Monday, June 30, 2008

Rise Up Hip Hop Nation, Wise Up: Same Divide, Different Day

My hip hop summer session class just started so I've been catching up on some current events and debates via my favorite hip hop sites. Well it seems the "new" news is old news because the main debates that seem to still be holding the hip hop nation hostage are all very familiar: "real" v. "fake" hip hop, mainstream v. underground, hip hop elitism, & generation beefs (and not only civil rights v. hip hop but also old school hip hop v. new school hip hop).

I first wrote about these issues in 2002 when the KRS v. Nelly beef was the story.;

Now, everyone hates Soulja Boy and he is single handedly killing hip hop according to some. And no doubt there is good reason to hate some of the vulgar and juvenile lyrics and music he represents. But then again, he is a juvenile... has a couple videos of Ice-T criticizing Soulja Boy as well as Soulja Boy's diss reply (in profane language). Ice-T comes back with another video to offer a more thorough explanation and end to the debate.

Over on Davey D's myspace blog, there are a number of readings of interest with comments that add insight to the dialog, including an article debating hip hop from the south, Lil Wayne v. Al Sharpton, and hip hop elitism and Soulja Boy.

From the article on hip hop elitism by Adriel Luis, this quotation stood out to me:

"Regardless of what you think of Soulja Boy's message, it speaks to the youth that hip-hop has sought to speak to since it was first born. If the youth are in a position where the songs that they can relate to depict "supersoaking hos," there's a much larger issue at hand than just the song or the artist that composed it. If you feel like Soulja Boy isn't real hip-hop because of his graphic and negative songs, find a way to educate the kid or at least the kids that are bumping his shit. But plugging your ears and saying "Well that's not real hip-hop"...that would be like living in a neighborhood and seeing some kids from down the block stealing an old lady's purse and being like "Oh that's not very positive...those must not be real neighbors." Simply pushing it all outside of your consciousness, deeming it irrelevant, or disowning it from your utopian and fluffy concept of reality won't solve anything."

After reading all of these articles and the numerous comments about them, I went back to my original 2002 essay that talked about community unity, and I can't help but wonder how feasible unity is with so many varying opinions. And if it is possible, how do we get there?

I believe the three main obstacles we will have to overcome to try to achieve unity are ideological, class and generational divisions.

These debates highlight all of three divisions. I think when we are honest about these divisions, we get closer to where we need to be to achieve community progress. It's funny to me that the same generation that still has so many ill feelings toward their parents for rejecting them and their culture now are rejecting the youth of today for reasons that sound somewhat similar...everything really is everything.

these type of community debates and dialogs are important, I hope we can also see a bigger picture and avoid repeating the mistakes I would argue made many times before, but specifically highlighted in the Booker T. Washington v. W.E.B. Du Bois v. Marcus Garvey debates. All wanted the same result - empowerment of our people – but fell in to a trap of challenging and degrading each other’s efforts. Du Bois intellectual critiques of Garvey’s movement and dismissing Garvey as a nut did not acknowledge the millions of people drawn and energized by Garvey’s message and movement... and Garvey’s framing of Du Bois as an intellectual elitist ignored the fact that Du Bois sacrificed his life to the struggle…While Du Bois rightly challenged Washington for accepting Jim Crow segregation, Washington's understanding of self-determination and a realistic ground-up approach to advancement could have been embraced. In other words, I think if we spend less time challenging each other's efforts and more time working together or at the very least, not working against each other, our unified goal to empower the people can be achieved (even if not in one unified effort).

I once heard Iyanla Vanzant say "Be against nothing...just be clear what you are for"...

I think this really is a motto to live by...when we concentrate on what we are against (racism, sexism, white supremacy, capitalism, fascism, homophobia, "mainstream hip hop" Soulja Boy, lol, etc.) we frame the struggle in terms of negatives and sooner or later can lose the true purpose of the struggle...LIFE...

...If we frame the struggle in terms of life affirming principles - peace, justice, love, and sustenance...our eyez remain on the prize...

"Life is your we can't give up the fight..get up stand up"...Bob Marley...

So like I've told my students, while I understand some of the frustration over the nihilism and misogyny in some hip hop,
spending less time and energy complaining about the state of hip hop (especially because it speaks to some real truths) and more time mentoring the youth directly will be more empowering...then they can be the voices that speak to the youth...not corporate radio.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Another Death - Another Lesson

Comedian George Carlin died yesterday. I didn't see many of his specials, but when I did, he usually made me think. And after writing the essays on death and life, I found some of his life story to be relevant. For example, it is pretty well known that he didn't believe in God, but he actually grew up Catholic. And for the 8 years he did go to school, he actually went to a Catholic School in New York that he credited for being very progressive where everything was open for discussion and students were encouraged to think for themselves. I found that to be an interesting life experience that I did not know before. And this morning while watching the news, I saw a brief interview clip with him that taught me a little more.

I hear a Comedy Central poll has him second only to Richard Pryor as favorite stand-up comic (who I still miss...with his crazy but insightful Comedy Central also has some videos on their site...and of course YouTube has a number of videos, including a very in depth interview with him on Larry King Live in 2001.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Death…and Life

Peace and blessings to all. As a media studies educator, I watch a lot of news, and often have it on while I’m working at home. I have also been following this election very closely and analyze the different media coverage of it. I had it on MSNBC last week when Tom Brokaw came on live and announced the death of Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert. I was quite shocked because I identified him with this election and have enjoyed his analysis on primary nights. Like many, I didn’t know him but still felt a loss. He always seemed to be smiling when he talked. Some call that spirit. I’ve been watching some of the memorials of him and finding the stories shared of a public figure to be quite personal and telling. I realized the essay I have wanted to write for years might be timely right now.

I’ve actually had many personal experiences with death. When I was a preteen, I lost my first close family members: my grandfather in Jamaica that I spent some summers with, and my uncle, who died of cancer while still very young in his thirties. My uncle actually lived with us for many of his last days so I saw what sickness and death looked like at a young age. And there would be others like Uncle Eric, Uncle Fitzie and Big Momma. So I learned at a pretty young age that death was a part of life. But it would be what I learned later that is important and what I want to write about now…how death taught me about life…

The most difficult time in my life was a two year period that started a year before I started graduate school (pursuing my Ph.D. in sociology). In the summer of 1997, we lost my grandmother to cancer. She was the matriarch of our family and it wasn’t clear then how many in the family would be able to go on without her. She was even raising an uncle’s two young children so their future was really insecure. We had her memorial service in Jamaica. As soon as we returned, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. This seemed impossible in timing and irony. How were we supposed to handle this blow? We were still reeling from the loss of grandma. But life went on and six months later, my other grandfather died. Now as I said, my family wasn’t new to death but this seemed like “too much” for one family at one time. We memorialized my grandfather in January of 1998 and had to move my mother and 17 year old brother out from Virginia to be with the bulk of the family in California later that summer because she was not going to survive her battle with cancer too much longer. My mother died in October 1998 with many of us by her bedside. She was only 54 and it had only been a little over a year since we had buried her mother and less than a year since we had buried her father. And for me, she was the one person before I got married and had kids that I knew I wouldn’t be able to live without…but I do…and almost ten years later…it’s never easy, but it is.

But our family tragedy doesn’t end there. Three months after we memorialized my mother, I got a call from a close family friend. It was a weekday morning in January 1999, and her voice was one I had become familiar with – tragedy had yet again struck. While walking to school, my two cousins (the ones my grandmother helped raise) had been hit by a car. Adam suffered leg injuries but Zondie was fatally wounded. My husband and I rushed from Irvine to San Diego to see her and hope and pray that when we got there, we would find Zondie okay. It seemed unreal and too cruel for anything else. Because we had already lost so much…and she was only twelve…and it was her birthday.

But she was brain dead and declared dead one day after her birthday. Her father donated her organs and because of that, others now live. And while that gave hope to others, how would our family deal with all this loss? In two words…we lived.

Death has taught me many things about life. Many we have heard before. Life is fragile and often too short. Tomorrow isn’t promised so take nothing for granted. Appreciate what you have and those in your life. No doubt my ability to deal with the loss of my mother at such a young age had more to do with my deepest gratitude with having such a beautiful soul for a mother and knowing that many in this world were not as blessed. Although we did not have as many years as I thought we would have, I was truly blessed to have her as my mother and her unconditional love and beautiful spirit provided me with a model to aspire to on how to live. Yes, death taught me how to live.

Part Two: Death ….and Life

As a social activist and analyst, death has taught me other lessons that I truly believe are the answers to many of the ills that plague our societies. Death has shown me what we all have in common: reality and humanity. Too often we let ideology inform our understanding of the world instead of looking beyond ideology to see the reality that affects us all and the humanity that defines us all.

I have a number of people that I do not agree with at all ideologically or politically, but I know they are good people that had a different upbringing, socialization, media training than I did. And I can like them….and do. Their humanity is what I see and what I trust. People are more alike and all want the same…to live, love, and be happy.

I’ve heard a few over the last few days repeat a quotation that rings true: what they (elites) know you can learn, what you know (working class), they’ll never learn. Real people living real lives are the answer. In truth, I know I can trust my conservative white neighbor to be there to help us if we need something more than I can trust some of my liberal white and black academic colleagues. I think for ideologues on the left and the right, it is hard to tell these truths although I know all live them. I think that is what people saw in Tim Russert, his humanity that came from his working class background. He was real. And because of that, he made others real. So for example, even the most ardent ideologue like Bill O’Reilly (that I can honestly rarely tolerate), I was able to learn something about when he interviewed Tim Russert. They talked about fathers. Tim talked about how his father’s dedication and hard work showed him he loved him although his father was not one to ever express those emotions verbally. O’Reilly commented that he was impressed that Russert could see his dad’s love under the tough exterior because he (O’Reilly) never could see his dad’s love (another Irish tough father). Now I understand O’Reilly a little better. I will probably never agree with him ideologically or politically, but I have seen his humanity, and Tim Russert brought it out…a regular person talking about real life struggles…family, life, and love, things we all have in common.

When we can be honest about the ideologies that inform us, we can tell the truth more clearly, in all its complexities. Another example that is relevant to my life (as well as the news lately with Tim Russert’s death) is Catholicism. I can be honest that my family faith in Catholicism comes from colonization. The Catholic Church’s empire of history was at times evil and sanctioned slavery and should be condemned for all it has done wrong. I can disagree with its anti-contraception stance and I am personally pro-choice, but I can still applaud it for being one of the only large faith institutions that is more consistent in its pro-life position, not only being against abortion but also war and the death penalty. But Catholicism also nurtured my grandmother, the most peaceful spirit I’ve known on earth. She would walk to church daily and sing or hum all day after. She was not an activist in the way many define it, but she lived her humanity and our family and the world was better for having her bless it. So we miss her but we feel blessed that we loved her and were loved by her. Catholic school taught me and Tim respect for others and life, discipline and sacrifice. But it also had textbooks in schools and statues in churches that falsely depicted Jesus with European features. This is being able to tell the truth about your reality and seeing it as not all good or all bad but all real. Reality would do us all justice. Reality would bring us all justice.

The real problem is lived experiences are too different to effectively address social problems intellectually or ideologically. People must understand on a personal level. It must be made personal. When people speak of black anger with dismay or disgust, we can tell a history that has never actually been told outside of ethnic studies classes…a story of double consciousness…of being sons/daughters of a country that never loved us but is what it is from our labor…and our morality… of soldiers fighting for freedom abroad to come home to lynching...or Japanese interned while sons fighting…or 98% of FHA loans to whites…and all our sociological data…we can tell contemporary stories of the brother just released from jail yesterday after doing 20+ years for a crime he was railroaded on….of schools, and prisons, etc… we can say what was so poignantly said at the end of the "Great Debaters" film when debating civil disobedience. The young man recalled the lynch mob they came up on, seeing the black body (strange fruit) hanging and having to run away before they were next, powerless to help that brother..."AMERICA SHOULD BE GRATEFUL THAT WE CHOOSE CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE AS OUR MEANS OF PROTEST"...that's the truth no one is ready for...but the reality of our morality shines.

Once I show students a history they never learned and they hear horror stories like that of a 9 month pregnant woman being lynched and her full term baby being stomped they no longer can say what are black people complaining about…now they know…and knowing really is half the battle…our problem like James Baldwin says is that the innocence constitutes the crime. When we embrace reality but do so from our humanity and not ideology, we will achieve what we so desperately want and need: PEACE.

We are capable of bearing a great burden, once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is. – James Baldwin

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Official Launch - Join the Urban Teacher Network (UTN)!

This idea has been months in the making and we're finally ready to launch the UTN over the summer. The UTN will be a major project of Hip Hop Congress' Education Initiative. Its purpose is to reach out directly to those that work and mentor our youth. We want to support their efforts, build networks, share curriculum ideas and resources, and organize ways to better serve our communities needs.

Teachers have many tough issues to deal with while trying to educate and elevate today's youth in this oppressive structure. The truth is the school system in many ways maintains the status quo structure of injustice and inequality. Teachers and even many administrators work hard to change that but often find themselves penalized for thinking outside of the box and being more relevant to their students' lives.

The UTN hopes to organize and support teachers who dedicate their lives to literally saving our future. The UTN is also interested in educating and mentoring our youth in more creative and relevant (and less restrictive) ways to most effectively serve their needs. To that end, we are promoting an urban arts education curriculum to bring to schools, juvenile centers and after school programs. We also plan to organize UTN events for teachers and students outside of the classroom in less restrictive spaces to learn, live and grow through experiences in community based outings.

I will be the primary contact for the UTN. Please email me at to request an application (data form) and we will reach out to you promptly!

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Fire This Time

This is an update to an essay I wrote last December. The original essay can be found at:

Please read that first for context. This update deals more specifically with the history just made in the democratic primary nomination....

As always, I'd like to begin by offering peace and respect to my sisters and brothers all across the globe living the best they can; and respect to all souljahs working to serve our people and their interests worldwide.

As I argued in the initial essay, there have always been oppressive dynamics throughout history, and concurrently, resistance to that oppression. But I argue in the essay that while oppressive dynamics have not changed, times have…and as the saying goes…timing is everything. We have been seeing a movement in the making: youth mobilization, or as I argued in the essay...hip hop is growing up.

This movement is grassroots based on people power, and in the new world order of YouTube and MySpace, people power has more ways of getting its message heard. Result: The largest mobilization of the community in years for a rally in a small rural town with people coming from cities all across the country (Jena 6 rally) to yes, the very first black candidate to get a major party nomination. In truth, Obama should not be credited for organizing this movement, but is more accurately the beneficiary of it. He has tapped into something that has been growing for some time...the crossroads where the technology revolution met community based organizing. There are a number of other examples of successes like petition drives, online network and organization building, fundraising, etc. This movement is creating new spaces to learn, live, and grow.

As I watched Obama give his speech Tuesday night after securing the democratic nomination, I could not help but feel the weight of the historic moment. As an insurgent campaign, it demanded respect, and to add the racial narrative, made it even more unbelievable. To be honest, I thought Obama had a better chance of being the next American Idol than American President. lol. I already knew the strategy from his national speech at the convention in ’04 when he blasphemed that this is the United States of America…I have discussed with my classes the fact that Obama was starring as Invisible Man and was hoping to pull it off long enough to win the election. Thanks to Reverend Wright, that became impossible and race came to the forefront in the form of black liberation theology. So Obama had to prove he was "safe" to middle America because the truth is America is not ready for a unapologetically black president but may be (and that is a very BIG MAYBE) ready for a candidate that happens to be black, or biracial.

I’ve told my students that if Obama got the nomination it would ONLY be due to them – the youth – and the movement they are just now nurturing. I work closely with hip hop activists and this election in my mind is seen differently from a youth perspective…this election is about past v. future and grassroots v. establishment...There are many hip hop activists that are critical of Obama for some of the reasons that have been discussed in the Black Agenda Report but they don’t want to get into policy discussions, they want to empower the people…and the people want to be inspired…so here we are.

While intellectually I can agree with some of the critiques of Obama that the BAR and other dissidents offer, I think many are missing a much bigger picture. What he will do is still in question but my gut says he is not the puppet of corporate interest BAR believes he will be. Obama just knows the game and knows he won’t win any other way. Period. Come out black and proud?? His chances would have been somewhere between “negro please” and “never gonna happen”. Challenging a politician for being political is basically like being mad at a dog for barking. It is not only wrong because it won't change reality, it is also a bit self-righteous.

If I can keep it real for a minute, there’s a reality we all know and live daily in the institutions we work in. Yes it would be nice if he could be forthright about race, class, fascism, etc. but structurally impossible in politics…and everywhere else on this planet. As I like to say, we may be anti-capitalist but we cash our checks monthly to pay our bills so we can fight another day. We may speak truth to power in our writings and classes, but we work at institutions that perpetuate the VERY SAME inequalities we fight…hierarchies in society …credentials…status…or just look at student enrollment or faculty numbers/status/salary by race, class and gender…and I can go on and on… if we expect Obama to change the structure or not be a part of it…we must hold ourselves to the same standard…are we ready to quit Corporate University because they do not practice what we preach? No, because we need some space to reach youth and challenge structure even if it alone doesn’t change it. And quite honestly there is NO space on this planet where we are free to live out our convictions completely in this social structure...yes some have died for their convictions, but that is the price, let’s be clear. And then what about those left behind? So we do what we can with what we have…And I think Michelle Obama and her children deserve our support for the sacrifices they are making to try to do just that.

On a personal note, my vote in the California primary for Obama was about two things. I no longer believe in that “do not choose between two evils” argument. If voting strictly on conviction I would “go green” and support Cynthia McKinney's candidacy but will not in the real world, and can't in good conscience. I’m sure millions of Iraqis now dead and displaced, thousands of dead, mostly young GIs, thousands more badly wounded GIs and many many thousands more suffering from post traumatic stress disorder would give anything to have seen an Al Gore presidency. Ralph Nader be damned.

But my vote was also about standing with my people. As far as I’m concerned being with the people is where I need to be. Are they always on the right side of intellectual answers to racial and class issues that face them? No, but what they do is survive anything and everything so I will go with their spirit over all intellect. With them I know I’ll be okay. Without them, I’ll be miseducated and lost. So keep hope alive…or in 2008, we say…yes, we can. Obama is only as good as he makes others feel...energized and engaged...and in this day and age...that's pretty damn good.


Archived Essays

I wanted to post my research and essays on this blog but decided to just list links to where they can be found online since I'm setting this blog up late and most essays are now quite dated. But please read past commentaries to get an idea of my writing interests and style and check back often for new essays added to blog.



  • (Dissertation) Teacher Centrality, Student Morale, and the Social Organization of the Classroom (archived at the University of California, Irvine). Also available online at: =79356&RQT=309&VName=PQD

  • Rise Up Hip Hop Nation: From Deconstructing Racial Politics to Building Positive Solutions, Socialism and Democracy, “Race, Politics, and Hip Hop” edition #36, fall 2004.