M.C. K~Swift (Universal Zulu Nation/ New Rap Order)
This is About the Black Ghettoes of the USA
I’m writing this in the wake of the murder of Chicago rapper, Joseph Coleman aka Lil Jo Jo. I’m not going to go into the details of his murder, nor the circumstances surrounding it too much. I will say that there is an important intersection between youth (gang related) violence and the hyper-masculine values set that contemporary rap music underscores. As a Hip-Hop educator who works primarily with crime-affected youth, these are things I think about often. However, what I see in both the mainstream and independent media fail to analyze this problem from a socio-political perspective. It seems that they would paint the rash of violence of recent years among youth as a sudden, inexplicable phenomenon. I have a problem with that.
The streets of Chicago are on fire right now. In the summer of 2012, murders rose 60% from the previous year. Over Memorial Day weekend, 40 people were shot. I remember hearing that 9 people were killed over Labor Day weekend in Chicago. The vast majority of these shootings are youth-on-youth. Two questions jump into my mind; why are we killing each other and where are the guns coming from?
Why Are We Killing Each Other?
In neighborhoods plagued by violence, it’s clear that people are wanting for conflict resolution skills. I remember growing up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and being taught by my peer group that if someone spoke to you disrespectfully, the proper response was to punch that person in the mouth. It isn’t hard to see how this same train of thought can escalate to gun violence, especially when life isn’t valued. Young people are seemingly desensitized to death, and consumed with their own immediate material satisfaction. Major factors in this are bloody video games, gun-fueled action movies, and hedonistic American dreams that are sold through print media, television and music. We’re taught that life is generally invaluable, and that if anyone’s life has value, it is strictly one’s own.
“Those in the community who defy authority and ‘break the law’ seem to enjoy the good life and have everything in the way of material possessions. On the other hand, people who work hard and struggle and suffer much are the victims of greed and indifference, losers. This insane reversal of values presses heavily on the Black community. These causes originate from outside and are imposed by a system that ruthlessly seeks its own rewards, no matter what the cost in wrecked human lives.”
- Huey P. Newton Revolutionary Suicide
We are living in a unique time. The crack era ushered in access to riches in ways unimagined to impoverished people in the USA. This introduced a generation gap. Teenagers could become the breadwinners of their families, sometimes losing respect for the adults who struggled to make ends meet. The millions of dollars in street money also brought in higher-powered weaponry. But this is the picture of the 80’s and 90’s. What’s happened in the last 20 years to produce a generation of children that are armed to kill and ready to die? My gut tells me that the corporate hijacking of Hip Hop music has a lot to do with it. I am convinced that there is an agenda to keep the masses poor and downtrodden, and racism is a primary weapon to this end. There is a subplot to oppress Black & Brown people (the Original Indigenous People of the Earth), specifically. Arts are universal languages. They convey messages of intellectual and emotional qualities beyond light speed. It only makes sense that the financial elite would take control of an art form that was born to liberate the people.
I hear rappers talking about popping pills, sipping lean and murdering their enemies (or having “shooters” do it). These messages come down non-stop over rhythms that are hypnotic and undeniable. I almost found myself singing along to these songs more than a few times. I was definitely bouncing to the beats. I believe it is KRS-ONE who talks about Hip-Hop music containing an automatic affirmative via the head nod. Furthermore, there’s something in this music that feels energetic and warlike. These are things that are embedded in the animalistic parts of the human psyche, and reinforced by the machismo that US imperialism was built on. What’s more “American” than standing with your soldiers, taking what you want, and getting rid of anyone that stands between you and wealth? That’s what Manifest Destiny is all about. This is the backdrop to the worship of the Almighty Dollar.
People want power. Truly, the power to determine one’s own life is a baseline desire, maybe a need. However, we’re largely taught that real power is power over others. We don’t yet know how to (or even see a need to) dismantle the power structure; we only want to occupy its positions. We have neither a true concept of community, nor the resources to build it. For instance, cities cannot function or thrive without food sources. Many neighborhoods in Black ghettoes are food deserts. We don’t eat right, so how can we think right? Furthermore, our schools are poor, and don’t relate to our collective circumstance. We don’t have the proper fuel. Those of us who are more right-minded have to compete with the mass media’s reinforcement of shallow, individualistic mentalities that solidify large-scale hopelessness.
There’s also a perversion of what (Black) Power means. I hear a lot of people use Malcolm X’s phrase, “By Any Means Necessary” as a justification for being a terrorist to one’s own community. This is nonsense. In the instances he used this phrase, he spoke of respect, freedom, justice, equality, and human rights. He wasn’t talking about mere survival, and he certainly wasn’t talking about individual success without regard for others. Unfortunately, our people are caught up in pursuing the American Dream. To quote Method Man and the Notorious B.I.G., “fuck the world, don’t ask me for shit, ‘cuz everything you get you got to work hard for it.” That’s how this society makes us think.
The devaluation of Black life is paramount here. Even the word Black connotes degradation. The Black is Beautiful movement has pretty much come and gone (though a revival of sorts seems to happening). The assaults of White Supremacy are non-stop. TV, movies, magazines, literature, history textbooks, advertising et c. constantly remind us that to be Black is the worst of the worst. Black has become a synonym for “ghetto,” which has been incorrectly redefined as impoverished by one’s own fault for being lazy, stupid, dirty and unworthy. Still, I write from a self-affirmed ghetto perspective because I know what the ghetto is. It is a prison. It is where undesirables are economically quarantined. It is what the USA wants to sweep under the rug. There is far more to Blackness than the ghetto, but as long as Black ghettoes exist, I have to fight.
I work with youth who are in alternative sentencing programs, who are homeless, and who have incarcerated parents. I am in close contact with some of the most vulnerable youth in New York City and they are almost exclusively Black and Latino (identities that frequently overlap). We already know that there are cavernous gaps in education and employment along racial lines. All of these factors negatively impact self-worth in communities of color. So if the world-at-large tells you you’re worthless, and the environment you live in offers little to no opportunity to counter that assessment, you embrace it. Combine that with socio-economic factors that often leave a child to fend for him/herself, and this condition is exacerbated. Black boys and girls do not get to live as children. The boys are viewed as menaces and the girls are objectified. All of our children are sexualized prematurely. This easily leads to them being characterized as thugs, whores and misfits, deserving of mass incarceration. Quite naturally, this mischaracterization sticks through adulthood. The problem is, we believe that this is who we are, and we don’t actually like it. We want it to stop. We are collectively suicidal. This frustration is built up in the ghetto, where we don’t know how to effectively strike out against the oppressive system, so the anger and disappointment are aimed inwardly.
Where Are the Guns Coming From?
My guess is the CIA… like the Columbian cocaine that flooded the hood during the Iran-Contra Affair. If you watch the music videos coming out of Chicago, you’ll see that the young people who are gang affiliated are being supplied with an arsenal of weaponry that is flat out scary. Furthermore, this is overseen by older people who do not cherish the youth, and choose to exploit them. So where the guns are coming from is not that important to me. The answer I’m searching for is how to keep our children from turning those guns against themselves. Fratricide is a sickness. I’m only detailing the problems, so that the solutions can be put together effectively.