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The Hip-Hop Generation Gap

 

Here we go again with the latest round of attacks from elder black leaders on rap music. For those of you who have been in space for the last few months, let me provide a couple of examples. Esther Lee, president of Bethlehem NAACP in Pennsylvania expressed her discontent about Ludacris performing at the August 4th Musikfest by stating: "All I know is he's a rapper, and rap music is lousy." The Reverend Jesse Jackson has released a statement condemning rapper Bomani's video "Read a Book" (watch here), which parodies all the negative images in hip-hop videos and flips the message from buying rims and grills to reading books and buying land. Said Jackson through his Rainbow-Push organization: "The video insults reading, personal hygiene, family values and frugality. '˜Read a Book' heaps scorn on positive values and (un)intentionally celebrates ignorance."

We still don't get it in 2007. Our elders are still quick to cast all of us involved in rap music into a pit of worthless degenerates. They are also quick to use the white-controlled media platform (coincidentally, the same group that distributes this evil music they condemn) to express their discontent. Post-Don Imus, I was naive enough to believe that America was really going to start recognizing artists who celebrate positivity and uplift their community. I thought that maybe guys like myself and even better-known rappers like Mos Def and Talib Kweli were going to top the charts in ways not seen since Will Smith was in his rapping prime. Boy was I an idiot.

Rap music as a whole is still being trashed in the media. Reverend Jackson, Reverend Al Sharpton, Oprah Winfrey, Bill O'Reilly, Michelle Malkin, Stanley Crouch, Jason Whitlock, Roland Martin, Lauren Lake and others are still quick to condemn the negative lyrics as opposed to uplift the positive rappers. I bring those names up directly because these are just a few of the names on the list of people I had either e-mailed or called almost weekly and said quite plainly: "If you guys could just say the names of the rappers who are promoting positivity as opposed to giving vile rappers more airtime, you could do more to change the face of hip-hop that appears on television. I have written Oprah on several occasions asking her to start a "Hip-hop Club" to promote people she thinks are positive. Out of all of the letters I wrote to the above people, I only received one response from one of them, who said simply: "Good luck in your career."

So I have concluded that America doesn't want it. America doesn't really want positive rap music in the mainstream. As rapper Lloyd Banks stated: "Fuck being positive cause negativity spreads faster." If he was wrong, more of us clean rappers would have record deals instead of struggling to pay bills. Reverend Jesse Jackson could have easily had his secretary call Bomani to talk about the video, but he chooses to organize protests around BET and send out press releases. This is the same argument rapper/producer David Banner made in his critique of Jackson and Sharpton, stating:

"If you got a problem with my music, see me. You don't have to call us out and embarrass us in front of all of America. I'm the child. Y'all are supposed to be teaching me. What if I didn't know any better. Don't stomp my CDs and talk bad about me. Some of these other "leaders," these old, Black people who ain't standing for their people, they're standing for whoever endorses them."

So here we are again. We are going back to the future. We are back to the 60s where many elders thought rock and roll was devil music and back to the 90s era of C. Delores Tucker and others condemning rap music. I must say that I do respect the late C. Delores Tucker for many of her efforts and for the record, Reverend Sharpton and Oprah have been involved in many aspects to clean up rap music outside of the mainstream media. At the end of the day, however, our elders aren't doing enough talking with us. Esther Lee and others who condemn the hip-hop generation need to know that we are executives, lawyers, college professors, Ph.D. students, doctors, motivational speakers, actors, husbands, wives, policemen, soldiers in Iraq, and much more. If she and others won't talk to us directly, what other choice do some of us rappers have but to put their names in songs? Lee and others fail to realize that our music is still a desperate cry for help.

To call rap "lousy" is to call us all lousy. Ms. Lee, please do not forget that we are your children too. We are the product of your generation. If my daughter becomes something I do not approve of, I have to accept how I may have contributed to that and try to heal my family, not condemn her in front of the rest of the world. When will our elders reclaim their responsibility to guide us in the proper direction? When will they stop being scared to talk to us in the streets about our behavior? When will they stop using white-controlled media to speak at us? Until our elders take serious stock of where we are and what they did or did not do that caused us to be here, we will continue to let generation after generation fall by the wayside. I call on Oprah, Sharpton, Jackson and others to spend more time engaging us directly than condemning us publicly. It may not be the sexy thing to do. It may not get your show high ratings, or keep you in front of a CNN camera, but it is the right and necessary thing to do.

Nappy Headed America

 

Just when I think we in America cannot descend any deeper into the abyss of ignorance, Don Imus saves the day. Don Imus should have been fired years ago. He has made a career off of making derogatory and hateful comments towards people of all races, religions, and genders. The reason that he had been able to preserve his position is because those in the Old Boy Network continue to look out for themselves, Ã la Marv Albert still broadcasting since his sexual assault charges. Don't get me wrong. I do believe in second chances, however, from the White House to shock radio, those in power in America have demonstrated time and again that loyalty is more important than honesty, particularly when the pendulum of profit is swinging. One needs to only bring up the current controversy surrounding Alberto Gonzalez, fired attorneys, Karl Rove's immunity, and missing secret e-mails.

I watched Don's good friend Bo Dietl say Imus should not be fired because of two words. This is not about two words. This is about three decades of Imus making money for himself and his corporate sponsors off of hate speech. Dietl said that Imus' charity work should far outweigh his words and he should be given a second chance. I guess when Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune made Imus promise that he would not call Blacks apes 9 years ago, that did not count for Dietl. Truth of the matter is that anyone who wants to bring up charitable work as a pardon for Imus' negative attacks on innocent people like the Rutgers team or Dr. Maya Angelou must also and immediately pardon Snoop Dogg for his lyrics because he is involved in a number of charity works as well. To me, they both must be condemned for their public profanities.

Now that my thoughts on Imus are clear, I must say that removing Imus is only scratching the surface of a much deeper problem in American society: the fact that hate and misogyny sells. It is not only Imus and it is not only rap music. It's "Jerry Springer", it's "The Family Guy", and it's the American movie industry. On a more personal note, it's most of you reading this, in addition to its author. We live in a society where "jokingly", homosexuals call themselves faggots, blacks (and everyone else it seems) call themselves niggers, Jewish people call themselves kikes, women call themselves bitches and hos, young Latinos call each other spics and wetbacks, Chinese youth call each other chinks, and on and on. Each aforementioned group member who partakes in this says it is OK for them to say it but not someone else. This is the most ridiculous double standard I have heard in my life. Irrespective of who says it, a ho is a ho and blacks cannot take back a word like "nigger" or "nigga", which was never their word in the first place.

If we in America do not use this Imus moment to seriously look at ourselves first before condemning others, we will miss the lesson here. In the past three months alone, we have seen journalists and radio personalities say rape is a good thing for ugly women, that they hate all blacks, and enact La cuca Gotcha campaigns aimed at catching illegal immigrants. We can do better in America but it starts by looking in the mirror. If we could make true strides to change or challenge our language and personal views publicly and privately, we may be able to prevent those wishing to spew such hate and hurtful words from thinking those words in the first place.

In some way, shape or form, we are all responsible for Don Imus and anyone else who spews hateful words for profit or for "play". Let us work as one America to put an end to the negativity that has been at the root of America in some way, shape or form, since its inception. If we cannot do this for ourselves, let us do it for the children of America's future.

White Fingers, Black Anuses

 

Never underestimate the power of ignorance, particularly as we kick off a new year. I recently completed my second Empowerment through the Arts tour in South Africa. This year, I took my sister's Boston-based dance company, the OrigiNation Cultural Arts Center. It was 10-full days of learning dance, teaching dance, and learning about South Africa's tragic history of apartheid. Nothing, however, could prepare us for the hands-on learning experience we were to encounter on one rainy Wednesday afternoon.

We decided to take a trip to the Apartheid Museum. The museum captures the essence of that dreadful era of the human experience. Unfortunately, my daughter was in a fussy mood, which led my wife and I to finish our tour a bit early. While waiting on the bus, my sister Muadi came out of the museum nearly in tears and signaled me to get out of the bus, what she told me next will hopefully enrage you as much as it enraged me.

While walking through the museum, there is a larger-than-life image of black men being strip-searched. Check the picture out for yourself here. The picture is being covered by 4 South African artists trying to add dignity to the photo, but you get the idea. While walking through the museum, Muadi noticed several White South African high school female students observing the photo. One of them said to her friends "Wow, cute butts!" She then proceeded to rub her fingers across the behinds of these men, much to the amusement of her friends. Muadi lost it.

Muadi spent the rest of her museum visit "enlightening" the girls about their ignorance but these girls felt very free to continue with their boorish behavior. They called one of our Black students a dog and made symbols with their fists as if they were going to attack us. Once they got behind their chaperones, they began singing MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This." With all of this in mind, I thought I should have a word with the two White female chaperones of these 15 or so White high school female students. The story only gets "curioser and curioser" from there.

I politely asked the chaperone if I could talk to her about what had transpired and she said she refused to talk to me until she got her girls in front of security. Once they were "secure," she proceeded to tell me that what they did was no big deal and that the girl was just touching the behinds, not trying to stick her finger in them. By this time, my other sisters were out along with one of my best friends and a massive debate ensued about the teachable moments these chaperones had denied these students. By the time the debate was over and these girls were rushed to their vans (protected by South African employees of the museum), rest assured their comfort level had decreased significantly (poets do have a way with words after all).

The ride back was the worst of the trip. Most of us were in tears. Though our high school and college-aged youth were all from Boston, this was their first major experience with racism. No stranger to a Klan mask or two myself (story for another day), I was more incensed at the fact that as we begin 2008, there are still seemingly insurmountable obstacles we face as it relates to racial appreciation and respect for others.
What made those girls so comfortable in the shell of their ignorance? Would they do this at theHolocaust Museum? Why is it that, according to my friend and guide Napo, most older Blacks (20 and up) exit the museum in frustration while most Whites she sees leave the museum with smiles and probably wondering what they're having for dinner? Lastly, why is it that most youth of all ages, races, and nationalities, leave the museum with a sense of indifference? Quite honestly, until that incident occurred, some of our own students were bored there and even some Black young South African students I saw came out of the museum as if they were visiting a museum of Greek antiquity as opposed to a place representing their own parents' experience.

I do not claim to have all the answers on this one. What I do know is that the way we as Black people degrade ourselves on television makes it a little easier for others to degrade us. I know that in America as well as South Africa, there are areas where we are more segregated now than during the Apartheid and Civil Rights Era (all the same movement in my eyes). Lastly, I know that if we do not teach our youth of all backgrounds about the turbulent past we have all faced on this planet such as Slavery, the Holocaust, and other atrocities, all of our fallen freedom fighters from Steve Biko to Benazir Bhuttowill have died in vain.

If you are a young person reading this, I encourage you to break the chains of your complacency and really learn about the struggles that led you to enjoy your Ipods, video game consoles, expensive clothes, cars, and cell phones. Use the power of this ever-shrinking world to see (or at least read about) the sweatshops your clothes come from, the millions who die for the diamond necklaces and watches you go into debt over, and the many more millions who die around the world (and in America) simply because they are a woman, a child, Black, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, etc.

For those who are a bit more seasoned, I challenge you to engage our youth and not be afraid of them. The lessons that can be learned from you are enormous, but your silence in the face of the vapid materialism, ignorance, and violence amongst our youth gives the impression of acquiescence. For all of you reading this, just ask yourself one question: would you want someone rubbing their hands on a picture of the behinds of one of your ancestors who gave their life for your freedom? The answer should be obvious. This is a new year. Let us not proceed by repeating old mistakes. It does take an entire to village to raise a child, but it also takes an entire village to raise a racist. Each one teach ten and let's wake up!