Let’s get right to this. The events that transpired/are transpiring in Boston are tragic. The Marathon bombing could be an entire post on its own. As a person who went to college in Boston, Marathon Monday evokes an amazing, celebratory feeling that is tough to convey. We look forward to it every year. It’s a huge deal. That being said, although I currently live in DC, I’ve followed the events very closely. With friends still in Boston, I’m deeply invested.
Media coverage of national tragedies has always rubbed me the wrong way. There is usually at least one or two comments that seem insensitive or just downright offensive. The main issue I see, however, is the need to separate “us” from “them”. “Us”, being a category I don’t even fit into, represents the White  heterosexual Christian normative. “Them” being the caricature of other races/religions/ideologies they employ to trigger a fear response.
Proof? I say “terrorist”. You think Arab or Muslim person
I say “armed gunman” you think troubled White man.
I say “robber” you think young Black guy.
This happens unabashedly and often without mass criticism. At best, that is wildly irresponsible “journalism”. At the worst, it’s using mainstream media as a soapbox to maintain White hetero Christian purity. That’s an issue. Tell me, if you will, the religion of these people:
Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook), Christopher Dorner, Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold (Columbine), Timothy McVeigh, Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech).
Right. The very coverage of these people is radically different. When “we” can, “we” label any act of violence on a major level as terrorism and work hard to uncover their extremist radical ideas. Bin Laden, Saddam. But when the media sadly cannot find a way to demonize the “other’, non-White, not Christian American standard of purity and innocence, they feel the need to ease their cognitive dissonance by finding logic in the illogical.
First of all, on a very rational level, when someone shoots small children, or high schoolers, or anyone for that matter, that is an event void of logic. Trying to find the logic is a Sisyphean effort. But, the media does it. I could go into extreme detail and link to news archives but on a very basic level you could just do a simple comparison of Wikipedia pages. Look on the pages of those people mentioned above and tell me which ones have a mention or entire sections devoted to their “psychological analysis”. For my lazier compadres, do a ctrl + F search for the prefix “psych”. You know which pages don’t have any mention? Chis Dorner. Bin Laden. Saddam. Why? 1. Angry Black Man. 2. Muslim. 3. Muslim. So, no further assessment needed.  This is called microinvalidation. “Microinvalidations are characterized by communications that exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person of color.”
This is why when Black people commit crimes, there is rarely an incentive or motivation for the media, or us as consumers of mainstream media, to wonder “why”. There is a this proclivity to assume he/she as a person of color had means and motives and that’s all the evidence we need. Dave Chappelle handles this brilliantly, by the way. Meanwhile:
I know the media wants to really emphasize the Russian background of the suspects so that they won’t be viewed as White but does anybody read anymore? Is geography still being taught in schools or do we just tell kids to download google maps and keep it moving? You know that word we use when we’re trying to sound politically correct instead of saying “white folks”? Right. Caucasian. Know where that term comes from? Being from the Caucasus region. Know what’s located in that region? Russia. More specifically? Chechnya. There goes that effort to rid them of their whiteness. Meanwhile CNN is busy creating imaginary connections between the suspects and islamic extremism, TMZ completely comes out of left field with “Deadly Bombing Suspect Heavy Into Hip Hop“. Like, that really happened. Because when all else fails, blame Hip Hop. Always.
This isn’t to take away anything from the tragedy of Boston. This isn’t even to help explain the situation and alleviate some fear. It’s just a friendly nudge to remind everyone to be observant of to what we tie fear to. The bombing/shootings do not become any less tragic or scary because the skin color or belief system of the assailant changed. Ask yourself, what do you fear? Why?
Footnotes (↑ returns to text)
Which seriously is the most ridiculous racial nomenclature we have.↑
Do you see how ridiculous that is? Imagine if you thought “American or Catholic person” was a completely reasonable description of someone.↑
Your tweets don’t count. Find a new method of activism.↑
Blackness is one of the most interesting constructs I’ve ever come across. It is second only to the socially constructed idea of race which if we take the time to think about as a categorization of humans into labels such as black or white, is hilariously inaccurate. You don’t have to look far to find a flaw in this nomenclature. I have a homie from Nigeria, for example. Technically, on paper, that man is Nigerian-American. So shouldn’t he be African-American? Right. But there’s no way he’d ever claim that title. Because apparently African-American is synonymous with “just” Black. 
We all come from very different places. But those differences can bring us together. It sounds corny but one of the greatest things I learned from my time living in Boston was that fact. There was a point where you could walk into the Howard Thurman Center on Boston University’s campus, see five Black people, and they’d each be distinctly different. There’d be a Haitian American, Nigerian, Cape Verdean American, Jamaican American, and a Bajan American . Literally. It was great. Our walks of life were different but we weren’t defined by our differences. The only time in life I ever truly felt the idea of a melting pot was when I was at a party in Boston. At some point the DJ someone’s iPhone would go from playing Jay-Z to Vybz Kartel to Alan Cave to Nelson Freitas to Serani to Rihanna in an hour time span. And instead of there being waves of people belonging to each respective culture dominating the dance floor and the rest of us departing until our song came back, we stuck around and drunkenly attempted to learn how to pasada or how to zouk or how to bachata or maybe how to twerk. And that’s fantastic.
But, outside of the bubble of Boston campus parties, Blackness clearly matters. Take the now twitter-infamous Zoe Saldana/Nina Simone situation  . Ignoring all other complaints people have about this film (e.g. The entire plot being fabricated) apparently Blackness also has a melanin requirement. You must be this tall to ride. You must be this dark to be real. Zoe Saldana has said several times that she is a Black actress. “Yo soy una mujer negra’ (I’ve seen this quote everywhere but never with a source attached so here’s to hoping it’s real. But even if its not she’s done plenty of covers with “Black & Latina” as the caption) But Black women immediately reacted negatively. Before anyone brings up The Picture, even BEFORE they darkened her skin, everyone was mad.
Now, there’s a history here that we should acknowledge. Hollywood does love to whitewash its films. I mean Jake Gyllenhaal did play the Prince of Persia. The mostly Asian MIT crew was portrayed by white kids in 21, and Jim Caviezel played Jesus Christ.  So yeah. It’s no secret that Hollywood has this thing for white people.
Given that information, when an actress self-identifies as Black and wants to honor a Black woman’s legacy, why not? Personally I wish we’d learn to acknowledge a win and move forward. This animosity amongst our own just shows other people weakness. I’m not for that. I also don’t understand it. We’re supposed to be upset that a good Black actress is honoring an amazing Black woman but we’re supposed to enjoy Basketball Wives? And yeah. Basketball Wives is my example of poor representation of Black women on television. Fight me. But stop being hypocritical. Decide how much you REALLY care about the media’s portrayal of a Black woman and who is controlling our image.
The point? This is awkward. I don’t have one. I want to start a discussion though. Does blackness exist? Are there true distinct characteristics that define blackness? If so, what are they? Basically, what are the Terms & Conditions of Blackness?
Footnotes (↑ returns to text)
We’ll get to you people who use the term “just” Black at a different date. Do better.↑
funny thing is nobody referred to themselves as “Jamaican American”. They just said, “Oh yeah I’m Jamaican”.↑
Zoe Saldana is going to play Nina Simone in an upcoming film. Some people seem to believe she’s not black enough to play the role.↑
Man. My blog titles have been super inappropriate lately. The next one will be less risqué hopefully.
Anyway. I was driving today and as anyone who has ever spent any time in a car with me will know, I cannot take off until I have the perfect song playing. That’s not necessarily important to the story. But I typed it. And I’m not a fan of editing. So I’m shuffling through songs and Lupe Fiasco’s “Bitch Bad” comes on. I heard it a little while back and hadn’t listened to it since. But because the a/c in my car is currently not working (one of the many reasons my car is nicknamed Kim K) I didn’t have all day to sit there and shuffle through songs. Thus, “Bitch Bad” was the soundtrack to my ride.
While driving I drafted about three different blogs in my head. One was about misogyny in rap but nobody wants to read that. And I didn’t feel like typing what had been said a thousand times. The second was about whether we should stop using the word bitch, but much like the nigga/nigger/Monday debate, nobody listens to me when it comes to language reappropriation so I figured I’d save some keystrokes there as well. What I landed on as a good topic was does the glorification of bitch (as both a term and a concept) diminish black relationships? Is it that serious? Now, now. What’s important to note here is that this is about the upcoming generation. You may be just fine with the word bitch and have no reservations about whether that is a compliment or an insult to you. Others may not be so fortunate.
Now imagine there’s a shorty maybe five maybe fo’
Ridin’ round with his mama listenin’ to the radio
And a song comes on and a not far from being born
Doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong
Now I ain’t tryna make it too complex
But let’s just say shorty has an underdeveloped context
About the perception of women these days
So Lupe starts the narrative with a little boy about four or five years old. He’s “not far from being born” so he’s super young and still figuring the world out. He’s a tabula rasa in terms of the socioeconomic pitfalls and stereotypes of Black women (or as the kids are saying these days, he’s Ray Charles to the bullsh*t). He’s riding in the car with his mom and a song comes on.
His mama sings along and this what she say,
“Because I’m a bad bitch. And I’m bad, bitch
Somethin’ else and far above average”
And maybe other rhyming words like cabbage and savage and baby carriage
And other things that match it
His mom sings along to this song while mindlessly saying, ‘I’m a bad bitch”. For those not familiar, this is a common term in music and overall life these days. Trina has declared herself the Baddest Bitch. Nicki Minaj is Barbie, bitch who once went on a repetitive rant where for about eight bars she just states “I’ma bad bitch”.
Couple of things are happening here
First he’s relating the word ‘bitch’ with his mama, comma
And because she’s relating to herself
His most important source of help
And mental health
He may skew respect for dishonor
This unsuspecting child hears his mom, the person who provides his entire world for him, referring to herself as ‘bad bitch’. Naturally, he bestows the connotation of ‘caring, nurturing, together individual’ as ‘bad bitch’. Keep in mind, this is today. This ‘bad bitch’ trend is in today’s music. And kids are out here having kids so there are certainly more than a few children who experience this reality.
Bitch bad, woman good
Lady better. They misunderstood
Bitch bad. Woman good.
Lady better. They misunderstood.
According to Lupe, the term ‘bitch’ is bad. ‘Woman’ is a little better. ‘Lady’ is the best. The child misunderstands what this term means when he rationalizes it in his young mind. Also, the women who deem themselves ‘bad bitches’ are misunderstood in society. They just want to be the most attractive woman (not just physically).
Now imagine a group of little girls nine through twelve
On the internet watching videos listening to songs by themselves
It doesn’t really matter if they have parental clearance
They understand the internet better than their parents
So now we have young ladies watching music videos and listening to their iTunes. Lupe takes the time to note here that this isn’t about good or bad parenting. That’s not the blame he’s trying to cast. Even the best parents cannot guard their children from the wild ways within the world wide web.
Now being the internet, the content’s probably uncensored
They’re young so they’re malleable, and probably unmentored
A complicated combination maybe with no relevance
Until their intelligence meets their favorite singer’s preference
“Bad bitches, bad bitches, bad bitches
That’s all I want and all I like in life is bad bitches bad bitches”
These girls are on the internet looking at these explicit videos and songs and they’re very impressionable, as girls are at that age. They probably also aren’t being mentored, which could make a world of difference. Or it could not. We’ll never know. (A complicated combination maybe with no relevance.) Even if they get past the lyrics and message of their favorite rapper, what about their favorite singer? Once this Trey Songz-esque voice starts to croon about bad bitches, will that change their thoughts? If all day a little girl hears a singer saying his ideal woman is a bad bitch this and a bad bitch that, are we to assume she can go through this critical stage of her life unaffected?
Now let’s say that they’re less concerned with him
And more with the video girl acquiescent to his whims
Ah, the plot thickens
High heels, long hair, fat booty, slim
Reality check: I’m not trippin’
They don’t see a paid actress, just what makes a bad bitch
Ok. Let’s make the dangerous assumption that this little girl can get past the lyrics and even the source. Now she’s watching the video and she sees the women that are cast in the video. They’re tall, with long hair, big butts, they’re thin, and probably have a lighter skin color but that’s a different conversation. These young girls aren’t developed enough to pick apart the video and say, “That’s a weave, heels make her tall, booty implants are all the rage these days, and lipo is real”. That’s an exaggeration. Even if the women are 100% real, the girls aren’t capable of saying, “That’s cool but that doesn’t have to be me because it’s not realistic”.
Unfortunately all they internalize is I want a guy like [X Rapper/Singer] and guys like [X Rapper/Singer] apparently want [Created Image Personified by X Model/Actress]. Oh the damage being done to that young girl’s psyche.
Sure enough, in this little world
The little boy meets one of those little girls
This is where it becomes an even bigger problem. If “hurt people hurt people” what do “children who have had entire definitions and perceptions skewed due to the music they unconsciously internalized and have therefore projected into their relationships” do to each other?
And he thinks she a bad bitch and she thinks she a bad bitch
He thinks disrespectfully, she thinks of that sexually
They’re both saying the same thing but the meaning has gotten lost. The now grown up boy from the first verse is saying this girl is bad (as in horrible) at being a bitch. His mom was a bitch and she was awesome. This girl is not at all like his mom. He’s not meaning it to be a compliment. Meanwhile, she thinks he’s complimenting her on her looks.
On the other hand, in opposition to Lupe’s narrative, I don’t think men today who say “that’s a bad bitch” are saying it disrespectfully. I think some are trying to say, “that’s a woman who is gorgeous”.
Bad mean good to her, she really nice and smart
But bad mean bad to him, bitch don’t play your part
But bitch still bad to her if you say it the wrong way
But she think she a bitch, what a double entendre
Being called a “bad bitch” is good to her because she has her life together and that term reflects that in her mind. But in his mind, it’s an insult. This causes Her to chase Him thinking He likes Her and then Her turning bitter when He doesn’t reciprocate and thus a long life of unrequited love. Meanwhile, this same girl will let her friends say, “Hey bitch!” and allow men in clubs to say, “Damn that’s a bad bitch!” but if the wrong person says it in the wrong way, “Look, bitch, what you won’t do is…” then she’s going to take it as an insult. How confusing.
So the argument is this: is it that serious? Although it’s been proven time and again that the psyche of young boys and girls can be significant in their overall development (check out this little known Brown v Board situation. It cited psychological research as evidence for why segregation is horrible), does stating that one wants a “bad bitch” over a “good woman” really change the fact that one wants a woman who is together financially, spiritually, academically, aesthetically, and any other adverb that is appealing?
…and that’s sad because clearly there aren’t enough Black people dying in America.
Don’t be alarmed. The title of this post is just a lyric from Pusha T’s newest diss record aimed at Young Money. A quick background because you can get the super fun details elsewhere, Pusha T (one half of the rap duo The Clipse) has beef with Young Money. Specifically Lil Wayne. Probably Drake. Maybe The Weeknd? Whatever. Lil Wayne tweeted in response to the song, “F*k Pusha T and anybody that love em”. To which the other half of the Clipse, Malice tweeted in response, “Well I LOVE Pusha! That’s my blood and I ain’t never kiss em”, a jab of course at the fact that there is a picture of Lil Wayne aka “Weezy F Baby, please say the Baby” kissing rapper Baby on the lips which is hilarious if you’re homophobic. Just kidding. It’s hilarious because Lil Wayne spits homophobic rhymes yet arguably has some of the most homoerotic lyrics in all of rap music. But while a fun topic to explore, that’s not the topic of today’s post.
The topic of today’s post is Pusha T’s video for his diss track, “Exodus 23:1″. Specifically, how Pusha T showed more in the 4 minutes and 23 seconds of the video than any 60 minutes segment or documentary on American hoods in recent memory. Pusha T just issued the most targeted and widespread anti-drug and anti-gang PSA ever. Clap for Kanye West for funding this community service. Here’s what I mean.
Now, one may have seen the video and thought Pusha T was trying to prove he’s harder than Lil Wayne and the rest of Young Money. That’s a possibility. But that’s not what I got from the video. I think Pusha T was tired of the lying in rap. (Exodus 23:1 states, “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.” [NIV] ) He was sick of rappers claiming to be gangstas and drug dealers. I think he decided to shoot a video showing what the hood that rappers rap about really looks like. It’s not beautiful.
From a purely aesthetic perspective, the video is different from everything out right now. It’s gritty. It’s dark. Many shots are in black and white. Most importantly, it’s solemn. This video was a gritty unveiling of the REAL hood versus the glamorized facade of “gangsta” perpetrated by Young Money and the rest of the rap world. That’s certainly purposeful. Most portrayals of the “hood” and “ghetto” in rap videos today feature the protagonist rapper pulling up in a shiny new whip while looking over the hood almost in gratitude for making them real. They pull up and get respect from drug fiends. There’s a false narrative put forth that the hood loves them when they come back after they supposedly sold all these drugs which, in case we forgot, breaks up homes and ruins black bodies.
Compare it to Rick Ross’ video for “BMF” for example, above. You see the random flashes of money. The shiny car. The hood approval. The transition from Anyhood, USA to the big city with no repercussion. You see no consequence or impact of the drug game. This is astonishing given the chorus, “I think I’m Big Meech, Larry Hoover.” With so much effort put into aligning himself with major convicted drug traffickers, you’d think he’d show the aftermath of drug-riddled hoods. But instead you have the flaunting of wealth purportedly accrued from selling drugs.
Now I look at Pusha T’s video and I see weak crack fiends and downtrodden residents. I don’t see pretty women, nice cars, and a 24/7 block party as portrayed in countless videos prior. Scenes of flickering TVs instead of HD screens, seasons old Rocawear instead of new Rolexes, an old Mitsubishi instead of a Maybach. Not a single “yellow model chick”, but instead a barefoot overweight cracked out white man. Pusha T took the glory out of pushing. The irony is clear. When the last time you heard it like this? It’s been awhile. But when you have Lil Wayne casually dropping gang affiliations in songs and Drake may or may not be throwing up those signs as well, it leads to an accessibility that we don’t really need. (This isn’t the first time mainstream rap tried to commercialize gang affiliation. Remember when we were all doing that crip walk dance? Yeah. Awkward to think about now, isn’t it?) It’s easy enough to get involved in some unsavory activities to make ends meet, do we really need to glamorize it and make it accessible? Pusha T challenged that narrative. Oh you want to shoutout your gang in a song? You want to claim to be a drug kingpin? You want to aggrandize it in videos, songs, and overall lifestyle? You want to make drugs and gang warfare an element of hip hop culture instead of a symptom of a greater disease of income inequity and achievement gaps? Fine. Just make sure you show both sides.
Not everyone will take from the video what I took from it. And that’s fine. But I think it’s gonna save lives. Everyone can’t be the kingpin. There have to be pawns.
I’ve called you guys. I’ve emailed. I’ve texted. I’ve posted Facebook statuses. I’ve tweeted. But there just are not enough outlets for me to express the love that I have for you guys. We’ve been through some stuff, us Allens. (Yeah. I know. Allen isn’t as awesome a last name as Huxtable but it is what it is.) Through it all, we get stronger. We get closer.
I took my final final exam of my undergraduate career earlier today. So that explains my current sentimental mood. As I left that building and headed back to my room to figure out what to do with all this newfound free time, it hit me. Now I never walked around thinking I did it by myself. But I never really stopped to think about how I got here. My ambition coupled with God’s grace were some key factors there. But let’s not forget about the reason I am who I am: you guys.
Now this could easily be a letter to just my parents. But Marcus and Alex, you guys had a HUGE role in who I am, too. Have. You have a huge role in who I am. Marcus, you’re the oldest. Watching you have a dream since you were a little kid and doing everything in your power to see that dream come to fruition was nothing short of inspiring. When your goals changed even after you were handed that initial dream fully paid for and you took the road less traveled to do what you really wanted, you changed my life. You could have stayed on course and probably ended up super successful in that field as well, but you deviated. Deviation was never my strong point, and I admire that in you.
I’ve mentioned this to you before but maybe never with this intensity. You’re the reason I never worry when things don’t go my way. At the end of the day, the security net I have in you and the rest of the family dwarfs any fear I may have of failure. There are things you do that have seemingly nothing to do with me but still leave me thankful. For example: thanks for marrying the love of your life, Amber. She’s the sister I never had and having her in my life has been a dope addition as well. Seeing you live your life the way you do: bold, unafraid, stubborn tenacious, has encouraged me to go after my dreams no matter what. Watching you graduate, get your first apartment, buy your first car, and get married has shown me how to mature and how to grow. Thanks for being an amazing role model even when you didn’t know it.
Alex, oh Alex. Our relationship is hilarious. We moved around a bit as kids but I was never afraid of a new school. Why? Because it didn’t matter if we were at a new school in Virginia, Maryland, or North Carolina. I would always be able to eat lunch with my best friend. You. Remember that one time I snitched on you to mom and dad about something or another? Doesn’t matter. I do. I remember how you looked when that happened. Betrayed. And since then I knew I never wanted to jeopardize our bond. We’ve always had each other’s back no matter what. We didn’t even need to know all the details to know that no matter what, family comes first.
I always joke that Marcus is the older brother due to our age difference but you’re more like my best friend. And while you both know how much I love you guys I think that somewhat undermines the role you’ve played in my life. I look up to you. I’ve watched you grow as a person and it’s been amazing. You’re one of the most focused and determined people I’ve ever met. What I admire most about you is your humble moves. You quietly take over the world. You don’t make huge announcements that you’re about to change the game. You just do. You follow your own path and you always have. You’re brilliant, by the way. People always labeled me the smart one of us three (Marcus the all-American jock/Class President/Homecoming King/token Black guy of the year, and you the cool one) but that’s just because I was socially awkward so they had to give me a win. But you showed me you could be smart AND cool. You introduced me to greek life. You also taught me a lot about what I should and should not stand for in relationships. Thanks bro.
Mom and Dad, separate paragraphs are pointless. That’s one thing I appreciate about you guys. You’ve always been a united front. On every issue. I used to watch shows as a kid and whenever kids wanted to get what they wanted they tried the old “Ask dad first and if he says no ask mom” routine. That never worked. I stopped trying after the second time. I think you guys have telepathy. I remember when Marcus, Alex, and I were mad young. I was maybe 7 you guys asked what we wanted to be. I said Psychologist. Dad and his super annoying lovely excel spreadsheets then plotted a plan for us to get to that point. He worked backward.
“You want to be a psychologist? Ok you need to go to grad school. Which means college. Which means graduating high school. If you want to get into a good school you need to have the highest GPA and a competitive academic workload. That means taking advanced classes as early as middle school.”
You know what? We did just that. With some tweaking here and there, you guys kept us on track. You went to book stores and got us books in the fields of our passion and made us work all summer. Remember when we were all talking sometime around Alex’s graduation and we found out that Marcus, Alex, and I all took on Africana/African-American Studies as our minors? While it wasn’t planned among the three of us, that also wasn’t an accident. You guys instilled us since day one the importance and honor of being Black. Being Black was never a bad thing. I was genuinely confused as to how anyone could dislike Black people (but not ignorant to the reality). You never created a “them vs. us” mentality in me, either. And I appreciate that. Surrounded by Black barbies, Black paintings, movies and TV shows with Black actors, and then you two as my ultimate role models, how could we not come to love our people?
I say all this to say that as Black parents in America, the media might be saying that it’s hopeless. Black sons and daughters aren’t graduating high school. They’re not even making it 18. They can walk down the street, skittles and tea in hand, and be shot with no regard. But with odds against us, and you as parents, you put three amazing children through college. You made us independent thinkers. Question askers. Authority challengers. Change makers. I’m forever thankful for that. I’ve always respected you guys. Raised in a Black home, there really wasn’t room for any other option. But the admiration I have for you guys was built over the years. I know Marcus and Alex agree.
To this day I don’t know how you guys woke up everyday, worked out, commuted to and from DC, made dinner, cut the grass, ate dinner every night at a table with us, and still had the energy to help us with our homework. But wait! Then, after all that, you volunteered in city elections at polling places. You were on countless church committees. You made every parent/teacher conference. You made every Christmas and Birthday memorable. Honestly, if I’m a quarter the parent you guys are, my future, currently non-existent, please don’t read into this, kid will be super lucky.
So to my dad, mom, and older brothers, thanks. Thanks for making me who I am today. Thanks for always challenging me and loving me. I can’t wait to see what we do in the future. I know we’re gonna be great. We don’t really have a choice. We’re Allens.
“Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society … –then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern.”
-MLK, Jr. 1963
Now while Dr. King was speaking on the topic of segregation, his dissatisfaction with the current treatment of Blacks in America is still relevant. I’m writing today to talk about Trayvon Martin. A simple google search will tell you about the case but here are the facts. Trayvon Martin was 17. He was walking home from a 7-11. He had a bag of skittles and a can of tea in his hand. A neighborhood watch member shot him. There is a 911 call that has been released where you can hear Trayvon screaming at the top of his lungs for help. Then another shot is heard. Then there is deafening silence. George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch guy, has not been arrested. Oh. Trayvon’s Black.
So let’s talk about this. There are many layers, obviously. The race one seems the most obvious. But when there is a Black child dead, the last thing I’m here for is to debate if Zimmerman is racist or not. I’ll leave that to sensationalists who want to start race riots instead of talking about the real issue here. A murder took place. Damn near an execution. Zimmerman is claiming self-defense. But if you simply listen to the tape, Zimmerman had enough time to casually walk over to Trayvon’s screaming body and shoot him in the chest. Does that to anyone with a fully functional frontal lobe sound like self-defense? I’m going to assume no.
To be transparent, if this wasn’t already obvious, this is not an unbiased post. I have two brothers. I am Black. I am incredibly concerned and invested in this case. I was born in Virginia Beach, Virginia. When my parents moved us to Northern Virginia in 1998 my folks gave my brothers and I pocket Constitutions. My dad sat us down and in a solemn tone usually reserved for “death in the family” conversations, my father told us things would be a little different here. He told us we had to learn our rights because nobody was going to enforce a law if we weren’t even cognizant of its existence. He even warned us of police. He said if we were driving on a back road (Virginia is famous for these dark, winding country roads with no lights) and were pulled over, to keep driving to an excessively lit area with people around. I thought my Dad was doing the most. I thought he was being way too cautious. My Dad was born and raised in Compton, California, why was he afraid of Stafford, Virginia? He survived neighborhoods that Ice Cube and NWA earned their street credit in! Why are we afraid of a neighborhood where people ride horses and measure their wealth by how many acres their house sits on? We moved on up like the Jeffersons. My parents were overreacting.
Mom told us that if we say we’re going somewhere with someone, we need to be at that location with those people. There should never be a point in time where we aren’t doing what we said we were doing. I, of course, thought they were being strict and wanted to damper my fun. What they were really saying is, always have an alibi. Because some of you may not know me or my family, I guess this is the time for a disclaimer. We’re cool people. My “Michelle Huxtable” moniker is not for nothing. People meet my family and within 5 minutes they say as though they have seen a unicorn, “Woah. You guys are the real Huxtables”. In other words, we’re wholesome. We like each other and what not. Before we all left for college, we used to eat dinner together nightly. My brother Alex and I hang out, party together, and text almost daily. We have a family group chat on our iPhones that is on and poppin’ daily. I love them. These rules that my parents put in place weren’t because we were delinquents. It was because my parents knew the Trayvon Martin reality, before it was Trayvon Martin. They knew the Trayvon Martin reality back when it was Emmett Till. They knew that you can do everything right, be raised in the right neighborhood, follow the law, be respectful to police, get good grades, wear the right colors in the right hoods, but if you just happen to be wearing the wrong skin color in the wrong place at the wrong time, nothing matters. As J. Cole once said, “Got good grades but A’s can’t stop strays, so pray for me”. My parents knew that although their good parenting offered us opportunities that they were never afforded when they were our age, there is only a surface-level difference between Black mortality in the streets of Compton and the avenues of Virginia.
That being said, we need to make known the reality of being Black in America. Word to Soledad O’brien for the series, but it hasn’t even scratched the surface of what it truly means to be Black in America. And I’m here for that. Usually nobody wants to talk about this because it screams of playing the race card. But, this is necessary. Being Black in America means being incredibly aware that your life value is mythical. It means knowing that you don’t have a voice. It means being expected to be satisfied with muted voices and stolen culture. It means never speaking up out of fear of being accused of victimization. It means seeing people who look like you on TV being gunned down and the man who confesses is able to walk free. It means the government can put you on death row with little tangible evidence and kill you. It means all of this can happen with little outrage. It means getting a few thousand signatures on a petition and a few retweets. It means truly feeling outrage and physical pain with knowing that in a few weeks, nobody, including yourself, will think about this again. It means knowing that nobody cares about you.
I feel personally attached to this case because as mentioned, I have two brothers who I am incredibly close to. Trayvon Martin could be one of them. At the risk of sounding like a bad PSA, Trayvon Martin could be your friend, cousin, nephew, uncle, or you. And try not to feel safe if you’re a woman and reading this. Just because you don’t hear about women being gunned down, don’t for a second think your womb or femininity in America is safe. Let your Black mother or sister go missing and see if America cares. But that’s a different conversation. The point for this post is simple: Let it be known that it is perfectly legal and acceptable to murder Black people in America. What can we do to change that? There needs to be a movement of epic proportions. People were down with the whole #KONY2012 movement. We were down for the #OccupyWallStreet movement. Where is that same excitement for revolution? Where is Jay-Z with his “I Am Trayvon Martin” t-shirts? Where is Obama calling Trayvon’s family like he did when Limbaugh called that girl a slut? Where are you? Where is your name on the petition? Where is your phone that should be dialing the DA? This will keep happening if we don’t make a move. America has spoken. You will NOT kill or kidnap America’s sweet white babies or women. The FBI will be called. SWAT teams will assemble. They will shut this country down. But go ahead and be a serial killer who targets Black women or children. You’ll be fine. So now that America has spoken, what are we going to say in retort?
Be safe, people.
“Being here in America doesn’t make you an American… No I’m not an American, I’m one of the 22 million Black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million Black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disgused hypocrisy… I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see American through the eyes of a victim. I don’t see any American dream: I see an American nightmare.”
We were meant for more. From whips to the White House, from plantations to the Presidency, we advance. Wait. That kind of lofty, victory lap rhetoric might be the problem. Most people are familiar with the following lines from Tupac’s “I Wonder If Heaven Got a Ghetto” (1) “And though it seems heaven-sent/ We ain’t ready to have a Black President”. Whether Tupac is the first person to utter this sentiment or not, it is certainly the most popular of recent memory. And thus possibly marks the beginning of the Victory Lap Rhetoric that we associate with a Black President. What I mean by Victory Lap Rhetoric is simply that it was established that once we elected a Black President, we would have in essence “made it”. From that moment forth, a Black President became the highest possible accomplishment of a Black American. It became the culmination of everything our ancestors fought and died for. The dogs, the fire hoses, the beatings, the lynchings, the degradation, all that is nothing in the face of the election of our Black President.
There are two ways to look at this. The first is short-sided but not uncommon. This sentiment says, “When we get a Black President, things will change”. The second thought process says, “We’ll get a Black President when things change”. Either way, the ending thought is that a Black Presidency is the highest possible resolution of racism in America. It’s as though the idea of a Black President was so far-fetched, a la jetpacks and time travel, that a Black President surely would naturally coincide with other radical change. Most of us don’t envision teleportation with an iPhone 3 or flying cars like a Honda Civic. We just expect some major technological advance to come that will allow us to be evenlazier than before more resourceful. Much in the same way, a Black President daydream came with income parity, no achievement gaps, social equality, probably a lack of global warming and other amazing feats. A true racial paradise. We get appalled when other people make our Black President out to be a Magic Negro but we in essence have been making that claim for years.
Unfortunately this is not the case. We, as Black people, have overcome a lot. I think this is important to note because it helps to know what we are capable of. But from whips to WorldStar, from Black Mammys to Basketball Wives? We can, and have to, do better. We earned freedom. We earned voting rights. We toppled Jim Crow. We have jobs in places we couldn’t work. Homes in places we couldn’t live, and we receive an education from places we couldn’t step foot in. We did that. And we’ve taken our victory lap. But now this is the hard part.
Going back to “I Wonder if Heaven Got a Ghetto” most people leave out the next lines of that song, “It ain’t a secret don’t conceal the fact/ The penitentiary’s packed/ And it’s filled with Blacks/ I wake up in the morning and I ask myself/ Is life worth living or should I blast myself?/ I’m tired of being poor and even worse I’m Black/ My stomach hurts so I’m lookin’ for a purse to snatch.” We have much more to accomplish. The jailsare packed with Blacks. Our kids aren’t graduating college, high school, sometimes not even middle school. We don’t have income parity. Someone once said, “When White America gets a cold, Black America gets pneumonia”. If you think our current economic crisis and unemployment rates are dismal, a quick google search for Black unemployment rates will make you realize just how true these lyrics still are. And after President Obama, do you know how long it will be until we have another Black President? The Presidency was never the ultimate goal. It is an excellent accomplishment. But we have more to do.
I’m not a big fan of personal posts but I felt like blogging. So here’s one of those. As a Senior in college, I’m extremely introspective about my experience over the course of these four years. What memories did I make? What did I set out to do? Did I accomplish that? Did I leave a lasting impact on this campus? Who will I pass the torch to? These thoughts cross my mind every second of every day it seems.
Regardless of the GPA I graduate with, the honors I receive, the Nobel Peace Prize I will inevitably be nominated for, and the experiences I gathered, what truly has been on my brain is, “Who did I affect?” Don’t get me wrong. You could ask any of my peers, I care very deeply about the honors and accolades. I do, after all, plan on a career in academia. But you know why that’s not my main concern at this very juncture in life? Well for one, I’ve already established a pattern of excellence. At this point, my GPA is what it’s going to be. My internships have been earned and carried out. My letters of recommendation have been written. My responsibility is to just maintain what I’ve already worked hard for. The REAL reason I’m not stressing right now about that is because my youthful naivety was put in check the summer before I entered college.
At Orientation in July of 2008 the rest of the incoming freshman class and I were in an auditorium of some sort where the Dean opened with some facts. “You all makeup the most competitive and successful class we’ve had thus far!1 We have students from all 50 states. The incoming class has 40 valedictorians. Someone in your class published a book at age 8. Someone else founded a charity at age 12.” Before that very moment, everyone was on top of the world. We graduated from some of the best high schools with the highest GPAs and were fortunate enough to attend an incredible University. Then you hear these stats and realize, “Yo. Everybody is as successful as I am.” There’s this line in The Incredibles2 where someone says, “If everybody is incredible, nobody is” or something like that. That’s always stuck with me.
You have to find your success where you can. We, unfortunately, live in the Facebook/Twitter/YouTube generation where we are 24/7 reminded of the success of others lives. To think that Willow Smith makes more as a 12 year old kid3 than I probably ever will? Little depressing. Sure. But this realization only has the possibility of sending me into a major depressive episode4 if for some completely illogical reason I’m comparing my success to Willow Smith’s. That example seems obvious. Why would I, a college student, compare myself to a musical artist? Well, the same principle should apply to our peers. We see someone getting internships, fellowships, jobs, interviews, etc and instead of celebrating Black excellence, opulence, decadence we act like crabs in a barrel to ensure our survival.5 I on the other hand decided my measurement of my success wasn’t going to be in comparison to the next man’s.
The other day a friend asked me what my Black College Experience was. It took me a minute to think about this. I don’t know if my experience was atypical or if it was completely normal for a Black student at a predominantly white institution. To sum it up, Freshman year I was the only Black person on my floor. I knew a few Black people but only in a “Hey, you’re Black, I’m Black, I’m gonna wave when I see you”67 kind of way.
Sophomore year I discovered the Howard Thurman Center. This was the SPOT. Between classes if you had an hour to kill, you’d stop by and end up getting incepted. You think you’re stopping in to say a quick “what up” to some minorities on campus and next thing you know you’re debating everything from double consciousness to the proverbial Biggie versus Tupac discussion. Three hours later you missed lab and you’re not even mad at it. This was essentially how I integrated into the social aspect of college. This is when I felt most like I was getting a college experience. Don’t get me wrong, I was always getting an amazing education. After all Mama and Papa Huxtable didn’t send me 9 hours from home to be bored AND uneducated. But finally I found that “I love college” aspect. Had my go-to crew and I had my healthy balance of work and play. I was achieving academically and socially.
I had successfully become a normal college student. Sweatpants were worn, 2am crab rangoon was consumed, Facebooks were stalked, the usual. But as is on par with the rest of my life, once I’m content I gotta up the ante. So now I wanted to be involved. I made the mistake wise, wise decision of becoming friends with this guy who was graduating. He was therefore as introspective then as I am now and I was lucky enough to be around for his senior musings. The “What legacy will I leave?” questions fused into my head. So I got involved. No but really. I got INVOLVED. I decided to apply to be an RA. I decided to pledge the greatest sorority on the face of this earth8 . I decided to run for an executive board position in the Black Student Union. I decided to work with Sir Bowtie himself over at theFreshXpress.com. Oh and I decided to go hard in all kinds of paint academically. I also decided to start eating less cheese but that seems insignificant in comparison.
Junior year came and went with all of those responsibilities on my plate. Senior year arrived and I had another epiphany. I was talking to a freshman and in passing said something like, “You live in South? Oh word. Jen used to live there.” And I got the Dora blink. This person had no idea who Jen was. But in my head Jen was a rockstar. Jen changed the face of this campus! That’s when it hit me. Yes. College is important. If you want to be somebody, if you want to go somewhere. You better wake up and go to your 8am. I got it. But it’s also not important. I used to stress myself out with this legacy business. Why doesn’t the incoming class know of the great things that 2010, 2011, and my class of 2012 did? Why do they think we’re all some player hating simps? This I will still never know. But I sure won’t be racking my head over it. I know the few people whose lives I’ve touched because they’ve told me. I know the difference I made as an RA. I know the little smile I put on someone’s face when I used to consistently blog. That’s what’s important these days.
So no, I won’t graduate with a statue erected in my honor. Yes, in September of 2012 my name probably won’t be mentioned on this campus anymore9 . No, I never did climb to the top of CAS and see what that pumpkin was all about. Yes I made memories that will last a lifetime. Yes I forged bonds with people I never knew I would. Yes I gained weight, lost weight, cut my hair, had a snowball fight, got pneumonia, survived swine flu, fell in love, fell out of love, fell in love again, decided to chill with the whole love thing, achieved, failed, surprised myself, disappointed myself, drank inordinate amounts of redbull, made Dean’s list, slept in the library, pulled allnighters, used the Citgo sign to get home, swindled my way into free meals, felt the dining points struggle, waited in the middle of Comm Ave to see which would come first: the shuttle or the T, and so many other things. And that, my friends, is why I’m ready to graduate with no regrets.
Dedicated to Kyle Anthony Trotman
Imagine my shock to learn that this was said to every class. Sigh. [↩]
Deep down inside everyone wants to be a rapper. Not only are they allowed to make ridiculous and outlandish statements, they’re expected to do so. And while everyone wants to relate to rappers in GENERAL (i.e. financial struggle, haters, living life to the fullest), nobody wants to hear a rapper express their exact same sentiments about day to day musings. You’ll never see a rapper release a mixtape about working an average job where they make average pay (not good, not bad), where they muse about feeling stressed about all the recorded shows they have to catch up on, and the ego boost they felt when they got 5 retweets on a funny tweet. Rappers aren’t a Seinfeld scene. ”So how about that parking, right? You spend 20 minutes driving around for a spot! By the time you’ve found one, you’ve forgotten what you came to the store for!” Rap is escapism. We like to aspire. It’s why we enjoy listening to “Aston Martin Music” while riding the bus driving a civic.
We like to aspire to a better life. There’s this unspoken rule, though. We let them rap about things that most of us will never afford and we ignore the fact that they’re most likely posturing to sell us a dream. The ultimate dream. The ability to fully embrace our double consciousness. Imagine. SECOND TO SECOND being able to switch back and forth between two worlds. This completely explains the appeal of Nicki Minaj. In a single verse she can switch between being this “thug” to being a “lady”. The “Monster” verse/video definitely illustrates that.
(If you don’t already know, every other line, or every two or three, she switches between Barbie-ish Nicki and Monster Nicki.) But in general, we let a rapper say “I bust gats. I slang coke.” and then leave the studio in their Beamer Benz or Bentley to drive to their Honeywell-secured homes in gated communities patrolled by the boys in blue.
We all code switch. At least if you’re successful in any capacity, you know how to code switch. It’s not as intense as it sounds. If you’ve ever been around friends and answered your phone and it was your mom and noticed yourself speaking slightly differently, congratulations you’ve code switched. It simply means adjusting your behavior to fit the new environment. It’s usually brought up in race relations. Imagine at your job or in your classroom being able to blast the most ratchet of music. Let’s use “Racks” shall we? So there you are blasting Racks. [gibberish gibberish gibberish rhyme/ gibberish gibberish gibberish rhyme RACKS ON RACKS ON RACKS!] You’re hitting your douglas. You’re stanky leggin’ in your chair. You’re doing rapper hands like it’s nobody’s business. And then your coworker says “Hey did you get that TPS report done? Can I see it?” You answer “Yep. Got it right here, Trevor!” Then you go back to rapper hands.
Hopefully, and I really do mean hopefully, you aren’t already that person. But in general, most of us can’t do that. What we do is on the way to and fro work blast Racks and hit our respective douglasses (douglai?) while doing rapper hands and once we get to work we turn that radio from 10 to 2 and walk into work properly. Then we have surface level conversations with coworkers until it’s time to stanky leg on home. But the dream that rappers sell us? You can be wildly successful and still stay “true” and “real”.
But that brings me back to Nicki Minaj. I don’t have a problem with the split-personality, double message. It’s the foundation of rap. Suspending disbelief. If every rapper sold as much drugs as they claim, you and I would both be strung out. Anyway, conflicting messages, or rather a conflicting messenger and message are just what life is all about when it comes to music. We let a married Beyonce sing about “Single Ladies” so it is what it is. But I guess my confusion is with the previous situation of “detached rapper raps about hood empathy”, the consumers have agreed to suspend disbelief. With Nicki Minaj, I’m not so sure the same memo was sent out.
 I mean, sure, possible exaggeration. But you get my point. The Jigga, Diddy, Russells of the world aren’t rapping about the thug life then taking the bus back to the projects.