Saturday, October 31, 2009

DAMN! Can We Respect Our Women Please

When the news broke that Rihana and Chris Brown had an incident this past winter, it shined a white hot light on the issue of domestic violence which continues to be a pervasive problem across the nation. Later sports fans learned about Denver Broncos' wide receiver Brandon Marshall's stormy past with girlfriend Rasheedah Watley. Just last week, Cleveland Cavaliers guard, Delonte West, already facing charges for being stopped with an arsenal of weapons, added a domestic violence charge to his resume as his wife filed a report against him that they fought after he tried to take her wedding ring. One would think that the mounting instances of domestic violence in the public eye would cause discussion that might lead to greater awareness on how to curb these issues, but clearly this is not the case as I read about the HORRIFIC GANG RAPE involving an estimated 20 students at Homecoming dance in Richmond, CA.

Full story on The Root

My reaction is simple, this is disgusting...If it doesn't do something to you emotionally to hear that a 15 year-old girl was raped for over 2 HOURS by at least 4 men, and there were witnesses, then you have no soul. It says to me that clearly the way masculinity is portrayed in pop culture has gone over the top, and that women, particularly those of color, have been objectified to the point where they are regarded as little more than targets of sexual conquest.

The Richmond Gang Rape indicates that WE as a culture have done a poor job of engaging youth in critical conversations about sexuality and how to explore it responsibly. Wrap It Up PSAs during TRL and 106& Park aren't going to make a dent when 8 out of the Top 10 videos of the day feature either a woman being showcased for her parts or an artist celebrating his ability to be a attract any woman he wants. The same is true for our print media. On top of that some of our school systems implicitly give the okay to risky sexual behavior by preventing students from being taught about abstinence. I'm not calling for the banishment of visual forms of expression in any medium, as troubling as they can be. Music videos were a major form of entertainment for me as a teen (as was after hours HBO), but I got checked on what I was watching constantly and sat through many a lecture from John C. Carroll about the responsibility of becoming sexually active before I was ready. These critical conversations are what I'm calling for now and I hope that every young person who gets arrested in connection with this heartless act is forced to sit in and listen to women trying to piece their lives back together after being violated in this way. I can't even begin to imagine the psychological scars, but I can easily see how if it were my daughter, they would have to put me in lockup for at least a week to keep me from committing a more serious crime. The quote below from the parents of the young girl, read in a statement by their pastor, succinctly details what everyone should make time to do in their community. Mass media will not change as long as their are dollars to be made from objectifying the human form. So that leaves it to consumers to make sure that they are responsible and make sure that their young loved ones are just as responsible as they engage with media. The coldness of character needed to perform this act, or standby and witness it is not born overnight. We must all think about how we can help prevent another young girl's life from forever being altered.

"Volunteer at a school. Go help a neighbor. Be courageous in speaking the truth and in holding people accountable. Work toward changing the atmosphere in our schools and in this community so that this kind of thing never happens again. Please do not let this happen again."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Celebrating What Hip Hop Was...Def Jam at 25

I was excited to watch how VH1 would put on their annual Hip Hop Honors event this year with Def Jam Records as the honoree. As I grew from youth raised on Anita Baker to adolescent spending my weekly lunch money on bootleg tapes (yep, Germantown Ave) and later Rap CDs, I became fully immersed in the culture of hip hop and continue to claim it now as a 30+ father. The Def Jam tributes and later the BET Hip Hop awards pushed me to think about how my relationship with Hip Hop has been complicated over the years and is now very much a situation where I sit on the thin line between LOVING & HATING the music and culture which sustained and educated me as an adolescent, entertained me as a young adult, and still often soothes me as an emerging grown a$$ man. So I'm going to do my best Radio Raheem and lay out some of the things that I currently LOVE and HATE as I survey the Hip Hop landscape.

LOVE: Jay-Z still doin' it -- Instrumentation at Hip Hop shows -- Hip Hop is Global -- New Boyz representin' a new style on the West Coast -- Goodie Mob reunion performances

HATE: Hyper-Consumerism (is Gucci Mane's iced out EGG BEATER the new Flavor Flav clock?) -- the death of labels that set the trend as opposed to being dictated to by radio and record labels -- Songs like "By The Time I Get to Arizona" and "Burn Hollywood Burn" are now the exception and not the norm

LOVE: MCs who still have cipha skillz -- DJing is NOT a lost art (I see you DJ Premier) -- Fatima Robinson gets some shine from BET -- MCs who try to give back to their community (good job on the profiles BET) -- Drake owning his publishing rights

HATE: Where are the hits from Rap-A-Lot Records, No Limit, and So So Def? -- How come Talib Kweli and Dead Prez can't get the same number of spins as Soulja Boy? -- What happened to the night time Hip Hop show on local radio (grew up on Radioactive in Philly)? -- Not seeing lady emcees getting a shot -- MCs who have no clue how to do a live show.

Friday, October 16, 2009

New Black Man? I'm working on it

One of the pieces of my dissertation proposal that I felt needed the most fortifying was an examination of the accepted ideals of masculinity. As I begin my project on what a Black Male uniquely brings to the field of teacher education, I felt it necessary to have a grounding in the ways masculinity has been written about in general so that I might better be able to describe the ways it plays out in teacher education in particular. An search on "Black Masculinity" lead me to the book New Black Man by Mark Anthony Neal. What drew me to the book was the way Neal, a self described Black Male Feminist, sought to renovate the long standing archetype of the Strong Black Man and upgrade some of his characteristic features. I come away from my reading of this book feeling challenged yet optimistic that while I have work to do distance myself from paternalistic practices, I'm on the right path.

What struck me early in the book was how closely Neal ties a progressive Black masculinity to themes from the Black Feminist movement. I wondered how could a man explore his masculinity while paying a great deal of attention to the plight of women. Neal describes how his foundation as a male feminist was laid spending time in the beauty shop as a youth, and soaking up the adoration of a range of females. The simplistic question that I asked myself as I read was "So am I a feminist because I read and enjoyed Terry McMillan novels in high school?" Ultimately Neal comes to describe Black Male Feminism as being committed to anti-sexist, anti-homophobic politics, and dismantling patriarchial practices in the Black community. The later chapters of the book clearly describe the struggle Neal has faced to match his Male Feminist theories with practice. He notes how becoming a father has had a tremendous impact on his commitment to these ideals as they have a direct impact on the way his daughters will be raised and experience the world.

While New Black Man was a little more progressive than I thought it would be when I read the synopsis, the takeaway lessons are no less valuable. Neal hits the mark with his description of contradictions that arise from being a pro-feminist "Hip Hop Head". What does it mean when you espouse the equal treatment of women, but yet bob your head to "Drop It Like It's Hot"? How do you embrace Black homosexuals as part of the community and not just tolerate and encourage their closeted existence? Finally, how do you fight against paternalistic behavior in the church and other sacred institutions for the advancement of the community? I recognized upon completion of the text that there is no set formula for what it takes to be a New Black Man, but instead, there are guiding questions leading to an ideal. These questions serve to "check" ones behavior. The question each Black male must ask of himself is: Am I willing to hold myself accountable for behavior that might reinforce status quo notions of gender that will affect the women of my life (be it daughter, sister, wife, cousin, baby mama)? If the answer is NO, then continue to be disappointed by the male depictions promoted by pop culture. I know I've got to do something because I know I don't want my son learning how to find a life partner watching For the Love of Ray J or Real Chance of Love.

Friday, October 9, 2009

We CANNOT Forget Derrion Albert

I was all set to write about how making my way through Mark Anthony Neal's New Black Man, was exposing me to a new lens on masculinity. Very much like when you get a new eyeglass prescription and the optometrist plays with the lenses in front of your eye until he finds the one that allows you to see the fine print clearly. I wanted to write and sort my thoughts on Dr. Neal's depaprture from the archetype of the Strong Black Man. Following a chat with my man Lu, I got up the nerve to watch the graphic footage of Derrion Albert being beaten to death in a Chicago street by fellow high schoolers. Immediately I knew I had to write about this incident which gave us an All-Access pass to the types of murders that occur in major urban centers daily. The tears welled up immediately as I watched the wooden board come crashing down, realizing that a life had just been ended senselessly. The event made me think about how helpless I would feel if my own son were involved in such a situation, and the immediate despondency I'd fall into were I to lose him in such a way. As my man Lu noted in our chat, this event and it's filming was like the facing the open casket of Emmet Till. Having to face that raw visual should be more than enough to spur action to ensure that it never happens again. I worry that based on what we have seen so far, the fallout from this tragedy will not cause the kind of reform that needs to take place in order to avoid a repeat performance.

Now two weeks after the event, myFox Chicago had a story about a student-lead Town Hall meeting where young people were allowed to voice their concerns for their safety as well as talk about the event. Police, politicians and concerned community members were also in attendance. But where were the buses full of protesters coming into town to demand justice like in Jena? Where were Rev. Al and Michael Baisden? Where's the statement from the President? He can defend Gates right away, but to comment on this he has to call a huddle so that he can release a statement "soon"? Does the fact that this is a Black-on-Black crime make it less of an atrocity than the Jena 6 beating up a White kid? All I know is that listening to the clips of youth speaking out at the Town Hall Meeting, clearly they feel that very few people are there to support them. The inaction of the larger Black community to support this hurting group of students and their families speaks volumes.

So I won't be forgetting Derrion Albert anytime soon, in fact ever. That video is imprinted permanently. It means that whatever I need to do to protect my little one from such a situation, I'll do it. It means that if there are less hours of sleep for me because I'm spending more time trying to develop interventions aimed at helping male youth of color navigate the K-12 pipeline, so be it. Derrion Albert deserved better, and I pray that we never have to see another video like that again.