Do You Hear What I Hear?

One of the most common refrains, really an admonishment, that I remember from my time at Mount Calvary Baptist Church was that “the power of life and death is in the tongue.” This well worn church saying was designed to remind those of us who were learning the tenets of Christianity to be mindful of the language that we bantered about publicly. One was not to curse or represent themselves in a negative manner for the following reason; ‘a little bit of bad will tear down a whole lot of good.’

The popular saying was stretched beyond one’s personal situation, it covered the entire race. As we have repeatedly seen, the actions, or better yet the antics, of one African-American has the ability to mar and malign the image of the entire race. Put simply, the destiny and image of African-Americans are inextricably linked together. Hence, one’s public persona, from your dress to your speech, was a direct reflection of yourself, your family, and the entire race. There was a pride to be found among African-Americans individually and collectively. The alluded to pride was expressed through  our posture, walk, talk, and physical appearance. One abhorred being caught ‘showing one’s color’ regardless of extenuating circumstances.

The above historical realities is one of many reasons why YG’s hit single, “My Nigga“, is not only disturbing on myriad levels, but also particularly damaging to the image and psyche of the entire African-American community, particularly its male population. Although I find it particularly difficult to believe that there is anyone on the planet who has not heard this recording, in the event that there is such an individual, the words follow.

My nigga, my nigga
My nigga, my nigga (My motherfuckin niggas!)
My nigga, my nigga (My nigga, my nigga)
My nigga, my nigga (My motherfuckin niggas!)

My nigga, my nigga (My motherfuckin niggas!)
My nigga, my nigga (My nigga, my nigga)
My nigga, my nigga (My motherfuckin niggas!)
My nigga, my nigga (My motherfuckin niggas!)
My nigga, my nigga (My nigga, my nigga)
My nigga, my nigga?

The word ‘nigga’ is repeated a shocking thirty-one times. Black America’s soul should be troubled by not only the verbal flurry, but also the fact that it has entered the impressionable minds of droves of youth.

As someone who has been addicted to rap music from the first time that I heard Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five’s ‘The Message‘, I thought that it may be time to address YG’s recording, not with a denunciation of it, that is not only easily accomplished, but also predictable, rather I have decided to offer an artistic alternative to a listening audience that desperately seeks close association with the “N-Word”. Unfortunately, many of these individuals believe that YG’s record, and similar recordings, epitomize what rap music is. So, consider this a desperate attempt to fight the blaze of ignorance that YG, Rich Homie Quan, and Jeezy began and Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Meek Mill, fanned with an alternative vision and take upon the N-Word, nigga, and nigger.

Maybe, just maybe, YG, Rich Homie Quan, Jeezy, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and/or Meek Mill will learn something regarding the power of language and come to understand that their financial wealth is insufficient to hide their intellectual and moral poverty. I am certain that time will impress upon them that no amount of cash is capable of masking such poverty. One of their own, Jay-Z, a self-proclaimed rap God, once issued an admonishment that is particularly applicable here when he related, “you can pay for school, but you can’t buy class.” A lesson that I hope the entire hip-hop community learns before the power of their words leads to more incarceration, death, and destruction of their own.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

A Life Worth Living: The Ballad of Rashard Mendenhall

It would be misleading to refer to professional athletes as being common in any shape, form, or fashion. Their athletic feats alone render them exceptional and unique. However, there tends to be little that is remarkable regarding these modern day Supermen away from their chosen profession. In fact, they often embrace lifestyles that few sane individuals would desire the consequences of. So it is not a surprise that we commonly hear the same sad story regarding African-American male athletes that have haphazardly squander away millions of dollars, produced a tribe of children, failed to have the necessary educational background or courage to publicly comment upon pressing political matters affecting their people. There is nothing notable about that sob story.

In 1993, Charles Barkley, participated in a Nike campaign that pivoted around what would become a familiar refrain among athletes; “I am not a role model.” Barkley was equal parts blunt and serious regarding the fact that neither he nor any of his peers should be considered role models solely because of their athletic prowess; the All-Star forward went so far to highlight the stupidity of such idolatry when he remarked, “A million guys can dunk a basketball in jail; should they be role models?”

Barkley’s Nike sponsored message sparked a significant debate about role models, particularly within the Black community. Today, the image of worthy African-American role models amongst professional athletes is so rare that the nation hardly noticed when Minnesota based Republican Representative Pat Garofalo remarked, “Let’s be honest, 70% of teams in NBA could fold tomorrow + nobody would notice a difference w/ possible exception of increase in street crime.” The primary reason that such a racially-tinged statement failed to cause an uproar from a reactionary African-American community is because many of them view athletes with similar disdain.

The image of African-American males has been so tarnished that the aforementioned generalizations are commonly applied to all African-American males, regardless of their educational attainments, careers, or personal situations. Such caricatures are so pervasive, that a figure such as Rashard Mendenhall is considered an aberration within both the sports world and the African-American community. If only I could persuade Nike to revive and slightly alter their ‘I am not a role model’ campaign for the benefit of young African-American males and make Rashard Mendenhall the star; in my estimation, he is what our young boys seeking an athletic career should be aspiring to be.

Mendenhall, a much celeberated athlete from Niles West High School,  not only graduated early, but also continued his studies at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) prior to being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. What makes Mr. Mendenhall so newsworthy at this moment is that at the ripe age of 26, he has decided to walk away from professional football in a manner that reminds one of the Cleveland Browns’ Jim Brown’s exit from the National Football League at the apex of his career; Brown went on to have a prodigious life as a political activist. Unlike his peers, Mendenhall has not only cultivated his mind, but also realized that life is about so much more than athletic contests that droves of Americans obsess over.

I am certain that the vast majority of Americans can identify with Mendenhall’s reasons for leaving football when he states,”Imagine having a job where you’re always on duty, and can never fully relax…” The now retired running back also related frustrations with “having to fight through waves and currents of praise and criticism, but mostly hate. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been called a ‘dumb n—–.'” Mendenhall has quite simply had enough of the demands that others have placed upon his life, not to mention the toll that being a professional football player places upon an individuals physical and mental health. Despite repeated charges to the contrary from sports columnists and fans, Mendenhall is not crazy for leaving money on the table, rather he should be applauded for knowing when enough is enough and having some semblance of balance in his life.

From my perspective, it is imperative that African-American males are taught by their community that athletics are a fine activity, however, it should never become your identity. One of the greatest lessons that our young men fail to learn is the need for balance in one’s life. It is fine to be a great athlete, however, we make a serious error when we allow athletics to become our singular reason for living.

As for what the twenty-six year old Mendenhall will do with his life now that he has hung-up his cleats, I will let this impressive young man’s words speak for themselves. “As for the question of what will I do now, with an entire life in front of me?” he wrote. “I say to that, I will LIVE! I plan to live in a way that I never have before, and that is freely, able to fully be me, without the expectation of representing any league, club, shield or city. I do have a plan going forward, but I will admit that I do not know how things will totally shape out. That is the beauty of it! I look forward to chasing my desires and passions without restriction, and to sharing them with anyone who wants to come along with me! And I’ll start with writing!”

I pray that droves of African-American male youth will not only read Mendenhall’s writings, but also learn from his life; both of those things could prove to be instrumental to those that are coming behind him. Rashard, congratulations on your retirement and remember, that we are eagerly awaiting to read the next chapters of your life.  Best of Luck.

 

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop

In 1990, KRS-ONE (Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone), of Boogie Down Productions fame, offered a major theoretical building block to hip-hop culture by titling his most recent album Edutainment. Although the album was spectacular in its own right, the true genius of referring to Rap Music as Edutainment — meaning Education and Entertainment — has grown more profound with Hip-Hop Culture’s growth, if not necessarily its maturation, over the twenty-plus years since that particular recording debuted.

The insinuation that rap music is actually Edutainment is not only profoundly powerful, but also keenly insightful. Those who understand the art of emceeing can attest to the fact that lyricism is at its best when it is both entertaining and educating listeners. There is no more efficient means of shaping the worldview, hopes, dreams, and priorities of the listening audience. Make no mistake about it, a young African-American male or female holding a mic holds the potential to be exponentially more influential over their listening audience than a teacher, coach, politician, and oftentimes a parent. A cursory glance around the globe verifies that it is no stretch to term Hip-Hop Culture the cultural equivalent of a nuclear bomb.

The B-Boy is found in Moscow, graffiti adorns buildings in Amsterdam, Brazilian women dance in hip-hop videos, white girls drape themselves over black rappers, even Happy Feet, the lovable penguin of cinematic fame, dances to infectious rap beats. Those who speak only English need a linguist to listen to the BET cipher as emcees have sprouted from the soil of every continent, and even Percy Miller, of No Limit Records fame, molds the minds of our children via his wildly successful Yo! Gabba Gabba show. It is a gross understatement to maintain that Hip-Hop culture has arrived, truth is the culture has been the main course in the global cultural diet for over three decades.

Hip-Hop culture’s migration to a centrist position in the global cultural diet has rendered it indispensable to successive generations of youth. It is this increased visibility and influence of Hip-Hop culture that has heightened the importance of KRS-ONE’s Edutainment construct for the following reasons:

  1. Hip-Hop culture has become an ambassador that not only introduces persons around the globe to African-American culture, but also, in the minds of consumers, projects that population’s values, morals, hopes, and dreams.
  2. Rap Music is certainly entertaining via infectious beats and mesmerizing lyrics as well as serving as an “educational” tool for populations, regardless of their racial identity or ethnicity, who have no real connection to urban Black America; including African-American youth raised in suburban America.

Therein lies the danger of a negative message and image. While African-Americans who have been raised in urban America, recognize the tomfoolery that many rap artists are undertaking, those who are absent of such cultural intelligence — awareness, familiarity, and norms — naively ingratiate what amounts to absurd verging on caricatures as authentic representation of black life, culture, traditions, and norms. In time, as with all stories told and retold those images that were originally created either in the simplified minds of artists or some record executives dry-erase board are considered an apt representation of African-Americans. Ironically, this unfortunate method of manufacturing consent regarding authentic African-American culture forces future artists who are naturally desirous of fame and fortune to fit themselves into the aforementioned buffonery. Leaving one to deduce that quite possibly it is time to alter KRS-ONE’s construct to a more apt title Mis-Edutainment, because the images that I see being portrayed do little other than betray the African-American community and destroy their image around the globe.

 

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

The Black CNN: Breaking News from the frontline

Public Enemy’s Chuck D once remarked that Hip-Hop culture is Black America’s CNN. Although many considered this keen observation little more than a flippant comment by a rapper seeking attention and increased record sales, when viewed through an appropriate prism, Chuck D’s observation is quite profound. When Chuck D made this statement during what we now term the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, Black America, particularly its youth, was being led through phenomenal changes by a relatively knew youth culture; today it is called Hip-Hop. Above and beyond anything else, Hip-Hop Culture, particularly Rap Music, allowed for these young African-American men and women to define who they were and thereby forced the world to deal with them and their vision of how the world should be.

Larger society was predictably against this change that they did not generate and could neither understand nor control. The politicized youth of the day apparently believed that they had something to say and created a vehicle from which it would be heard. They were pointing their race, and by extension the entire world, in a new direction. It was against the backdrop of voluminous criticism against rap music, the musical arm of Hip-Hop culture, that Chuck D posited that the musical genre was Black America’s CNN.

Chuck D., Public Enemy’s lead emcee, explained that if you wanted to know what was going on in South Central, Los Angeles, all you needed to do was listen to N.W.A. If you wanted to know what was occurring in Houston, Texas, one only needed to listen to the Geto Boys, or if the urban environs of New York piqued your interest, Rakim and Brand Nubian were more than capable of sharing contemporary occurrences; this list goes on and on. The emcee is analogous to a news reporter issuing dispatches regarding African-Americans and a fortune teller accurately depicting, or quite possibly shaping, the future.

During the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, Rap Music, despite its exponentially increasing, seemingly inherent, lyrical and visual contradictions, was painting a picture, one that was not always beautiful nor in focus, for the world to see. However, one could never deny that it was simultaneously bold and politicized. Although there was much to criticize about that generation of emcees’ and those adherents that followed their lead with a nearly cult-like obsession; there was little doubt that they were proud and determined youth supported by an unending political consciousness and esteem level that facilitated their ascension to the vanguard position of American, and global, popular culture.

‘Oh, to long for the days of yesterday.’ Little did we know that a mere twenty-years after Public Enemy advised African-Americans to Fight The Power! and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan detailed to the Black nation their duties as a righteous people and their duty to teach to others what they do not know, that Hip-Hop Culture would not only transform into the most powerful cultural force the world has ever known, but also even greater ability to offer vivid, high definition, portraits. Portraits that depict the contemporary state of African-Americans. It is not the clarity of the picture that is causing unprecedented consternation, it is the grotesque and disfigured portrait of Black youth that frightens previous generations of African-Americans .

Considering that Chuck D’s construct that Hip-Hop Culture is Black America’s CNN has stood the test of time, let’s take a quick look at one of the most recent news dispatches flowing from the front line of Hip-Hop culture offered by Rich Homie Quan. This report is particularly meaningful for what it conveys regarding the terms by which young African-Americans are defining themselves. One must remember that an individual’s personal reflection reveals so much about how they view themselves, others, and the world around them. For instance, emcees from New York during the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, particularly those who were members of the 5% Nation of Gods and Earths, referred to themselves as God’s. Although we can contest the basis for such a designation, one is hard pressed to charge such individuals with anything less than an overabundance of self-esteem and love for their people.

Quite possibly the most succinct articulation of contemporary emcee’s and their cult-like followers who allow contemporary lyrics to disproportionately influence their thoughts, dreams, and goals in much the same way as my generation did, is Rich Homie Quan’s ode to ‘bromance’ — meaning an unusual romance between at least two men —My Nigga; an articulation of pervasive ignorance that became even more disturbing when it was revisited with a remixed version involving the female emcee Nicki Minaj.

Although many wish to excuse away such recordings as being merely for entertainment purposes, such individuals are in error. Human beings are social beings, meaning that they have learned everything that they know. It is the culmination of these external stimuli that provides human’s with an understanding of their environment. It is not strange, it is actually predictable that individuals from my generation who had Black Nationalist messages drilled in their heads by rap emcees’ often adopted some variant of Black Nationalist politics. Considering such, it is likewise reasonable that African-American youth after hearing recordings like Rich Homie Quan’s My Nigga, over an extended period of time will begin to integrate its tenets into their lives and thereby become for lack of a better term, Niggers.

Unfortunately, it appears that the current state of Hip-Hop culture, if we are to believe the Black CNN, has turned into a manufacturing plant for the production of socially unacceptable, morally deficient, low self-esteem having, materialistic, ends-justify-the-means avaricious Capitalists, hyper-sexual, drug abusing, illiterate, and inarticulate beings. If that is too difficult to remember, just call them Niggers, that is what everyone, including themselves, calls them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘My Brother’s Keeper’: A Call for Social Responsibility

In the wake of President Barack H. Obama’s unveiling his ‘My Brother’s Keeper‘ initiative, he remarked that “we shouldn’t care whether it was a Democratic program or a Republican program or a faith-based program or — if it works, we should support it… recognizing that my neighbor’s child is my child, that each of us has an obligation to give every child the same chance this country gave so many of us.” President Obama’s initiative should be championed, and supported, by all Americans regardless of geographic, identity, political, or religious differences or peculiarities. Unfortunately, there are a few irrational individuals, primarily situated along the far-Right,  who will continue their blind hatred of any and all things Obama; if only they had the ability to lay down their vitriolic racially based hatred for even an instant, I believe that they would have been pleasantly surprised by the call for social responsibility supporting President Obama’s latest initiative.

It is this call for ‘socially responsible individualism’ that has polarized racial groups and caused much intra-racial discord amongst African-Americans throughout the past fifty years. Put simply, whites, regardless of their socioeconomic status or political leanings, tend to assume that African-Americans assume no responsibility for their marginal socioeconomic status. Incredibly, this perspective that African-Americans lag behind due to their own shortcomings not racial obstacles and impediments found throughout society has been parroted by many prominent African-Americans. One would expect successful Blacks to have a more nuanced understanding of the reality that hard work has not routinely translated into material success.

However, this contentious issues raises a pernicious subject; that being, what responsibilities do the beneficiaries of the ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ have to themselves and the society that is seeking to aid them? President Obama glances the issue when he states he is attempting “…to give more young Americans the support they need to make good choices, and to be resilient and overcome obstacles and achieve their dreams.” In the minds of many African-Americans, President Obama is walking a fine line by calling for African-American males to take responsibility for their lot in life. Unbeknownst to many, this championing of socially responsible individualism, although routinely vilified by a vocal minority, is the favored position of most African-Americans.

The President, along with a multiracial and politically diverse contingency of Americans, prods these young men, who are often overlooked as an untapped national resource, to move forward with the confidence of knowing that this society promises to provide them with two priceless commodities: opportunity and choice. In a tone reminiscent of a doting parent, demanding athletic/academic coach, or concerned mentor, President Obama admonished the nation’s Black and Brown males with the following assertion.

“But you have got responsibilities too. And I know you can meet the challenge… if you make the effort. It may be hard, but you will have to reject the cynicism that says the circumstances of your birth or society’s lingering injustices necessarily define you and your future.

It will take courage, but you will have to tune out the naysayers who say the deck is stacked against you, you might as well just give up or settle into the stereotype. It’s not going to happen overnight, but you’re going to have to set goals, and you’re going to have to work for those goals. Nothing will be given to you.

The world is tough out there, and there’s a lot of competition for jobs and college positions. And everybody has to work hard. But I know you guys can succeed.”

Mr. President, on behalf of myself and the nation, I must say that we support your vision and words of encouragement toward this next generation of young men.  However, I pray that these young men heard you and realize that the ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative not only provides an increased opportunity for success, but also lays the final outcome for success or failure in their hands, I pray that they chose the former and never the latter.

    

Committed to investigating, examining, and representing the African-American male, men, and manhood by offering commentary regarding the status of Black Men and Black Manhood as it relates to African-American Manhood, Race, Class, Politics, and Culture from an educated and authentic African-American perspective aimed at improving the plight of African-American men and African-American Manhood in regards to Politics, Culture, Education, and Social Matters.

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