About a month ago, I publicly expressed frustration with entertainers, namely rappers, who constantly present destructive acts, in a manner that is easily perceived as glorification. Rappers, no longer discuss the inner-torment and heart-wrenching affliction they endure as they describe a robbery on wax, or how they have to run to drugs and, or liquor to cover themselves from the death that they faced daily. Now all we see are more elaborate masks, that grins and lies. Long gone are the field correspondents of the ghetto, but ever so present are the walking billboards, advertisements, and promoters; who no longer want to recount the realities of poverty, but who want to profit off of pushing products to the masses.
The night prior to my statements, a friend blessed me with a clip of Sister Souljah’s comments at The Issue is Race, a 1992 television special produced by PBS affiliate WGBH/Boston. The Issue is Race asked several panelists to comment on contemporary race relations in light of the riots. The special was hosted by Phil Donahue and featured Sister Souljah, Jonathan Kozol, Sharon Pratt Kelly, Dhoruba Bin Whad, John Silber and Alan Keyes as panelists. In the video, you can also point out a younger Dr. Cornel West.
If you have no idea who Sister Souljah is, she is a rapper and community activist, however I am most familiar with her work as an author of the novel “A Coldest Winter Ever”. In the video, Sister Souljah, who attended Rutgers University and Cornell University leads a full on assault against the American academic system and its education of young African American minds. While I do not agree with everything that Sistah Souljah states, her reflection on her personal experience with American education is very valid, and is still true today.
Nobody ever told me that America is business and without business you will have nothing and be nothing. And nobody ever told me how to organize business so that I would be able to develop institutions in my own community. So now the sincerity, the sincerity of all of the programs, and all of the education has to be questioned, indicted and convicted, because the bottom line is that America is not, and has never tried to produce African adults who are functional, self-sufficient, who understand their politics, their economics and their relationship to world politics and the world economics
As the video continues, you can see other African American panelists visibly upset with the comments that Sistah Souljah makes. Dr. West, who is not a member of the panel, even jumps in at a futile attempt to show how the American educational system is equitable and says , “Your mama didn’t save you” But again I digress.
When I reflect on Sister Souljah’s statements, coupled with the actions of hip hop moguls like Rick Ross, P Diddy, 50 Cent, and Young Jeezy, I become frustrated and infuriated. It is disconcerting to me to see rappers, who acknowledge their stature in the community as role models, continue to fight each other over menial and insignificant actions and words
Are they (we) really just pawns in a system? Here are men who have amassed extensive wealth and access to resources and information, that children from their hometowns can only fantasize of having. Yet, the only way these men, whose images we are constantly bombarded with, can interact with one another is to afflict each other with physical harm. Why is it difficult for them to be a model of how to work together, despite difference. The only time we really see musicians collaborate is on wax, and in many cases, they are either having a competition of arrogance or partnering up to attack someone else.
Are these the best examples that we have?
I wonder if this, the relationship of one rapper to another, is merely a metaphor for our lives and our communities. When we have the opportunity to create with others who are as successful, and as intelligent, and as dedicated, and as inspired, and as creative as us, do we just quarrel, and completely singe the idea of cooperation? In turn, are the people who are looking up to us, just mimicking our behaviors?
With their virtual reality permeating even more deeply into our waking consciousness, are we prepared to accept the lackluster education?