Anderson Cooper did a piece on 60 minutes on how rap music is hindering investigations by the police into crimes against blacks. The point of the article is that rap music is directly responsible for the black community’s refusal to work with police when crimes are committed. Is it just me or is it obvious to anyone else that American investigative journalism can always simplify the complexities of issues pertaining to the black community into a single focal point with a single cause?
Like any subject associated with black people the contributing factors as to why the black community refuses to cooperate with police are far more broad and numerous than what Mr. Cooper would like to promote. To say that blacks don’t talk to police because of rap music is akin to saying the civil war was all about slavery.
At the very core of this subject is the basic fact that the majority of black people are well aware of the general attitude of American law enforcement and the legal system with regards to black people, we don’t trust you because we don’t like you. For years people in law enforcement have fostered black people’s distrust through various forms of harassment. A black man can’t even walk down the street without catching the careful scrutiny of a police officer. Let their be any outstanding all points bulletin for the past five years that includes the two words “black” and “man” and any “black” “man” walking or driving in the vicinity, whether he fits the suspect description or not, is subject to be stopped and “questioned”.
Oprah would love to talk about how black people may have double standards for white people but has never aired a show that talked about the double standards white people subject black people to. A little black girl can be sentenced to seven years in a juvenile hall for heinous crime of being difficult while a little white girl can burn down a house, steal a car, and rob a liquor store in a single night and get probation. A black woman can suffer from post partem depression, kill her baby, and gets a life sentence in a maximum security prison while a white woman suffering from the same malady who kills her entire family will get psychiatric observation coupled with a few months probation.
White society tolerates black people with disdain. American society has programmed everyone to believe that black people are dangerous, mentally and ethically inferior, and not deserving of the compassion or attention one would give a puppy that falls down a storm drain.
Black people know to invite law enforcement and/or the justice system into their business is an invitation for trouble. Black people do not want to suffer criminal elements in their neighborhood any more than white people do. But what choice do we have? Black people have been conditioned not to trust the police. As part of his investigative journalism effort Mr. Cooper interviewed several black youths ranging from age seven to nineteen. Each one of these students recalled their own negative experience with police officers. One young woman talked about witnessing police jack a black man on her way to school. One young man, he looked like he was all of twelve, testified about being personally subjected to questioning by the police on his walk to school.
Police have done far more harm to their own credibility with the black community than any rapper could accomplish. We constantly see police kill unarmed black men in a hail of bullets for reaching for their wallet or not moving fast enough to comply with the “orders” of undercover officers. A black man is killed on his wedding day by over enthusiastic undercover police officers. A black man can’t engage an overworked police officer in New Orleans after Katrina without getting beat down like a rabid dog. Ask the officer why he hit the man and the response was he was unruly and drunk. Luckily the video that captured the moment proved otherwise. Four police officers will beat a black man after pulling him over for a traffic violation because he didn’t comply with instructions and submit. A police officer balls up his fist and hits a handcuffed black youth in his jaw for grabbing his testicles. Again, the incident was caught on video and disproved the officer’s alibi for his behavior.
And the abuse of authority isn’t limited to just law enforcement. The judicial system is full of instances of black people getting the shaft. Black people are convicted by a jury of their “peers” on evidence that would be laughed out of court if the defendant were white. White people who are accused of killing black people are subjected to sentences that are far lighter and more lenient had the victim been white. A white woman can be caught on tape trying to arrange for the murder of a woman who is the mother of a girl who happens to be her daughter’s rival in a cheerleading contest and get nothing but probation. The woman wanted the other competing girl to be so distraught over her mother’s death that she’d drop out of the contest. This woman was willing to commit murder for something so trivial and all the got was probation from the tough on crime state of Texas. Bottom line, when it comes to getting justice it pays to be white.
So now here comes a gangsta rapper who brings a lot of attention to the seedy, negative facets of the black community. It’s no coincidence that this form of rap music advocates people not talking to the police or anyone in the criminal justice system. Where will it get you? The black neighborhood’s greatest strength was in the fact that people stood together and fought for their neighborhoods and for their status as a people. But these days no one stands united in the black community. Most urban black neighborhoods are a shameful shadow of their past. Although black people didn’t have the material wealth other communities may have enjoyed the black community took pride in what it did have, unity.
These days people in the black community, like many other communities across America, operate individually and alone. Not everyone extends a hand to help their neighbor. Most people don’t even know who their neighbors are. The pressure of immediate gratification makes it impossible to focus on social niceties. Economic and carnal desires are far more paramount.
A black individual spills their guts to the police as the witness what’s next, testify in court? The first thing an attorney for the defense will say to the jury is that the witness is a black person who more than likely has a record so consider the source of the testimony. Most black people don’t have the time or the desire for such legal nonsense. Who’s going to protect the people who live next door to the family or friends of the people they’re testifying against, the police? People in the black community don’t get witness protection programs. People in the black neighborhoods get left to deal with their snitch status all by themselves.
Besides, no one has a code of ethics about snitching like the police. Rumor has it that a police officer who snitches on another police officer isn’t tolerated in their brotherhood. Law enforcement officers know that the person they snitch on today is the person that might be watching their back tomorrow. So they look out for one another whether they are right or wrong, good or bad, white or black. The code of ethics for police officers didn’t develop from them being abused by black people. It was there long before black people refused to snitch on their own. Where’s Mr. Coopers article about police snitching?
There’s so much anger, so much violence, so much greed. It’s amazing that we’ve come as far as we have. Yet, when you really look at things we haven’t gone as far as one might think. I watch the various debates on various subjects, what wars are there and who’s responsible, what peace (if any) is there and who was enlightened enough to initiate it, how expensive is it to do the right thing, how efficient is it to continue to do the wrong thing. Too many times things boil down to a “my way or the highway” method of thinking. But truly, how productive is that?
I don’t pretend to be above this line of thinking. There’s plenty of ideology out there that’s simply not my cup of tea. But to deny someone’s opinion and to think of him or her as a spawn of Satan just doesn’t cut it. When I’m offended I may get bent out of shape, angry, or mad. Regardless of the degree to which I may disagree to what I hear, I have to remember that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.
It’s rather comical how the complex politics of government, religion, business, existence, etc., have been simplified down into an “us versus them” melodrama over and over again. It’s rather sad how many times the opportunity for a truly open and mutually educational dialogue is snuffed out of existence before the diatribe of the solo conversationalist is even finished. Once his or her lopsided opinion is delivered the entire point of the mutual exchange of ideas or opinions is lost.
Times too often it appears facts are discarded in favor of prejudice. Logic is made irrelevant at the very first hint that a preconceived notion may be disproved. The strength to carry the burden of proof necessary to affect a crack in the mental shielding of the true believer is often times daunting. Just watch how many people bury their awareness in the proverbial sands in a perfect mental parody of the ostrich at the first perception that core beliefs may be mistaken or threatened.
There is no longer such thing as a middle ground. Regardless of position on an issue, two parties will circle each other until one finds the polarizing difference that can push people to favor one point of view over another. Indeed, many people feel it is their duty as a citizen of God’s green Earth to seek out different opinions and covert them like a good issue missionary.
People forget that great minds do not necessarily think alike. There was a time where a meeting of the minds was an opportunity for people to come together and debate issues logically, open mindedly, and honestly. To truly respect someone is to value and appreciate his/her opinion regardless of how dissimilar that person’s thinking may be from our very own.
But, dissention is not to be tolerated. Individuals who may differ from the prevailing thought of a group will find themselves ostracized and eventually abandoned as an anathema. The result will be a community whose members are less likely to truly speak their mind. New ideals and ways of dealing with issues are ignored in favor of a so-called traditional mindset wrought with a conservative program that is slanted towards keeping the status quo regardless of the potential benefit to the group as a whole.
It would be a reasonable assumption that when faced with a continuously reoccurring problem or issue, new ways of addressing the matter would be welcomed if not actually totally embraced. However, the conformist would be much happier adapting to current conditions instead of venturing into a new realm that could possibly solve the problem once and for all.
No where is this type of behavior more apparent than in the relatively small community of Orisa worshippers. This really is a heartbreaking disappointment. The number of people who truly operate within our community is such a tiny fraction of the whole population. We really don’t have the luxury of exorcising anyone.
The people who embrace this African based religion are searching for understanding and camaraderie. Our chosen way of life is anything but conformist. Like many others my traditional family background is thickly wrapped around Christianity. No one in my family will agree with my decision to become an Orisa worshipper or to venerate our ancestors. But that’s okay because it’s not required for my path. I understand that my spirituality is more than just something I accept simply because my parents accepted. By making the conscious decision to become an Orisa worshipper I risked being rejected by my flesh and blood.
Now that I am in the tradition I have to conform to the traditional ways of the old Africans. In the ile I choose to join I was told that opposing opinions are welcomed because the elders didn’t want blind loyalty. Yet, I saw many people within the house ridiculed and admonished for voicing their opinion when it did not toe the line of the house’s leadership.
Great minds do not necessarily think alike. In fact, divergent opinions are required in order to assure that an issue is examined from all sides and theoretically leading to the best course of action. To arrogantly reject perspectives simply because they do not come from the same point of view gives ignorance serious purchase and arrogance a solid haven.
When I was initiated as a student of Ifa, I made a vow to do my best to obey and follow the will of Olodumare, the Orisas, and the ancestors. I was told by my spiritual godmother that inevitably there will be a time when an initiate must stand up for what they believe in his/her heart to be just, moral, fair, and/or right. This stand must be taken even if that initiate must take that stand alone. Within all of my heart I believe that she had never spoken a greater truth.
History has proven that exceptional leadership doesn’t always accept conditions the way they are. Jesus the Nazarene changes the world for millenniums to come by rejecting the traditional views of spirituality and life and died for his teachings. Shaka Zulu revolutionized tribal warfare by seeing beyond the conventional means of fighting battles in his time. Nat Turner led a group of enslaved Africans to riot against their bondage. Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth worked as abolitionists, leading many people of African descent to a better life. Mahatma Gandhi led a civil rights movement through the invention of civil disobedience. Fidel Castro led his country through the Cuban Revolution in order to restore power to the people when leadership refused to listen. For all these people, and many more, conformation to the established way of doing business was not an option.
The introduction of a new way of thinking can be tricky thing. It’s important to assure that the community as a whole buys into a new concept. I dare to say that for the most part, many people in the Ifa community, and to be sure, the black community, are very conservative in certain aspects of their personal beliefs. How many times have I heard elders vehemently say something like, “I’ve done it this way for X number of years and I’ll be damned if I’ll change now!” It is typical for people of all ages to resist change because they find adaptation to new philosophies, geographies, methodologies, and technologies possibly difficult and frightening.
History shows that many advocates of significant change, the great minds that did not think like the establishment, paid dearly for their impudence. Other changes, sometimes referred to as revolutions, have been chaotic and violent and have erupted into civil war. Many people look back on these icons of history and accept it as fact that their influence on society. More than likely the venerated ancestors and elders knew the risk of their opposition. But they also knew that change was necessary for the welfare of the collective as well as for their own self-esteem.
Established community leaders, by default of their position usually people of status, have the most to risk when change comes. Disturbing the status quo could lead to a loss of authority or control. Many people will find this a seriously tough pill to swallow. Therefore, in many scenarios, an idea that is a potential threat to prominence would be avoided regardless of benefit to the community. When given a choice, management rarely chooses to go quietly into that good night. Profound change will always be a struggle. Thankfully, sometimes some people cannot remain a quite witness to a circumstance any longer, regardless of the price.
Almost from the minute the European set his foot on American soil in the early 1500s the institution of enslavement of the African in America was born. A majority of people of African descent were freed with President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. But it wasn’t until the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1865 that the practice of slavery truly outlawed in the United States.
Although black people were freed the plight of equality for our ancestors was just starting. While true black people had been freed from slave owners many black people were without property or any economic resources to effect a change in their life. Many fell into a sharecropper arrangement with their former owners. Many blacks were able to migrate north to find factory work. But the vast majority of wealth and property lay in the hands of white people who were able to attract even more wealth and pass this wealth to their children.
White people use their positions of wealth and status to deny black people educations, occupations, descent housing, dignity, humanity, and almost everything else. Many states enacted laws of segregation designed to keep the general black population in their place of subjugation as second class citizens. The humiliation of the black population culminated into the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Black people were beaten, sprayed with fire hoses, attacked with dogs, and suffered other indignities in front of television cameras for the world to see.
Black people were murdered for their cause. The Governor of the great state of Alabama stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama before he would let a colored student pass through its doors. The federal government had to send troops into Little Rock, Arkansas to escort black students to school. All of this was done in order for blacks to get an education that the majority of white people felt blacks didn’t deserve or were able to appreciate.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the legislation that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in voting, employment, and public services. Yet white dominated American society would circumvent the law legally and illegally in order to keep their racial superiority. In response to the irresponsibility of whites affirmative action laws were enacted to assure a more racially diverse learning and working environment Court cases were made and precedents were set in order enforce civil rights. And through it all white people resisted.
People were able to reverse the effectiveness of the courts and affirmative action was deemed too pervasive. Many gains made on the behalf of the black community were reversed with accusations of reverse discrimination. White people seemed to be making an effective stand against the struggles of black people. Conservatives even managed to replace the first black justice of the United States Thurgood Marshall, who worked tirelessly for the equality of black people, with the ultra conservative Clarence Thomas, whose very name reeks of uncle tom. The conservatives have such contempt for black people that they feel that they can call us nappy headed whores without any serious repercussions.
But today a talk show host gets a little too carried away with his racist indiscretions over the radio air waves and gets canned as a result. The black community has managed to affect some type of retribution and now people want to ask, now what? After five hundred years of enslavement, subjugation, humiliation, murder, rape, and second class citizenship the black community has managed to come together and do something as a unit that actually proves that we still have the power to come together and affect change. However, people now want to ask the question, now what?
The very question implies a need for an immediate response. People who ask the black community the question are looking for an immediate solution to the problem or at least an immediate plan to the situation at hand. The current mess pertaining to race relations didn’t happen overnight. It has built up over centuries. Ever since white people stole our African ancestors from their home black people have suffered at the hands of white people.
The current mess in overall race relations took five hundred years for white people to make. Hopefully it will take a lot less than another five hundred years for black and white people to resolve together. But regardless, people need to show a little more patience. Like an overweight person trying to loose as many pounds as quickly as possible we have to remember we didn’t get like this overnight. A long term solution will take time to develop. I know I have a few ideas. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who have their own ideas as well. A solution has no choice but to come, but we have to be patient.