Friday, July 11, 2008
Talking Politics: Hip Hop, the Election, and Service over Leadership
I KNOW IT'S LONG BUT...PLEASE READ AND COMMENT! :-)
This is no doubt an important election and historic year. The Hip Hop Nation is officially a major political player now. My sincerest congratulations to sista Rosa Clemente and her bid to run with Cynthia McKinney on the Green Party's presidential ticket. She is a true souljah and will definitely represent the people well. Clemente discusses this historic moment and the need to build a grassroots progressive movement during an interview with Davey D on Hard Knock Radio that you can peep at link below:
HKR (7/9/08): http://kpfa.org/archives/index.php?arch=27247
In the interview, Davey asks her honest questions about the chances of a third party victory and the effects it might have on Obama's campaign (Nader effect). Rosa makes good points about this not ending with electoral politics but getting those not engaged (because of their dissatisfaction with the two-party system) to get engaged on community based levels. She talks about how we have to start building an alternative and put in the hard work today to realize true people power sooner rather than later. She hopes the green party's run, and particularly with her on ticket as a member of the hip hop community, will help further the progress we're making with grassroots movements and take it to the next level for power to the people.
Davey D has another very enlightening interview on Hard Knock Radio I hope you all will peep. He interviews Cedric Muhammad of BlackElectorate.com about the presidential election. Muhammad offers an insightful analysis.
HKR (6/30/08): http://kpfa.org/archives/index.php?arch=27094
Muhammad believes McCain will be the next president, and I've told my students that if I had to bet, I would make the same wager, because many in America are not ready for a Black president, no matter how appeasing he is...or how much of a change people want and need.
When people will vote against their interests and for basically the same policies they now hate and feel are taking their lives and the country in the wrong direction, you know white supremacy is alive and well. This video (especially the last minute) offers a glaring illustration:
CNN video: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/ireports/2008/07/10/road.trip.dnt.cnn
I have to tell you, one of the most interesting aspects of my trip to the Essence Festival in New Orleans last weekend was the overwhelming show of Obama support by the youth. They were rocking Obama t-shirts like they were the new white tees...lol.
All sorts of shirts, from hand painted to simple message shirts with one word like: CHANGE, BELIEVE..and HOPE. A lot of shirts had pictures of both Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. on them with messages like "The Dreamer and the Dream". The most interesting one I saw had the famous picture of MLK Jr. and Malcolm X shaking hands, but they had superimposed Obama's picture so it looked like Obama and MLK Jr. were shaking hands. And probably the cutest I've seen is the "Stop the Drama, Vote for Obama" tees. These t-shirts were worn by all ages but I was quite surprised to see so many young black men rocking them, from age 12-30.
For older African Americans, this election is about history. They see in Obama the fulfillment of struggle that many others fought and died for but could never have realized: Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, Marcus Garvey, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ella Baker, MLK Jr., Constance Baker Motley, Thurgood Marshall, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, and Shirley Chisholm, (and everyone well known and not so well know in between).
I don't think this is about history for the young brothers rocking these Obama shirts though. And it's not about Obama's positions either. Some might know them but many probably do not. For them, he is a positive symbol of possibility. And for these young men, I hope Obama wins.
In an election year, especially as important as this one, it is hard not to get caught up in the expectations game - making it all about leadership and personality. All are wondering if campaign promises will be fulfilled. Every day, articles about Obama's shift to the center highlight the honeymoon with Obama and progressives is over. I understand people's skepticism, but by making Obama the issue, we have been bamboozled by the media....and conservatives and liberals alike. It is always important to watch the company one keeps. If 90+% of Black people are with Obama but white progressives (or liberals) start to turn on him, the progressive hip hop community needs to consider its alliances carefully.
I am reminded of Malcolm X's description of liberals, and their need to control black leaders in order to control the black community. From a 1963 speech Malcolm said:
"The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor; and by winning the friendship, allegiance, and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool in this political “football game” that is constantly raging between the white liberals and white conservatives.
The white conservatives aren’t friends of the Negro either, but they at least don’t try to hide it. They are like wolves; they show their teeth in a snarl that keeps the Negro always aware of where he stands with them. But the white liberals are foxes, who also show their teeth to the Negro but pretend that they are smiling. The white liberals are more dangerous than the conservatives; they lure the Negro, and as the Negro runs from the growling wolf, he flees into the open jaws of the “smiling” fox.
The job of the Negro civil rights leader is to make the Negro forget that the wolf and the fox both belong to the (same) family. Both are canines; and no matter which one of them the Negro places his trust in, he never ends up in the White House, but always in the dog house.
The white liberals control the Negro and the Negro vote by controlling the Negro civil rights leaders. As long as they control the Negro civil rights leaders, they can also control and contain the Negro’s struggle, and they can control the Negro’s so-called revolt."
Malcolm X also strongly critiqued token leaders (the House Negro), and in some ways, many probably see Obama as fitting that description. But post-Mecca Malcolm evolves in his position and even apologizes to those same leaders later when he realizes that while they have different philosophies on how to achieve black liberation, they all want the same freedom for our people. So again, I recommend we keep this in mind and think about who we want to be standing with and for when it is all said and done.
And while the reasons the masses of our community are supporting Obama may not be the most principled or conscious, they still are engaged. Consciousness is a luxury few can afford in these serious times....survival is key... A friend of mine teaches in LA and some of her black students don’t even know who Malcolm X is! One asked if he was an extreme sports star! And we think our problem is that Obama is not addressing political issues properly in a political campaign? I’m sorry….it doesn’t even make the top 10. ...and systemic racism and poverty which are at the top of the list won't be fixed by Obama, period. But the question is, will they be fixed by McCain? Or in the cases of some issues (like abortion rights, war), will he possibly be worse? It is interesting how we criticize Black politicians and leaders who disappoint but never do the same with white politicians and leaders with the same level of passion, as if we take it more personally with the black leader...In Obama's case, that is a stretch given his biracial lineage and upbringing in Hawaii...lol...but I'm as guilty of this higher standard for black leaders as the next person. A favorite line I use in class when teaching about Thurgood Marshall is to call him the "first and only Black Supreme Court justice". lol...Clarence Thomas is no worse than Scalia..but our hatred is saved for Thomas. Why is that? Miseducation and mental slavery. Emancipate ourselves from mental slavery..none but ourselves can free our minds (Marley).
We all know the next president will be either McCain or Obama. More than anything, this election is about a generational struggle, past v. future, and where this country's direction goes, staying on a path of "top to bottom" versus a more grassroots political framework of "bottom up" really depends on who gets engaged and who wins this generational struggle this election cycle. So it really is up to us to decide the fate and the direction of politics and activism...not any leader. It's bigger than Obama....and it should be.
So I sincerely hope folks won't get jaded by the political drama over the next few months. Many will be disappointed in the realization that Obama is a politician trying to win and not a principled progressive. But as Muhammad argues and I emphatically agree, progressives often are more concerned with being right than effective. There is a difference between being righteous and being self-righteous. We can all continue to work and fight for the principles that matter to us and also hold leadership accountable, but to not vote for Obama because he is wrong on some issues and risk McCain by default is ineffective.
So I hope all will be smart about the electoral map. Obama needs Pennsylvania, Ohio, Washington, and Oregon to win...and if he gets these states, he will win. Ohio and Pennsylvania will be close because of the white blue collar (read prejudiced) vote the news keeps highlighting. The youth must come out big in these states. Washington and Oregon are ripe for green party so I would consider the Nader effect backlash.
Last year I wrote about a soldier I met on a plane. He and others like him are a constant reminder of the Nader effect for me because I really believe that if Gore was president, this Iraq war would not have happened (http://playahata.com/hatablog/?p=2352). So for him also, I hope Obama wins.
I think the best way to show that the youth movement is progressing is to secure the victory of the candidate the younger generation is supporting while STILL working the grassroots movement to secure people power. That is progressive. Once Obama is elected, we must continue to demand a progressive agenda.
It is best said in the introduction of the book, Covenant with Black America. In recalling a conversation between African American leader A. Philip Randolph and President Franklin Roosevelt, the story goes that Randolph spells out to FDR the needs of African Americans and the needed agenda to address them. He also highlighted the political power FDR had as president to help realize that agenda. While FDR agreed with Randolph's analysis and acknowledged his ability to use his power to achieve the agenda, FDR just said: " 'Go out and make me do it.' In other words, if you organize, and mobilize, and make me do it, then I will have to do it (Covenant, pg. ix)"
Yes, leadership matters (as the last 8 years prove), but community engagement matters more because macro structure injustices will not be corrected in this election year (or next few for that matter).
Please visit the link below RE: the world village for a reality check. I share this slideshow with my students to help them find perspective:
Once there, pick a language (english - for example) and then push play.
And in this country, we also must deal with the reality that the majority has still not reconciled with the racial realities of the past and present. Malcolm X said it best:
They won't even admit the knife is there. - Malcolm X ...word.
While part of our society won't even admit to the problem as it is, the victims of this reality must live under the constant pain of the twisting knife. Instead of depending on leadership that disappoints and a majority that is not ready for the truth...we should remember that service saves...and not worry about those that don't see the knife but instead treat those with the knife wounds....
Like I said in the Fire this Time essay, Obama has captured the imagination of the people. Arguing over political maneuvers by him misses the bigger picture that THE PEOPLE are energized and engaged (and many for the first time). Obama's presidency will not have to be the end all hope for change...but instead the beginning of us demanding more...of ourselves. We are the change we can believe in...we can save our communities through effective politics and community based organizing. The solution is both/and..not either/or. So Rise up Hip Hop Nation, flex your power. We are all we need. We always have been.
SERVICE rather than LEADERSHIP...Carter G. Woodson
(please read Woodson's Miseducation of the Negro)