Monthly Archives: July 2013

Fraudulent Fireworks: Trayvon Martin, Racial Profiling, and America’s Broken Justice System

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We at war.  We at war with terrorism, racism, but most of all, we at war with ourselves

I didn’t get a chance to see the July 4th fireworks this year. I got out of work 20 minutes after the downtown celebration, but I thought it’d be nice to take an evening stroll through the packed streets of Pittsburgh.  Maybe soak up a little independence and raise a toast to liberty.  Halfway through my loop around the downtown triangle, police sirens sounded off from around the corner, and a large group of black teenagers began sprinting down the streets.  Girls and boys, ages 12 to 20, ran with fearful eyes, looking back only to make sure they didn’t leave their friends behind.  I remember vividly, a boy sitting on the sidewalk after he had run for a couple blocks, gasping for breath, checking every corner to make sure he was out of sight from the police.  For a brief moment, he was safe from being the next young black man behind bars.

These kids hadn’t done anything wrong.  What I witnessed was an ingrained, burning fear of police sirens; a trained reaction to run from law enforcement no matter the occasion. And I just stood there, nauseated with my white privilege.  This is liberty?  This is freedom?

They don’t want peace, they want a nigga deceased/So he’ll cease to be a problem, and by the way they perform/It seems the Klan gave the white police another uniform

Perhaps, for people blessed to have grown up in a small town setting, it’s difficult to understand why young black Americans hold a life-long hatred of law enforcement.  The inner city has a much more tenuous relationship with the justice system.  Police officers aren’t the neighborhood’s friendly guardian.  They’re the anonymous white man who knocks down your door to take your father away; the flashing lights that follow your every move, waiting for you to make a mistake that merits handcuffs;   the street patrol that stops you on your walk home to pat you down head-to-toe because you look “suspicious.”

The death of Trayvon Martin  isn’t an isolated incident, and George Zimmerman isn’t America’s only monster.  Martin’s death is just another tragic example of how black men are viewed, profiled, and treated in a so called “post-racial” America.  What advice would you have given Trayvon Martin that night?  If anyone approaches you, run for your life?  Don’t wear that hoody, put on a bright yellow American eagle shirt to make you less threatening?  Don’t go to the store to get skittles in the first place?

‘Son do you know why I’m stopping you for?’ Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hat’s real low?

Telling a young black man that the only thing preventing his imprisonment or death is to avoid the streets at all costs, as ridiculous as this might sound, is good advice.  Zimmerman decided to leave his car and pursue Trayvon Martin.  Zimmerman pulled the trigger that killed an innocent black teenager.  But we can’t label Zimmerman a racist monster and pretend like his actions were out of the ordinary.  That would be a lazy excuse to avoid dealing with a problem deeply ingrained in our country’s race relations.  We pay police officers every day to detain young black men because they look suspicious.  We make the laws that justify Zimmerman’s actions, enable stop and frisks, and allow for the mass incarceration of black men through mandatory minimum sentencing and double standards that target minorities every day.

This is to the memory of Danroy Henry.  Too much enemy fire to catch a friendly

It’s time we take a look at our society’s broader problems with racism.  Listen to one hip-hop song, and you might understand how it feels to be profiled and patrolled from birth because the of the color of your skin.  George Zimmerman made the news because he took the law into his own hands, but there are plenty of cases that don’t make national news because the so-called “monster” was in a police uniform.

Trayvon Martin is dead.  George Zimmerman is a free man.  Sure, we can protest for justice for Trayvon.  But why not take a stand for justice for the entire black community?  Why not fight against the war on drugs, racial profiling, and the inevitable mass incarceration of young black men? Until then, those July fourth fireworks will only be a façade of liberty, a revolting distraction from the police sirens that terrorize our country’s minorities.

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Parental Advisory: The Brutal Reality of Misogyny in Hip-Hop

My mother would stubbornly insist on having sit-down family dinners as often as physically possible.  Often, these meals would consist of brief anecdotes about my parents’ work frustrations, neighborhood gossip, or my most recent book assignment for class.  I  usually had nothing to contribute aside from answering their questions with the least amount of information possible before I scooped another twirl of spaghetti into my mouth.  But this time, I had something on my mind.

“I have something to announce to you both, “ I said, trying to hide my nervous shaking with some façade of confidence.  Both of my parents put down their forks and raised their eyebrows simultaneously.

“I think I should be allowed to buy parental advisory CD’s.”

This request wasn’t the bold statement my parents had expected.  They didn’t have a clue what was going to come out of my mouth.  But this family rule, prohibiting me from purchasing any explicit music that wasn’t previously censored, had been grinding away at my temper for some time now.  I was eleven years old, attending an inner-city public middle school.  I was bound to hear explicit language regardless of my parents’ restrictions.  It only seemed fair that I should be able to purchase Eminem’s latest album without the corny edits.  My mother thought otherwise.

“Name an album you want to buy,” she proposed, “and we’ll look up the lyrics and talk about why I don’t you think you should be listening to it.”

Perfect, I thought, I’ll pick an album that’s about love and companionship.  I’ll prove her wrong.

So there we were, looking up the lyrics to Ja Rule’s most recent album “Pain is Love.”  I know, you’re probably laughing now, because I naively picked an album titled “Pain is Love.”  What I initially thought would be my mother’s soft introduction to a softer side of hip-hop turned into an endless nightmare of “I told you so.”

At the obliviously confident age of eleven, I was trying to explain why I should be able to listen to Ja Rule rap about his so called “love” of women, with lyrics like: “Hold down on the bed while I’m yankin your braids/Thug style, you never thought I’d make you smile/While I’m smackin your ass and fuckin you all wild.”  I had convinced myself, perhaps because of the song’s catchy hook, that this was a love song.

Sometimes I find myself, eleven years later, still turning a blind eye to the ever-prominent displays of violent sexism in hip-hop.  For whatever embarrassing reason, I’ll cringe at one mention of the word “faggot” buried in a song centered around sexually dominating the entire female population.  This conflict appears in my hip-hop critique, too, as a few of my close friends have confirmed. I’ve written countless pieces praising rappers–Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, and Common to name a few–for their socially-conscious messages without so much as addressing the rampant  misogyny in their verse.

Playing the “naïve brainwashed victim” role isn’t a substantial excuse.  I’ve close-read far too many hip-hop lyrics to try and pretend like rappers don’t objectify women in disgusting fashion.  Rather, I’ve been puzzled about how to appropriately criticize this glaring conflict.

Just as hip-hop embraces the “Black CNN” role for reporting inner-city violence, the genre’s widespread sexist imagery is a testimony of much broader, equally complicated problems within our societies double standards on gender and sex. We can label all mainstream hip-hop as offensive, sexist garbage, but that won’t change the fact that women are objectified in all areas of artistic expression, fashion, the workplace, and countless other platforms.

I don’t intend to give rappers a free pass on their sexist content.  But rather than dismissing its presence as simply wrong or shameful, we’re better off asking more critical questions: why is misogyny so frequently used to assert excellence or status? Why do rappers feel the need to objectify women, or use them as metaphorical subjects to claim dominance?

I don’t have simple answers to these questions. I do know that rapping about money and hoes is the easiest way to get a hit single on the radio.  Countless rappers align with this role of a sexually dominant pimp, in part because they feel pressured to perform that image, not necessarily because they believe everything they say in their lyrics.  From the schoolyard cypher to the BET Awards, hip-hop finds itself grounded in a braggadocios mindset.  Every rapper wants to be at the top, and this guy at the top has plenty money and plenty women, so why not start rapping about making it rain at the strip club?

Then, there are rappers who are simply being honest about their sexist thoughts. Sure, we can blame them for openly discussing their misogynist state of mind, but do they really deserve more culpability than any other 20-something straight male who objectifies women?  We can criticize rappers for perpetuating the idea that sexism is acceptable, and we should. But we must also recognize that their lyrics display the brutal truth about the tainted relationship between men and women in our society.

The problem, as I see it, is that men are born into a culture that glorifies sexual dominance over the opposite sex.  The alpha male is the ultimate desirable image, whether it be a CEO, rapper, or a pimp on the streets.  It’s the same glorified image that convinced me that Ja Rule was singing a genuine love song when he bragged about yanking braids and smacking asses.

I’ve made it a personal goal to criticize rappers more often for their sexist lyricism.  Even my favorite rappers are responsible for perpetuating an image of a sexually dominant, and inherently successful man.  But let’s take it a step further, and recognize that hip-hop isn’t here to paint a pretty picture about the world.  Hip-hop will always thrive on screaming the candid reality of our societal problems into our ears.  If we dismiss these rappers as repulsive scoundrels, then we just can’t handle the truth.

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