This week I watched the new documentary film, “” by Eugene Jarecki, that highlights the impact that the War on Drugs has had on economically marginalized communities. Although I was thoroughly impressed with the film, it is not the only documentary out there that has dealt with this issue. The documentary “Planet Rock: The Story of Hip Hop and The Crack Generation” by Ice-T is another powerful film that has also examined this topic.
The New Jim Crow, a term coined by legal scholar Michelle Alexander, describes the oppressive segregation that has resulted from the war on drugs, mandatory minimum sentences and the continued criminalization of African-American communities. This film features Hip Hop legends such as Chuck D, Rakim, Raekwon, RZA, Pepa, Snoop Lion (aka Snoop Dogg), Too Short, B-Real and others. A number of leading scholars contribute to the film such as, Michelle Alexander, Todd Boyd, Paul Butler, Nelson George and more. There is also powerful commentary from two former drug dealers, “Freeway” Rick Ross and Azie Faison along with stories from individuals, who experienced crack cocaine addiction themselves. Planet Rock weaves all of these stories together through the lens of Hip Hop, the urban American phenomenon that emerged in the South Bronx in the 1970s.
The film highlights how Hip Hop has responded to the War on Drugs and the introduction of crack cocaine into our communities. The film discusses the Hip Hop community pre-crack cocaine, the influence of the film “Scarface“, the efforts of Hip Hop to combat crack addiction and economic realities that pushed many into the drug trade. This film definitely tells a sobering and nuanced story that will help us all realize the tremendous devastation that crack and the war on drugs have had on our community. We need to continue to raise awareness and encourage action to combat the New Jim Crow, the most pressing civil rights issue in our nation today. Let’s share, comment, connect and keep building!
Proper Education Always Corrects Errors
Tonight I had the fortune of watching a documentary about one of, if not the most, significant issue facing our society here in this “Land of the Free”. The title of the documentary I am referring to is “The House I Live In” by Eugene Jarecki which based solely upon the cast and executive producers makes it a most see for every citizen of this nation and any concerned world citizen. The films executive producers are Danny Glover, John Legend and Russel Simmons, none of whom are featured in the film. The documentary includes candid contributions by many people most notably, Michelle Alexander, William Julius Wilson, Charles Ogletree, and David Simon to name a few. The film also covers the story of many people within the periphery of our society, individuals actively involved in the drug trade, those who have been victimized by the War on Drugs and mass incarceration and those fighting against the War on Drugs, many of whom are behind the shield, gavel or prison walls and know first hand the cruel and unjust human cost that this war is inflicting upon the masses from historically oppressed communities.
It needs not be a secret or an obscure reality that the War on Drugs, most recognizably instituted and enacted by the Nixon and Reagan administrations, has resulted in both a de facto (matter of fact) and a de jure (law based) system of racial and class oppression that is destroying the fabric of urban and rural America.
This film outlines the political, social/cultural, racist, classist and economic histories of the War on Drugs in great detail, providing viewers with a deeper understanding of the realities on the ground in our society. This film sheds light on why we as a society are so blindly complicit with millions of humans being systematically oppressed by the legal machinery that has effectively instituted a New Jim Crow in this third the beginning of the millennium of the Common Era.
For all lovers of justice, humanity, peace and good conscious, this is a must see film. The scholars in this film are top notch and the narratives of those beyond the margins and enforcing the margins are tremendously honest and shockingly vivid. If after watching this film, you are not better informed and motivated to take action no matter how seemingly infinitesimal, than you are existing a life on the wrong side of truth and history.
I am encouraging everyone to see this film, disseminate its message and take interest and action to rectify this inexcusable and intolerable injustice. Lastly, I would ask that you move forward in life with a greater sense of purpose and passion for ending mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders and the criminalization of economically disadvantaged communities. As one of the documentary’s contributors eloquently stated, “you don’t treat pneumonia by treating the cough,” but you treat the actual inflammation of the lungs, which is causing the coughing. I have also heard it explained that throwing police and prison at the drug problem in the United States is akin to throwing ambulances at cancer. This is in effect what has been going on in the United States since the 1970s and the resulting crisis in African American, Latino and rural communities has been no less problematic than cancer and arguably worse. The solutions to the United States’ drug problem do not lie in the criminal justice system as we currently know it but rather lies in abolishing and amending current legal codes related to the sale of narcotics. The cure also lies in truly recognizing the humanity of marginalized communities and individuals by creating dynamic educational programs that empower members of these communities to know the historical narratives at play in their lives and realities and provide them with tangible access to livable and gainful employment. I do not have all of the answers but I am willing to think on possible solutions, share my ideas, dialogue and connect with others committed to this “the most pressing civil rights issues” of our time.
Below is a trailer for the film and a link to its website that has information about where the film is begin shown. I want to thank the creators and cast members of this film for there service and for raising awareness regarding the War on Drugs and mass incarceration. I am a fan of the Maya Angelou quote that, “when you know better, you do better.” I trust that this film will result in us all collectively DOING better.
Proper Education Always Corrects Errors
Article Written by Christopher Emdin
The first day I heard about the mass shooting of Sikh worshippers in Wisconsin I was moved to write a piece detailing the range of emotions I felt as the details of the shooting emerged. As reports described the religious background of the worshippers, the history of the gunman and the callous way that innocent lives were taken, I felt as though the event would raise the ire of the public. I thought the shooting would invoke an awareness of the connections between this event and others across the country where lives have been lost for no justifiable reason.
However, it’s been over two weeks since the Sikh shooting in Wisconsin and the coverage of the story has quickly vanished from the general media rotation and the event seems to have been erased from our national consciousness. While many sympathize with the victims and their families, they justify their lack of emotion with the idea that the shooting was merely the act of a lone crazed gunman. Unfortunately, this general perception is flawed.
We live in a nation that prides itself on being inclusive to all. However, at the same time, we tout slogans and belief systems about the “American way” and “American dream” that is anything but inclusive. Our history tells us that people from across the globe who come to the United States have changed their names, are forced to lose their accents, others deny where they’re from, some change the way they dress. For many, this process has been a formula for success; America has been inclusive to them because they have chosen to conform.
Images Courtesy of TurbanInc – Get Your Turban On
On Friday, August 17th of 2012, as I watched my Twitter timeline, my eyes were drawn to a tweet by Bakari Kitwana (@therealbakari) that read, “we spend 2 much time in mainstream national discourse letting racists define what racism is. those who know, call it what it is #noapologies.” Mr. Kitwana prefaced and followed this tweet up with a number of links to a recent MSNBC political discussion regarding controversial comments made by Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Mr. Romney’s comments and the ensuing discussion can be viewed here.
MSNBC contributor, Touré, of post racialism fame, and co-host S.E. Cull, engaged in a brief, heated and racially charged debate. Mitt Romney’s comments that were called into question are as follows, “This is what an angry and desperate presidency looks like…Mr. President take your campaign and division and anger and hate back to Chicago…”
MSNBC co-host, Krystal Ball then stated that these comments “seem loaded” and she elicited feedback from the panelists. Touré then provided his assessment of Mr. Romney’s political rhetoric; “That really bothered me. You notice he said anger twice. He’s really trying to use racial coding and access some really deep stereotypes about the angry black man. This is part of the playbook against Obama, the ‘otherization,’ he’s not like us. I know it’s a heavy thing, I don’t say it lightly, but this is ‘niggerization.’ You are not one of us and that you are like the scary black man we’ve been trained to fear.” Touré went on to explain how the use of the descriptor, angry in reference to the President was antithetical to “No Drama Obama’s” political methodology, training and philosophy.
Co-host S.E. Cupp took offense to Touré’s assertion that Romney’s statements were a veiled attempt to niggerize President Obama. In making her point, Ms. Cupp alluded to Vice President Biden’s recent “Back in Chains” comment, which Touré called “divisive.” She continued by posing questions regarding a double standard, “…because he [Romney] used the word ‘angry,’ now his is the racially charged comment. Do you see how dishonest that is?” Touré clarified that he did not call anyone racist while S.E. Cupp continued to assert, “Certainly you were implying that Mitt Romney and the base will respond to this dog-whistle, racially-charged coding, and hate Obama, the angry black man?” She completed her assault of Touré’s assessment stating matter-of-factly, “that is so irresponsible Touré.” At this point Touré begins to lay out some historical allusions as to how the GOP (the Grand Old Party a.k.a. the Republicans) used racial coding going back “perhaps as far as Nixon.”
I want to end the synopsis about the discussion here, and add that racially coded language is a cornerstone of American politics, history, culture, life and reality. Furthermore racially coded language does more than date back, “perhaps as far as Nixon.” Racially coded language has been in play on both sides of the popular political discourse in these “United” States for as long as her creation, and that may in fact be what truly unites us.
Africa: States of Independence – The Scramble for Africa
Africa has so much meaning for humanity and particularly for African descendants spread throguhout every corner of our globe. Africa though, is a complex continent for many to comprehend, with a complicated history, burdened by mis characterization, prejudice and exploitation.
In 2003, I was fortunate enough to travel to Africa as a student learning about Human Rights. It was a journey that had many meanings for me. On one hand it meant reconnecting with the land and the people on the continent where my father’s descendants lived. It also meant being actively connected with young people struggling for progress in their respective nations in the spirit of Pan Africanism. Lastly, it meant an incredible summer as a 20 year old fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel abroad for the first time.
I remember watching a scene in the movie, Belly, where Nas’ character, Sincere, announces to his friends that “I’m going to Africa!” In this scene he explains how he is getting his life together, moving away from his past lifestlye and reconnecting with his roots and his motherland.
Personally, I have always felt this type of affinity and connection with Africa. I am sure that being raised by a Pan-Africanist father has a little something to do with that. Anyway, Africa is a complicated continent and it is important that people of the African Diaspora in particular become knowledgeable about Africa’s history ancient and more importantly the history colonization and decolonization. This documentary published by Al-Jazerra English effectively provides a snapshot of Africa’s experience with colonization and its sturggle for decolonization.
The film highlights the glorious period of the fall of colonization, the subsequent failed governments, the coups and the modern struggle with the exploitation of neocolonialism. If you are interested in learning more about the current state of Africa, I would suggest that you begin by learning which countries were colonized by which European nations. Then I would begin meeting different people from the continent and discussing some of their history with them. When did your country get Independence (be careful though Ethiopia was never colonized)? Who are your famous leaders? What are some of the major ethnic groups in your nation? What is the name of your capital city?
Many times growing up in the inner-city environments we are surrounded by people who have recently immigrated from Africa. Often times its the classmate, the sister braiding hair or the brother driving a cab that can help us learn more about Africa. We just need to take the initiative and ask. I am sure that if we can work to avoid judging, keep an open mind and sincerely try to learn, our questions will be appreciated and our knowledge will increase. It is my hope that you are or will be inspired by Africa, the great continent, the cradle of humanity, the wounded land, the hopeful l. Hope you enjoy, share and comment.
- Are African-American Investors Missing the Boat On the New Global Scramble for Africa (globalfusionproductions.com)
- Presidents of Africa (africasacountry.com)
Lupe Fiasco on AJStream – Speaks on Occupy
Lupe Fiasco was recently on The Stream, which is a daily television show and web community created by Al Jazeera English. In this episode, Lupe Fiasco shares his thoughts on the Occupy movement. For those who didn’t know, Lupe Fiasco is not only an incredibly talented Hip Hop artist, he is one of the United States’ most outspoken celebrity activists. Amazingly, Lupe Fiasco is proving to the music industry and other artists that your art can have strong political and social overtones and still be commercially viable. As the Occupy movements continue to galvanize support around the nation and the globe, it is important that we pay attention to Lupe’s thoughts and insights on the movement. I hope you find this show informative and empowering.
- PSFK Attends Lupe Fiasco’s Hip Hop Panel In Brooklyn [Pics] (psfk.com)
- Lupe Fiasco Handcuffed At LAX Airport (thenewx1023.radio.com)
How Obama Heralded the Arab Spring
With the impending 2012 Presidential Election coming into focus, it is of critical importance to consider one of President Barack Obama’s significant achievements, helping create a global political climate where organic democracy could arise throughout the Islamic World, in what everyone is calling the Arab Spring.
The Arab Spring is an ongoing movement throughout the Muslim and Arab world for democracy, good governance, dignity, human rights and an end to the authoritarian rule that has been commonplace in the region. Although the Arab Spring officially began in Tunisia on December 18, 2010 and subsequently spread to Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and other nations, the Arab Spring is intimately connected to that midnight on November 4,2008, when the people of the United States declared their selection of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. The election of Barack Hussein Obama, whose name can be literally translated in Arabic as “Good Blessing Obama” not only embodied change on the national landscape but also on the international scene.
Following the events of September 11, 2001, under the leadership of President George W. Bush, our nation further developed and cultivated a deep seated mistrust and suspicion about the people of the Arab world, their religion, Islam, and the threat ‘they’ posed to America’s safety. As a result, the United States initiated two foreign offensive military campaigns and infringed on domestic rights to privacy, widely referred to as the “War on Terror”. This “War on Terror,” no matter how well intentioned, had the effect of demonizing and dehumanizing over a billion Muslims and hundreds of millions of Arabs around the world, and millions here in the United States. President Bush’s aggressive bomb-first-ask questions-later approach to the “War on Terror” was supported when he was reelected in a highly-contested battle against the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, in 2004. With the reelection of Bush in 2004, it appeared that the American people supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and gave a green light to the global and domestic “War on Terror.” Bush’s reelection further validated the “War on Terror” and delved our world deeper into a climate of fear, cynicism and hostility.
The 2008 presidential campaign in many ways involved a choice over America’s foreign policy direction. Was America going to continue support a president who would aggressively push for the “War on Terror,” or was America going to elect a president who would seek peaceful coexistence with the world, without sacrificing our safety? Well, in early November of 2008, the American people loudly proclaimed an affirmative to the latter.
Almost instantly, the view of America changed around the world. Rhonda Habib, a Jordanian writer, was quoted by the L.A. Times on the impact of the 2008 election, “Obama can make you once again respect the U.S. for its values and democracy and all those things we had forgotten about over the last eight years.” Undoubtedly, a member of an ethnic minority rising to the position of president in arguably the most influential nation on earth, with a lengthy history of domestic racial and ethnic oppression, was truly historic on many fronts. I am certain that millions of people, particularly in the Middle East and the Arab World, outwardly celebrated or privately and cautiously expressed their repressed feelings of hope and optimism about what changes might result from Obama’s election. President Obama began immediately changing the dialogue around the “War on Terror,” he preferred to paint America’s enemies with a much finer paintbrush instead of a one-size-fits-all paint roller.
Once in office and less than a month after his inauguration President Obama began his outreach to the people of the Muslim World. First, Obama granted an interview to Al-Arabiya television; he then delivered a speech directed to the people of Iran. He gave a speech in Ankara, Turkey, and then in June of 2009 he orated an impressive and well received speech in Cairo, Egypt entitled, “A New Beginning.” The international world and the Norwegian Nobel Committee were the first to recognize President Obama’s contribution to the global political climate by awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 stating in a press release, “Obama as a President created a new climate in international politics.” Unfortunately, many at home and abroad challenged his worthiness of this honor. Nonetheless, a year and a half after President Obama’s “A New Beginning Speech”, on January 25th, 2011, Cairo, which had served as the backdrop to Obama’s speech, would command center stage, as the most populous and influential Arab country toppled their authoritarian and undemocratic government, officially confirming the Arab Spring.
The Arab Spring is clearly an organic revolutionary movement that is long-overdue and well-deserved for the millions of people who have suffered under the fallen, falling and soon to fall regimes. President Obama has not claimed and can in no way be made to appear, solely, responsible for the Arab Spring. This credit and acknowledgement must go to the thousands and millions of individuals who risked their lives to challenge their oppression and repression by their governments. That being said, President Obama does deserve a great deal of credit for taking many unpopular and politically risky stances towards the Muslim world even before the Arab Spring. Remember that many opponents of President Obama during the 2008 presidential election falsely and continuously accused him of being a Muslim, playing to the fears that he was going to be more sympathetic with the Muslim world and Middle East. President Obama, weathered those false characterizations of his faith and then did exactly what his opponents feared most, he began reaching out to a part of the world that our previous foreign policies had left feeling alienated, vilified and angry towards the United States.
President Obama was able to develop this inclusive and humanizing approach to the Muslim and Arab World because he himself was the son of a Kenyan, with generations of relatives who practiced Islam. He spent some of his childhood living in Indonesia, the most populous Islamic nation in the world, with his American mother and his Indonesian and Muslim step-father, Lolo Soetoro. These intimate connections between the Muslim world and himself allowed President Obama to see through the crusade like rhetoric against the Muslim and Arab world at a time when many in leadership in America were only adding fuel to the fire.
The indirect, if not direct, correlation between President Obama’s approach to foreign policy and the Arab Spring has conveniently been ignored by many political observers around the world on both the left and the right. The U.S. media has been so caught up in the political turmoil that is Washington D.C. and the economic crisis that they have failed to observe this monumental accomplishment of our 44th President.
Likewise, many international observers who for years have been waiting for meaningful and progressive U.S. involvement towards resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, have been unimpressed with Obama’s tactful and tempered leadership. Many in the Middle East, who are eager for a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, will undoubtedly say Obama has not done enough or taken a hard enough stance against Israel. This may be the case but President Obama has taken a huge step in the right direction by changing the discourse of America’s foreign policy towards the region. President Obama has shown himself to be the best equipped and most astute U.S president on foreign policy in recent memory and at a critical time for our world.
During President Obama’s historic “A New Beginning” speech in Cairo he addressed the previous approach to the Muslim World, explaining that:
“The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust…I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
President Obama went on to challenge the regimes of the region: :
There are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.”
President Obama has undoubtedly brought about a significant shift in the global political climate, where vilifying people in the Muslim and Arab world has stopped being viewed as en vogue by the United States government and as a result the people of this region have been able to direct their attention towards the “coercion” they experience at the hands of their own governments. President Obama needs to continually be pressured to do more to address the Arab-Israeli conflict but he also needs to be praised for the change in tone and tenor of America’s foreign policy. More broadly, President Obama has shown the ability to improve the connections between peoples and communities once thought unable to be connected. He has helped connect the youth to the elders, the Islamic and Arab world to the Western world, the Hip-Hop generation to the Civil Rights generation and the political right to the political the left. Maybe President Obama is not the change we wanted, but maybe that has prevented us from seeing that he has brought about some of the change we needed.
 “The Nobel Peace Prize 2009 – Press Release”. Nobelprize.org. 16 Sep 2011 http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2009/press.html