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.
I recently read an article entitled “It’s a hip-hop planet” by Akala, an award-winning Hip Hop artist and the creator of the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company from England. In this article, Akala discusses the global impact and importance of hip hop music and culture explaining how Hip Hop serves as “a news network of the downtrodden, oppressed and the socially conscious across the globe.” This article was so well wrtiten and spot on in its analysis of the meaning and significance of Hip Hop that I had to find out who wrote this compelling piece. I saw the profile picture of the author, sporting a matter of fact no nonsense expression in his profile picture and a powerful Afro that expressed very similar sentiments.
Upon further investigation, a click on his profile picture, I was forwarded to another page with link to the Akala’s own website akalamusic.com. I quickly shuttled to this page and saw a YouTube video posted there entitled “Akala – Fire In The Booth” and naturally my curoisity led me to click play. I apprehensively waited to hear this Hip Hop generation writer and educator get busy on the microphone, hoping that I was not going to hear a mediocre rap that would lessen the esteem Akala had garnished from the article I had read just moments earlier. As I listened, I was blown away with the nearly nine minute lyrical and politically charged rap. Only 45 seconds into the rap, I was convinced that I was going to watch for the entire nine minutes of the video. I was not disappointed in the least! On this one track, Akala spoke on issues like discrimination, self-hatred, for-profit prisons, lynching, Marcus Garvey, African history, false patriotism, consumerism, racism, education and the list goes on. These subjects, which are so often dodged by mainstream Hip Hop artist and the media, were championed by MCs of the “golden era of Hip Hop.” Akala has definitely not forgotten about the roots of Hip Hop and he has proved he is here to drop Hip Hop’s most potent formula on a world desperate for change.
Akala – Fire In The Booth Video
In the vocal booth and on the written page, Akala tackles “race, politics, self-deception and social conditioning.” Akala’s official bio clearly states that the goal of his art is “breaking down the culture of cliché and stereotype that smothers the genre he loves…” Not to mention, Akala is no rookie in the Hip Hop world. This brother has been turning out singles since the early years of the new millennium and he has released his third album, Double Think, this past year. Below is Akala’s Fire In The Booth version with the lyrics, in case you wanted to get every single jewel he dropped. It is clear that Akala is going laying down the foundation to become a legendary name in Hip Hop, not only due to his lyrical ability but for his commitment to uplift the consciousness and social condition of oppressed people and youth worldwide. It definitely is a Hip Hop planet and Akala is definitely what this planet needs right now!
Are You A Real Man? – Tony Porter: A Call to Men – Deconstructing Manhood
I happened to bump into this video over the weekend and it immediately struck me as being something that I needed to share with the world, especially all the brothers. In this video, Tony Porter, a native New Yorker and former tenement inhabitant, discusses the “man box,” a set of beliefs and behaviors that young men are socialized to adopt. Mr Porter candidly discusses some of his experiences as a young man coming of age, being heavily pressured to operate within the framework of the ‘man box.’ He also speaks to some of his experiences as a caring father of a son and a daughter and the ways in which he has unknowingly forced the ‘man box’ on his own son.
It is time to raise awareness to the problematic understanding of masculinity in Western society and the tremendously harmful impact it has on how men perceive, believe about and interact with women. Tony Porter closes his speech by highlighting that if women are to be liberated from patriarchy, misogyny and sexism then men must also be liberated from these forces as well. I am posting this video because for many older men and young men, we fail to realize that we have been incarcerated and confined by the “man box”. Coincidentally, in the documentary by Byron Hurt, Beyond Beats and Rhymes, he also addressed these same concerns about masculinity and how they manifest in Hip Hop music and culture. It is time to wake up, save ourselves and our communities from the ‘man box!’ Watch, enjoy, learn, share and comment!
A Call to Men – Committed to Ending Violence Against Women (acalltomen.com)
On June 18, 2011 in Philadelphia an incredibly brazen shooting took place and it was all caught on tape. I was recently made of aware of this shooting and after seeing this video I just need to say the following about the young men who pulled out their guns in broad daylight to shoot at someone they did not know on a public bus. Here is the clip. Read more of my thoughts on it below.
My immediate comment about the shooting was, “That ain’t gangster…That’s mental.” For me, this case highlights the psychology of a specific segment of the urban community, who actually perpetrate the majority of the violence in our community. The mindset is ‘don’t disrespect me or my peoples…or I will get violent!’
I can imagine these shooters receiving recognition and street credibility in their neighborhood for their propensity for committing violent acts and the recklessness with which they talk about those acts. I can also imagine the feelings of empowerment that they have when they get their hands on handguns and assault riffles. They feel powerful, able to control others and enact their own personal version of justice whenever or wherever they see fit. I can imagine some of kids in the neighborhood, idolizing these two men for being ‘real’ and ‘thorough’ because no one but the cops messes with them. I can even imagine how some kids will even admire and glorify what these two did.
The reality though is that you just shot at someone for what? A comment your friend found offensive? You just put your freedom on the line for what? To demonstrate that no one is going to disrespect you and yours? That ain’t gangster by any stretch of the imagination it actually a sign of some deep seated emotional and psychological issues.
To be gangster for some young people means the absence of fear. To not be afraid of hurting someone, being hurt, going jail or dying young. I understand that this type of ‘gangster’ psychology is developed after years of surviving in economically, educationally, and spiritually deprived and oppressed environments but this type of thinking is a problem that our community and leaders need to better address. We cannot rely upon the criminal justice system to rectify this type of thinking after the crimes have been committed and consequences handed down.
I want to make a point that the same people who boldly claim to not be afraid of anything are indeed afraid of many things. They are afraid of being rejected by society so they opt to gain acceptance from the underbelly of society, the streets. They begin to adopt the thoughts and behaviors of those who are involved in criminality and other anti-social activities. They begin to care less about spirituality, education, health, legal employment and most importantly their futures. Money, clothes, guns, drugs, women and other trappings of success on the streets become a salve to heal their wounded egos.
I have heard this quote numerous times and it applies to this situation, “hurt people…hurt people.” There are so many people who have been hurt, whether it be from parental abandonment, divorce, abuse, neglect, poverty, death of a parent or sibling, the incarceration of a parent, relative or friend and the list goes on. Of course all human beings have been hurt to some degree but most human beings do not fire off bullets at a public bus over an argument. The reason they do not is because they have generally had some type of positive support systems in their life that have helped them along the way and helped them find ways to heal and cope with life’s hardships. However, many young people from rough backgrounds do not have the necessary supports and many have heavy emotional and psychological scars that they have never learned to deal with. These are the young people most vulnerable to fall victim to finding their self worth and self esteem through criminality on the streets.
There needs to be a greater emphasis placed on mental health in our communities. The word ‘mental health’ for many is synonymous with being psychotic and this is a fallacy that needs to be remedied. I explain to people that the core meaning of the term mental health is, “the health of…the mind.” A person’s mind is obviously not healthy if it allows them to commit an act like the SEPTA bus shooting in June. There needs to be dynamic and new approaches to saving and rehabilitating people struggling to make healthy decisions in life other sending them to criminal justice system. These two men would likely have never walked into a community based mental health provider without being court ordered to do so. They also would not likely have invested in whatever therapies that would have been recommended and that is quite understandable given the stigma that ‘mental health’ has.
There needs to be a new model for mental health that deals specifically and effectively with this type of ‘gangster’ psychology. People need to reach out to this neglected and demonized segment of our community with compassion and empathy before offenses are committed and people are condemned. One young man is doing just that through his writings, YouTube channel, Facebook and community involvement. His name is Supreme Understanding. He has published a number of powerful books directly speaking to the experiences of young African American and Latino men and women living in urban environments. His books are designed to educate, awaken and provide ‘real’ advice about the issues affecting our lives. The greatest thing about Supreme Understanding’s work is that it is unapologetic and highly practical. Supreme Understanding writes the book using not only the language of the intellectual but also the language of the streets. He utilizes his own story of growing up in the streets and his past life to connect with readers. His books have been well received from the streets and jails to the college dorm rooms. Supreme Understanding is not trying to win the respect of academia but he is producing some of the most innovative and effective solutions to the problems young urban men and women are experiencing. He is leading a whole generation away from the pitfalls of the streets and teaching them how to win. Had the two shooters have read his book, How to Hustle and Win, they would have realized that shooting up the SEPTA bus like they did “Ain’t gangster.”
I would be happy to hear any ideas and exchange thoughts. So post a comment, send a Tweet or just share the article with your friends. Below you will find links to Supreme Understanding’s works.
Tattooed Teardrops: The Tragedy of The Tattoo Fad in Hip-Hop
I have worked with young people ages 15 to 21 who are involved in the criminal justice system for the past four years. During this time, I have noticed an alarming and increasingly popular trend not only in the culture of Hip-Hop, professional sports and television but on the skin of the young people I work with, tattoos.
Despite not having any tattoos, I support the idea of individulaity and self-expression. However, my concern is that teenagers are getting these tattoos without considering the long-term implications there ink will have on the way they are perceived in our society.
Some of the tattoos I have seen on the youth I work with in the past four years have included numerous tattooed teardrops, which historically signified that you killed someone, even though the youth typically explain that their teardrops are for ‘lost loved ones.’ I have seen youth tattoo their hands with words like, ‘Certified Goon’, ‘Real Shit’, ‘Not a Goon But a Ghost’, and many other street idioms.
One of the most memorable tattoos was worn by a slender light skinned African-American who was only 16 year old. His most prominent tattoo covered his entire neck and read ‘215 – Killadelphia’ a salute to the city of Philadelphia and its reputation for brotherly slugs. The tattoo was replete with buildings in the background and two small handguns on each end of the tattoo firing bullets towards the lettering. This tattoo was definitely an interesting piece of art but the problem was that I would expect to see this type of art on a 40 year old ex-con or a inmate on MSNBC’s ‘Lockup’. Instead I am seeing this type tattoo on a young men and women who have not even matured through adolescence yet but who will undoubtedly have to bear the burden of their decision to be ‘inked’ for the rest of their lives.
It should not be a mystery to anyone that people with tattoos are discriminated against in our society and typically have a more difficult time finding employment, especially in jobs where they are required to interact with the public. Should employers discriminate against people with tattoos? I would say no, they should not but I also understand that employers have to make good business decisions and hiring someone with tattoos on their face, hands, neck and fingers could cause customers and/or coworkers to be intimidated. These young people don’t have millions of dollars and jobs in entertainment which could ameliorate any discrimination they may indeed face.
I have searched the Internet looking for interesting articles on the rise of the tattoo culture in Hip-Hop and I have not been able to find much out there. I do believe that the Tattoo culture began increasing in popularity in the Hip-Hop generation in the late 1990s with artists like Tupac, DMX, and C-Murder to name a few. I also beleive that Allen Iverson, who entered the NBA in 1996 with only a handful of tattoos but within a couple of years was tatted from head to toe. Allen Iverson started a trend that many other professional athletes would eventually adopt. Nowadays, you cannot watch a college or professional game without seeing tattoos on display including on stars like, LeBron James. In Hip-Hop you have also seen a rise in the tattoo fad with artists like Lil Wayne, the Game, Baby, Wiz Khalifa and Gucci Mane all displaying tattoos in the most visible of places, especially their faces. There art is now being featured in magazines like, Urban Ink, that targets young people of color.
Getting tattoos has also become much easier with tattooing equipment being sold on eBay and other stores online, many young people are forgoing traditional tattoo shops and apprenticeship schools to become amateur tattoo artist, working for a fraction of the cost of licensed tattoo artists . According to the youth I work with, they are regularly invited to ‘tattoo parties’ where the cost of admission is minimal and amateur, possibly unsanitary, and oftentimes shoddyy tattoos are administered. For around $30 or less they can get large and prominent tattoos that immediately bolster their street credibility and self-esteem. These types of ‘tattoo parties’ make it difficult for parents to prevent their children from getting tattoos because no parental consent forms are necessary and the tattoos are seen as something cool and normal because so many of the young people’s idols have them.
This trend has impacted the lives of countless youngsters, who without much critical thought have decided to’ ink’ their hands, arms and faces with tattoos with questionable and antisocial messages. This trend is not isolated to males either because I have also seen a rise in the occurance of young females getting visible tattoos as well. What are the long term implications for these young people? How will they be able to overcome the sterotypes inherent in the tattoos they now adorn? How will they get highly sought after jobs? Have they given up on traditional forms of employment? Do they understand the impact their tattoos will have on their lives? With tattoo removal processes being costly and often times ineffective, these questions have no easy answers and given the permanence of tattoos and their increasing popularity there will undoubtedly be long term repercussions for thousands of young people who are following this trend.
Young African-American and Latino youth have so many challenges facing them in terms of access to quality education, community violence, abuse and neglect, the lure of the drug trade, poverty, single parent households, parental abandonment, disproportionate incarceration rates, high rates of unemployment, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, etc. It seems that a significant segment of these young people have resigned to forgo entry into the professional and academic world to battle for their rights and have opted instead, to wear their dismay at our society in their bold and prominent ink. I believe they are rebelling in a self-destructive and self-limiting way, even though I empathize with them and admire of their creativity and rebelliousness. I believe this form of creativity and rebellion is short sighted and problematic. Young people must begin to think critically about the cultural trend of tattooing and ‘think before they get that ink.’
Below is a YouTube video in which hip-hop entrepreneur, Master P, speaks on on this issue. Above you will also find a gallery of images of individuals who have chosen to wear their ink in bold ways, highlighting the points mentioned in this post. What are your thoughts on this issue? What can be done to protect young people from making costly decisions that will follow them for years to come? Leave a comment or share this article.
Master P Speaks on the Issue of Tattoos in Hip-Hop
This PBS NewsHour story highlights a major problem facing the United States of America, her large and growing prison population. An innovative program through Bard College offers inmates the opportunity to pursue higher education, something that has become a rarity in the penal system. Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.