The Grammy’s Gentrified Hip Hop

images (5)That night when Macklemore won 4 Grammy’s and Kendrick came out empty-handed. This is why I stopped taking awards shows seriously. It stopped being about talent a long time ago, and last night it reached new lows when they straight dissed “good kid, m.A.A.d city.” Hip Hop just got gentrified.

Once in  a decade–and I mean that–an artist will come along and transform an entire art form. Today, that artist is Kendrick Lamar. He embodies all the things we look for in a hip hop artists: flow, consciousness, genius conceptions, and a gangster complex. Even before “good kid, m.A.A.d city” dropped, I was pushing the K. Dot bandwagon hard. So hard, in fact, by the time the legendary album did come out, most of my friends didn’t want to hear what I had to say, because they already knew the extent to which my man crush could carry in a conversation.

A lot of people want to compare him to the second coming of Nas, and “good kid” to the “Illmatic.” It’s not a bad comparison, and I think it fits. There is a lot weight behind that album, and so many layers that speak to me when I listen to it. The themes of being black, living in a cesspool of violence, and the unpredictable violence that follows is a heavy pill to swallow when you actually listen to it. So often we hear artists acknowledging where they come from, but how they conquered it. Kendrick doesn’t take that route. Rather, he shows that he is, in fact, a good kid in a mad city.

The fact that we would witness a rapper like K. Dot, who represents everything you could ask for in an artist, get dissed that badly proves there is always an agenda behind awards shows like the Grammy’s. And this year it was validating white hip hop–if that’s even a safe word to call it.

 

The Pupils of the Eye: Before Richard Sherman, A Legacy of Black Athletes That Shed A Little Light On The World

Jack-JohnsonThe year was 1908 when boxer Jack Johnson, the son of former slaves, became the first black heavy-weight champion of the world. His rise to success came when lynching was at its peak, when Jim Crow was law in much of the U.S., and when a black man should know “their place” when in the presence of whites.

But Johnson would never prescribe to being a second class citizen because of his blackness. He would drive expensive cars, wear fancy clothes, he would brutalize his white opponents in the ring, and what drove everyone crazy more than anything else: he dated white women during a moment in history when black men were being lynched every week just by the very thought of interracial sex.

At a time when every other sport was racially segregated, Johnson’s claim to the heavyweight title shocked a white world that viewed blacks as being athletically, as well as mentally, inferior. They went to extreme measures to avenge this, calling Jim Jeffries, “The White Hope”, out of retirement to reclaim the title–not just for him, but for the destiny of the white race. The New York Times wrote, “”If the black man wins, thousands and thousands of his ignorant brothers will misinterpret his victory as justifying claims to much more than mere physical equality with their white neighbours.”

It was clear that the world was against Johnson, but the odds were in his favor, and that was all that mattered. After fifteen rounds, and knocking Jeffries out twice, Johnson held his title, as well as his dominance.

If they couldn’t defeat Johnson in the ring, then they would manipulate law to bring him down. Several years later, Johnson would be arrested and sentenced to 1 year imprisonment for traveling with a white women across state boarders for “immoral reasons,” under the Mann Act. An act designed to attack prostitution, but with such loose language, it could easily be used to attack interracial couples, and would set the tone for future miscegenation laws that would define black-white relations for the next half-century.

After the verdict by an all white jury, Johnson fled the country, continuing his reign as the World Heavy-Weight champion until his loss to Jess Willard in 1915. After the defeat, he returned to the U.S., where he served his jail sentence. His career was never the same, nor was his reputation. On June 10, 1946, with a tendency for reckless driving, Johnson died in a car crash. He was speeding away from a diner after being denied service because of his race. It was racism that made him such a driving force in the boxing world, but it was also racism that would eventually bring him down.

Richard-ShermanThis last week, we saw how polarizing Richard Sherman’s post NFC championship game remarks were as he helped bring his team to the Super Bowl. What’s great is we saw immediately how people rushed to his aid. We’ve seen the racially coded language that puts African-American athletes on the margins. And we’ve seen Sherman be nothing but graceful and intelligent as he navigates through all the controversy.

Almost a complete century after Johnson reign, the legacy remains the same. It was athletes like Johnson who made the way and set an example for players like Sherman to stand up to racism. When you compare the history of sports to the history of racism, it’s impossible to not see how they both  have such a close relationship to one another.

Reflecting upon the Baha’i writings–the religion to which I follow–it refers to people of African decent as “the pupil of the eye.” Baha’u’llah writes, “Thou art like unto the pupil of the eye that is dark in color but is a fount of light and the revealer of the contingent world.”

The Baha’i Faith has many progressive principles explicitly written out, and of those is the elimination of racism. The role of African-Americans, according to the Baha’i writings, is likened to the pupil of the eye. Although black, the pupil is what brings in all the light and makes sight possible. That is the role prescribed to African-Americans–to help society see, and this couldn’t be any more true than in sports.

There has been a black prophetic tradition in sports that has constantly shook the consciousness of not just this country, but the world. It was track legend Jessie Owens who dominated the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany, at the height of Nazism, and who debunked the myth that Blacks were inferior to whites athletically. It was Jessie Jackson who challenged baseball, and who continually remained cool, calm, and collective despite the racist backlash from spectators. Then Muhammad Ali, a black Muslim who, on national radio, without any fear or doubt, pointed out the blatant contradiction between the War in Vietnam and American racism.

The role that  black athletes have played in sports wasn’t just to be racial pioneers and break down barriers, but also to show that those barriers existed–not just institutionally, but because people allowed them to be the norm, or the unspoken law. This last week, Sherman did just that. He’s opened the floor for a much-needed debate in one of the most followed sports in this country. He exposed the prejudices some people may not have even known that they had.

Through all this craziest, not only am I rooting for Sherman to triumph over all of this, but I’m rooting for Americans to see the light and stand on the right side of history–for once.

A Tale of Two Drug Wars (Part 2)

Last week, I wrote about how the legalization of weed in Colorado doesn’t automatically connect to the War on Drugs–or to the incredible racial bias in a blatantly racist criminal justice system–unless we allow it to.

Today, in 2014, the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country. When the majority of these people are of color, and who–as studies show–are serving time for an activity they do at similar rates to whites, then we can’t ignore the role policy can make in changing the outcome for the fate of entire group of people.

David Brooks wrote an article in New York times about the use of Marijuana, and how it could have dangerous outcomes if made legal. His argument is valid, and I think everyone should give it a read. And although I understand his views better than many may think, I don’t think Brooks understands–or if he does, then he just chooses to ignore–one important detail: the cost of racism in the lives of African-Americans, and if policy is responsible for it, then we must look to policy to change it.

blog-72The War on Drugs is one of the leading catalyst when you examine urban inequality. It has destroyed black families, communities, and has left a third of African-Americans without an actual political voice. When I think of the legalization of marijuana, I’m not thinking about a drug that people want to use for recreational use, I’m thinking about so many young African-American men who have given up their lives to an unfair justice system, while white men the same age will never have to pay such consequences because the privilege that is hidden beneath their skin.

Brooks’s article boasts of white privilege. It’s convenient for a middle-class, professional, white male to feel comfortable with weed remaining illegal, because that would never impact his own success, or the success of his children. But on the other side, it’s also convenient to expect that legalizing weed won’t be the host of another set of problems.

The problems with so much discourse on the war on drugs is that it ignores key realities: even when drugs are being used at similar rates, when you put drugs in  communities  that are majority of people of color and poor, the outcomes become a lot more dangerous–with or without laws to incriminate.

 The liberal agenda, with all of its pure motives, ignores what drugs represent to many inner city, marginalized communities. You go to any urban metropolitan city with a large black population, and they’ll tell you what drugs represent in their communities. On one end, they will tell you how drugs are the broken dreams and aspirations of forgotten youth, the destruction of families, the last barrier behind the salvation of black America. They’ll tell you that drugs have done more damage than good, and that they want them completely vanished.

And then there becomes another narrative, where in some cities that once were industrious havens like Detroit, they’ll tell you how de-industrialization, globalization, and discrimination kept African-Americans at the margins of an ever-changing and evolving economy. How the shift from industry to service jobs put African-Americans at a disadvantage. In hard times, African-Americans have never benefited, and the only way to survive was through an underground economy. To an African-American, when the country you live in has never played by the rules or treated you fairly, and when you’re looking at a world that will hardly except you, then selling drugs doesn’t look so bad.

Pretending that legalizing marijuana is going to solve all the problems that were perpetuated from the war on drugs is as ridiculous as it sounds, and that very idea underestimates–or maybe just chooses to neglect–how persistent American racism is. Ending a war on drugs means bringing to account the forces that have historically marginalized people of color, and that is something this country has never been good at.

A Tale Of Two Drug Wars, Neither of Which Speak To The Core of The Issue: Race

war on drugs2Crowds lined up throughout Colorado as marijuana dispensaries opened up this week after the state legalized recreational Marijuana use. Other than Colorado to be the first state to make Marijuana a capitalist venture, dozens of others have either legalized the medical use of marijuana or decriminalized it. I don’t want to discuss the science of marijuana to justify it, and I’m also not here advocating for its use–we can have that discussion another time. In my experience, that sort of discourse usually just ends with people either explaining how great it is to be high, or justifying their copious amounts of pot consumption, with little room left to be grounded in actually facts and numbers, –or even sounding remotely educated–and that’s not what this blog is about. What I do want to do, however, is discuss how the legalization of marijuana and ending the war on drugs are two different agendas.

Since last year, when the use of marijuana was put on the ballot in the 2012 elections in many states, the majority of people who were asked advocated for the legalization of weed. It was the mark of the beginning of the end to an almost 40 year war.

But legalizing marijuana isn’t enough, however. we need to see how law and policy impact the drug discourse. In August, Attorney General Eric Holder discussed the reexamination of the drug laws that place African American men on the margins of society through an inconsistent set of laws that have been herding black men into the penal system at rates so much higher than any other group.

Then, in December, President Obama pardoned 8 nonviolent drug offenders. And this month, New York Governor Andrew Coumo discussed legalizing the medical use of Marijuana. But still, we aren’t moving fast enough, or in the best direction.

Even with Michelle Alexander’s best-selling book, “The New Jim Crow,” and the documentary “The House I Live In,” where the racial implications behind such a war is clear, the masses remain uneducated as to what we are fighting against when we attempt to eradicate the war on drugs: racism.

war on drugsNo other community has been as negatively impacted by the war on drugs than black and latino communities. With 18:1 harsher sentencing for crack cocaine as opposed to powder, with mandatory minimum sentencing, and harsher sentences for selling and not using, African Americans have been institutionally placed at the margins of society through a manipulation of law that puts them in prisons at rates disproportionately higher than whites. Today, 1 in 106 white males are incarcerated compared to 1 in 15 of black. Black people make up 13% of the population, and despite whites being more likely to use drugs, black men are 10 times as likely to be arrested on drug charges. When you look at those numbers, it becomes clear that the drug laws that exist aren’t an actual reflection of reason or concern over public health. Rather, these laws represent inconsistent reasoning, never in the favor of black males.

When someone is incarcerated, they give up their right to vote, to gainful employment, to receiving loans to purchase a home, food stamps, and from receiving welfare. What does this mean? It means that when a person is incarcerated, it becomes legal to disenfranchise them, to discriminate, and then herd them into specific geographical spaces–these are all characteristics of slavery, jim crow, and another form of apartheid.

Right now, at least for myself, the drug war seems to be more confusing than ever. You look at Colorado, where they are legalizing the distribution of pot, and then you juxtapose to New York, where it has the largest number of people incarcerated for non-violent marijuana offenses, along with some of the strictest punishments for drug possession, its hard not to be a little confused. The nation is going in two separate directions when it comes to dealing with drugs, neither which really speak to the core: racism.

It’s one thing to legalize marijuana, but to ignore the racial disparities that exist because of such a war on drugs is not just contradictory, but lunatic. Legalizing marijuana alone is a capitalist venture expected to make a few lucky individuals into billionaires, but it doesn’t speak to the core of people who are already serving time in prison for offenses where, had they been in another state, would have completely different outcomes somewhere else. The current discourse completely ignores a war on drugs that created laws that, if continued, will incarcerate 1 in 3 African Americans within the next 20 years.

Legalizing pot, pardoning 8 non-violent offenders, or even creating better–and more realistic–drug laws won’t fix the damage that has already been done, or even scratch the service of restoring justice to communities that have been destroyed from such a war. The fact that states like Colorado are legalizing marijuana and profiting over its use isn’t a victory. Its rather a failure because at the same time that so many people have given their lives to the penal system for a few dollars,  “banksters” on Wall Street are laughing to the bank for the very same reasons.