Friday, April 17, 2009

Rise up Hip Hop Nation, Wise Up: Confronting's time to Man UP!

While I discuss hyper-masculinity and homophobia in my classes, I never really planned to write a blog about it because race and class are the issues I am most familiar with, and honestly, most concerned about. But, as Martin Luther King Jr. said: an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Two events lead me to write this blog now: 1) A discussion in one of my classes and 2) the suicide of an 11 year old boy this past week. He was a victim of anti-gay bullying.

11-Year-Old Hangs Himself after Enduring Daily Anti-Gay Bullying


While many have rightfully recognized the tragedy of his unnecessary death, few still have addressed the root of it: homophobia that permeates our faiths and our societies. Kids do not learn anti-gay rhetoric in a vacuum...they learn it from their families, peers, media, and culture...and hip hop is as guilty as the dominant culture that birthed it.

In my classes, I show Byron Hurt's video: Beyond Beats and Rhymes which I highly recommend all view. Here is an excerpt:

Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes

I have known for a long time how serious our society's pathology is because it plays out in sexual violence and hate crimes. Our community's issues with masculinity also play out in silence and uncomfortable conversations with black men about deep feelings, or in hip hop culture's hyper masculine and homophobic lyrics and imagery. While not unique to hip hop, hip hop is more often than not, a part of the problem, not a part of the solution.

Like I wrote in the blog last year about Prop 8, the homophobia in our community is not all about religion, or sexuality for that is also rooted in deep issues with masculinity that stem from a history of oppression, and Hurt's documentary does a decent job of deconstructing many of those issues.

As a self-identified follower of Christ, I am always willing to debate faith and homosexuality with any that want. I understand their convictions but disagree with their interpretations. While I know I will not change minds that are rooted in strong beliefs and convictions, I challenge both their knowledge of history (and the Bible in particular), and their hypocrisy, which Jesus spoke clearly about on many occasions. In using the Bible to condemn homosexuality with fervor, but ignore, or even take part in any number of "sins" (to all my fornicators, adulterers, divorcees, as well as cheeseburger and shrimp eaters), they lose validity. As well, if a literal reading of the Bible is done (despite its missing chapters...and possibly manipulated ones?..thanks to power and politics of past empires including the Catholic Church), then the issue of most concern is poverty, which is referenced thousands of times in the Bible, not a handful like homosexuality.

We know the Bible was used to justify the enslavement of Africans and the conquering of indigenous peoples to save them from their "savage" natures. It has been manipulated throughout history, and continues to be...

But a recent conversation with a student taught me the extent that some (not all) of certain religious convictions will go to defend their homophobia (which I am convinced is really a mask for masculinity issues). When I posed this question to my class: which would you prefer: 1) a child grow up loved in a nurturing and safe home with gay parents or 2) a child grow up abused in a violent and unsafe home with heterosexual parents, most students chose the first option, despite their religious convictions...but one student chose the second choice, feeling that it was better for the child to be abused than having loving parents that were gay.

Many in the class were shocked. I was too and I do not shock easily. But what did this really mean? What scared him so much about other people's sexuality that his faith in his own salvation did not transcend that fear?

I don't think it was about his faith or any honest belief that homosexuality would destroy the world. I think it was his own fears, burdens and pain. Alive...but not able to truly live...being here in the world...but feeling gone.

Around the boys I play my part rough
Keep myself tough enough
Never to cry
Never to die

How did I get so far gone
Where do I belong
And where in the world did I ever go wrong
If I took the time to replace
What my mind erased
I still feel as if I'm here but I'm gone

Lauryn Hill and Curtis Mayfield - Here But I'm Gone

If we as a people do not reconcile with these burdens, they will continue to destroy us. We hide behind a number of masks: addictions, scapegoats, bravado, and hate. In hip hop, youth culture finds its voice. Hip hop has the power to be a voice that heals our youth or continues to foster hurts. The choice is ours. But we first have to begin the dialogue. Here are two videos an emcee named Melange Lavonne offers to do just that:

Gay Bash By Mélange Lavonne

I've Got You By Mélange Lavonne

Man Up Hip's time to heal and embrace the man in huMANity. Peace.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Memphis Crossroads...A Spiritual Journey

This was my first trip to Memphis. Because of my background in African American studies I know the place Memphis holds in our history... Memphis blues, Stax records, the sanitation worker's strike that would bring Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis and his last day, even the burden that many in Memphis had to reconcile with because of that fateful day.

I was actually officially in Memphis for the 10th annual
White Privilege Conference, which in itself is part of the journey. That a Black man had to start the WPC is ironic but also not surprising. On the one hand, the WPC creates space for understanding, accountability, and healing. But it also is a measure of how far we still need to go, with as many indicators that privilege permeates our society even at a conference that is supposed to be addressing it head on. But at least the journey has begun.

Most importantly, this past weekend marked the 41st year since MLK Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel. The National Civil Rights Museum now marks the spot. I visited the museum on the anniversary. I left my rental car and walked toward the front of the Lorraine...and then it hit me...a feeling that stopped me in my tracks. I didn't see it coming, and still can barely describe the sense that came over me. But it was powerful...and spiritual...and heavy...and in that moment I felt maybe a hint of what Memphis had been living with for 41 years...the weight of history and...a dream deferred.

I felt the Memphis blues. And like the blues, there are regrets but reckless abandonment. There is pain but lots and lots of love...and love making. There is the weight of what could have been, but the freedom that comes with living in the moment. It is the crossroads of life, somewhere between Beale and Mulberry...between Martin Luther King's service and sacrifice, and B.B. King's humanity expressed through music. The crossroads is where both meet.

I did attend some conference activities, including keynote speeches by Juan Battle and Tim Wise. Battle talked about service and sacrifice...Wise discussed how white privilege and denial did not deny racism, but denies their own humanity instead (whites). The messages from both keynotes taken together, service and sacrifice with humanity as our foundation is a good take away message from this weekend to continue working for social justice and human rights.

I planned to return to the Lorraine for a candlelight vigil at 5pm. I did return but not in time for the vigil, which became a blessing in disguise for two reasons. When we arrived slightly later, it was closer to the exact time of day (6ish) that MLK Jr. was shot and declared dead. We met a couple men that had arrived to be there at the exact time of day. One was Andrew Withers, son of Ernest Withers, one of the most important photo journalist of the Civil Rights Movement and a Memphis icon in history.


Meeting Mr. Withers was a blessing. In 2009, it is good to know that people will take time to talk and connect. We were able to spend time with him and get his first hand knowledge of that day in history. But it was not all about the visitors, we did not know the city well and he and his friend Mike welcomed us warmly. They gave us an escort to a place to get a great meal...and it was great. While we followed his car, he would stop from time to time in the middle of the street to give us some information about places we passed. He took his time to help us on a day that must have meant so much to him personally, having marched with MLK Jr. and lost his father less than two years ago. But he helped us in that selfless manner that has come to define the beautiful side of the South. He provided not only a connection to our past, but a shining example of the power of our own humanity and a renewal of hope for the future.

The other reason I was late for the vigil was because I was at the conference watching youth perform. I know generation next will
Rise Up and be the change we need. Their spirit embodies the power of hope and humanity. MLK Jr. was only 26 when he took the baton. The race is not over, but the baton is now ours...and while we have to first navigate the crossroad, we as a people will get to the promise land.

Thank you Dr. King. Thank you Memphis.

Mr. Andrew Withers