I consider it a blessing that Hip-Hop Culture significantly impacted my values and priorities. It is impossible for me to count the ways that Hip-Hop Culture, particularly the musical wing, Rap Music, has influenced my life.
Even recent converts to Hip-Hop culture recognize that one of the most important aspects of Rap Music is the art of emceeing. Trust me when I say, although the Deejay may have been the original star of Rap Music, the man or woman holding the mic would soon surpass them.
Make no mistake about it, more than a few fights occurred over a disagreement regarding which emcee had better “flow” or “lyrical content.” For my generation, such matters were so important that they possessed the potential to pivot African-American youth culture in an instant. Although there was an unconscionable amount of diversity found within Hip-Hop Culture, there was a point of consensus that all agreed on. That being, immediate dismissal was due to any “biting” emcee. A “biting” emcee was one who was caught stealing the words, thoughts, and ideas of another emcee. If Melania Trump were an emcee, she would have been swiftly excused as a result of her theft of significant slices of Michelle Obama’s speech. Such behavior was considered a crime worthy of execution.
For those of us who have spent a lifetime listening to rap lyrics, it was not difficult for us to discern if words, thoughts, or ideas were stolen from another emcee as it fostered a feeling of déjà vu within our souls. It was this very feeling that I felt after reading the statement from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos after her “listening session” with the Leadership of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Although the alluded to statement is unbelievable fertile soil for criticism, I will focus solely on the passage that raised feelings of déjà vu.
“A key priority for this administration is to help develop opportunities for communities that are often the most underserved. Rather than focus solely on funding, we must be willing to make the tangible, structural reforms that will allow students to reach their full potential.”
There was something eerily familiar to this thought pattern that reverted my mind back to my book Creating Revolution as they Advance: A Narrative History of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Put simply; I heard this thought before. After a few short moments of pondering, it dawned upon me that Betsy DeVos or some underling working in the Department of Education had reverted 50 years and stolen the ideas and spirit of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s June 4, 1965, Howard University commencement address.
Although many lauded the initial passages of Johnson’s address to an attentive audience of graduating HBCU students and their families that
“You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.”
There is no doubt that the more important aspect of the address occurs moments after the Texan’s progressive thoughts. It is at that moment that President Johnson slyly situates responsibility for racial improvement squarely on the shoulders of American blacks. According to LBJ,
“Equal opportunity is essential, but not enough. … Ability is stretched or stunted by the family you live with, and the neighborhoods you live in, by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the infant, the child, and the man. . . . Overt job discrimination is only one of the important hurdles which must be overcome before color can disappear as a determining factor in the lives and fortunes of men . . . The extent to which an individual is able to develop his aptitudes will largely depend upon the circumstances present in the family within which he grows up and the opportunities which he encounters at school and in the larger community.”
Although I am not surprised that the Trump administration has decided to mimic LBJ’s position that the problems facing the black community are due to structural problems within Black America, I am woefully disappointed in a cadre of HBCU leaders who paraded into the White House for what amounts to little more than a photo opportunity for the Trump Administration without making a demand for a larger share of Federal dollars for their financially strapped institutions. More troubling than this failure is the reality that while the cameras were flashing, Secretary DeVos was pinning a communication that if read closely and situated within its proper historical context was a slap in the face for not only Black America but also every black educator. Considering black leaders continuing pattern to refuse to “call a spade, a spade,” I will translate the communication for them. “The onus is upon Black America to solve their problems, please stop looking for any additional money from the Federal government and direct all of your attention toward correcting the foundation of your house.” A damning message no doubt, but one that actually would prove beneficial to Black America in the end as no one is coming to save us and it is time that our leadership understands that fact.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017.