Friday, July 11, 2008

Talking Politics: Hip Hop, the Election, and Service over Leadership


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):

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 about the presidential election. Muhammad offers an insightful analysis.

HKR (6/30/08):

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:

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

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 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 ( 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)


Anonymous said...

From Sunita: Tina, your thoughts have captured many imperative themes that we all need to think about and stay aware of. I do believe that there is a movement in the Senate, with the older generation to support Obama: Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd - if you follow, Robert Byrd use to be associated in some manner with the Klan. I am not mentioning these things to bring negativity to your blog, but rather to point out that there are people that lived through the bad times of this country and probably regret a lot of the choices they made during the 60s, etc. - I believe that Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd have a voice and have power behind their endorsement - they have chosen to stand behind Barack Obama - that movement began this January 2008 and I believe it will sustain. Martin Luther King Jr. has a saying: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." I do think we still have challenges as a nation because people are still not respected for their intelligence and character but other superficial things like the color of their skin. But I do believe that the older generation that knows they are looking over the mountain top and are ready to meet their maker any day, they want to hear the words "Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of the Lord," they hear almighty God whispering into their very being to help make a change before they leave this side and join Martin Luther King Jr, the Moses of our time, looking down and still praying for us as a nation to stand up to our true meaning: "One Nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."

Tina said...

Thanks Sunita for taking the time to read this long essay. You also make a good point. It is interesting that many older people may see in Obama a way to redeem old mistakes and fulfill their legacy to bring this nation closer to its ideals, and in that, as you say, join MLK Jr. when their time comes, knowing the dream can be achieved.

adrian said...

My biggest fear is that Obama will be a trend and that after it’s over, regardless of the outcome that the young supporters of Obama will quit. If he loses they will say, “see, out vote doesn’t do anything” and if he wins my fear is that the youth of America will sit there waiting for Obama to change everything for them while they go back to how they were living before.

I have been a big supporter of Obama since the beginning and my reasoning was that the change we wish to see in the U.S. will come from us personally (the people). While the president has an impact on very big decisions (war, economics, etc.), the impact that we personally feel on a day to day is impacted much more by the action and leadership of our local communities. (Lupe Fiasco has said many times that he doesn’t believe that voting really matters in the presidential vote but that it is important that you vote on who controls your local schools, police depts. etc. etc.)

My hope is that Obama can inspire the younger generations to make the change they hope for, see that it needs to start from the ground up and get active in their communities. Unfortunately my generation is a generation of hypebeasts and short youtube clips, we get on what’s hot quick and then jump on to the next big thing before the current fire starts to die down (god forbid we not be up on the newest internet joke or have the hottest pair of rare denim).

(I know it’s been a minute since I shot you an e-mail, life keeps me busy, maybe I’ll get around to it one of these days. Hope you’re enjoying the music still)

Tina said...

Hey Adrian! Definitely great to hear from you and thanks for taking some time to read my blog and post a comment. 'preciate it :-)

Your concern is on point because both scenarios are not only possible but probable...the only thing is that it is easier to get folks engaged if they are excited and/or desperate...and with a possible Obama presidency brings an excitement for a generational shift...and this terrible economy that you know I've been speaking on for a minute will have folks desperate to where they probably will not be able to just go back to status quo complacency. It's not a great scenario but it is what it is. Your comments from Lupe are right on though...real (and sustainable) change will have to come on the local communities level. so we'll see. still enjoying the music, thanks :-)

Anonymous said... here I go with another long comment...

I agree with what you've said about some things- like if people don't like what McCain stands for but vote for him just because they won't vote for Obama because he's black - that is a major problem. So many people are so unhappy with Bush that part of me does expect Obama to win. But this is the impression that the media is giving - it might not be an accurate representation. I don't really know how the people in the southern states feel. So, I guess it partly comes down to how upset with Bush is the United States, how different from Bush do they believe McCain will be, and to what extent are Americans willing to accept a black president.

Another problem that has always really bothered me is that of non-response bias - when the people who do respond are significantly different from those who do not respond. I think that is typically referred to in surveys, but I think it definitely applies to elections. So many people don't vote! I think it would be very reasonable to argue that the people who do vote are different from those who don't. That is a problem because with so few people voting, I don't think we're getting a very accurate picture of what America even wants.

Honestly I'm kind of bitter about this election. I know it's not a good attitude - but I'm frustrated. Both the liberals and the conservatives are telling flat out lies. I've received so forwards from my grandma totally bashing Obama and telling lies about him. She's extremely conservative - so it's not surprising. But I just get angry when people tell me lies. I don't like hearing lies about Obama or McCain! Or anyone else. Here is an excerpt from my blog:

"I am really tired of all the lies circulating out there as far as November elections are concerned. There are people out there who think that Obama is Muslim, was sworn in under the Quran, and refuses to put his hand over his heart during the pledge of allegiance or national anthem or something. Are you serious? I looked into this- it is true that sometimes Obama has not put his hand over his heart. But he has never made a statement that he refuses to do so, as some have claimed.

On the other hand, McCain made some type of statement that the US would be in Iraq for 100 years. He didn’t mean that the war would go on for 100 years, but people took it that way. He just meant that the same way we still have troops in Germany, we will still have troops in Iraq. But that statement has been so misconstrued!"

All of that aside, I do agree with what Malcolm X said regarding the knife in the back. It's definitely still there, but I don't know how to take it out and heal the wound. And I agree that neither Obama nor McCain can solve or will solve the major issues that we face today. Maybe either can make some progress, but I really don't see how they could possibly solve everything.

But it's like you've quoted- compassion is not enough - we've got to do something. I don't feel it is a politician's responsibility to fix everything. Individuals have got to get out there and make a difference.

Tina said...

you definitely added some good points here to the dialog, thanks. Ideology makes it difficult for people to search out facts without looking at them through a biased lens. but that's's a dirty game and trickery is part of the game, no doubt. knowing that though, i never take it personally or get too upset by political maneuvers. Like I wrote in another piece, that would be as pointless as getting mad at my dogs for It is what it is. And yes, while i do think who wins will be important for a number of reasons i discussed in the blog, I do not think the election will be the factor that changes everyone's everyday reality - no matter who wins. We ourselves have to do that. no doubt.