The Noname You Need To Know

Noname is the best female rapper in hip hop right now. She may be the best technical female rapper in terms of lyricism and flow (which I define as your ability to rap like another instrument on the beat rather than a competing force) in a decade. She might also be a top 5 rapper out right now*. Her mixtape Telefone dropped in 2016 and delivered one of the most complete projects of the year. She’s done features for her fellow Midwestern up and comers Chance the Rapper, Mick Jenkins, Saba and Smino and has routinely stolen the show on their songs. She was also excluded from both the 2016 and 2017 XXL Freshman class as well as nowhere to be seen when BET announced their nominees for the Best Female Hip Hop Artist award despite dropping a notebook’s worth of significantly better verses over features and an album than the likes of Remy Ma, Nicki Minaj or Young M.A. Like her accidental counterpart Chance the Rapper, Noname is also an independent artist who has refused to sign her art and soul to a label which I would suspect has something to do with her lack of industry recognition.

Why am I telling y’all this? Because you should be listening to Noname if you’re not already along with a cadre of other young Midwest rappers. More than just a technically sound rapper whose talent can hang with the fellas whose flow will remind you of an old school Def Jam Poetry performance, Noname’s lyrics create the most impact. Her flow has the soft power of a spoken word piece and the words she chooses come across with the depth of one as well. Which makes sense because Noname was a spoken word artist growing up in Chicago before developing her talent as a rapper at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago where she crossed paths with other young Chicago musicians like Saba, Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa and Donnie Trumpet.

Like many of the artists I’ve named in association to her, Noname says “woke” things casually in her music. Unlike artists like Kendrick Lamar for example who make albums with overarching racial themes to address the experience of black people in America, Noname and her counterparts drop lines or verses that make you pause the song and contemplate the white patriarchal power structure around you. A verse will be about her own life and experiences but the intellect with which she sees her own life events force you to see and hear her story but also beyond her story, and what makes her experience the way it is. On “Yesterday” Noname recounts her granny’s funeral and advice she was given:

Fill the lining in the pine box, my granny fill the time slot

“Don’t grow up too soon

Don’t blow the candles out

Don’t let them cops get you”

My granny almost Sparrow I can see the wings

The choir sings

And la da di la di da da da, dah

Only he can save my sou

 She didn’t make a song about police brutality or the African-American tradition of elders passing on knowledge to the youth on how to be black and alive in America, Noname casually threw out the advice from her grandmother. Almost a quiet nod to other black people, a line that can be felt deeply by those who have lived that experience and would be met with a puzzling look from everybody on the outside. Earlier on that that same song she makes a casual remark about the nature of club dress codes and their biases against black people as she says “I only wear tennis shoes to clubs with dress codes ‘cause fuck they clubs.” To a listener it’s just a casual line about bucking authority, but to the black listener, the audience her music is aimed at, it is a remark about a feeling that we have all experienced or seen as the dress code is enforced as soon as our turn hits in line. Noname with her clout as a rapper now can break those dress codes she knows are intended to discriminate against her and people who look like her “cause fuck they clubs!”

What comes through in Noname’s art is not that she wants to educate and make songs about the black experience, but that she is a black woman speaking on her life in an educated enough way to see the larger patterns of oppression that are a part of her experiences. She isn’t taking us on her journey to self-discovery like recent Kendrick Lamar albums, so much as her recounting her own stories through an already aware lens. True to black women, Noname already has the answers if anybody would listen up. Bars on gentrification, consumerism, and the school to prison pipeline without the usual weight of conscious music wrapped in tales of granny, momma and her friends, and that’s just on her average feature. She paints pictures with her words like the spoken word poet she is and alludes frequently to experiences special to growing up black and aware.

In 2004 on his debut song Kanye West said “What if somebody from the Chi’ that was ill got a deal on the hottest rap label around? But he wasn’t talkin about coke and birds it was more like spoken word, except he’s really puttin it down?”

We’ve often said the “Old Kanye” is gone. Well he’s back. At least the spirit of that young soulful nigga from Chicago is back. The children of Kanye are bursting out of the Midwest, a crop of young emcees that are mostly unsigned to labels who are really putting it down, except it’s not about coke and birds but more like spoken word. People have often compared Chance the Rapper to Kanye West, calling him the second coming, the heir to that soulful throne, but he isn’t alone. The princess of that great Yeezus kingdom is Noname. The knights are Smino (of St. Louis), Saba, Vic Mensa, Monte Booker and Mick Jenkins. You miss the old Kanye? Check out the heirs to his musical legacy.

I’ve left some Apple Music links below with both a Noname playlist and a “More Like Spoken Word” playlist so y’all can hear what I’ve been hearing and get hip:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/playlist/noname-kanye-kids/idpl.u-e98lAdKuzMVWjdY

https://itunes.apple.com/us/playlist/midwest-it-was-more-like-spoken-word/idpl.37eca5ac21234a09a6e4c3d392b3247e

 

*Before you ask, in no order it’s Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, Vince Staples, Noname and Young Thug.

“They sold prison the way they pipeline, systematically lifeline erase all niggas, they so bulletproof from the law. Law abiding citizen shot, Willie Lynch do crack now. Made the new letters shiny, now we pray King Kunta.”

“They gentrified your neighborhood no need for cops, watch. Look at the yoga pants, coffee shops and yogurt stands. Cosumersim, holy land. And on the other hand my momma land…

It look like funeral home, church, church, liquor store, corner store, dreadhead, deadly…”

-Noname, featured on Saba’s Church/Liquor Store

“Mississippi vagabond, granny gon turn up in her grave. You said my granny really was a slave for this? All your incompleted similes and pages ripped? You know they whipped us niggas, how you afraid to rap it? You went to heaven after so we could free them now. Ain’t no ocean floor when you can be a Yeezus now.”

-Noname, Reality Check

Be Humble Black Man

Kendrick Lamar released a new song and accompanying video last night. Naturally it set the internet ablaze. The song was a combination of aggressively arrogant lyrics over a booming Mike Will Made-It beat, the video a barrage of imagery that deserves hours of analysis. I don’t want to do any of that analysis. Quite simply I don’t have the range. It deserves advanced depicting.

I do want to discuss one particular scene from the video, the only scene not repeated throughout the video. At the 2:16 mark Kendrick Lamar is seen from the outside of his bedroom window, aggressively rapping lyrics and gesturing at police with flashing lights and most importantly, roughly 22 red lights pointed at him as the police take their aim. What struck me wasn’t the police presumably aiming their guns at a rapping Kendrick Lamar, we know police kill black people, it was the attitude with which Kendrick responded. Leading into and during the 6 second scene Kendrick raps “Watch my soul speak, you let the meds talk, aye. If I kill a nigga it won’t be the alcohol, aye. I’m the realest nigga after all. Bitch be humble.” As he raps he does two motions every black man recognizes, he grabs his nuts and he beats his chest while staring down 22 scopes. This image has stuck with me.

image_6483441

As a 24 year old black man guns are a constant threat. The most likely cause of death for black men 15-34 is homicide.* Black men’s homicide victimization rate is a little over 7 times the national average.** Police murder black people at a higher rate than white people.*** The ways in which a gun can end my life are numerous. It could be at the party because the wrong nigga got mad and I bobbed when I should have weaved getting out, could be on the car ride home because the police officer who pulled me over for speeding is one of the white people who finds my skin threatening**** or one of the white supremacists who has infiltrated local police (about 100 years too late on this one Feds)***** and after I dodge the fear of death by hands of my brother or my overseer, it still could be the trigger-happy emasculated white man who mistakes me for a threat as I walk home from the corner store because I was craving an Arizona, word to Trayvon Martin,  murdered in Sanford, FL ten minutes down the road from where I grew up. I haven’t walked to the gas station the same since…you get the point. I’m always aware, especially in the South, that guns are ever present. And for the possibility of being shot by a white man, badged or not, the fear is laced with anger at their perceived right to my body. The wrong act of pride or expression of culture by me can be perceived as a threat by them.

That’s why the image of Kendrick grabbing his nuts as he refuses to be humble and stares down a barrage of barrels held by the overseers is powerful. It’s fearless. It refuses to be silenced. Kendrick raps that he’ll let his soul speak and won’t blame his actions on the alcohol because he is the realest nigga. He owns his words and doesn’t need to explain or excuse them. He said what he said. He will not suppress himself for them, even with their ultimate threat at the ready. When I see Kendrick aggressively spit his soul in the form of bars at the police, an institution historically hellbent on silencing him, it makes me feel like I can do the same. I won’t give them sovereignty over my body as they’ve traditionally taken. If they take it by force, then they won’t have my psyche. I won’t fear their force. 

I recently was asked to discuss then write about what is “art”.  The best answer I could surmise was anything you experience with your senses that makes you feel something. That 6 second clip, the still image I made my wallpaper, that symbolic “fuck you” indeed made me feel something. All these thoughts and feelings of rage and pride flooding me as  I take in the image.  
image_6483441 (1)

“Ah yeah, fuck the judge. I made it past 25 and there I was, a little nappy-headed nigga with the world behind him.” – Kendrick Lamar, King Kunta

“Grown man never should bite they tongue unless you eating on p***** that smell like its a stale plum.” – Kendrick Lamar,

(Crazy. As I’m writing this somebody fired shots at the basketball court on campus around the corner from where I’m sitting in my bed. Wonder if the target was a black man?)

*https://www.cdc.gov/men/lcod/2014/black/index.htm

**http://www.huffingtonpost.com/josh-sugarmann/the-gun-violence-epidemic_b_9540258.html

***https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/07/11/arent-more-white-people-than-black-people-killed-by-police-yes-but-no/?utm_term=.c5ea941657c7

****https://massappeal.com/study-black-males-size-overestimated-whites-view-threatening/

*****http://www.salon.com/2017/01/31/fbi-investigating-white-supremacists-infiltrating-law-enforcement-agencies-report/

Can You Hear Us?

The Democrats are running Hillary Clinton today. We all expect and hope Trump loses, I guess. If Clinton loses, Trump has four years to fuck up the country. *shrug* I don’t have any particular enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton’s campaigning, despite her best attempts to nae-nae into my heart. Having Beyonce, Jay-Z and Chance the Rapper endorse her didn’t move me. Seeing her pull hot sauce out of her purse almost got me, if nothing else for the laugh. A narrative is being spread that minorities, young black people specifically, will not turn out for Clinton in the same numbers as for President Obama. To that I say, DUH. At least with Obama there was symbolic victory. Clinton brings that as well (if not more so for white women). Not actually speaking to black issues has been the liberal jig for decades. Pander to us, and hopefully we turn out to vote, and when they pass social and economic reforms the rising tide will raise all ships. By default we can only benefit from their victories, right? The problem is slow-moving progress isn’t working for us. Especially not the young. Can you blame us, we grew up on broadband. Student debt is mounting, police are shooting down men and women who look like us at disproportionate and alarming rates, the prisons are running over with people who look like us and jobs are scarce for people who look like us. But as usual the GOP has nominated a racist, this time more open and dramatic, but as usual they don’t want our vote and won’t get it (see Trump’s 0% polling numbers with African-Americans). We can vote third-party to keep it interesting, but the likely result is Clinton is our next president. The American left (the real world’s middle) will do what it can to drag their feet to progress, and hopefully none of us will get shot, evicted or fired in the meantime.

America’s liberal politicians have a history of assuming they can figure out what black people need instead of just asking us. Then we tell them, and they still decide to work it out on their own. I opted not to include the dramatic conservative setbacks we received, as we expect them to worsen our condition in this country. However, those who claim to fight for us have also done little. This is a brief and vague history of our requests and their actions over time. Our history is deep and rich and I encourage any reader to do some Googles and look deeper into our role in this country’s political landscape. 

1776-1865: FREE US

Black People’s Actions: Running away from plantations via underground networks, inciting violent rebellions, purposefully destroying property/equipment, creating a culture of resistance.

Black People’s Words:

I’ve heard Uncle Tom’s Cabin read, and I tell you Mrs. Stowe’s pen hasn’t begun to paint what slavery is as I have seen it at the far South. I’ve seen de real thing, and I don’t want to see it on no stage or in no theater.” – Harriet Tubman

“The white man’s happiness cannot be purchased by the black man’s misery”. – Frederick Douglas

White Liberal Political Responses:

-Missouri Compromise in 1820 allows only slavery in the south

-1860 Republican Platform: No slavery in any new states (leads to Civil War)

-Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation (this one is fun) tells the Confederacy they have 100 days to cease rebelling OR their slaves will be freed. Yes, Lincoln tried to levy our freedom for an end to the war, save the union sacrifice the slaves.

-Then finally as a war tactic, Lincoln signs the final Emancipation Proclamation, which only really counts if the Union wins because the Confederacy sees themselves as a separate country with their own president anyway.

Former slave Felix Haywood said “The War didn’t change nothin’. Sometimes you didn’t knowed it was goin’ on. It was the endin’ of it that made the difference.”

We ask for freedom for centuries, the liberals of the day fall into it by accident.

1865-1877: Have Our Backs

Black People’s Actions: Political participation, found organizations dedicated to social and economic advancement, sharecropping, wealth accumulation and cultural progress despite legalized racism

Black People’s Words:

“I stand today on this floor to appeal for the protection from the strong-arm of the government for her loyal children, irrespective of color and race, who are citizens of southern states, and particularly in the State of Georgia.” -Hiram Rhodes Revels, first African-American senator

White Liberal Political Responses:

13th, 14th and 15th Amendments outlaw slavery (except in prison labor, THE JIG), grant black people citizenship and given African-American men the right to vote. Most of these are not fully granted or imposed by the federal government because of:

-The Election of 1876, in which the (at the time liberal) Republican Party, the party of Lincoln that “freed” us, sold black people out for the presidency. There was dispute over the election, and the Republicans struck a deal to pull the military out of the south (black people’s only line of defense) in order for Hayes to take office. A century of lynchings, violence (Google Black Wall Street in your spare time) and economic disenfranchisement would follow.

We are promised equality under the law and citizenship, the Republicans sell us out and abandon us in the Deep South to fight for ourselves.

1877-1964: Stop Your Citizens from Lynching Us, Stop Giving Us Second Hand Education, Resources and Political Power

Black People’s Actions: Developed our own community and culture out of segregation, invented jazz and rock and roll, created our own Black Wall Street, got college degrees, established black schools and universities, served in the WWII, tried to buy homes, still denied access to full rights as Americans, spend two decades protesting (Civil Rights Movement) to end housing, workplace and academic discrimination

Black People’s Words:

“The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” – W.E.B. Dubois

“Knowledge is the prime need of the hour” – Mary McLeod Bethune

“Chance has never yet satisfied the hope of a suffering people.” – Marcus Garvey

White Liberal Political Response:

-The federal government didn’t intervene in lynchings for decades because murder was already illegal. Multiple bills were presented and not passed. For context: From 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States. Of these people who were lynched 3,446 were black.

-1954 Brown vs. Board of Ed SCOTUS decision outlaws segregation in public education. Equal funding was not (and is still not) allocated to schools in majority black areas, instead bussing moves students out of their school zones to schools in other single-race dominated neighborhoods.

-Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 outlaw discrimination in employment and housing, respectively

We spend a century being lynched, excluded and denied our rights.

After decades of vocal and visible protest, we are given federal intervention to outlaw Jim Crow laws.

1964-?: Stop Using the Police to Kill Us, Still Stop Economically Disenfranchising Us

Black People’s Actions: Greater political action following death of MLK, found multiple organizations including Black Panther Party for Self Defense,

Black People’s Words:

“America preaches integration and practices segregation.” – Malcolm X

“In a sense the quest for the emancipation of black people in the U.S. has always been a quest for economic liberation” – Angela Davis

“And still [police] have been killing people at higher rates than even last year, for example. July was literally the deadliest month of 2015. And that’s a problem.” – Johnetta Elzie (2015)

“We should not have to protest.” – Deray Mckesson (2016)

White Liberal Political Response:

Nixon drags his feet on desegregation and uses busing to send some black students to white schools rather than providing equal funding and resources for black schools

-The federal government starts Cointelpro via the FBI to infiltrate and destroy black power movements, particularly the Black Panthers

-Bill Clinton passes ’95 Crime Bill, arresting black and brown people at historic rates for non-violent offences

-The police continue to kill unarmed black men and women

-Our first black president, Barack Obama signs into law a Blue Alert bill (albeit it has no teeth to this point)

Statistics show black people receive fewer opportunities for employment, harsher sentences in the judicial system, have less access to quality education and continue to have their culture socially stigmatized by the white majority. Same shit different decade. We ask for our rights as citizens under the law, and our black president tells us to respect the police. His successor in Clinton opts to (attempt to) culturally relate rather than promising to fix the issues plaguing our communities.

Now, another generation of young black people are still demanding the same rights our white counterparts have had since America’s founding. Some of us will begrudgingly vote for Hillary out of fear of Trump. Others of us will withhold votes or vote third-party in rebellion of the usual two-party system. What we will do enthusiastically is protest for equality under the law or look for other options as our rights promised to us by the Constitution continue to be violated on the local, state and federal level. It took months for Clinton to say Black Lives Matter. Why? Because she, like every other liberal politician in this country’s history has a fundamental misunderstanding of what we need and want, despite our best efforts to vocalize them. Be angry if we don’t vote as expected, but don’t you dare fix your mouth to ask us why.

“The black experience is black and serious. Cause being black, my experience is no one hearin’ us. White kids get to wear whatever hat they want. When it comes to black kids one size fits all.”

-Childish Gambino, Hold You Down

We Matter! Checking In: July 7, 2016.

I’ve sifted through a lot of thoughts, reading, I’ve talked to various people, and tweeted through a lot of frustrations. I don’t have an eloquent vocalizing of my feelings. They’re too scattered, loud and angry. Here’s what I’ve worked out though:

*Black people feel free to skip 1 and 2. Or don’t, you’re already here*

1. If your goal is to derail conversations about the oppression of people of color, black people specifically, to shout All Lives Matter or explain to me the “other side” (which I’ve heard 1000 times, trust me you’re not special or unique, sorry) go away. I have no energy left to explain why the agents of the state should stop lynching us, nor how we got here. Use Google. Bring it to me, and that block button is swift. 

2. Read something. Honestly, listen to black people. We have 400 years of black people explaining our oppression. “What about black on black crime?” isn’t original. It is rhetoric. It dates back to our emancipation. Read. Learn. Go listen to a black person, seriously. Don’t defend yourself or center the white experience, listen and believe us because our humanity should be enough for our voices and feelings to matter. We matter. 

3. The timing of these 3 deaths is significant. Context always matters. Shortly after Jesse Williams delivered a powerful speech on how tired we are of being abused, 3 black men, 3 black fathers are taken. 2 in front of their children. Context matters.

4. I’m angry. I’m also scared, and sad. It’s complex. Remember we are all complex people and thus our feelings are complex. I have a right to feel. Nobody can tell me I can’t cry. Nobody can tell me I can’t be angry at the police. They don’t get to do that. We all have a right to feel and grieve. Contrary to the American narrative, it is not our job to forgive anything or anybody. If somebody chooses to, that’s their right as well. 

5. This doesn’t feel like freedom. The demonization of black people for things people don’t deem respectable is played and boring. We didn’t deserve nor ask for this. It isn’t on the oppressed to comfort our oppressor to paraphrase Jesse. We don’t have to explain black on black crime. Nor are we obligated to pull up our pants, stop dancing or turn down our music. We are Americans like everybody else, probably more so, regardless of if blackness is respectable. Keep yourself safe, we all know the rules. Don’t be reckless to be reckless, but don’t apologize either. 

6. We are not the crazy ones. Don’t let the derailing, the backlash and the bullshit make you believe this is anything but oppression by an oppressor. We are not crazy for demanding equality, they are crazy for not seeing our humanity. 

“How we still slaves in 2016?”

-Jay-Z, We Got the Keys
“Somebody tell these motherfuckers keep their hands off me. I ain’t a motherfuckin slave keep your chains off me.”

-Vic Mensa, 16 Shots 

We Wear The Masc

Don’t cry. Toughen up. Be a man.

What does that mean? Sincerely, what does that mean? I’m sure you’re running over a list of rules and regulations about what men do, and probably more of what they don’t do, inspired by family, media and whoever coached your (insert sport here) team. To the men, what insults would you fight over? Honestly. “Stupid”. “Ugly”. Not fighting words yet. “Asshole”. “Douchebag”. Probably not yet fighting, hell I revel in being called an asshole. Let’s take it up a notch. “Bitch”. *fists clench* “Pussy”. *What did you say?* “Faggot.” *Square up!*

Let’s keep it real. The most insulting thing a man called be called is a woman. To be denied his manhood and demeaned, degraded to womanhood. Men are probably nodding their heads in agreement, but what does that say about our view of men in relation to women and our roles. A lot of the talk of the day is about redefining gender roles, and I am completely for it. Women have voices that need to be heard and acknowledged and they have the right to decide what being a woman means. I leave that to them. But when we say redefining gender roles, how often do we talk about redefining manhood? Short answer, never. Why? A much longer answer for another week. For now, let’s stay on the what. 

The roles as they’re set up are toxic, not just to women as we ingrain sexism and homophobia to each new generation, but to us as well. I love being a man. Don’t mistake me. I don’t love all of the rules however. Most of what the things men are supposed to be are rooted in what we are not. We are not women; thus we are not frail. We are not emotional, so we have a society of men who struggle with emotional expression and thus are most likely to express those emotions via violent crime and abuse. We are not women so our sexuality is about conquering and bragging rights, not expression or emotion. In such a culture we see rape happen to at least 20% of our women (probably higher because of unreported abuse), because we excuse men’s sexuality being out of control. We are not gay men. Point blank. So young men are afraid to ask questions, gay teenagers and young adults are at an increased risk of suicide because a literal feeling inside of them (that’s as best I can define why I like women, so I imagine it feels the same for them but pointed in the opposite direction) tells them not to like what we tell them they are supposed to like. If boys go against these rule then we bully and beat them until we break them. If you’re not stringently straight and hyper-masculine, then you’re gay. We operate in absolutes. Most of the time we write things off to boys are boys and men are men. Good old testosterone, right? Or is that just the copout? 

As best I can tell, masculinity is an ego-driven social construct that teaches boys young to prove they are masculine, that is to say not feminine (not a woman, and not gay). We’re socialized young. The difference in my talking about the oppressive nature of manhood as compared to whiteness is that I am complicit. I partake. I enforce these roles. As men, we hold societal power because of the systems that be. Thus we hold the power to unpack and redefine manhood whenever we decide. Change starts at the top.

Maybe everything above is stupid. Maybe I’m spouting off silly hypotheticals because “well I know somebody who doesn’t do that somanhood is fine”. I can say I honestly don’t know. This is my writing out an answer to my own question. This is my trail of logic as I venture into adulthood as a man, and out to define my masculinity for myself. 

What I do know, is living in constant fear of “looking gay” (as if being gay is an insult) or “acting like a bitch” (because women are lesser than us or something) tiptoeing around nonsense rules of what it means to be a man is tiring and I don’t plan to commit to this version of manhood for 60 more years.

*Homework before I write the next part of this, go on Netflix and watch “The Mask You Live In”.

“We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, And mouth with myriad subtleties.”

-Paul Laurence Dunbar, We Wear the Mask

More Malcolm, than Martin

ASIDE *I’ve been wanting to write this for about four weeks. But quizzes, papers and finals happened and true to the student life, emotional expression ranks below my GPA. Finals are done now. That being said, I feel a need to explain something in detail via a blog. Once. Hopefully once is sufficient.*

I don’t hate white people.

I know, that should be fairly obvious. But recently, more than one person has suggested or outright asked if I do. I was taken aback. Then I thought about it more and I wasn’t. Over the course of less than eighteen months I went from Uncle Ruckus Lite to Huey* and that was a lot for people to take in. I found a pride in myself, then mixed that with three different classes in one school year on American History, two specifically from the perspectives of minority groups (African-Americans and Native Americans). I took in a lot of information and mixed it with a lot of information I had compartmentalized and defined as “yeah, but not me” over the years.

It’s been a lot. I see things in my life growing up and things now through a different lens. Things that bothered me before but I decided I could ignore aren’t so easy to ignore anymore.

 

One of the most important terms I learned in school this year was “double-consciousness”. I learned there’s a word for what every single minority I know has done their entire lives. There’s a sociological term (dating back over a century) for “don’t be acting up in front of these white people.” I was shocked. I almost wanted to cry. I felt less ashamed of the years I spent trying to ask for a place in mainstream culture and for ignoring offensive things for the sake of fitting in. We have all done it, so much so that W.E.B. Dubois coined a term for it in 1903.

I could never unlearn it. I could never stop seeing myself acting different in white spaces. Like a flashback in a movie, twenty-two years of memories flooded my mind. I didn’t feel ashamed. I just acknowledged them. But with acknowledgement came transition. A phrase I’ve seen thrown around a lot recently.** “Unapologetic Blackness.” My African-American History professor said it when she told us about the first activist to say “Black Power” (Stokely Carmicahel). About the afros and bright colors of the 1970s. The boldness to be black in front of white people (an era I believe we are cycling back to Harlem Renaissance, Black Power, whatever they inevitably name my generation). It made me beam with pride. Generations past have decided they don’t want to apologize for the cultural differences we didn’t’ ask for or create, but they would wear them proudly.

That comes with a price. When you inhabit mainly white spaces for the majority of your week, not laughing when somebody mocks patois comes off as an assault, acknowledging that there are cultural differences between you and those around you, and not wanting to be part of their culture is firing shots on Fort Sumter***. The right to be offensive in “their” spaces (which is most of the academic/career/social spaces in the United States) free of guilt has been challenged. You also learn to not correct or try to educate everybody around you. That’s not my role unless addressed or asked. So to simply ignore those things which offend you and revel with the one other worker who looks like you over how amazing Lemonade was is seen as social violence. But, none of those perceived slights are my problem.

I’m not sorry. It doesn’t mean I hate white people, or have some deep bitterness against anybody. People build relationships with those they have things in common with. I don’t care what color or background you have, if you fuck with Kendrick and Beyoncé, we have something to talk about. But don’t demand I learn to like what you like to appease you. I’d sooner not be your friend. The interests that connect people (music, sports, politics, hobbies) are valid for anybody of any background. If the people who believe Ultralight Beam was gospel, that crazy dunks require equally wild responses, that Black Lives do Matter, and also like to freestyle, roast each other and look at sneakers for fun happen to be the same color isn’t racism. They are cultural differences created BY racism. Created by a history of being excluded from mainstream culture and being forced into segregated neighborhoods, schools and workplaces.

America STILL is one of the most segregated places in the world****. Even I, growing up in predominantly white spaces (special shoutout to the other 3 black kids who by dice roll might end up in one of my classes) had one best friend over everybody else, and he was black. We would hang out and do all the things other black teenagers did: marvel over beats in hip hop songs, debate Chris Brown’s place in R&B and dance greatness, watch movies where the main character looked like us, Stomp the Yard still being a favorite etc, and then turn it off when it was time to go back to our respective schools on Monday.

Double consciousness is a burden to bear. I will not anymore. Just know it isn’t racism. Racism is about hating others. In this case, it would be centering whiteness. I would be acting with white people in mind. But I’m acting with me in mind. Centering my experiences and my race for once. If you can’t wrap your mind around that, I’m probably not going to be a fun friend in the first place.

Know that not every black person feels the same as me. Martin Luther King, Jr. was just as important as Malcolm X. Both views were necessary, as we are not a monolith. I speak for me. I’ve been told this isn’t a progressive way to view the world, but I disagree. It centers on perception and what we’re trying to progress towards.

 

“Channel 9 News tell me I’m movin’ backwards. Eight blocks left, death is around the corner. Seven misleadin’ statements ‘bout my persona.”

“But mama, don’t cry for me, ride for me, try for me, live for me, breathe for me, sing for me, honesty gudin’ me, I could be more than I gotta be. Stole from me, lied to me, nation hypocrisy.”

“Yeah, open our mind as we cast away oppression. Yeah, open the streets and watch our beliefs.”

-Kendrick Lamar, feature on Beyonce’s Freedom

 

 

*Go on Netflix and watch The Boondocks.

**Mainly online spaces such as Twitter, BuzzFeed, Washington Post etc.

***The Confederacy fired shots on Union soldiers at Fort Sumter, unofficially beginning the Civil War

****http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/150625-data-points-racial-dot-maps/

Whitesplaining 101

In Speech class we were tasked with writing a persuasive speech. At my PWI (Predominantly White Institution), I decided to be soft. I wrote my speech about football concussions because this wasn’t a good forum for me to spout my sometimes controversial persuasive opinions. HOWEVER, a girl decided to do her 7 minute speech on police brutality (she’s white, obviously). 

It was about how police brutality affects…COPS, aka her daddy. How it affects morale and how people are starting to not trust the police because of the media attention on “this new issue of police brutality”. Now, that was expected. I had some questions obviously because I expect white people to not understand the view points of minorities and marginalized groups. Why would they? These issues don’t affect them. My issue was with one statement she made in regards to being part of a cop’s family:

“Most people don’t know what it’s like to fear for their family member’s life every time they step outside.”

When white people say “people” they mean white people. 

Most people don’t know. Every time I leave the house my parents both say be careful infinite times because they know how quick-triggered cops can be with a smart mouthed young black man. Most people don’t know. I’m scared for my brother every day because he’s already got a record and that’s the only excuse they need. Most people don’t know. A young black boy was murdered 15 minutes from my house because he liked Skittles and Arizona (RIP Trayvon Martin). Most people don’t know. I’ve been asked if I was selling drugs in my neighborhood. Most people don’t know. My best friend has been strip searched on a dark road driving home from Bible college. Most people don’t know. I pray my sisters never talk back to the wrong cop (RIP Sandra Bland). Most people don’t know. I hope my sisters never run into a cop with an affinity for black women (Prayers to the victims of Daniel Holtzclaw). Most people don’t know. My mom has told me having black sons makes her scared for us. Most people don’t know. 

The trauma of decades of police brutality have shaped my view of police since I was a child. In my family police were never a friend. Most people don’t know. 

No. YOU don’t know. If we only view the world through our own experiences, we’ll never believe anything beyond what we’ve seen. Stop trying to understand issues that don’t affect you, through your own lens. Ask somebody who doesn’t look like you how they feel about (insert issue here). 

“Yea, it makes me wanna holler, and throw up both my hands. Crime is increasing, trigger happy policing. Panic is spreading.  God know where we’re heading.”

-Marvin Gaye, Inner-City Blues (1971)

“Fuck the police coming straight from the underground, young nigga got it bad cuz I’m brown. And not the other color so police think they have the authority to kill a minority.”

-NWA, Fuck the Police (1988) 

“Cops keep firing in my environment. Leave you slumped over then they drive home far from the hood.”

-Nas, Classic (2007)*

*Super unrelated, Classic is a fire combo about Air Force Ones byNas, KRS-One, Rakim and Kanye. Go to YouTube now. 



The New Slur

Privilege.

Privilege.

Privilege. Privilege. Privilege. Okay, got that out of the way. A few people will have closed the page already because they hate this word, so I figured I would just give them an easy exit now. People see privilege as more offensive than any of the actually offensive slurs used so flippantly. The irony though is that I don’t want to talk about privilege. Well sort of. If you go on BuzzFeed, Hufington Post, Twitter or any other site whose readership is made up primarily of millennials, you’ll see articles, studies, data, thinkpieces, mathematical equations, soliloquies and limericks explaining privilege and what it is. If you’re not sure, please refer to Google for a relatively free education. We can all agree (if you’re still here and not on Google) that in American society certain groups succeed at a higher rate than others. It’s easier to be: white than of color, straight than LGBTQ, a man than a woman, rich than poor, cisgendered than transgendered; and if any of those things intersect, even worse. And so on and so forth. Marginalized communities have been very vocal in recent years in explaining what America is like for them. So we all keep talking about privilege. We are generally learning what it means. Why are people afraid of it?. When you mention privilege, the immediate deterrent is

“well maybe some white people have it, but not me. My family struggled.”

“being a man is hard too though.”

“…” Actually, you get the point.

People rush to defend themselves when you credit their success to privilege. This seems deterring or obnoxious, until you put it into the context of the American Dream. The narrative of being an American is to build. To own something. The value of a name (see Donald Trump). To come from nothing like their forefathers and build a new country out of “nothing”. To overcome, to triumph. So when you accuse somebody of having an unfair advantage built into the system, their only response can be to defend because your accusation of privilege is an attack on their narrative, on their tale of triumph. It’s not actually that hard to understand. It’s a built in mechanism to defend your privilege.

American history is largely taught from the perspective of us, as Americans, overcoming. The tale opens with pilgrims escaping religious persecution. Then skip past a little bit of theft and genocide, we get to the tale of persecuted colonists being unfairly treated by their government in the British monarchy (African-American slaves roll their eyes), so they declare independence, fight a war and are now a free people. Then over the next one hundred years, American innovation and ingenuity developed technological advances that tamed the wilderness that was North America. Venturing into the wilderness to the west, the bold and brave Americans created the economic powerhouse that is the United States of America (again African-American slaves and the Indigenous peoples who remain after acts of genocide roll their eyes).

Then Civil War and Rec…wait we don’t talk about that. Then Civil War because of some stuff, and then the Roaring Twenties because to be honest most people I’ve interacted with have no idea what happened in America from 1866 until about 1917 when we joined World War I (see Google for labor union assaults, Jim Crow, the lynch mobs, women’s suffrage battles etc.). So, America comes to the aid of Europe and helps end WWI. Then due to all of our greatness, the Roaring Twenties. Then the Great Depression. In the midst of one of the great lows in American History, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. So to defend our honor we skip to WWII and America is bailing out Europe (after using socialist programs and the profits from WWII to end the Great Depression) again. The Make America Great Again era follows where Mr. and Mrs. Smith built the suburbs and created the greatest and most moral era of American history (eye rolls from everybody). Then the liberals (see communists, hippies, minorities and women) destroyed America up to the present day. Pause for Reagan attempting to fix it for those eight years. Bill Clinton caught cheating on his wife. 9/11 by B…during the Bush administration, and now we’re here.

That summarizes how a large portion of the American population views American History. It’s mostly “our” forefathers building this country off of blood, sweat and tears (just not theirs), then minorities, the LGBTQ community, women etc started asking for rights and tearing everything “we” had built. If you click around this blog a few times you’ll see some historical evidence to the contrary, but that doesn’t matter. The narrative of the American Dream requires oppression. It requires overcoming to build. So even when there is virtually nothing to overcome, the default reaction to being told you had advantages is to deny at the cost of what you believe to be the American Dream being deferred. We can’t work towards dismantling oppressive systems if we each our afraid to acknowledge that some of those BuzzFeed and Huffington Posts lists include us. If each of us continues to view the world through only our own experiences, we can’t work towards something that allows an equal playing field.

P.S. For the various members of marginalized groups who may read this: There’s levels to this. It’s not just on white people to acknowledge their advantages. It’s also on men, straight people, cisgendered people etc. It’s on black men to acknowledge that black women are running with ankle weights and a backpack. That gay minorities run with the backpack and have to jump hurdles. That intersectionality matters. We’re not in a race to see who can take power and oppress others next. But to see that we all get free.

 

 

“Inter century anthems based off inner city tantrums based off the way we was branded. Face it, Jerome gets more time than Brandon.”

     -Kanye West, Gorgeous

“Every time I hear a brother call a girl a bitch or a ho trying to make a sister feel low, you know all that gots to go”

     -Queen Latifah, U.N.I.T.Y.

“Walk outside, he whole world hate me. Nervous stares at the thoroughfare, surveilance cameras, police tracing. Poor so hard, this shit weird, we be home and still be scared.”

     -Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Niggas in Protest

“When everyone else is more comfortable remaining voiceless, rather than fighting for humans that have had their rights stolen. I might not be the same, but that’s not important. No freedom ‘til we’re equal, damn right I support it.”

     -Macklemore, Same Love