Trayvon and My Birthday

I was initially pretty nonchalant about this particular birthday. 23 isn’t one of the “big” years. I didn’t plan a big turn up. I planned to just hang out with my LS, do a shot at midnight, change my facebook profile picture to one of Jordan, the usual. Then the Zimmerman verdict came in around 10:30pm I think it was. Changed everything. How is it that 10 days prior we were supposed to celebrate independence day and freedom and equality and today the world learned that America does not value Black lives? That Oscar Grant was not an aberration?  That Sean Bell was not an irregularity in an otherwise peaceful and just relationship between Blacks and the police department?

I’m an academic. It’s both my occupation and my hobby. I like reading, writing, and thinking. What I don’t like, is feeling that I’m preaching to a choir. I don’t like the idea that my work is pointless and that academia can exist without activism. I hate the implication that academia cannot even be a form of activism. But when this happened? I questioned that. I questioned my research. I questioned if there was a point in continuing my phd program. As Kanye once said, “Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coupe”. In other words, regardless of what initials I put in front or behind my name, on a dark street in the wrong neighborhood or in broad daylight in the right neighborhood, I’m always going to be Black first. Your credentials won’t save you as Dr. Henry Louis Gates can attest.

I now know that was a moment of weakness. A justifiable moment of weakness, but a moment nonetheless. Two people (probably unknowingly) turned me around. My friend Josh said that nobody is going to make him afraid to be alive. Then, Renee sent me a happy birthday text at midnight saying:

“I know this is an upsetting time right now but I want to wish you a happy birthday! Looking at the glass half full, you’ve had the opportunity to live this long and you have taken great advantage of every moment to make life worth living! I truly do look up to you as a friend, scholar, and so much more! I know people like you are going to change this world because you use this passion and drive that you have to not move 10 steps backward, but 20 steps forward. The fact that the world is not up to your level is a different problem. Despite the verdict of the trial, we can continue to find justice and fight for the right to live by simply living, and most importantly living with a purpose that affects good change.  And you, Dr. Hux are living with a purpose that affects good change.”


Josh and Renee are right. I can’t help that I’m sincerely and extremely passionate about race. It’s a gift/curse situation. And naturally the juxtaposition of Trayvon’s loss of life being deemed lawful and my celebration of life was extremely jarring. I now realize it doesn’t have to be.

It would be another injustice to Trayvon, his family, and my people to cower. It’s a well known quote and almost a cliche but:

“Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I have much to celebrate. I get to celebrate 23 years of dopeness in the midst of my sorority’s centennial year and national convention. The relevance? Well, one of my favorite people in the world is Dr. Sadie T.M. Alexander.  Do you know what Dr. Alexander was doing at 23? She got her PhD and was the first African-American woman to do such. She was also acting as the first National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. She also initiated the charter members of my infamous Iota Chapter. That’s a lot to be doing at 23. She clearly wasn’t letting herself shrink or play a small role in life. Neither will I, and neither should you.

I was frustrated last night and I’m frustrated today. I don’t have a plan yet. A real plan that will bring about change. Yes, we should mentor, we should tutor, we should be way more involved with the political machine. Today, we need to be great. We need to celebrate life. And we need to channel that passion and sanctity of life into political power. Every bit of change we’ve seen in America has been court mandated. Freeing of slaves. Basic human rights like voting and getting an education. All of it. That has to continue.

Happy Birthday to me. Let’s celebrate life.

Yeezus: Hip Hop & Blasphemy

Kanye West is planning on releasing his next album on June 18th, 2013. It will be titled “Yeezus”, a play on both his nickname Yeezy and of course the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

So, I guess people are upset because that’s blasphemous and we won’t stand for that. Except for the fact that we routinely do. Personally I can’t believe the same demographic that bumped Izzo can get upset about Yeezus. “H to the izz-O, V to the izz-A” spells HOVA. Jehovah is the Hebrew name meaning God, for those playing at home. Also Jay-Z, in the most fantastical display of religious levity, rapped, “The Pope John Paul of y’all niggas, the way y’all all follow Jigga!” And while the song is old, the man still goes by this name of Jehovah, “Get out your seat, Hov“. If we’re going to be mad at sacrilegious behavior, let’s be consistent!

When you have rappers rapping about bad bitches, cutting coke, robbing, murder and other standard thuggery whilst wearing an iced-out Jesus piece, should that not elicit outrage? Many people of the Muslim faith will protest ANY depiction of Muhammad. I’m not saying images of Jesus Christ should be prohibited [1]. I’m just asking questions and musing in a public forum. But maybe the inappropriate depiction of Jesus doesn’t sink your proverbial boat. Meek Mill’s “Amen” literally has a church organ while he raps some of the most blatantly irreverent lyrics of our time.

This song was number 4 on the Billboard for rap songs, which means it got heavy play coming home from church. While a pastor did call into a radio station and start beef, and I’m sure First Mount Zion of K Street International Life Changers probably held a boycott, it didn’t amass wide criticism. But at this point I think Meek Mill was just trolling the church. Watch the Throne has plenty of sacrilegious lyrics. Take your pick. From Jay-Z putting himself and Kanye in the new trinity with Jesus (which I assume will get very confusing at the trinity meetings when someone says “Jehovah”) to Kanye saying he’s clearly never going to hell because he rapped about Jesus. Not too long ago even Nicki Minaj joined in on the fun and performed an exorcism on live TV.

What I assume is happening here with people feigning offense at the Yeezus album title is cognitive dissonance. Rap fans tend to be Black Americans. And Black Americans tend to be raised with some sort of Christian background. We could argue about the political correctness and statistical accuracy of that but the point remains that we tend to be religious folk. Just take my word. When young Black people leave the home, however, sometimes that religion is lost but they still remember the being brought up in the church part of their life. These people tend to make statements such as, “Well I was raised [insert denomination here] but..” or “My mom’s a minister so…”

And that’s cool, or whatever, but it still comes with religious guilt. So even if they really lay no claims to a spiritual relationship, they know there’s certain things that just ain’t right, religiously speaking. So when Jay-Z calls himself Hov, we’re willing to overlook it because it’s not explicitly Jehovah and we can claim ignorance or it means something else. “New York dudes been calling themselves god, man. It’s a way of uplifting Black people. You need to google five percenters, for real. Peace, god.”

But when Nicki Minaj is performing exorcisms and Kanye literally merges his name with Jesus, it’s an insult to our religious intelligence and forces us to be held accountable for our supposed beliefs. I liken this to being an RA in college. You were once a curious fun-loving freshman yourself so you don’t really want to bust them for alcohol. But when they stumble in drunk and loud at 4am, playing beer pong in the common room, you HAVE to be upset. Now you’re just being rude and making me do my job. So Christians and half-fake-Christians alike don’t mind when you’re blasphemous as long as you’re not so explicitly so that they can’t defend it. Although that theory pretty much gets ripped to shreds when you think about the fact that this happened back in 2006:

“Subtlety? For what?!”

My stance on the topic? I’m wise enough to know that music has never been “just music”. I believe it is deserving of critique. I also believe that each individual needs to decide for themselves what they will tolerate in their music. I  personally am okay with bumping Kanye in the whip and following it up with 1994 Kirk Franklin. I don’t think listening to Kanye makes me less of a Christian the same as listening to Kirk doesn’t make me more of a Christian. That being said, that’s just where I am now. Maybe I should care more about blasphemy in my favorite artists. My favorite rappers are Kanye and J. Cole. Both are releasing religious-themed albums (Yeezus and Born Sinner respectively) on 6/18. I’m not too heavy into numerology but with 666 (three sixes) being the agreed-upon “mark of the beast” and three x six being 18… I don’t know man. I’m just saying. I don’t really believe in coincidences.

I should end this here but with all that being said, I’m heavily looking forward to the Yeezus album. I’m sensing some College Dropout truths (I get down for my grandfather who took my mama, made her sit in that seat where white folks ain’t want us to eat) and an 808s and Heartbreak tone (Chased the good life my whole life long. Look back on my life and my life gone. Where did I go wrong?) In other words, some very dark honest rap.

I think for anyone paying attention, Kanye’s so-called erratic behavior makes perfect sense. He actually started from the bottom and now that he’s here he sees the same old shenanigans. They still got him showing ID at Sam’s Club, figuratively.  I can imagine he had very lofty dreams of getting to the top and seeing a promise land of racial equality.[2] And he did not. All that being said, he reached a tipping point. And I think that’s going to result in some very dope thought-provoking music if “New Slaves” is any indication:

“They tryna lock niggas up, they tryna make new slaves.

See that’s that private owned prison, get your piece today”.

This wasn’t the point of the post but I’ll let Assata preach to you for a minute from her autobiography:

“Don’t you know that slavery was outlawed?”
“No,” the guard said, “you’re wrong. Slavery was outlawed with the exception of prisons. Slavery is legal in prisons.”
I looked it up and sure enough, she was right. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution says:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Well, that explained a lot of things. That explained why jails and prisons all over the country are filled to the brim with Black and Third World people, why so many Black people can’t find a job on the streets and are forced to survive the best way they know how. Once you’re in prison, there are plenty of jobs, and, if you don’t want to work, they beat you up and throw you in a hole. If every state had to pay workers to do the jobs prisoners are forced to do, the salaries would amount to billions… Prisons are a profitable business. They are a way of legally perpetuating slavery. In every state more and more prisons are being built and even more are on the drawing board. Who are they for? They certainly aren’t planning to put white people in them. Prisons are part of this government’s genocidal war against Black and Third World people.

But by all means stay mad at the album title.


Footnotes    (↑ returns to text)
  1. I take that back. Images of white Jesus should absolutely be prohibited
  2. A common mistake that many minorities make, thinking wealth will make up for their lack of whiteness. Sigh.

Boston State of Mind: Media’s Defense of White Terrorism

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 [1] 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[2]

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.[3] 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. [4] 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.”[5]

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.[6] 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)
  1. Which seriously is the most ridiculous racial nomenclature we have.
  2. Do you see how ridiculous that is? Imagine if you thought “American or Catholic person” was a completely reasonable description of someone.
  3. Your tweets don’t count. Find a new method of activism.
  4. Sigh.
  5. Source
  6. It may not seem like it at first. Watch the whole video. Dave is sincerely a genius.