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The Death of Black America

 

Despite the many riches that blacks have attained in America and despite the growth of black people becoming top executives and obtaining advanced degrees, black America and black causes are becoming a vanishing minority. The travesty of it all is that we are responsible for our own unraveling. There are two facets to our demise. The first is mentioned in my article on illegal immigration and gay rights below so I will not delve into that here. I will instead focus more on the second facet of my theory: the willing cooperation of black America in its own destruction.

The first aspect is the way in which blacks in America are still under attack, yet our stories seem to only garner attention when tied to other causes. For example, who can forget (well, most of us have), the case of the 3 black college students who were murdered execution-style in Newark, New Jersey? Did anyone notice that it was almost 48 hours before the story made national headlines? Does anyone know why? The reason is that whether they were college students or not, it was just another case of inner-city crime until it was discovered that there was an illegal alien allegedly who was one of the killers. Once this news was discovered, Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly and others could not keep their hands off the story. So black America indirectly found its way to support someone else's cause with no direct benefit for our own.

If you think I am stretching this argument too much, let me ask you this: does anyone know the names of the students who were killed? Not likely. We did see their faces on occasion. Their names (if anyone cares) were Terrance Aerial, Iofemi Hightower, and Dashon Harvey. Terrance's sister Natasha fortunately survived the attack. As black Americans, we should have been outraged that our children were being used by others to advance an unrelated cause but we were silent and have not reached out en masse to assist these families.

It is sad that events like these keep occurring in black America. The fact of the matter is that black Americans en masse would rather defend Michael Vick than the Jena Six. Everyone from Jamie Foxx to Whoopi Goldberg has come out in support of Vick but our celebrities are relatively silent on the aforementioned issues. Where are these celebrities on issues such as the Jena 6 or Megan Williams'rape by a white mob just this month? I am not asking that celebrities become the champions of civil rights causes. I am just annoyed at the causes they choose to open their mouths for. Many of them build their careers on black support force and then forget us, highlighted by Beyonce's recent confession thatshe wishes she was Latina because they have a richer culture.

But here is where it gets troubling and actually quite sickening. Despite the fact that there are Latino gangs that lists killing a black person as initiation (reminiscent of white boys during slavery who had to rape a black girl as a rites of passage); despite the fact that members of armies in places like Germany are being told to think of black men when they shoot; despite the fact that some of our celebrities hate the skin they're in; and despite the fact that white people are still hanging nooses and gang-raping our women, I am still more likely to be killed by a black person than anyone else where I live in inner-city Washington, DC. Despite the work some of us do in prisons, where the majority of the black inmates are incarcerated for assault, murder and drug possession, I am still going to turn on the TV and see black men promoting the sale of drugs and promoting violence and murder. I am still going to see artists get signed because of their street credit instead of their college credit (unless they dropped out) and many young black girls and boys lose their lives following their example.

Some of us are quick to say that it's white folks at the top of the movie industry and record companies that are responsible for this. That was true a decade ago but now as people like Jay-Z and Diddy rise the corporate ladder, they bear much of the responsibility as well, at least as it relates to who gets discovered. Despite Viacom's BET purchase, there are still black people working there at every level so I will not blame Viacom for the creation of shows like "College Hill" or "We got to do Better." This is the same company whose mission statement is to showcase the "culture, genius, beauty, and talent of the black race." BET founder Bob Johnson stated that he's a businessman, not a social worker and has nothing to apologize for because he created more black millionaires than anyone. So kids who watch TV without supervision get one message: get money no matter if it's at the expense of your own people.

In the eighties and early nineties, BET had shows like "Teen Summit" and even a few news shows like "BET Tonight" with Tavis Smiley. Bill Cosby used his media influence to create shows like "The Cosby Showâ" and "A Different World." Though we have made more advances financially in the last 20 years, publicly we have basically gone from "A Different World" to "College Hill" and from "Soul Train" to "Soul Plane." There are black graduates of predominately white colleges as well as HBCUs behind these types of programs, movies like Soul Plane and music videos. Despite their degrees and our financial advances, we still cannot manage to have one 30-minute television show on the air devoted to news affecting us in 2007.

This is why we are disappearing. We are killing ourselves locally and promoting degrading stereotypes internationally. We are in charge of our image now. When I look at many blacks in movies and videos I sometimes feel like I’m watching the scene from "Birth of a Nation" where white folks in black face are eating watermelon and chicken in the White House. Someone once said to me when I was in high school that if blacks were in power, we would still be suffering the same ills as we were in the Reconstruction Era and beyond. I thought it was funny. But now we're getting power and I see black-on-black crime (lynching), women being paraded as sex kittens and breeders (slavery) and blacks acting as buffoons in the media (minstrel shows). With the exception of our en masse reactionary activism on issues like the Jena 6 and Hurricane Katrina, it appears that there are no more black causes, just black people. Just darker-skinned Americans, particularly as our issues have been swept under the category of class rather than race. How convenient. I know we have some nicer houses and cars now, but even Stepin' Fetchit became a millionaire so how far have we really come? More importantly, where are we going?

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.

Hiltons and Tigers and Spears…Oh My!

 

I cannot say that the Paris Hilton phenomenon marks the beginning of the end as it relates to the decline of American media and values. It is the continuation of the end. In case there was any doubt in my mind before, the entire Paris Hilton fiasco has confirmed to me and all of America that you only matter if you are rich, famous, or find some other way to get on TV. This is most tragic because of the effect that it has on America's future leaders–or should I say followers.

As I watched the second Paris Hilton's release from jail, I was bothered by the mob crowd reaching out to touch and videotape her as if she was Mandela being released from 27 years of confinement or an American journalist being freed by Iraqi captors. What's sad is that in the latter case, that reporter would not get nearly as much attention. The thousands who came out to support her I'm sure believed they were being part of an American historical moment. Through all the paparazzi and million-dollar interview offers, we seem to forget that Paris broke the law not in defense of any civil or human rights issue, but because she endangered lives by driving under the influence. The problem in America, however, is that we are not all DUI but WUI–Watching Under the Influence.

We have become a nation in desperate search to be part of something outside of our self-proclaimed miserable lives. We have become subjects in search of royalty. We believe that we are too poor, too fat, too overworked, and too bored with our lives that we have to escape into the lives of celebrities. We have to know the latest socks Beyoncé is wearing, the newest "baby cub" of Tiger Woods, or the latest clinic Britney Spears is checking into. We are so desperate to escape our own lives because when we watch Paris be released from jail because she's "sick" or Snoop serve no jail time for the umpteenth drug possession charge, we can't help think to ourselves that if we can become rich and famous, we won't have to answer to anybody.

The entertainment world is not isolated in this truism. I cannot forget watching the wife of former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey on Oprah. She stated that during the press conference when he announced his homosexuality, McGreevey told her to keep smiling to the media because this was her "Jackie O" moment. She was incensed because she could not believe she was told to be strong for America not because her husband–the President–was assassinated, but because her governor husband cheated on her with another man and then claimed he had to come forward because he was being exploited. He rode this "exploitation" all the way to a book deal on his way to the priesthood because we have also learned in America that we can engage in any illicit behavior and be forgiven as long as we"find God" somewhere along the way.

If we want to really change the direction of this nation and media culture, we have to begin rewarding people who got it right the first time. I am disheartened by the fact that on the very same day that every news outlet is speaking about Paris Hilton's interview with Larry King, a 23-year-old became the youngest person to fly around the world and has received little-to-no coverage. He happened to be the first African-American to do so as well. Though I watch and read the news daily, I am ashamed to say I never knew about this young man, Mr. Barrington Irving, until about two days ago even though he took flight in March on a shoestring budget. Did you know? The Fox News website does not have it on its site and CNN covered it for about an hour and it's off their site as well. Irving also had the misfortune of scheduling his landing the same day as the BET Awards-no coverage on the main page. You have to ask yourself one simple question: who would you want your child to be watching on Larry King? Will Mr. Irving get a reality show and book deal? He actually flew around the world to inspire people and is a college graduate (remember when we used to respect that institution too?).

Until we can raise children to celebrate positivity over partially-pornographic videos, academics over athletics, and humility over hubris, we will have generation after generation that will solely focus on the pursuit of money and fame, literally at any expense. Ten years or so ago, Susan Smith was shunned by America for killing her babies and damaging race relations by blaming a black man. In this day and age, Andrea Yates gets a movie made about her murder of her own children. If we can change for the worse in my lifetime, we can change for the better as well. If we continue, especially in our nation's poorer communities, to watch the lives of the rich and famous from our poor and anonymous households, we will continue the endless cycle of dropouts and criminals all looking for get-famous quick schemes through entertainment and shady politics.

As I continue to raise my 13-month old daughter, I am going to try my hardest to have her grow to become giddy and excited at the accomplishments of Mr. Barrington rather than Lindsay Lohan. I will try to have her make role models out of people who have made positive contributions to this world. I pray am successful. I do know that whether I succeed or not, I have to start by turning off mainstream TV and radio so that I can first teach her that the media now including the "news" stations are nothing but tabloid television with serious news blended in. If you can pledge to do the same thing, the mainstream media will have no choice but to honor our wishes. Are you with me? Then start by turning off your television and turning on your child's mind. Before we tune into Paris tonight, let's make sure we've tuned into our kids and program them properly.

Bill O’Reilly was Right

 

Some reading this may actually believe I am late with this. They may say "this Bill O'Reilly comment about Sylvia's and iced tea happened weeks ago." Yes, I know. My reply to that is that in addition to being a poet, rapper, actor, and motivational speaker, I am also a scholar. Scholars do research. Any real academician worth his grain of salt does his research before running his mouth. So as much as I wanted to speak about the conversation between Bill O'Reilly and Juan Williams on the Radio Factor, I vowed to wait until I could make an informed decision.

For those who may have forgotten, Bill O'Reilly got into the media hot seat for comments he made about his experience going to a black restaurant with the Reverend Al Sharpton. He said that there were no black people cussing and swearing about their iced tea. These edited (audio) comments were also paraded across CNN and outlets like Media Matters to further smear Mr. O'Reilly and Mr. Williams.

I, like you, subsequently received a plethora of e-mails about how racist Bill O'Reilly is, etc. I was tempted to get on this blog and join the chorus but I vowed that out of respect to my readers, I would not speak on the issue until I read or heard the transcript. I am glad that I waited.

Anyone who actually took 40 minutes to sit and listen to the show (listen by clicking here) would have found that Bill O'Reilly used the Sylvia's example to show that those who may have stereotypes about Blacks need to realize that we conduct our business like anyone else and that most of us do not like negative rap music. He spent the entire segment celebrating people like Aretha Franklin, the Four Tops, Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman and others. He even stated that he thought democratic Senator Barack Obama is a good role model for kids. No Fox commentator has ever endorsed a democrat like that (though not for president).

Bill also stated quite clearly that it is the white controlled media that is putting out these negative stereotypes of black people. His overall message is that in America, we do not celebrate those actors and musicians who do not glorify violence, sex, and drugs. How can anyone argue with that? We argue with it by being misinformed and using other people's reputations to build our propaganda machine rather than dealing with actual facts. This culminated in Syracuse scholar Boyce Watkins calling Juan Williams a "Happy Negro" though Williams has been a champion of black causes, lives in a black neighborhood, and is married to a black woman. I guess I'm a "happy negro" too. Yowsa, yowsa, yowsa.

Now of course Bill O'Reilly said some things that I disagreed with, particularly about blacks starting to "think for themselves." Overall though, on the issues of black representation in the media and the negative images that come from some of our rappers and are broadcast by white media at our expense, I agree with Bill O'Reilly. The beauty of not being offered a record deal, being rejected by Def Poetry Jam 5 times, and not being embraced by many of these people who criticize rap but don't support positive artists like me is that I can say whatever I want. I have no constituency to appeal to. I just deal with facts.

The fact of the matter is that anyone who speaks critically of Black America gets deemed a sellout if they are Black and a racist if they are of another race. We lament over how Will, Denzel and others cannot be role models because they’re too polished. I guess that means that we must watch "Flavor of Love" and "We can do Better" to get the "real" Black America. This has to stop. We have to be our biggest critics and look at our predicament honestly. In Bill Cosby's absence from TV, we went from"A Different World" to "College Hill." Anyone see a problem here? Bill and Camilla Cosby, for example, have given more money to black colleges than any couple I know. Most people who called him a sellout or traitor have made little to no financial contribution to our schools or other projects but talk a good game. Many of our scholars who criticize Black-on-Black criticism are merely enablers who excuse the ignorance that prevails in communities they no longer live in.

Hey, if you don't like what I'm saying, call me a sellout. Tell me I forgot where I came from, etc. etc. I've seen how this story ends but I am more concerned with the future of our children than I am with critique from my peers who have never walked in my shoes and have not traveled to 16 countries and experienced the negative consequences of the stereotypes we so righteously defend. At some point Black America, we have to stop celebrating our ignorance and start celebrating intelligence. We have to start celebrating college dropins instead of dropouts. Though everyone does not have to be married, we need to still recognize it as a valid institution desirable for Blacks. Let us celebrate artists who got it right the first time like Will Smith and not wait for the reformed pimp, drug dealer, or gang banger to "see the light". We should celebrate both and not the latter. Let's get it together and practice some tough love. We can do better, no pun intended. Our children are watching us.