CNN’s Don Lemon recently spoke about his thoughts regarding what he thinks African-American youth can do to improve their American experience. It caused quite a stir among the African-American community, especially given his agreement with points made by Bill O’Reilly. Hip-Hop/business mogul, Russell Simmons wrote a letter regarding Lemon’s segment, to which Lemon responded. If you haven’t seen it yet please check it out here. It is best to watch the video at the bottom first, read Russell Simmons’ response, and then watch the video at the top for Lemon’s response to Simmons. Here are Dope’s and my own personal thoughts.
Both men make some salient points, and I believe both genuinely want to uplift our community, but both miss the main thing plaguing the African-American community, although I believe Simmons was definitely closer than Lemon. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, the key thing that is holding us back is the system itself. Make no mistake, the four of us and many of our friends are successful young black professionals, but the reason why is because we are privileged. Just like Lemon, just like Obama, just like the vast majority of successful African-Americans. Few have genuinely came from nothing to make it and that is definitely not the norm, unfortunately.
The system is designed against African-Americans and if you don’t believe me just take a look at our history and even look at what’s going on today. The 2011 U.S Census Bureau statistics on poverty show that 27.6% of African Americans are below the poverty line, higher than any other race. What are key differences amongst poorer neighborhoods versus more affluent and even middle class ones? You see way more liquor stores per block in poorer neighborhoods. The food options are subpar in poorer neighborhoods compared to the middle class and affluent neighborhoods. Fresh fruit and vegetables are more difficult to come across in poorer neighborhoods, both in a monetary and literal sense. The schools in poorer neighborhoods are way worse, if they are even open at all. To have a child born into this puts him/her at an even greater disadvantage compared to his counterparts born into a higher social class.
I agree that entertainers should be held responsible for uplifting our community, but who actually controls the media? Not us. So, those in control of the media only promote a certain portrayal of African-Americans, but to what end? What can they possibly gain from being facilitators of socially destructive behaviors? Could they profit from it by helping to fill the prison industrial complex? So let’s say an up and coming artist tries to rap about positivity and things that can up lift our community. What do you think happens to his career? He is basically forced underground, if he can make it at all, and the next nigger artist from below the poverty line who is unknowingly willing to continue to perpetuate the stereotype and keep his people down, is given the money (temporarily) to make it out of the hood. Thus, the media gets what they want and some poor soul thinks that he has finally made it only to fall years later.
Here’s an example, a young black boy growing up in the ghetto drops out of school because he wants to help his family by selling drugs. However, even if he would have stayed in school, his school is so piss poor that he wouldn’t have been able to pass any standardized tests to get into college. He doesn’t have the motivation to focus on his schoolwork because he’s starving and has only had a cup of raman noodles to share with his brother. His dad isn’t around because he also got caught up in the same system and is locked away. His uncle is dead after a drug deal gone wrong. He knows selling drugs is wrong, but it’s just his mom and younger brother and they go several days without eating dinner. Not to mention the images shown on TV and heard on the radio showing the life he can live if only he had the money to do so. He eventually gets caught and gets a lengthy sentence for selling weed (possibly because the judge has stock in the prison industrial complex). He now has a record and even if he wanted to live a legit life, his record prevents him from attaining a job sufficient enough to take care of his family. So what does he do? Falls back into a life of crime, only to fall further into the system and become a new slave as part of the prison industrial complex. Now, how does not saggin one’s pants or picking up trash in your neighborhood save you from this? Answer, it doesn’t.
As I mentioned above, Lemon made salient points. I agree that our youth should pull up their pants, but to say that this will elevate our society when the system itself is designed to keep us down is utterly ridiculous. Also, who did he think was going to see his piece? Definitely not the people he was aiming it at. So how does he expect anything to change? And although Simmons, as I stated, is more in tune with the real problem, he doesn’t help his case when he does stupid sh*t like this.
The Audacity of Dope!
I agree with Tha Doc, in that I think Lemon and Russell inherently care about the condition of Black America, the aforementioned piece doesn’t even come close to truly addressing a complex issue that calls for much more explanation on the roots of these conditions. If you are going to simply talk about people not doing well in an American context without more historical explanation, then talk about all the American’s as a whole not doing well, not just African-Americans, and could you please mention the limiting factor of poverty and limited resources while you’re at it. If you want to make the conversation racial and specifically about African-Americans, then you MUST speak about the historical aspects which helped to foster this condition in the African-American community as well. You must go back to what W.E.B Du Bois was speaking about in The Souls of Black Folk and speak of the long lasting effects of slavery, the second slavery of Jim Crow, what they fought against in the Civil rights struggle, all psychologically poisonous stereotypes that folks are taught about Black folks that we ourselves are starting to believe, and you must speak about the current reverberations of all that which set this up. Physical bondage (slavery) and terrorism (post slavery treatment by government and hate groups) has led to poverty and coupled with continuing injustice and radically misleading, stigmatizing and overly dramatized media and political portrayals (ex. Reagan’s “welfare queens”) synergistically led to mental and emotional bondage that is much harder to shake than any physical bondage. If you don’t want to speak about the historical underpinnings then you simply can’t speak about race at all.
Talking about pulling up your pants and littering is missing the target completely. Lets talk about how we can help all folks who are doing well and have limited resources do better, or lets talk about the condition of African-American’s who aren’t doing well with the discussion of the roots of this condition which make simply doing better a bit more challenging and how we change that. No time for finger pointing because we need to use every ounce of energy to make change. Ashe:)
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