Law and Disorder in Philadelphia

African American, African American, Culture, Education, Films, History, Politics

Law and Disorder in Philadelphia

This BBC series examines  the state of the street violence and  the drug trade in Philadelphia. For me, this piece is important because I work with young men mainly from Philadelphia already knee deep in the juvenile justice system. I want to warn you that the journalist, Louis Theroux, is more of a comedian and sensationalist than a sincere journalist. However, I do think that some valuable discussions take place in this documentary including: the exploitation of the youth by higher level drug dealers, police brutality, the role of drug dealers as community figureheads, the impact of the drug trade in these neighborhoods, the lack of cooperation and understanding between police and citizens and the issue of ‘No Snitchin.” Philadelphia is one of America’s incredible cities with incredible people but it also has some significant problems that need to be addressed more effectively. What do you think can be done to make a difference? As always, watch, enjoy, learn, comment and share.

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Europe’s African and Islamic History

Africa, African, Culture, Education, Europe, European, Films, History

Europe’s African and Islamic History

Many African Americans grow up in the United States and other countries throughout the African Diaspora lacking much knowledge about the history of Africa and the great contributions African people have made to civilization and Western civilization especially.

It seems as if we are taught that Africans were brought to the New World from a Dark Continent that was devoid of the light of knowledge, advanced culture and civilization. We are made to believe that illiteracy and primitiveness are essentially African concepts.

The following well produced and credible documentaries serve to debunk these myths and begin to shed light on the impact that  the African and Islamic civilizations of West and North Africa had on Europe. This influence was most pronounced in Islamic Spain or Al-Andalusia, which lasted for a period of over 700 years until 1492. Al-Andalusia  as the following films document, brought advanced sciences and knowledge to Europe via Spain that changed the course of European and world history .

Learning about the influence Africa and the Islamic world had on Europe and the European Renaissance, should create a sense of pride and appreciation among people of African descent or Islamic faith, while also teaching us about the importance of tolerance and mutuality. I hope that these films will enhance your understanding of the history of Europe and highlight that the proliferation of knowledge, civilization and culture was never a one way street leading out of Europe.

These films in light of the current clamorings in Europe against the rising immigrant populations, mainly from African and Islamic nations, will hopefully serve to instruct people on how much can be accomplished when we respect diversity and bring the best of our cultures to bear for the common good of man.

Skin – Based on a True Story

Africa, African, Culture, Films, History, Race, Uncategorized

Skin

I recently watch the film Skin (2008), directed by Anthony Fabian and staring Sophie Okonedo. Ebert called this “One of the best films of the year. Sophie Okonedo is Magnificent.” This film is an incredibly powerful story of love, hatred, selfishness, forgiveness, humanity, oppression and triumph. It won 19 international film festival awards! I was moved by this film and I trust that you will be too. You can find the DVD offered on Netflix for those with accounts! You won’t be disappointed! Watch the trailer for the film Skin below.

Somalia Nevermind

Culture, Education, History, Politics, Relief, Uncategorized

Somalia Nevermind by Amir Sulaiman

Click Here and Donate to the Crisis in Somalia - UNICEF

There is a food shortage and drought crisis facing the people of Somalia and the Horn of Africa. This is an extremely difficult time for Somalia right now and it is time to stop saying, “Somalia Nevermind.” If you want to make a difference please click the photo of the baby, which will take you the UNICEF page (they do accept dollars too). Above you fill find the incredible and heart wrenching poem Somalia Nevermind by Amir Sulaiman. Below you will find a YouTube video discussing the drastic need for aid to Somalia. Please let’s do something to make a difference in Somalia, share this on Facebook, Tweet it to your followers, or just donate. Thank You!

Does Hip Hop Corrupt Our Youth?

African American, Culture, History, Music & Hip-Hop, Race, Race, Uncategorized

Does???

Does Hip-Hop Corrupt Our Youth?

I ask this question because i want to know what you all think about hip-hop and its affect on young people especially young African Americans and Latinos…

In my opinion Hip-Hop is the dominant youth culture or the dominant form of cultural expression for most young African Americans and Latinos in the Unites States. Hip Hop in itself is fine as a form of expression, the problem here is whether hip-hop brings constructive, positive, and progrssive ideas to our youth?…Then that question must also be linked to who controls what expressions of hip-hop will be marketed to the masses as authentic hip-hop? Are those who have that power from the Hip-Hop community and are they working in the best interest of the Hip-Hop community?

With these questions in mind it is not suprising that the key images of young African American and Latino brothers and sisters in Hip-Hop and the media in general are usually cast in a criminal, promiscuous, immoral, inarticulate, uneducated, hyper-athletic, hyper-sexual and steretypical manner.

I hope this discussion can generate constructive self reflective dialogue that can help formulate ways to improve the lives of our youth….

The 1990s Era of Hip Hop and Me

African American, African American, Culture, History, Music & Hip-Hop, Uncategorized

The 1990s Era of Hip Hop and Me

I was fortunate enough to come of age during the 1990s when Hip-Hop was taking a firm hold of urban culture throughout our nation. There was Eric B and Rakim, Run DMC, Heavy D, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Queen Latifa, Das FX, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Kriss Kross, MC Lyte, Positive K, Naughty By Nature, Yo-Yo and scores of other groups featured on TV Shows like BET’s Rap City and MTV’s Yo! MTV Raps. This was the cultural world and energy I experienced each and every day that I left the confines of my home. My parents were older and were deeply into Jazz, RnB, Blues and of course Michael Jackson, which was probably the closest thing to Hip-Hop for me during my early childhood. There was clearly a disconnect between what my parents were listening to and what would eventually take the neighborhood and the world by storm.

This generational gap continued to widen as the nineties commenced. There was a new flavor of Hip-Hop emerging that not only scared my parents and elders but actually scared me as well. I remember being nine years old and having one of my teenage afterschool counselors play a track off of one of N.W.A or Eazy-E’s albums. All I know was that I heard Eazy-E’s unmistakably high pitched  voice ordering a restaurant full of people to hit the floor, while he proceeded to rob the place. At that exact moment I remember experiencing a feeling of tremendous excitement that include adrenaline running through me but this feeling was followed by feelings of shame and guilt. I almost felt as if I had just witnessed the fictional but dramatically realistic robbery with Eazy-E. I remember the ease at which he threw around the F-word and other curse words as if no one cared or was listening. It was lawless and extremely violent and deserved the “parental advisory” sticker that was placed on its cassette jacket. I also think at this particular moment, Hip-Hop lost some of its innocence for me. It was no longer something I viewed as completely benign and cool but it became something with a dark side and that dark side scared me. Little did I know then how much of a turn Hip-Hop would take towards the dark side.

As I finished Elementary School, Hip-Hop was officially our thing. The ‘Fab Five’ of the University of Michigan had made it to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship two years in a row. They wore the iconic baggy golden or navy blue shorts and had attitudes to match. Tupac Shakur’s Keep Your Head Up was a street anthem. Nas had hit the scene with If I Ruled the World (Imagine That). The intergenerational conflict over Hip-Hop hit the front pages of newspapers and it also was a top story on the nightly news. I remember watching C. Delores Tucker and other leaders condemn the lyrics, imagery and music of Snoop Dogg, Too Live Crew and Tupac Shakur. It was an all out war over the viability of Hip-Hop. All of us young people were unequivocal in our support of Hip-Hop. Why not support it? It was talking to and about us. The young people were tired of the Civil Rights era elders who seemed to be attacking our culture and who were at the same time ineffective at tackling the problem of police brutality and racial profiling that had reached a boiling point with the Rodney King Case and the Los Angeles Riots of 1992. By this time, I had become accustomed to hearing the arguments for and against the raw and explicit lyrics in the rap. Whenever I got the chance I would try to listen to some of the contemptuous artists of the day. Of course, my parents tried their hardest to censor the music I heard and it worked, while I was home. In the house, I would have to listen to Shaquille O’Neal’s album Shaq Diesel or one of Kris Kross’ albums, which I actually found genuinely enjoyable. Nonetheless, I looked forward to going to school and hearing the latest, hardest and most ostracized sounds from my boys, whose parents either did not know, did not care or were listening to the same music. Despite the presence of this controversial element in Hip-Hop during this time, there was still a great deal of light and love. The films Malcolm X and Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee had come out and Public Enemy was on the scene with Black Power insignias, black barrettes and the Fruit of Islam stepping in unison on stage. I vividly remember the impact the film, Malcolm X had on the city of Boston. It felt as if everyone from the babies in their strollers, their mothers to the winos on the corners had some “X” paraphernalia on. It could have been a hat, t-shirt, sneakers, key chain or gold necklace but people were representing a certain consciousness about what was going on in society and I could feel the power of the people. The darkness of hip-hop had cleared away and was but a distant memory.

Entering middle school, I was thrown into an environment with older kids, who were so much bigger and tougher than I had imagined them to be. There were no “X” hats or t-shirts to be found. I can vividly remember as a sixth grader, a fight between two sixth grade students and the remarkable thing about it was not the fight at all. I had seen plenty and had my fair share. What struck me about this fight was that one of the combatants was wearing an extraordinary gold chain that consisted of hollow golden links shaped into tiny crosses only to support a much larger and more pronounced golden cross pendant. Class was dismissed and the two young men began cursing and fighting and then this remarkable piece of jewelry exploded like a fourth of July firework with tiny shimmering pieces of gold floating in the air, announcing a new era in Hip-Hop; the era of what Chuck D calls, black animosity. These two sixth graders went at each other with everything they had, as members of the crowd kneeled down to pick up these fragments of gold spread across the school’s dusty hallway. I remember kneeling down and picking up a handful of these golden crosses. I stared at them and wondered, “how did this kid my age afford this chain?…What could I get for these pieces?…what does his family think about this chain?” While in the middle of my thoughts, he appeared before me still panting from the fisticuffs. He still had adrenaline flowing through him because he was trying to pick up these tiny crosses but his hands were shaking too much and he struggles to find his equilibrium and his damaged necklace. I generously extended my hand to him, passing him about five of these flattened and crushed little fragile crosses. He took them nodded agreeably as if to thank me and he went about his business, probably headed to the principal’s office or out of the school. The good old days of decency were over; the dark clouds were back and this time they were here to stay.

It was during middle school around 1996 that I was thoroughly introduced to the darker side of Hip-Hop music. I was turned onto Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s Thuggish Roughish Bone and Mr. Ouija. I remember the macabre intros and preludes on the E. 1999 Eternal album as I hid in my room at night, listening to this music that I knew my parents would not approve of. I still remember the lyrics, “more money, more money, more murda…now.” The rhythmic and harmonious flows of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony were choral and yet paradoxically demonic. It was the demonic side of the music that both intrigued and frightened me. Ironically, I was entering the phase of adolescence where young men deny their fears and assert their masculine identities in more forceful ways. I forced myself to enjoy these feelings as I graduated from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony to the Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die.

The introduction to the Ready to Die album was incredibly powerful, chilling and unforgettable to an impressionable and curious 13 year old mind. It was as if a motion picture was being displayed in the depths of my cerebral cortex, with a vividness High Definition has yet to capture. I remember feeling the same uneasiness and mixed feelings I had from hearing Eazy-E’s skit years prior. Nonetheless, it was time from me to hear these voices from the street that were supposed to be speaking for and to me. So…I listened…and listened…and listened. The lyrics began to make more sense to me as I tried to understand the changing times in the Unites States. I was realizing that the world was a tough place, where the fierce were respected, feared and dominant. The New York Knicks represented this on the basketball court, while Johnnie Cochran, the lead of the O.J. Simpson defense team represented this in the court of law. It seemed as if Hip-Hop culture was fighting back. The days of apologetics and political rallies were over. It was an era of black animosity, animosity towards society, the police and each other. This animosity manifested itself in a feud between the Notorious B.I.G and Tupac Shakur. This feud sparked a bicoastal war of words that seemed to further validate the need for young people to be fierce and aggressive. The music represented this as the artists and groups that captured our attention shifted towards those telling stories of the dark side. Gone were the likes of Kris Kross, Heavy D, Run DMC, Queen Latifa and even Naughty by Nature. In their place rose artists and groups like, the Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Nas, Master P, Capone-N-Noreaga, Jay-Z, UGK, Big Pun, D.M.X and others. This movement of Hip-Hop music and culture towards a more aggressive, criminality laced and hardcore style of music tragically served as the backdrop for the deaths of Hip-Hop’s two most influential stars, Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., who were murdered in 1996 and 1997 respectively. This was once again one of the emotional moments when Hip-Hop’s darker side was all too real and I wondered if things were ever going to change.

It was these interactions with Hip-Hop that allowed me to begin to recognize that although the era of yesteryear was gone, the roots of Hip-Hop were still alive in the music if I listened hard enough. I found that there was a balance between the dark side and the light of love in Hip-Hop and that I had to find a balance that spoke to me and my soul. I found the light of love in the music of Lauryn Hill, Dead Prez, Mos Def, The Roots, Talib Kweli but now I had the maturity and understanding to begin extracting life lessons and experiences from the dark side as well. I realized that the harder side of Hip-Hop, although dangerous and controversial, was just as insightful as the overtly positive side. I had finally found a balance, a yin and yang that would continue to guide me through the 2000s allowing me to never get too deep into the conscious stream but likewise never too deep into the streets or too commercial.

Hip-Hop music and culture has definitely played fundamental role in shaping and informing my experiences. It has served to uplift me, fight for my rights, encourage me and educate me but it has also served to scare me, warn me and inform me about the pitfalls and character flaws of men and women. I am thankful for both the divine and demonic elements of Hip-Hop, which have informed me about the duality of existence, the hypocrisy of man and the power of our ability to define ourselves through our own words.

Bring Your A Game – Documentary

African American, African American, Culture, Education, Films, History, Race, Race, Uncategorized


Bring Your A Game

Bring Your A Game, released in 2009 and directed by Mario Van Peebles, is a motivational documentary about the realities facing America’s inner city youth. The great thing about this documentary is not that it features the likes of, Geoffrey Canada, Lupe Fiasco, Ice Cube, Sean Combs and others, but that it provides constructive solutions to the problems facing America’s inner city youth. The solution is bringing your A game through education. If you work with young people, or are a young person yourself, take twenty minutes to watch this film and be inspired.

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AfroLatinos Coming in 2012 !!!

African American, African American, Brazil, Brazil, Culture, Films, History, Latin America, Latin America, Race, Race

AfroLatinos

AfroLatinos is a stunning new documentary coming to viewers in 2012. This film is going to highlight the presence, history, experience, cultural impact and problems facing AfroLatinos. Many people from the United States and the other places, including myself, never realized that so many Africans were brought to Latin America during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade era. I find it remarkable that we in the United States have known so very little of our African relatives in Latin America. 

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Brazil – Discovering My Other Southern Roots

African American, African American, Brazil, Brazil, Culture, History, Race, Race

Brazil – Discovering My Other Southern Roots

Candomblé

I have a distinct passion for learning and documenting the history, implications and lessons of contact and interaction between Afro-Brazilians and African Americans. Growing up in America it is often times perceived that African Americans are the quintessential African community outside of Africa. As a matter of fact, this is the case in terms of economic, political and social status, with African Americans enjoying a special place of prominence within the African Diaspora. This interest was sparked as I matriculated through my undergraduate degree in African American Studies at Morehouse College, where I was stunned to discover that 38% of those enslaved in the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade were exported to Brazil[1]. I took a trip to visit Brazil, in 2004, as a member of a student delegation from Morehouse College and other Atlanta University Center schools to the first Afro-Brazilian University of its kind, Universidade Zumbi Dos Palmares, to highlight the meaning, implication, and importance of the largest African-American population, Afro Brasileiros[2]. Traveling to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil, I was in awe of the numerous shades, faces and infusion of Afro-Brazilian culture within the larger Brazilian society. I was also tremendously shocked that I had been ignorant of this for so long, since I considered myself a student of Africa, African-Americans and the African Diaspora.

In the Brazilian cuisine, Candomblé, Samba, Umbanda, Brazilian Hip-Hop and other cultural expressions, I heard another African-American story. A story not widely disseminated here in the United States among African Americans. This led me to wonder, why? Was I alone in my ignorance? Was there a history of interaction and support and between these two societies of Africans in the Americas? I began to read books like, Brazil: 500 Years of Change by Thomas Skidmore, which floored me when it referred to Brazil as home to the largest population of people of African descent outside of Nigeria[3]. I remembered that Pelé, the soccer great, was Afro Brazilian. Then I remembered the film, Only the Strong starring Jean Claude Van Dame, who played a character who learned Capoeira from an Afro Brazilian Mestre. I realized that there were pieces to the puzzle all around but no one had put them together in a clear and concise manner for my generation. Many of us undergraduate students and our elders as well, looked to the Caribbean, Africa, and the American South to connect with our African “roots.” Never had it dawned on me to look to South America to learn more about the African experience.

As I met more Brazilians and self identified Afro-Brazilians, I would ask them about their struggles against racism and oppression that resulted from the legacy of slavery in Brazil. Time and time again, I was told that Afro-Brazilians looked towards the African-Americans in the United States for inspiration, both culturally and politically. Mala Hutn confirms that, “Brazilian activists were also influenced by non-white Third World nationalist movements and the U.S. civil rights movement.”[4]  There was clearly a great respect for Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., R & B music, Soul music, and Hip-Hop. Despite the admiration for African Americans’ historical movements, figures and cultural manifestations, I found out that in Brazil, “race-based collective action has been relatively rare, but not absent entirely.”[5] It appeared that Afro-Brazilians were entering their own civil rights era, which further sparked my interest, curiosity and desire to get involved.

As our student delegation visited universities and met with Afro Brazilian student delegations, it became clear that the historical inequalities that resulted from slavery in the United States were alive and well in Brazil and markedly pronounced[6]. I wondered as to why Afro-Brazilians were so seemingly far removed from the political, social, and economic advantages and visibility in these arenas that resulted from the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. As Mala Hutn explains, there is an Afro-Brazilian “absence among political, business, and media elites, and cultural practices known to all such as the use of terms like boa aparência to exclude dark-skinned people from employment.”[7]

There were vibrant Afro-Brazilian movements for the establishment of affirmative action in the state university systems of Brazil. The Brazilians involved in these movements expressed that their movements looked to the accomplishment of African-American in the United States with affirmative action as proof that affirmative action policies were a benefit to society. Ironically, these conversations were taking place at the same time that affirmative action policies and quotas were being repealed stateside, which served as fuel for those in Brazil opposed to the establishment of affirmative action policies in Brazil. The passionate Afro-Brazilian voices explained that Brazil is now experiencing the start of its “Afro-Brazilian Civil Rights Movement.” This excited and saddened me simultaneously. On the one hand, I was excited that the struggle to tackle the problems associated with disproportionate socioeconomic circumstances of the Afro-Brazilian community and the legacy of slavery were being addressed on larger scale. On the other hand, I was saddened that these issues were only recently being brought to the attention of the masses in Brazil. There was also a strong push back against these passionate Afro-Brazilian voices by those in who believed that Brazil’s “social democracy” did not need measures used by African-Americans in North America, down in South America. As Mala Hutn highlights opposition movement in Brazil speak of, “fears that quotas are a policy based on U.S. race relations and history and will consequently introduce false racial divisions to Brazil and end up generating greater injustice (Pinto de Góes 2001).”[8] The eroding policies of affirmative action in the United States juxtaposed to the nascent affirmative action movement in Brazil highlighted that there was still fertile grounds where social change was necessary and vulnerable.

In general the African-American community has largely conceded that affirmative action is waning in political feasibility, despite continued many who continue to advocate for it. Many arguments have been made that affirmative action in the United States has served its purpose and is no longer necessary, as minorities have entered the higher realms of society in education, politics, business and the media. America is moving away from the “one-drop rule” with many people who previously would have exclusively considered themselves as black or African-American, opting to identify themselves by their many ancestries. In Brazil an opposite trend is developing. As Hutn notes, “at the same time that the United States seems to be moving away from its historic “one-drop” policy and toward a recognition of mixity, evinced by the ability of residents to identify with multiple racial categories in the 2000 census, Brazilian quota advocates seem to be pushing Brazil in the direction of greater fixity in identities.”[9]

Ironically, as a minority student in high school, I was witness to one of America’s largest debates about affirmative action and quotas in particular, the case of racial quotas at Boston Latin School. This case was filed by the parents of Julia McLaughlin, who was denied admission to Boston Latin School despite scoring higher than dozens of minority students on the schools entrance exam. This case reverberated around the nation, Boston and the lives of students, minorities and non-minorities alike.  The federal appeals court decided to rule in the favor of admitting this young student, despite the city of Boston’s policy of racial quotas at the prestigious Boston Latin School.

It is my desire to further study and analyze the linkages, struggles and approaches of Afro Brazilian experience and the African American experience. It is my belief that there much benefit in this discourse for all parties privy to it. I look forward to making major contributions to the struggles for improvement of African descendants in both Brazil and the United States. The writing above is only the beginning of my scholarly work.


[1] Stephen D. Behrendt, David Richardson, and David Eltis, W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American ResearchHarvard University. Based on “records for 27,233 voyages that set out to obtain slaves for the Americas”. Stephen Behrendt (1999). “Transatlantic Slave Trade”. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. New York: Basic Civitas Books. ISBN 0-465-00071-1.

[2] Skidmore, Thomas. Brazil. Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1999.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Htun, Mala. “From “Racial Democracy” to Affirmative Action: Changing State Policy on Race in Brazil.” Latin American Research Review. 39.1 (2004): 60-89. Print.

[5] Htun, Mala. “From “Racial Democracy” to Affirmative Action: Changing State Policy on Race in Brazil.” Latin American Research Review. 39.1 (2004): 60-89. Print.

[6] “African descendants make up 33.7 million of 53 million poor Brazilians. Of 22 million indigents, African descendants are 15.1 million. Among the 76 million African descendant Brazilians, 48.8 million of them live in subhuman conditions of poverty and indigence” Beato, Lucila. “Inequality and Human Rights of African Descendants in Brazil.” Journal of Black Studies. 34.6 (2004): 766-786. Print.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid.