Posts Tagged ‘DesiBjorn’

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A twitter discussion that took place nationally through the use of the hash tag #blackpowerisforblackmen brings into question the notion of Black Male Privilege.
The Story

A twitter discussion trended through the hash tag #solidarityisforwhitewomen was being used to tweet about how the mainstream feminist movement has often excluded the perspectives of women of color. Jamilah Lemieux, Ebony’s Digital News and Life editor was inspired to begin a separate discussion through the trending hash tag #blackpowerisforblackmen that tweeted about issues Black women have with Black men. A term emerged in the discussions that followed: Black Male Privilege.

The Problem

The first problem with this discussion it took place on Twitter. Despite the fact that social media allows us to have a global discussion, the discussion is often reduced to one way declarations that are 160 characters or less. Twitter isn’t hardly the place to discuss a personal, multi faceted conversation such as misogyny in the Black community. I will agree that it is a worthy discussion and one that does not take place often; however, the subject — being as deep rooted as it is and not thoroughly explored — is a pointless tackle for a twitter platform. Issues like racism or feminism have been explored for years and already have a solid foundation. From what I have seen, discussions of misogyny in the Black community has been limited to talks about the use of the word bitch, video vixens, Hip Hop, and gender roles. All are poignant; however, I have not seen a clear objective discussion that discusses how Black men are privileged oppressors of Black women.

The reason I think there hasn’t been such a discussion is because Black men are not the oppressors of Black women and there is no such thing as Black male privilege. Which is the biggest problem exposed by the trending topic. There are so many issues with the notion of Black male privilege. I have stated in a previous post that in conversations on discrimination and prejudice, language is everything. We have to choose our terms carefully — and not select sensational terminology because its provocative — because when we do not, we pollute the discussion and fail to ever describe whatever pain we are feeling.

So while we carelessly toss around the term Black male privilege, I don’t think anyone would dare to give it the weight that we give to White privilege or White male privilege. And that is because there is no privilege that Black men specifically have in America unless we think of incarceration, death, less education as a privelege. Now we can say that Black men can access or can benefit from male privilege. That would be a true statement because as men, Black men stand a better chance of getting a man’s salary (I am referencing that fact that women have historically been paid less than men) or because Black men stand a better chance of obtaining a job in a make dominated field than women. But that fact is not based on them being Black men it’s based on the fact that they are men because their being Black does not give hem an advantage; in truth, it is what hinders them from fully benefitting from male privilege. That is no different than the argument Black feminists have made in regards to the fact that their being Black to some degree excluded them from be benefitting from Women’s Suffrage and The Women’s Rights movements despite their participation in the efforts.

So, then, for Black women to direct their anger, about being excluded from mainstream women’s movements because they are Black and being excluded from male privilege because they are women, at Black men in particular is sophomoric and asinine. What exactly is the intention of such an act? To out minority each other? Every relationship is a dynamic in which both parties play a part and both parties are responsible for the success or failure of that relationship. There is no finger to be pointed.

The Point

I recently encountered a supporter of my blog on twitter. She responded to one of my tweets and began to tweet back and forth in support of one another. One of the most powerful things she said to me was We/I need you/Black men. That one statement changed everything I was feeling and we drew closer to each other because of that single encounter. That, to me, was evidence that Black men and Black women want each other. We need each other. Our acceptance of one another does no have to come with a license to abuse each other, it does mot mean we have to sacrifice ourselves and our values to be together, and it definitely does not mean one must die for the other to live. We can occupy the same space and remain intact, independent, and progressive. We have to accept the reality that we have and will hurt each other sometimes and we must give ourselves the permission to be flawed works-in-progress.

I’m not suggesting that misogyny doesn’t exist in Black spaces and that it shouldn’t be challenged. What I am saying is that we can deal with those issues without creating enemies of one another and celebrating the public denigration of each other (What better way to render a movement impotent than by turning those people on themselves?) Black men and Black women have to stop standing apart from each pointing their fingers and slinging accusations and instead stand beside each other and uphold each other and chastise one another with love. No one has ever obtained love by hating their beloved.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

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July celebrated the 20th anniversary of John Singleton’a film Poetic Justice. The film is a cult classic for much of the young Black community but it is often underrated for its impact and influence.
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The Story

Poetic Justice dubbed by John Singleton as a “street romance,” offered a much different script for a Black story. Singleton blended realism with romance to create an honest unheard tale of Black romance. The story takes place in South Central Los Angeles. The romantic leads (Tupac Shakur and Janet Jackson) are a mailman and a cosmetologist. While, from a mainstream standpoint, these characters seem too ordinary and uninteresting, the effect was just the opposite. Lucky and Justice speak to a world of young Black people who do not lead extraordinary lives with high profile careers, designer clothes, and profound wealth. Poetic Justice gives young Black people a sense of belonging to something that previously seemed universal and exclusive: romance.

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Black Images

One of the things about the movie that affected me when I first saw the movie was the way Black men are portrayed. Singleton offers three dimensional representations in his Black male characters. The central male characters, Lucky (Shakur) and Chicago (Torry), are not perfect characters but they’re also not hypersexualized, thugs, or stereotypically masculine. They are regular young Black men with the interests of Black men.

Additionally, there is a stark contrast between the characters Iesha and Justice compared to the Black female characters that we see today. Neither character has the stereotypical decry about how Black men are no good or not good enough. There is no fictional naïveté about the men that they are involved with; however, there is also no preconceived notions about them either. The two women obviously care for each other despite their many differences and it makes for a believable friendship.

Throughout the movie there are depictions of support and love between the Black characters. Justice’s boss, despite her jaded views on love and no nonsense demeanor, commits several acts of pure kindness towards her employees. On their road trip Lucky, Justice, Iesha, and Chicago stop at a Black family reunion and (because they pretend to be related to the family) they are welcomed into the family with open arms.

These images are some that are rarely scene without an excess of slapstick style comedy or exaggeration. Singleton again emphasizes realism and how’s that it doesn’t take eccentricity to make a statement about Black culture.

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Sex versus Intimacy

One major point to be made about the movie is its lack of graphic sexual scenes. There are two sex scenes that happen in the movie. The first is a sex scene that occurs (without nudity) between Iesha and Chicago. The second is a sex scene that occurs between Lucky and Justice. While the two are shown doing no more than kissing, the sex is implied in the closing of the scene and confirmed in the conversation that occurs on the next scene.

The sex scene between Iesha and Chicago is devoid of an emotional connection. The lack of fulfillment leads the two into an argument that exposes how much the two actually do not like each other and results in a confrontation that ends their relationship. In contrast the sex that occurs between Lucky and Justice is a natural development resulting from the two having grown closer throughout the trip and the intimate conversation in which they both let their guards down and expose some of their inner feelings.

This is important to note because it illustrates that sex is natural and does occur in Black romances, but it does not always have to be graphic and devoid of emotion. It reminds us that there are more reasons for having sex than fat asses and big dicks.

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Black Romance

We often think of love as something so universal that it can be objectively discussed and demonstrated without regard to nationality. this could not be further from the truth. Unfortunately, in America, there is relatively little that Black people experience that is not in some way tinted or colored by the fact that they are Black — including love and romance.

Images in the media have often portrayed Black love and romance through a Caucasian gaze, even in Black movies and shows. Very rarely are scripts written that honestly illustrate the reality of Black love. Black love stories (especially for younger people) often do not occur in the ways that we see on television. Partly because of the historical damage that has been done to the relationship between Black men and Black women. That has altered the way that courting takes place and ultimately the ways that love happens.

While I can appreciate fiction and poetic license, I have often seen romance stories (in general) and thought, I have never known two Black people to fall in love like that. Yet, there is something familiar and genuine in the romance that occurs between Lucky and Justice. They each have their own fears, reservations, and past heartbreak that affects the way that they approach one another. One of my favorite scenes occurs at the beginning of the trip. When Lucky attempts to make conversation and get to know Justice. She is distant and cold towards him simply because of her initial impression of him. She thinks he’s a “wanna-be mack daddy” who probably has a bunch of kids and no passion or aspirations. This response leads Lucky back to his initial impression of her. He thinks she is a “stuck up bitch” that thinks that a man is supposed to bow to her. The tension swells quickly and ends with Justice threatening to have him “fucked up” and jumping out the truck while Lucky speeds off. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t love at first sight.

I love this scene because it doesn’t flinch in viewing the honest dysfunction of the relationship between Black men and Black women. The fact that we all too often to overcome our own ingrained biases against one another that results from having to constantly see each other through the filter of society that often paints Black men as irresponsible and lazy and Black women as catty and verbally abusive. Throughout the trip Lucky and Justice suspend their superficial evaluations to actually get to know one another and that does not happen without error, but it happens.

To tell a Black story in this way offers a portrayal of Black love that says its okay if it isn’t love at first sight and its okay if, even in the attempt to be emotionally vulnerable with one another, we make grave mistakes. Lucky and Justice appear to be over when they make it on their designation and Lucky in frustration over his cousin’s death directs that anger towards Justice and blames her for his not being there to save his cousin. Justice in turn feels validated in her original thoughts about not dating and especially not dating a guy from the hood. However, the magic of introspection and forgiveness allows the two of them to reconcile. Now that is a Black love story.

All too often we fail to keep trying and to keep pushing past the obstacles and remain emotionally available to one another. We think of each other as disposable and expect that we should come already packaged and ready for A relationship. I submit to you that there really is no such thing as being ready for a relationship. Relationships and love is like believing in God and joining a church. you can have one without the other and the former doesn’t prepare you to do the latter. Like the many religions and sects and denominations of churches, every relationship has its own challenges and requirements depending upon the two people who are coming together. A person prepares for love and when love happens it will get us ready for the relationship, if we are willing to be converted. That is a much needed story to be told to affirm for Black men and Black women that even love comes easily, romance takes effort.

The Point

What John Singleton accomplished with his film has rarely been reproduced in depictions of urban Black romance. For that reason, Poetic Justice is a cult classic in Black culture. Now more than ever we could stand to see a return such stories. In the midst of the war between the sexes and the discussions about the degradation of the Black family, Black love does exist and Black romances can and do happen.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

I recently viewed Don Lemon’s No Talking Points segment wherein he berated the black community and offered his own ignorant superficial solutions to crime and issues in the Black community. This guy is hopelessly ignorant.
Don Lemon co-signed on a rant given by Bill O’Reilly — who is the last person who should give critique on the plight of Black is (what does a middle aged White man know about discrimination and racial struggles??).
The Story

The segment made me reflect on a recent conversation that I had with a non-Black friend if mine who is very passionate about many of the issues affecting Black communities. He confessed to me that while he was out canvassing he passed three tall, shirtless Black guys who were chilling outside. When they’d passed them he said to the other members of his team (a White woman and a Black woman) that he had felt threatened by the guys and asked if that meant he as racist. The White woman was silent and the Black told him that he was racist and went on to rant about how Black people need to get jobs an go to school and — in my own words — get their shit together. He went on about how educated (she went to a prestigious majority White institution) and passionate (such is very active in protests and unions) this woman is and how much he respected her. Her opinion made him feel ashamed and guilty. He soaked up what she said and began to double back on sone of his own Stereotypical thoughts that he’d been dealing with. Her ignorance was validating his prejudice. That’s how we empower Bill O’Reillys to feel justified making the statements they make.

Don’s 5 Points

The five points Don gave to solve the crime and other issues if the Black community were:

1. Stop having children out of wedlock
2. Finish School
3. Respect where you live
4. Get rid of the word “nigger”
5. Pull up your pants

I’m sure I’m not the only one noticing the lack of addressing certain contexts and historical facts:

1. The degradation of the institution of marriage in America in general and the rising divorce rates (which for Black people would be significantly higher given that slavery destroyed the purity of the relationships between Black men and Black women.
2. The fact that in spite off the current threats to repeal Affirmative Action, it has yet to place Black students in an equal playing field with whites because the high schools in Black communities receive a significantly less quality education that would prepare them for college.
3. White flight and the following if “well-to-do” Blacks removed the economic power to give those communities a voice about their conditions and role models for professionalism.
4. The word “nigger” being used from in Black person to another has never inflicted the same psychological pain that it does in its historical context.
5. Sagging pants while unsightly to olde Black and conservatives does not a “thug” or criminal make. It just spells that to ignorant White people, older Blacks (who are out if touch with reality), and conservatives (who cling to the American Dream and individualism (pull yourself up by your own bootstraps delusions.

So Don’s ignorant assessment of the Black community and superficial analysis offer nothing to the resolution of the issues of the Black community. Which explains our lack of progress and internal anger and hatred.

The Problem

Don played a clip from Bill O’Reilly and agreed with what must be the most prevalent comment made by non-Blacks in describing why the Black community has so many issues: degradation of the traditional family. It would take a whole post to talk about the offensive implications that makes against single parent families in every community; however, what is most ignorant about this thought is that it neglects to consider the contexts in which these people and families exist.

I am very much a supporter of the traditional family. I do believe that there are inherent values and influences that this type of home creates for children growing up. But I would never relate that to the struggle or crime that is found in Black communities. The only connection between the two are socioeconomic which is not always in the hands of the parents to control.

Parents do not create criminals. The socioeconomic a of this country — which is systemically set up against Black people is the major culprit for crime creation. When a life of discrimination impairs social mobility and renders impotent the opportunity for an individual to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, survival instincts kick in and there isn’t a creature on this planet that will not kill, steal, or fight to survive. Allow such disenfranchisement to be perpetuated through several generations and, ta-da, you have a generation of young Black kids who envy, idolize, and glamorize such behaviors. They do so because for as far back as they can remember it is one of the few ways that Black people ever actually have an undeniable opportunity to change their lives.

Again I’m not saying that the issues of Black families and the choices of young Black men are not things that the Black community needs to address. I’m saying that you can’t save people by treating them like enemy. We have center our attack and the source of our so,unions on the actual problem. That problem is not Black families and the choices of Black men, it is the society in which these families exist and the limits of the choices presented to Black men.

The Point

When Black people like Don Lemon offer their “success” stories as a recipe for economic advancement, professional development, and upward social mobility, they neglect to include the fact that their stories are based on specific turning points that occurred in their lives that allowed them to get where they are. Acknowledging that would inspire compassion for those who don’t have those significant influencers (two parent household, college educated mentors, quality high schools, etc.). Acknowledging those turn points also forces the individual giving the advice to not disassociate from their own community and, therefore, objectify the struggle by viewing it through a tinted lens at a distance. It makes that individual see themselves in that person. It makes them remember that they could have easily been that person. You can never judge the decisions a person has made without reviewing the choices they were given to choose from. Don Lemon sit your Uncle Tom ass down and shut up.

I’m not sayin’; I’m just sayin’,

An Angry Black Man

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A series named in tribute to Bell Hooks. Love is a subject that is often discussed in the most trivial and superficial terms. Love, as a subject matter, especially from a Black perspective, hardly ever includes discussions regarding the nature of love, the function of love, the purpose of love, or the relevance of love. All we ever talk about is how we want it, have it, never had it, or keep losing it. We are right to see lack of love as a concern; we just have to choose the right angle for exploring solutions. Here is where that happens.

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The Story

I haven’t really kept up with the Love and Hip Hop although it seems very popular and social media buzzes when the plot takes a turn. I did her a chance to watch several episodes from this season this past week. One episode in particular (episode 13) where Traci and her new boyfriend, DeShaun, meet her ex, Drew so that Drew can apologize for being so rude when he’d first met DeShaun. Drew does this and goes on to interrogate DeShaun, specifically asking if DeShaun had any criminal history Traci should know about. DeShaun says that he doesn’t and Drew whips out his phone wit a mugshot of DeShaun that he googled. Traci blows up and states that she can’t trust DeShaun because he lied. DeShaun admits he lied but states that it was because her ex was trying to play him in front of her and he felt that wouldn’t be the time to discuss that. In the end Tracindays she can’t trust him and DeShaun says he’s not gonna beg her.

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This incited me to ask a few friends about whether they check out the people they date. Most stated that they did at some point google, ask around, or in some manner check up on their potential mates. When I asked whether any “negative” information they found ever affected their decision to be with that person, most said yes.

Trust

I have often heard people say that trust is earned; I have discovered that’s a lie. Many times when discuss trusting someone we talk about the actions, honesty, or consistency about the person that makes them trustworthy. In truth, none of those things proves anything about whether or not we choose to trust someone. We either do or we don’t.

Trust is given. It is about the person who’s giving the trust and whether or not they find that person trustworthy. Those requirements are subjective and depends on the individual. The same person one individual would never trust may have the trust of every other person they meet. Trust, then, is a personal evaluation an individual makes about another person that may or may not go against evidence to the contrary.

Traci’s insecurity leads her to test and try DeShaun to figure if she can trust him and whether or not he’s a suitable partner. Testing a potential mate to see if they can be trusted is useless and futile because trustworthiness cannot be measured. DeShaun appears to be a decent enough dude. The fact that he has made a mistake in his youth does not stain him as being someone untrustworthy. But, Traci, lost in her own insecurity cannot see this. Her reaction to the information about DeShaun’s background tells more about her than it does about him. It is natural to have some baggage or insecurity after being betrayed and hurt in past relationships. However, people who distrust others are, in truth, unable to trust themselves.

The Point

The choice to trust is a complicated and risky decision. The decision and how one comes to make that decision is full of nuances to be considered and pitfalls to be avoided. In the Black community we have grown so distrustful of each other, in general, that while we long for one another, we find it difficult to develop and sustain relationships. This is especially true for romantic relationships. While no one wants to have their heart broken or get played, such are the risks of romance. The best way to reduce those risks is to change the way we evaluate each other. The choice to trust is a judgment of character, not of actions and logistics. There is no way to quantify trust.

I’m not sayin’; I’m just sayin’,

An Angry Black Man

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The course of events that have followed the Trayvon Martin murder and acquittal of George Zimmerman have exposed America for the silent bigot that she is.

The Story

The acquittal of George Zimmerman was meant to be business as usual for the justice system. Media buzzed with talks of possible riots from the Black community long before the jury gave their verdict. White Americans criticized Black leaders for calling for peace from their people and snickered remembering that, historically, most riots from the Black community only end up affecting those same communities as Black people lose themselves in rage and attack anything around them (because most of those reckless souls barely leave their communities). So the prevailing thought was that there was nothing to fear. Black people would be upset and revolutionary for a week or two, the standard Black activists would rally, protest, and preach and then the country would return to normal.

They were wrong.

The Potential

Once justice had been denied in the trial and a not guilty verdict was rendered, a woman from the jury known only as Juror B37, sought –as all good capitalistic Americans do — to make a name for herself and a little money too. Her greed led her to make blatant her ignorance and the jury’s biases and blunders. The conversations surrounding the case raged on. It was then that the people began to rally and protest more fervently picking up recently covered incidents such as Marissa Alexander and others who were facing or being denied justice for that unspoken reason.

The coup de grace came when the president, our commander-in-chief weighed in on the subject in a surprise press conference. Check mate. The presidents comments,though viewed by many in the Black community as not being strong enough, was more than enough for many in the White community (imagine right wing conservatives mostly).

Now Obama is being accused of race baiting (a ploy to get the Black community to think that he doesn’t care about their issues as many have commented throughout his presidency) and that he is only trying to advance his administrations agenda — which no one has ever really stated what particular benefits his administration would receive by turning Whites against Blacks. Conservatives are swearing that there is Black hatred against America (because President Obama spoke about the contemptuous treatment of Black men in America). And these conservatives and White American who hold racial prejudices are claiming that the country is being dragged back into the civil rights era. I actually read that somewhere; I laughed. Black Americans were not able to leave the civil rights era as our civil rights have never been secured and equality has never been achieved. So while that may seem scary to them, it has always been our reality and, thankfully, now the rest of the world has to join us in reality.

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Historically speaking, America achieved its greatness by its ability to take risks and its commitment to challenging even its own principles in search for a more perfect justice. It is those values that formed democracy. It is those principles that made us world leaders and a country the world once sought to follow and respect. This is our moment to get escape the bubble we have been living in and get back to that.

I understand that for the privileged of this country it is scary. I know that it now seems dangerous to have a president that can so intimately relate to the plight of the disenfranchised. What they need to understand is that Black Americans do not seek the demise of White people. hate has never been inherent to our cultural values — that is evidenced in how many slaves never hated, raped, or enslaved their captors even when they had the opportunity. We have only wanted equality, respect, and liberty (things this country promised ). This movement is not a battle that will divide this country; it is the struggle that will unify this country.

“Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shivering and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.” – James Baldwin

The Point

It is only at the point where the truth cannot be denied that change can occur. It is okay for us to disagree on the details if the problem. It is okay for us to disagree on the solution to the problem. The thing we cannot do is continue to pretend there is no problem and not address the problem. The time for ignorance and denial in America is over.

This recent series of events have set in motion what could be the movement we have been waiting for. This could be the moment for America to be great again. This could be the moment for America to live up to its own hype. This could be the change we have been waiting for.

What will make the difference is whether we capitalize upon this opportunity. We as a people, especially the youth of this country have to stand up and speak up like never before. Now is not the time to let things work themselves out. Now is not the time to think only of ourselves. Now is not the time to leave things in the hands of politicians and activists. This country belongs to all of us and we all have a right, no an obligation, to see it progress in the right direction. We need to be strategic, careful, and calculating to pull this off. This movement cannot turn into another moment of wanton violence and ignorant debate. We need change. And what better time than now; what better person than you (all of us). It only takes one person to make a difference; we all have to be that one person. That is how revolutions are achieved.

I’m not sayin’; I’m just sayin’,

An Angry Black Man

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President Obama speaks out on the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, the George Zimmerman verdict, and what he feels that means for us as a country.

President Obama’s speech was sincere and, in as politically correct a way as possible, he shared his honest thoughts and feelings on the matter. The statements he made cannot be taken lightly.

Law Problems & The Justice System

One of the major points President Obama makes in his speech is that there is a problem with the laws of this country. The President emphasized that these laws are governed on the state level; however, he made sure to give his presidential opinion that laws such as Stand Your Ground do not support peace and security.

The Black Context

President Obama stated,

“I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this through a set of experiences and history that doesn’t go away.” – President Barack Obama

President Obama made sure to emphasize the “context” of the Trayvon Martin tragedy and what that means to Black people. This is significant because society depends on ignorance to support the delusion of post-racism and racial peace in America. By him, as president, stating that the truth as even he knows it, he is forcing the country to be honest.

“There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed while they were shopping in a department store, that includes me. There are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on doors of cars. That happened to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often. And I don’t want to exaggerate this but those sets of experiences informs how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida and its inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.” – President Barack Obama

This is significant because there have been many criticisms from the Black community about President Obama not doing enough for the Black community; however, we have to realize is not the president of Black America. He is the president if The United States of America. That said, his charge is to the entire country. At best he can make moves such as this to weigh in on situations and not allow the country to ignore the issues of racial prejudice and racial disparity. In this regard he is doing more than most Black politicians have done.

Where The Solution is Found

The other significant part of the speech was President Obama’s emphasis that politicians are fairly impotent in making changes that affect racial prejudice. Partly because these incidents often happen on a lesser scale and never make it through local government channels such as law enforcement and state courts.

“There has been talk about whether we should convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized and folks are locked into the positions they already have. On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest.” – President Barack Obama

The Point

Essentially President Obama has come forward to say that we all know there’s a race problem in this country and that problem is systemic (in the legal and justice system). He has made a call to arms for each individual member of this country to take responsibility for these injustices by examining ourselves and being honest with ourselves about our own biases. America’s race problem cannot be fixed through laws and cannot be changed by politicians. It has to be personal. It has to be everyone one person critically examining themselves and holding themselves to higher moral standard. The war is psychological and the revolution takes place in our minds.

I’m not sayin’; I’m just sayin’,

An Angry Black Man

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J.Cole, The Prince of Hip Hop, takes an evolutionary leap with his sophomore album Born Sinner.

The Story

I have been following J.Cole since his The Warm Up mixtape. I must admit that although I was definitely feeling it, I wasn’t sure the kid was going to actually deliver. At best I thought he would end up like so many underground greats who kill on their mix tapes but sink on their albums. It’s a common pitfall for many rappers.

J.Cole avoids this pitfall on Born Sinner . The album is meant to display J. Cole’s embracing the duality and contradictions of who is as an artist and a person during the process of his evolution.

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“[The album is about] going through hell trying to make it to heaven; going through depression trying to make it to happiness” – J. Cole

The Album

Born Sinner takes a familiar theme of the saint versus the sinner and rebirth. A number of rappers have used this theme: Nas’ God’s Son, Tupac/Makaveli’s The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, and Jay-Z’s Kingdom Come. J. Cole uses this theme to explore the paradox of good and evil from a personal perspective on the track “Crooked Smile” featuring TLC. The song deals with issues of body image and society’s standards of beauty. He uses his own decision to not fix his teeth to offer a personal introspection into the idea beauty and self-worth. A number of other tracks on the album show his thoughts on the music industry and the pressure to produce a marketable product for record labels/radio and the desire to create street credible music for the fans and lovers of Hip Hop music. That’s the surface of the album. Beneath that is another layer of thought that he offers.

J. Cole also openly illustrates his own artistic evolution. Part of that evolution is the conflicting motivations of making money and making art but also the struggle to be relevant to both the Hip Hop community and to the great rap artists who have preceded him. In this notion J. Cole fashions himself as a prince rising to the throne. The concept is an allusion to that of “The Prince” by Machiavelli. Machiavelli (whose philosophy was used by Tupac in his own reinvention as Makaveli) was a historian, politician, and philosopher who wrote the book “The Prince” to offer his philosophy on rulers, the right to rule, and how to best rule.

This allusion resonates with J. Cole’s new found place as a vetted rap star. In “The Prince,” Machiavelli states that princes come to power either by their inheritance of power or by virtue of their own talents. Those that inherit their place are challenged to maintain the established order and adapt it to the current time; while princes that have obtained their new position have to do so by earning their place through the respect of the people. It is uncertain which of these J. Cole envisions himself to be, but either would fit.

The album pays homage to many rap greats that have gone before J. Cole. He shouts everyone from Mos Def and Talib Kweli to P. Diddy’s and 50 Cent. Most specifically he bows before Biggie, Tupac, Jay-Z, and Nas (the gods of rap). The first song on the album, “Villuminati” sample’s Biggie’s “Juicy“and the title references Jay-Z’s alleged connections to the illuminati as well as Tupac’s album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. J. Cole comes on the track spitting,

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“Sometimes I brag like Hov
Sometimes I’m real like Pac
Sometimes I focus on the flow to show the skills I got
Sometimes I focus on the dough
Think about these bills I got”

Cole even dedicated an entire song (“Let Nas Down“) to his goal of making Nas proud. The song was birthed from a harsh critique that Nas had given J. Cole regarding his radio hit “Work Out.” While the song had been accomplishment for J. Cole after a series of self described uninspired tracks and because he had discovered the formula for appealing to the radio producers, the song lacked the original edge and insight of his previous work. For that Nas stated to producer No I.D., “Yo, why the fuck that nigga make that shit? He don’t know he the one” J. Cole took the critique personally but instead of beefing with the rap god, he went harder at merging the radio appeal with the raw creativity that he’d put into his mixtapes. In this view J. Cole can be seen as inheriting the mantle from Jay-Z and Nas who both publicly and lyrically endorse him.

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“So you ain’t let Nas down…
It’s just part of the game, becoming a rap king, my nigga
You ain’t let Nas down…
How that sound? Here the crown, pass it to you like nothin, nigga
You ain’t let Nas down” -Nas, “Let Nas Down (remix)

The Point

J. Cole is setting the bar for the next generation of rappers. What he accomplishes on Born Sinner is the evolution of the rap game. The power to create stars is shifting back to the fans and the freedom and demand to produce is back in the hands of the artists. J. Cole is also setting a precedence for learning from his rap forefathers and receiving their blessings instead of simply challenging them for the throne. In the days to come rappers will have to redevelop the concept of making albums and a rap career and that concept will have to take into consideration more than just radio play and album sales (a thought I explored in a previous post The Mixtape Evolution). For the time being J. Cole is #winning. He is proving that he is The Prince of Hip Hop, heir to the throne of rap and, apparently, the gods are on his side.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man