS barely passing most classes. In fact, the end of my sophomore year was the first summer that I did not have to attend summer school. I came back my junior and senior year focused and ready to be a leader at BLS…and that’s when my real education started.

Junior year was when I really began to question my role and experiences being black at BLS. I realized how the complexion of my classes got lighter the more advanced courses I enrolled in such as English Honors. I recalled times where I was disciplined more harshly than white students for the same offenses—an issue plaguing many school districts today. I started to realize that in my entire 7-year experience at BLS, I read one book by a black author—ironically Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I remembered how I would only see pictures of black leaders on the wall during Black History Month. The more frustrated I became with my experiences, the more opportunities I sought to be a leader. By my senior year, I was president of the Afrikan Kulture Society, and I ran for senior class president and student council president. My experience running for senior class president was my final wake up call.

On election day, I entered school and found a great deal of frustration on the part of many black students. I was told that several white students wore white sheets on their heads to protest my candidacy. Many students skipped class that morning to go to the office in protest. I, maybe out of fearlessness or stupidity, went about my day. I had not experienced physical bullying at BLS since the 7th grade and by my senior year, I felt very comfortable defending myself if I needed to. What I remember more about that day than seeing students crying was the inaction on the part of my teachers and administration. As Dr. King said, at the end of the day, we’ll remember the silences of our friends than the words of our enemies. In fact, it was not until maybe second period where one of our European teachers, Mr. Berger, told students to take their hoods off when we they showed up for our French class. I remember asking myself how these students made it through part of the day with those sheets on and today, I ask myself why they were never disciplined and this is at the heart of what I see with the #blackatbls controversy today.

My experiences at BLS are why I have become a diversity educator today, working with schools nationwide including Boston Public Schools on how to create more culturally competent schools. While I am not directly involved in the current issue at BLS, I know what it feels like to be marginalized there. But even with my challenges at BLS, my time there was not all doom and gloom. I lost the senior class president race but won the student council presidency. The senior class presidential team was multiracial, and I definitely graduated BLS college-ready so I can speak to BLS’ great potential to create strong students. I also had some great teachers who were instrumental to my development. I just can’t help but think, however, of all of the other students like me who never felt truly welcomed at BLS and either left the school or just became less engaged.

In full disclosure, I have not stepped foot in BLS in several years and I do not know the current headmaster Dr. Lynne Mooney Teta so I cannot comment on what the school has or has not done recently to promote respect for diversity. What I do know is that I represent many black alumni who, rightly or wrongly, have not fully engaged BLS at the level we should have beyond graduation because we felt as though the school did not care much for us, so like many graduates of color from many majority white high schools, colleges and universities, we left and never looked back. My hope is that the #blackatbls moment can serve as an opportunity for all of us in the BLS community past and present to deepen our commitment to respecting diverse cultures and having courageous conversations so that there will never be a need for a #blackatbls moment in the first place.

 

 

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!

Think before you speak. Write before you fight.

“Think before you speak. Write before you fight.”

Omékongo Dibinga is the UPstander. His life’s mission is to inspire all across the globe to take a stand when they witness an injustice, no matter how small or large. He is a motivational speaker, trilingual poet, TV talk show host, and rapper. His Urban Music Award winning work has best been described by Nikki Giovanni as “outstanding, exciting, and new while being very old.” His book, From the Limbs of My Poetree was described byEssence Magazine as “a remarkable and insightful collection of exquisite poetry that touches sacred places within your spirit.” He was one of 5 international recipients out of 750,000 to win the first ever “CNN iReport Spirit Award.” He has received over 1,000,000 views on CNN.com.

Omékongo’s music and writings have appeared alongside artists such as Sheryl Crow, Angelina Jolie, Norah Jones, Damien Rice, Angelique Kidjo, Don Cheadle, and Mos Def. Hehas shared the stage with Wyclef Jean, OutKast, Sonia Sanchez, Dennis Brutus, Emmanuelle Chriqui, The Last Poets, and NFL great Aaron Rodgers. Internationally, he has shared his work in 20 countries on 3 continents. His writings and performances have appeared in O Magazine, as well as on TV and radio fromCNN, BET, and the BBC to NPR, Music Choice, and Voice of Americain millions of homes in over 150 countries.He has also written songs for movies as well as organizations such as NASA and the Enough! Project. He has spoken before the United Nations, partners with the State Department to conduct youth leadership trainings overseas, and speaks to leadership and youth student conferences across the country.

Omékongo has studied at Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Georgetown, Morehouse, and The Fletcher School, where he received his M.A. in Law & Diplomacy. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in International Education Policy at The University of Maryland, where he also worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Teaching Diverse Students Initiative.” He worked for four years as the lead Teaching Assistant to Dr. Michael Eric Dyson at Georgetown University. He provides leadership, educational and diversity empowerment as a consultant and motivational speaker for organizations, associations and institutions.He has featured/lectured nationwide in venues from TEDx and Harvard to Russell Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summit and the Nuyorican Poets Café. His rap mixtape series “Bootleg” promotes positive hip-hop with remixes of songs by Tupac, Notorious BIG, Jay Z, Nas, 50 Cent, and others. His 1,000,000 Youth Campaign has directly impacted nearly100,000 youth across the globe to date. He has also partnered with Intel on its campaign to make their computer processors free of minerals that come from the war in the Congo.

Omékongo’s publishing wing, Free Your Mind Publishing,a subdivision of his organization, UPstander International, has produced 7-fusion music and motivational CDs, 7 books, and one independent DVD. His motivational book G.R.O.W. Towards Your Greatness! 10 Steps to Living Your Best Lifehas received praise from great motivational speakers such as Willie Jolley.His most recent book “The UPstander’s Guide to an Outstanding Life” is a life balance book for students. For more information, please visit www.upstanderinternational.com.

What Oprah’s Lifeclass teaches us about being present

 

Over the past month, I have been watching Oprah Winfrey's show entitled "Life Class," where they have been looking at the issues of absentee fathers and the children they leave behind. One of the key points made in the specials was that a father can be present but not really present in the lives of their children, which can be just as bad. 

The shows had me thinking about all of us. What can you do to be more of a presence in the lives of those around you? Do you plan meetups with your friends and family just to sit down and be on your phone the entire time? Do you avoid talking to people who could really benefit from hearing your voice and just send them text messages? In your relationship with your spouse or significant other, are you celebrating them or just tolerating their presence or being indifferent to their wants and needs now that you're together and you think the courting process is done?

No matter where you are in life, you and I know that you can do more to be a better presence in the lives of those around you. If you are an absentee parent, you need to do whatever possible to go back and reclaim your child or children. Your presence should really be a present to those around you, not a curse. If you know this applies to you, then you have much more work to do! Get to it!

 

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Music to Raise Hope for Congo

Mercer Street Records and the Enough Project is sponsoring one of the largest campaigns to stop genocide and crimes against humanity in the Congo by releasing a new album. Available on CD and as a digital download, this new album features songs by Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones, Bat for Lashes, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Mos Def, Omékongo… and many more. Raise Hope for Congo, a campaign of the Enough Project, is mobilizing the public to end the violence by addressing its root causes. Collaborating with national, grassroots, and Congolese organizations, the campaign aims to educate and empower individuals to be a part of the solution to the conflict.

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Biography

Omékongo Dibinga is an UPstander, not a bystander. His life’s mission is to inspire all across the globe to take a stand when they witness an injustice, no matter how small or large. Omékongo is a youth motivational speaker, trilingual poet, CNN contributor, TV talk show host, and rapper. His Urban Music Award winning work has best been described by Nikki Giovanni as “outstanding, exciting, and new while being very old.” His book, From the Limbs of My Poetree was described by Essence Magazine as “a remarkable and insightful collection of exquisite poetry that touches sacred places within your spirit.” He was one of 5 international recipients out of 750,000 to win the first ever “CNN iReport Spirit Award”. He has received over 1,000,000 views on CNN.com.

Omékongo’s music and writings have appeared alongside artists such as Sheryl Crow, Angelina Jolie, Norah Jones, Damien Rice, Angelique Kidjo, Don Cheadle, and Mos Def. He has shared the stage with Wyclef Jean, OutKast, Sonia Sanchez, Dennis Brutus, and The Last Poets. Internationally, he has shared his work in 19 countries on 3 continents. He is the host of the talk show “Real Talk”, which deals with issues facing our youth today. His writings and performances have appeared in O Magazine, as well as on TV and radio from CNN, BET, and the BBC to NPR, Music Choice, and Voice of America in millions of homes in over 150 countries. He has also written songs for movies as well as organizations such as NASA and the Enough Project.

Omékongo has studied at Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Georgetown, Morehouse, and The Fletcher School, where he received his M.A. in Law & Diplomacy. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in International Education Policy at The University of Maryland, where he worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Teaching Diverse Students Initiative” as well as a Teaching Assistant to Dr. Michael Eric Dyson at Georgetown. He provides educational and diversity empowerment as a consultant and motivational speaker for organizations, associations and institutions. He has featured/lectured nationwide in venues from TEDx and Harvard to Russell Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summit and the Nuyorican Poets Café. His rap mixtape series “Bootleg” promotes positive hip-hop with remixes of songs by Tupac, Notorious BIG, Jay-Z, Nas, 50 Cent, and others. His 1,000,000 Youth Campaign has directly impacted over 75,000 youth across the globe to date.

Omékongo’s publishing company, Free Your Mind Publishing, a subdivision of his organization, UPstander International, has produced 7-fusion music and motivational CDs, 6 books, and one independent DVD. His motivational book “G.R.O.W. Towards Your Greatness! 10 Steps to Living Your Best Life” has received praise from great motivational speakers such as Willie Jolley. His most recent book "The UPstander's Guide to an Outstanding Life" is a life balance book for students.

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It’s a Girl

200,000,000 missing, not talkin’ ’bout money see

Talkin’ about somethin’ worth more than currency

Talkin’ about missin’ girls the foundation of a nation

But born in India and China brings damnation

Desperation, having a girl brings trepidation

So being born a girl leads to deadly devastation

Baby girls bouncing from the womb to the tomb

Delivery room delivering gendercide too soon

How have we forgotten that the woman is key

To open the future’s door for our children to see?

The phrase “it’s a girl!” should bring cause to rejoice

But we kill innocent victims who have no choice

No say in the way they will die this way

Parents leave their land so daughters won’t die today

We’re killin’ our seeds we gotta tell the world

So parents can say proudly “It’s a girl!”

 

Can’t see women as a burden, men gotta realize

Gotta save the people that hold up half the sky

Family planning police planning family murderin’

Just because they think havin’ a girl is a burden

It’s not about condemning culture but saving lives

Dowry deaths for those left wondering why?

Why oh why not practice safer sex

Than kill a girl who had nothing to do with this?

Buy her, sell her, kill her, keep her!

Sex shouldn’t lead to visits from the grim reaper

India and China, what you gonna do?

When there’s nothing but men in your countries too?

Can’t import wives like you might do food

See the value of your girls, don’t kill ’em so soon

A woman’s body is not a boy factory

We gotta give our girls the right to be born and be free!

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