Noyzes – February 15

Noyzes  

February 15 – Volume 16, #2

“The Year of Hip-Hop: From Boogie Down to Trickle Down”

It doesn’t always seem like it, but the conditions for black people in America have improved exponentially in the past five decades. Still not enough, and there remains much work to do. But strides have been made to be sure.

In spite of tangible gains in income, college degrees and home ownership, there is undoubtedly still more to be done. The black unemployment rate continues to be double that of whites as it has been through most of the 20th century onward. We suffer disproportionately from health afflictions such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. There are examples all around us that single-parent households hold up as well these days as the mythical nuclear family in facilitating the proper socialization of children. But it is highly problematic that so many of our black women are the only economic contributors to the family in a society that grossly underpays its women in comparison to men in every industry in America.

The task of the Civil Rights Movement was to press America to live up to its constitutional ideals and afford all of its residents the basic tenets of citizenship. But the task of the hip-hop generation; of which I’m a part, was to pursue greater economic freedoms to go along with the political ones. And regardless of how much flossing you might hear your favorite rapper doing, we have failed miserably in creating the kind of economic power that transcends into the level of political influence that disenfranchised Jews gained through their work in early Hollywood, for example.

Plain and simple, the fundamental problem for black folks in America is a lack of mass, institutional ownership.

Sure, there have been pockets here and there such as Harpo Studios and Motown a generation earlier, but by and large our community remains almost totally dependent on our white benefactors for fundamentals like food, clothing, shelter and jobs.

Hip-hop; when it first started, was such an important medium for the black collective because it allowed us to produce images of ourselves that ran in direct contrast to the caricatures of black people that have been most predominant in mainstream media, TV and the aforementioned Hollywood. It was important to have voices like KRS-One and Chuck D because they challenged black and white kids alike to learn the histories of people that our school teachers forgot to tell us about. But even if it had failed to do any of that, hip-hop has been critically important to the black community because it has served as a mechanism for mass employment during a time where Reaganomics had transformed the workforce to one where the middle class can’t possibly be seen without squinting really, really hard.

I have spoken before on the fact that hip-hop was born out of an environment of economic destitution. Since that time, funding for public works like education, infrastructure and housing have been slashed even more dramatically in the name of trickle-down. It is hard to fathom what those jobless figures may have ballooned to had hip-hop not created a plethora of millionaires and opportunities for gainful employment.

Of course, we hear a lot (far too much actually) about the wealth accrued by rappers. But hip-hop has also provided steady gigs for the Rock Steady and others to get paid for their craft all over the world. DJ’s like Jazzy Jeff and Kid Capri are working literally every day of the year somewhere on the globe and get so many offers that they actually have to turn down work. Hip-hop graffiti writers have been able to take their art from the subways of New York City to the board rooms of Nike where they have been commissioned to design shoes for Phil Knight’s outfit. Many times, it has been these break boys, DJ’s, MC’s and writers that have been the only ones willing to give their cousin who just got back from prison a job working security, as a traveling secretary or a booking agent. While many of our young people have been forced to take on mountains of debt to acquire skills at business schools and other university departments, some of our most innovative entrepreneurs are hip-hop moguls who only set foot in a college classroom to collect five figure speaking fees. Absent some of the century-long Hollywood networks that span back to Samuel Goldwyn, some of our generation’s most innovative filmmakers have been able to cut their teeth by bringing the hip-hop nation’s lived experience to the world via the big screen. In very real tangible ways, hip-hop has improved the lived reality of black people in America by putting money in their pockets.

But the existential ways that it has affected the black community shouldn’t be overlooked either. Hip-hop was revolutionary when it emerged and later broke into the mainstream on its own terms because it gave us unadulterated control (for a few years anyway before white-owned corporations realized how lucrative it could be) over our image in a way that previous generations of black folks could have only dreamed of.  To see with my own two eyes MC Lyte portrayed as an Egyptian goddess, and Dr. Dre be the target of shots at a rally but continue expressing himself unbowed was important for this impressionable adolescent.

This isn’t to say there weren’t other images as well. There were to be sure. The gods, queens, earths and righteous dred-headz were positioned side-by-side with the gangsters, pimps, thugs and hoochies (they need love too, after all) in the hip-hop of my youth. It was important to present the entire black experience. And our experience isn’t just the black America presented on the Cosby Show, all the while obscuring an edgier, shadier experience just beneath the surface. (alleged and otherwise) Fuck that. Building those kind of facades takes too much effort. And whether you’re America’s dad or not. Time and time again, the hip-hop nation had learned that, at the end of the day, most of white America still sees you as a nigger.

So unlike a Civil Rights generation that pushed Rosa Parks instead of Claudette Colvin to be the symbol of desegregation because it would be more difficult to assail sister Rosa’s morality; we never shied away from exposing our blemishes and warts. There was crime, there was greed, there was stark poverty and the hard choices that came with it. What hip-hop did, which mainstream white America failed to do for generations was give these images context. White America portrayed black realities as some sort of genetic or cultural inevitability by presenting  figures like Mammy and Stepin Fetchit without any wider social backdrop. Hip-hop didn’t just present characters, it told listeners what informed these characters’ world. You be the judge on whether or not Scarface’s actions are acceptable. What you can’t say, if you listened closely, was that you couldn’t rationally understand why he’d take them given the options that his environment allowed him.

The larger social context is important to understanding any art, whether it be hip-hop music or Impressionist paintings. Black artists, label heads, producers and videographers have a responsibility to be conscious of the role of context. As hip-hop industry professionals have gotten more rich (if not necessarily wealthy), it seems impossible to argue that they have been as conscious as their predecessors in bringing context to the images that are created by black people in the larger social world.

That word conscious has gotten a bad rap in recent decades. Not only does this term often erroneously bring to mind an effeminate, suburban, asexual, backpacking, and downright soft wing of hip-hop culture, “conscious” also has been positioned as being the “positive” ying to the “negative” yang of gangsta, crunk and jiggy rap. Conscious doesn’t mean positive. Most MC’s aren’t interested in defining the parameters of positive and negative for listeners. Like most people, good hip-hop songs have some aspects of both. What conscious hip-hop music does provoke is being thoughtful. And a truly gifted MC can rhyme about selling drugs, eating coochie, sucking dick, riding skateboards, picking your nose or living in the ghetto while still stimulating the listeners’ intellect.

Is picking boogers negative? Not for the person whose nose is clogged. So there should be a space for would-be rappers to broach these subjects that are a part of a diverse and wide-ranging black experience.

But the story shouldn’t be shared just to sensationalize that activity in a sophomoric manner that is more characteristic of junior high bathrooms, MC’s should actually challenge the listener to think on some level.

Through most of our history in this country it has been literally illegal for black folks to read and gain more information about ourselves and our world. In the years since the legal barriers have been broken, this mis-education has continued on unabated by subjecting us to school environments where only the most determined among us can learn. This brain-freezing sundae is topped off with delectable sprinkles of distraction by trivial things that have no real bearing on our everyday lives. The five or six companies that control what we are entertained by have worked tirelessly to shut out most all outlets of conscious stimulation on the TV and airwaves. And the complexity of the black experience has been simplified into a series of disposable, cut-out cardboard figures.

It is deplorable the way that white folks have profited from stereotyped images of black people for several generations now. It is far, far, far worse to see how few black rap artists are courageous enough to actively fight against this process.

Hip-hop music should never be limited in its subject matter.  Our lives are three dimensional. And the vast majority of this existence is not spent planning for revolution or attending hands-off Assata rallies. We sell and do drugs. A lot of them. We fuck like crazy. We make some poor choices sometimes. But a true MC does not offer a clichéd representation of these themes. Like a gifted painter, they craft their masterpieces in layers. Layers that you may not get all at once at first. Layers that the casual, lazy observer will never see. In this way, truly experiencing and appreciating the artwork not only requires something of the painter. It requires something of the viewer as well.

MC’s, talk about your drugs, dope buys gone wrong and your fake homies who snitched on you. But take some time to also discuss the role that the criminal justice system, school system and political system have played in affecting not only your choices, but the choices of millions of others who will be affectively shut out of this system in spite of paying their debt to society.

There are rappers who do this like Dead Prez, Jay Electronica and Immortal Technique. And even Jay-Z , Raekwon, Rick Ross or Fat Joe will ruffle some feathers in the seats of power for a bar or two. But usually not much more than that, and that’s wack. Black people are in too deep a state of crisis for those among us with the largest access to black ears not to use their platforms to generate more energy to help change these conditions. Most of the time it seems that the solution is the same bullshit that Ronald Reagan offered. If you get rich like Jay-Z, Wayne or Drake or everything will be just fine. But these astute business men don’t share any information on how to build the kind of magnificent levels of wealth that they have obtained. Instead, they and their clones spare few moments in educating the impoverished black masses on how to quickly part with their money.

But what’s wacker than that is that so many black consumers accept this.

It’s true that the MC’s of my youth offered more substance than the microwave rap served up today. But this wasn’t only because these cats were so special or enlightened. The major difference was that an MC would rather lose his left arm than lose his core audience.

We shitted all over Hammer not for making simple, catchy, soulless music. Plenty of rappers, rappers we love, have done that. Hammer was wack because he sold a knockoff version of our culture to a bunch of dumb people who wanted a safe, disposable, sanitized hip-hop. A hip-hop that will let the casual fan dance and have a good time, but won’t dare ask them to think.

How is the ringtone rap made by today’s rappers any different?

The only thing that’s different is that now it’s your favorite rapper making the music instead of easy targets like Hammer or Vanilla Ice.

Phony rappers should be more responsible. But like you and me, they have jobs to do. Lincoln Perry, the man who portrayed Stepin Fetchit, was actually a pretty radical dude in his personal life. And unlike his stage persona, he was so gifted with words that he had an extensive career as a writer for the Chicago Defender. The brotha was doing what he had to do to get a check during a time where it was nigh impossible for black folks to get paid that kind of money. Although there are wider labor opportunities for blacks today, modern-day minstrel rappers are making the same kind of market calculations that Perry did nearly a century ago. And one will be hard-pressed to find an industry more slimy than the music business. In this environment, sustaining a music career is a delicate balancing act for even the most gifted of artists. There’s a lot of records to be sold in promoting themes that are destructive to the black community like drug dealing, overconsumption of non-wealth building products and mindless drug-induced sexual hedonism.

Most of this music is being bought by white people, just like most of the –dare I say- conscious music by cats like Immortal Technique, Dead Prez and Jay Electronica.

But no matter how many tracks white headz in Sioux Falls and my niggaz in Tokyo download from I-tunes, black folks will always set the trends in hip-hop culture and rap music. Shit isn’t really official until it gets our approval. Black men and women, what hip-hop music are you giving your seal of approval to?

Don’t get it twisted. The most important thing in a hip-hop record is that it gotta be funky. It didn’t mean a thing if it didn’t have that swing in the early 20th century and it don’t now.

But these days, not only is the black rap audience letting wack MC’s get a pass for failing to produce tracks that are mind-unraveling, increasingly they failed to get called out for putting out garbage product.

Most of us are powerless to change the workings of a record industry that is decades old. We may not be able to outweigh the influence of the radio program directors who insist on playing the same 20 songs every day. And it is likely that the DJ at your favorite club may not take kindly to your suggestion that he not play the same songs you heard on the radio on the way to the club all night considering that you stood in line for an hour to pay 30 bucks.

But we have absolute control over what we buy, what we play in our cars and what we expose others to. Will consuming better rap music help to stop the violence in Chicago, prevent cops from killing young black men or strengthen the black family? By itself, absolutely not. The issues impacting the black community have been too long in creation to expect such a simple solution.

But we can no longer pretend like these messages don’t matter either. I had many influences as a youth. My parents being chief among them. But they got plenty of help in raising me from A Tribe Called Quest, Ice-T, Ice Cube, Uncle Luke and Public Enemy. Chuck D said an explicit goal of their music was to create a million new black leaders, and I think they did. I know a lot of Public Enemy’s disciples personally. I’d like to imagine myself as one of them.

It has always taken a village to raise boys and girls of African descent. The slum village of hip-hop was one that was constructed from the ground-up to reflect the views and aspirations of the disenfranchised. This idolization of the lifestyle of the rich and famous that is so common in rap music not only fails to reflect those values, it doesn’t speak to the collective black experience of most people in this country. It doesn’t even speak to the collective experience of most rappers. Today’s most visible rap griots would be well-served to root themselves in this tradition that hip-hop was built upon. And we must all do our parts to force them there. Black people in America are engaged in a most unfair fight for our spirit, mind and very survival. We need every weapon possible at our disposal to vanquish the bullies amongst us. This hip-hop uzi still weighs a ton if we can learn to stop aiming it ourselves. Peace and God bless,

009

Noyzes – January 15

 

Noyzes

January 15 – Volume 16, #1

“ Folk Music”

Last month we established that hip-hop does meet the criteria of a culture and laid out some of the norms, values and rules that are specific to hip-hop subculture. By most any observation, hip-hop today is not what it was, circa 1973, when Kool Herc first rocked a joint on Sedgwick Ave.

The most obvious difference between then and now is that what was once relegated to a few pockets of New York City is now ubiquitous to the point that most people reading this don’t remember a world when there wasn’t any hip-hop.

But this isn’t your father’s hip-hop, to say nothing of your granddaddy IU’s.

Many of hip-hop’s founding values have been transformed to the point that; at times, the culture I grew up with –the culture that helped raise me- is barely recognizable. The most visible manifestations that (often falsely) are presented to the unassuming public under the banner of  hip-hop today usually offer a clonish, one-dimensional, self-indulged, bourgeois experience of blackness that contrasts sharply with the collective, Afrocentricly diverse, innovative, working-class environments that hip-hop was crafted from.

The reconfiguration of hip-hop culture is obvious, but who does this matter to? Well, actually it matters to just about everybody.

It is important to make clear that our primary and most consistent socialization into our culture –any culture- begins at home. Too often, these functions are left to the schools, the church, the government, media or other institutions; and these national fixtures play an important role. But the foundation begins at home. So by the time hip-hop subculture touches any of us, we have already been reared within the social system of some larger culture.

In the United States, regardless of an individual’s station, the socialization that we get from mass society is often virulent and provides precious little that is soul affirming. This is particularly true if your life experiences are similar to the people who created hip-hop.  But for well over a decade most Americans’ reference points for hip-hop culture have been virtually indistinguishable from mainstream American culture. This melding has significant repercussions both for those who love hip-hop and those who do not.

This month I want to specifically explore why this cultural devolution is important to the nearly 200 million white people of America, a great many of which are already passionate about hip-hop culture.

With each new shocking news headline, it becomes more evident that in spite of our five centuries of living separately and unequally in the Americas, white folks don’t understand black America (and black Americans) nearly as well as most black people understand white America. This is no statement on white folks’ aptitude for learning cultures. Black people in America had to learn the rules of engagement for our very survival in a culture that differed dramatically from those that we came from in Africa. But many white Americans have been able to maintain the luxury of remaining ignorant to any culture that wasn’t their own.  And why shouldn’t they maintain such physical and ideological distance? I know more than a few black people who would avoid white culture at every turn if their economic livelihood would allow it. Most human beings are prejudiced to their cultures in this way.

The thing is, the idea of “white” is only a little more than 100 years old. Before that, if you had migrated to America from places that didn’t require as much melanin, you were just a polack, a kike, a kraut or a WOP. Most of these classifications were far better than being a nigger, but served to marginalize nonetheless.

So when the opportunity came to escape this sort of oppressive bigotry and become a white, full-bled American, who wouldn’t jump at that? There was no shortage of black people who did. Even those who could never adjust their pigment enough to blend in phenotypically, made every effort to embrace white supremacy ideologically.

And make no mistake; it wasn’t just whiteness that was created at the turn of the 20th century, but also white supremacy: a belief in the inherent superiority of white culture, ideas, values, beliefs and people. Italians, Irishmen and Polish people left behind proud cultural heritages in assimilating into Americans. There should be some tangible benefits for subjecting oneself to this sort of cultural suicide. So it wasn’t enough to merely be white. It was also important to be positioned above others who were not white.

Whether they admit it or not, most white people in America have a lot vested in white supremacy. Even the kind-hearted, liberal white people. And this is understandable. White Americans enjoy the highest quality of life in the history of the world. By most any objective measure, being born white in America has given people a tremendous leg-up in this society.

But if you look closely, my white brothers and sisters, there aren’t nearly as many benefits to being white as there used to be. And trust me, people of color are not enjoying any residual benefits of your reduced status regardless of what you may have been told on Fox News.

As Nas postulated on his controversial 2008 album, everyone is a nigger now in the eyes of the rich, powerful white men who have ruled the world for several centuries.

Working class whites have waited patiently but wealth hasn’t trickled down quite like Ronald Reagan promised decades ago. The manufacturing base that built the white middle class has been sold away by the politicians white folks largely empowered so that the corporate CEOs who fund their campaigns could take home salaries of $800 million per instead of $500 million. Much like the disenfranchised, postindustrial black people who created hip-hop, if there is not a productive space in which to express very real angst, it can be destructive for all of society.

We see this already though we pretend not to look.

We get a more constant, sensationalized stream of black-on-black violence on the 10 o’clock news each night, while white violence is seen as more random and less pathological. Yet obscure places like Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado have become buzzwords that immediately bring to mind the whimsical slaughters of random, lone, psychologically-disturbed assassins.

Except after a while, all this white-on-white crime doesn’t seem so random. This shit is a symptom of a larger systemic breakdown. People are pissed off in these times. And they have a right to be. But just like black kids in the ghetto, too often this anger is displaced.

The people in power; who control what we see and hear, perpetuate this masochism further yet. Corporate media distracts us with stupidity, and frightens us with an endless assembly-line of manufactured enemies. Today it’s the brown people in Isis who have killed exactly three American citizens regardless of how many times they show impassioned, pre-beheading speeches on cable news. Or it’s the diseased African people that are responsible for spreading an ebola virus that has failed to take the life of even one American-born citizen on American soil. Or it’s the scary black people rioting and looting after another cop gets away with murder without even the slightest assistance from Viola Davis.

But honestly, (and I truly don’t mean to get too Marxian, member of the petit bourgeoisie that I am) who is a bigger threat to the average white person’s daily peace of mind? Some dude in Yemen who don’t know where his next meal is coming from, or the banker that’s trying to take the house you’ve sacrificed your life savings to make a deposit on?

I firmly believe that one reason we have seen such a spike in spree shootings in recent years is that there are few places where people can constructively vent their frustration. As they have for black people some time ago, most of white America’s trusted cultural institutions have broken down. The government in Washington has long been fucked to the point where few people even take politics seriously anymore. Wall Street takes few pains to hide the fact that they’re not much more than a white collar casino, except a casino has more ethics. Religious bodies such as the Catholic Church are rebounding from decades of scandal. The military has overseen a cover-up of an unseemly high level of sexual assaults. Our foods are even more toxic than our entertainment. The school system? Yeah right. White folks. Black folks. Purple folks. We got nowhere else to turn to. It’s high time that we turn to each other.

Underground subcultures like hip-hop already contain some of the internal infrastructure that can allow for a sustained, transformative cultural movement that can help erode some of the distracting and divisive labels of race, class and gender that have helped to maintain the status quo to the benefit of a precious few.

Hip-hop, in its original organic form, was built off of the energy of the oppressed. This is why today it is the most common music of choice all over the world for people to express their frustration with their local power structure from Oakland to Kiev. To quote Talib Kweli, hip-hop is the last, true folk music. Young white kids today would be well served to tap into that energy.

In its unadulterated form, nowhere will white folks be exposed to the view of America that is seen through the prism of hip-hop. And I defy anyone to find anything in the 20th century that brought more people from divergent backgrounds together than hip-hop has, and continues to do.

I make no bones about being a bit of a conspiracy theorist, though I pride myself in rooting my most deeply held principles in unassailable facts. It will be difficult to locate tangible support for such a position, but I believe strongly that the powers-that-be in this country felt very threatened about the cultural influence that hip-hop was gaining in the early 1990s and worked swiftly to undermine it. Hip-hop wasn’t only producing more conscious black men and women. It was creating more conscious white people too.

White people being entertained by black culture wasn’t anything new. That’s been going on literally since black folks arrived in America. But as I said last month, hip-hop is a culture that demands that you get your hands dirty. For a white dude to feel truly at home in authentic hip-hop spaces, he will not be able to remain passive in the culture. Hip-hop is diverse, but foundationally, it is a black culture and always will be. If you’re a white girl or boy who plans to be in this for the long haul, and don’t just use your engagement with hip-hop as a phase in which you can annoy your parents, it is going to be a bit uncomfortable for you at times. An anecdote from my dissertation research on Chicago hip-hop is illustrative of this forced discomfort. Although my research participant, “Kerry,” had long had his baptisms by fire in the predominantly black hip-hop shows he had attended since he was a teen, he was still taken aback by an experience he had at a Dead Prez concert in New York city. Kerry says of the event:

“Like 8 years ago, maybe Dead Prez had been out a couple of years. I was at the Rock Steady anniversary in New York and they were one of the groups performing. And I was there kind of with a mix of people I think. I was the only white kid, and there were a few black women, a couple of dudes, a Mexican dude. Dead Prez got on, did a couple of songs and then decided it was time for them to preach a little bit. I was aware of what they were about, but at the same time I never took offense to it. It’s music, everyone can say what they want to say. If anything, I didn’t like the generalizations and that’s exactly what they did that day. “Kill white people and you gotta kill white people” and all that. And this is like the hundredth show I been to and this is the first time I’m hearing something like this. And I’m like you’ve got to be kidding me. These dudes are crazy. I bought their album. I was pretty turned off by it. And to this day it’s hard for me to go out and get into some Dead Prez stuff. When I’m spinning I’ll still play “it’s bigger than hip-hop,” I’ll play some “Mind Sex” but it’s hard for me to say I want to buy their album. Later I thought about it. What they’re saying, it’s a little extreme but I know there’s frustration, I know there’s anger. I would rather have them tell me how they feel than have them tell me everything is all good. So at the end of the day I was like it’s cool but at the same time I haven’t been dying to get into Dead Prez’ mixtapes. The Dead Prez thing was such as- the way that they presented their platform. “It’s revolution, put your fists up and take these white people out.” Come on. Where you gonna take me? This is ridiculous. I don’t really hear that with Common, Dilla or whoever when they make comments about white people. But now I have a feeling that (Dead Prez) not talking about me, they’re talking about other people in the white community and I can point people out I know that fall into that. They talking about someone but they not talking about me.”

I reference Kerry here at length because his experience at the Dead Prez concert shows how white hip-hop headz sometimes still have to struggle to be seen as individuals and not part of the white power structure. But ultimately Kerry’s experience in these spaces allowed his racial understanding to expand by being forced to confront situations that will make most whites uncomfortable, and that they rarely have to experience in America.

But it is these kinds of experiences that breed human empathy. The best way to truly understand oppression is to experience how it feels.  There are few places where white folks can feel the experience of a minority. To be sure, Kerry’s experience in hip-hop is not nearly on par with the kind of psychological and physical abuse that black people live through daily in this society, but it is important for them to have an authentic and genuinely inviting space that lets them walk in our shell-toed Adidas for at least a little while.

I don’t pretend that hip-hop culture is white people’s only avenue to this kind of enlightenment. But it is one of the more organic and quite frankly, most fun.  And the only real requirement for white people to be made to feel at home in these spaces is that you be yourself at all times.

But for this to fully take hold, hip-hop will have to get back to producing true folk music that is inspired from the black underclass. Too often hip-hop’s contemporary torchbearers use the culture as a medium to promote the value system of rich white men through excessive and exaggerated focus on Maybachs, champagne and wack homo-erotic, European designers rather than use their forums to bring attention to national unemployment levels, gas prices and income disparities.

And while all of America is disaffected by these developments, the old saying that when America catches a cold black America gets pneumonia absolutely still rings true. And black America has never had the kind of illusions held deep in the hearts of most white folks that we can count on our social institutions to support us through the lean times. Where we could, we’ve had to depend on our own institutions. The black church. The Nation of Islam.  Black barbershops and other enterprises that were borne out of the reality of Jim Crow.

At one time, hip-hop had the potential to become another enduring institution for the black community that would not only produce values, ideas and norms; but jobs, skills and social power.

Whether or not hip-hop has realized that potential depends on who you ask. But one thing’s for sure, the answer to this question is crucially important for the larger black community. Next month I’ll unpack some of the reasons why.

Peace and God bless,

009

 

Noyzes – December 14

Noyzes

December 14 – Volume 15, #12

“The Year of Hip-Hop: Roots and Culture”

In exploring why hip-hop matters last month, I began by inquiring whether it was a culture or whether it was just music. We all have heard the phrase, “hip-hop culture,” but I’m not sure we always have a clear understanding of what that word culture means. Even those of us who throw that term around loosely.

The fact is all of us have a culture. And most of us are a part of several cultures simultaneously.

For example, most readers of this post are influenced by American culture. The culture we’ve been raised under is different from the culture you’d see in Mozambique. Or Burma. Or even Canada.

We didn’t just naturally start eating corn dogs or loving football. The real football, not soccer.

Unlike most of the world’s nations, however, the United States attracts people from all over the planet who bring their cultures with them in spite of our increased xenophobia. Because we live in such an ethnocentric nation where we believe everyone should conform to the main, new citizens often are not stateside very long before they forgo their cultures.

Sometimes this cultural abandonment is forced such as efforts to prevent recent Central American immigrants from speaking Spanish in public schools. Other times the force is less overt such as the structural influences that motivated many early Jewish Americans such as Judy Garland, George Burns and Lauren Bacall to change their names in an effort to gain more access to America’s institutions such as schools, the economy, politics and entertainment.

Sometimes, deliberate efforts are taken to maintain at least some aspects of the cultures that all of us except the Native Americans left on the other side of the Atlantic. This is done publicly through spectacles such as the Puerto Rican Day parade that functions to maintain pride and knowledge of a culture that gets little visibility in America’s newspapers, movies, music and TV shows. While some may have though the purpose of such gatherings was just to hold up traffic, it has great significance for those who belong to the culture, and even those who do not.

A culture helps to remind you who you are and where you come from. And in a world that seems to be spinning more and more out of control, knowing who you are and where you come from feels more important than it ever has.

There are three components that distinguish one culture from another: cultural norms, values and the rules of each culture.

Norms refer to literally what is considered normal within a culture. Because each one of us are so wrapped up in our cultures, we often think that the things we do within them are normally done everywhere by everyone. It is only when we are exposed to other cultures that we see how unique it is that we are allowed to openly eat cows and pigs while some cultures view these acts as violation of God’s will. When we are exposed to other cultures we see most of the world not only drives on the left side of the road but have their steering wheels on the right. And most people throughout the world who go everywhere in suits and formal dresses find our custom of dressing casual in blue jeans, shorts and flip-flops just as strange as European missionaries found the tribal garbs of West Africa when they began the pillaging of the continent six centuries ago. Often times, particularly in a place like America, we have a tendency to weigh one culture over another. But these norms are just different. I absolutely prefer driving on the right side of the road and have steadfastly refused friends’ offers to take the wheel overseas when offered. But this doesn’t mean our way of driving is better. Five minutes on any major American road will quickly prove otherwise. It’s simply different.

A culture’s norms, ideally, reflect the values of the people who helped to create it. Vales speak to what is considered important within the culture.

Some familiar America values (in theory anyway, work with me) include hard work, religiosity, democracy, equality, and efficiency.

We Americans think it is important for people to work hard and look down on people who do not. We generally think you should be a Christian, but most feel that you should show reverence for some god even if it’s the wrong one. In spite of our incessant talk of separation of church and state, nowhere else in the world do religious matters like abortion and homosexuality so inform the political dialogue. Though it seems our conception of democracy is becoming increasingly immature, we still believe that people should have a say in how they’re governed and that people should be treated equally before the law. Americans live in a society that is very demanding in a way that is different than a small fishing culture so the efficiency we value is rooted in a fundamental need to get things done quickly because we live in a society where so very much needs to be done. All the time.

So although they are becoming commonplace throughout the world, fast food restaurants are derived from an American culture that required meals to be consumed quickly, cheaply and on the move. Who has time to stop and eat a meal like a civilized person after all? Cultures where entire major cities shut down for hours-on-end for lunch, that’s who.

And initially when people come from these other cultures to live in the United States, they find our tangible norms of efficiency in the form of drive-through pharmacies and microwave pizzas very odd. But most adapt to America’s customs before too long. After all, it’s easy to get people to conform to the wonders of White Castle. What kind of socialist terrorist wouldn’t like White Castle?

But a lot of our other norms are more difficult to adapt to. Not just for people who weren’t born here, but for people who have lived here all their lives.

I can’t lie. I probably would have assaulted several more people (all deserving) than I have in my life had there not been laws preventing such things. And since most people in this culture are far bigger than me, it is probably best that this rule against physically resolving conflicts is enforced to reflect our value of rule of law. Most of the rules that hold cultures together are informal and can only be fully understood by immersing yourself within the culture. You can read all you want about the myriad of American laws in a textbook but only by living here will you understand the informal sanctions against picking your nose in public, talking loudly during the National Anthem or cutting in line at the grocery store. There’s no law that mandates that you wear a shirt and tie to a job interview, but the unspoken penalties for not doing so are more severe than any law could be.

This summation of culture brings us to hip-hop. Unpacking the three components of culture just described; norms, values and rules, does hip-hop qualify as a culture?

I would answer with a resounding yes.

Hip-hop certainly has a set of distinct values that, like most of America’s many cultural norms, one can’t be fully aware of unless they’re actually immersed in the culture.

It is always important to remember that hip-hop was created by poor people to document poor people’s life in three dimensions. Like other American ethnic subcultures that are presented to the world as one-dimensional stereotypes, poor black people couldn’t count on anyone else to tell their story. Not only did the stories coming out of the South Bronx not jive with the larger cultural narrative, telling those stories wasn’t profitable for anyone. It is important that we understand that any art that isn’t somehow connected to the experiences of this group is drifting away from the value system of hip-hop culture.

Because hip-hop was born poor and working class, possessing a strong work ethic has always been at the core of hip-hop culture. Hip-hop doesn’t value laziness. This is why it has always been a cultural norm for MC’s, DJ’s, b-boys and graf artists who haven’t taken proper time to master their craft to be publicly and aggressively dissed.

Even though hip-hop was born in the ghettos of New York City, it never had any intention of staying isolated there. Hip-hop has always been aspirational. A person who lives their life according to a hip-hop value system is always seeking more. Sometimes it may be more props. Other times it’s more money. Often it’s more independence in some form or another. But hip-hop has always been about trying to move forward and reach the next level.

And yet hip-hop values the past so much that not only is it a subculture characterized by an omnipresent romanticization of previous eras and toasts to the fallen among us, but often the most common way to test an individual’s hip-hop cultural acumen is by measuring how far back their knowledge of hip-hop spans.

In spite of such parameters, hip-hop is very much an open and inviting space, far less discriminatory towards new entrants than most cultures in spite of its undeniable Afrocentricity. We truly like em’ brown, yellow, Puerto Rican and Haitian. You can be a Fat or a Skinny boy. A tall MC or Too Short. But sucka nigga, whoever you are, you have to get your hands dirty, you can’t touch hip-hop from a distance.

That’s because hip-hop has always been a collectivist culture meant to be experienced in the flesh with other people. Technology has always played a major role in producing and disseminating hip-hop culture. And this has been done to great effect as there is not a corner of the planet that hasn’t felt hip-hop’s influence. But one negative by-product of us having such access; to hip-hop music in particular, is that people no longer feel as incumbent to experience the culture collectively in a way that they were compelled to in 1978. Experiencing hip-hop in mass is a quintessential value of the culture that will never die because this is how it was conceived.

Hip-hop is a culture that values interaction, exemplified by the norms at a hip-hop show where without warning you may be asked to yell “Ho” or “ow” even if you aren’t hurt. 5-0 may be nowhere in sight but you are still likely to be ordered to throw your hands in the air. And just as the Furious Five’s Cowboy requested of NYC party goers 40 years ago, the DJ may ask you to clap your hands to the beat (just clap your hands to the beat). Hip-hop is not a passive culture that requires nothing of its audience. It demands that you get involved. Most of us are able to engage in the aforementioned call-and-response rituals without even thinking but they are not natural. They are learned actions. None of these behaviors would make any sense at a country or rock concert. And it would be strictly taboo to yell out in such a way were you to attend the Opera. In most European performances, the crowd is to be understood as separate from the singular, genius performer. Hip-hop obliges you to be part of the show.

Again, recall cultures aren’t better. They’re just different. So it is without malice that scholars have observed that most European cultures like the one found in the United States are individualist cultures that value individual will over the interests of the group. This is at odds with the cultures of Africa and East Asia that stress group solidarity, limited confrontation and subversion of individual will to that of the pack, particularly the family. Like many values found in hip-hop, these contradictory value systems found a home in hip-hop through what I have referred to in my academic work as collective individuality.

The American ambition is to strike it alone and pull yourself up by your bootstraps. But this is not a luxury black people could ever enjoy in this country. We didn’t have no fuckin’ bootstraps. Hell, most of the time we didn’t have boots. A lot is made of the crab in the bucket mentality and there is much merit to it. But the reality is that black folks could never have survived in this country as we have without relying on one another. This is made explicit within hip-hop. As stated, hip-hop is all about working hard but we aren’t above a hookup. And in our culture, the goal isn’t merely to win alone, but to win as a team. We have always labored to bring our whole squads with us when we achieve individual success. Whether it’s our crew, posse, clan, clique, block, borough, or city; hip-hop MC’s, b-boys, DJ’s, graf writers and the community-at-large have not only generally operated in groups, but have used our personal achievements to catapult others. The kind of apprenticeship relationship that Dr. Dre has enjoyed with the D.O.C, Snoop, Eminem, The Game and Kendrick is ubiquitous to all elements of hip-hop culture.

The Chinese have a proverb that says that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. While hip-hop is collectivist in a manner that is similar to many Eastern cultures, having space for individual expression is crucial. This is especially important in a male-dominated culture like hip-hop because black men in America have had to so long swallow our individuality and humble ourselves before white folks. So even while we roll 20 deep with our squad, we still aim to distinguish ourselves in some form. Carving out some originality in our style and expression is one of the essential values of hip-hop. Biters are only held in slightly higher esteem than pedophiles in hip-hop subculture.

Hip-hop, even when it’s not trying to be, is political. But our politics are different from our parents’ politics that was informed by the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement was vital in creating pathways to success for black people in America. But part of Civil Rights political symbolism was a physical presentation that conformed to mainstream sensibilities. Michelle Alexander writes of this strategy, “the politics of respectability was a politics that was born in the nineteenth century and matured in the Jim Crow era. This political strategy is predicated on the notion that the goal of racial equality can only be obtained if black people are able to successfully prove to whites that they are worthy of equal treatment, dignity and respect. Supporters of the politics of respectability believe that African Americans, if they hope to be accepted by whites, must conduct themselves in a fashion that elicits respect and sympathy rather than fear and anger from other races.” To this end, Civil Right Leaders made it a point to always publicly appear in finely pressed shirts, ties and modest dresses to communicate that they were just like rank and file white Joe Public, and that they weren’t a threat to the American way of life. But we hip-hop heads aren’t like Joe Public. And we damn sure ain’t gonna dress like him. And we absolutely want to threaten a way of life that not only hasn’t served black people very well in four centuries, but actually hasn’t served most white people very well either. Besides, no shirt and tie protected Martin Luther King or Medgar Evers from the crosshairs of bigoted assassins. So if you’re going to be hated just for being you, you might as well be comfortably dressed.

In this way, hip-hop follows in the nationalistic tradition of the Black Panthers and similar militant groups of the later 1960s. We don’t give a fuck if our hair, clothing, language, or our very being offends white people and bourgie negroes. In fact, the true hip-hop head lives for such a thing.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t get prim and proper. We absolutely can dress up with the best of them, but it’s going to be for our own self-fulfillment not to appease anyone else. Not only do we make no apologies about our appearance, hip-hop has no shame for its hedonism, no matter how much we are mocked for our drug and alcohol abuse because in the spirit of Frank Sinatra, we plan to live until we die; not just survive. Unlike America, who talks of equality in a land full of Michael Browns, Eric Garners and Trayvon Martins, hip-hop fully embraces its numerous contradictions. We’re queens and bitches. Gods and niggas. We are not Tiger Woods, but we are Tupac. Both nihilistic thugs and inspirational revolutionaries.

From vinyl records, blunt cigar papers to break beats; hip-hop has always taken only what it has needed from America and left the waste behind. We value your capitalism but not your oligarchy that allows wealth to only be concentrated in the hands of a few. We value justice but not the American sense of it. We very much value knowledge, but only knowledge which directly functions to benefit our lives in some way materially, socially or spiritually. We value God but not your oppressive theologies. We value love. But a love constructed of a Method Man-Mary Blige complexity, not that corny, simplistic Nat King Cole shit. We value unadulterated, unfiltered honesty because everyone has lied to us for so very long.

Of course hip-hop culture has no formal laws. Hip-hop hates formality nearly as much as the men and women of law enforcement seem to hate black people. And quite unlike the United States which just saw fewer than 37 percent of the voting public take part in the most recent congressional midterms, hip-hop is the epitome of democracy. So there are no official leaders who have given the final word from on high of what hip-hop is supposed to look like henceforth and forever. To be sure, great weight is given to the words and lived actions of documented pioneers like Kool Herc, Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash. It is these three men, more than anyone else, who inform the values I laid out above.

Originality, for example, was so vital in early hip-hop that pioneering break record DJ’s like Flash would soak his records in a bathtub to remove the labels from the records so no other DJ could play the record at their party. Flash had worked hard to create a unique style and sound for himself in hip-hop and he didn’t want someone coming and biting who was more interested in profiting without investing the required time and labor. A true hip-hop head not only toils endlessly to avoid biting others, they endeavor not to bite themselves. While clone DJ’s today show no originality by playing the same popular radio songs that are being bumped in 10,000 parties all across the country on a random Friday night, the early break beat DJ’s wouldn’t play the same record in public twice for months.

It was Kool Herc who incorporated the idea that hip-hop would always be the people’s music. The people who lived in the isolated post-industrial, urban ghettoes of the 1970s felt like the wealthy had taken everything from them. So Herc wanted to make conscious efforts to give something back. Speaking on bringing hip-hop jams to the park during the culture’s primitive years Herc says, “See , the park playin is like playing for your people. You give them something for free. Sometimes it’s hot and a lot of the clubs didn’t have no air conditioner. So I gave parties out in the park to cool out while summer’s there. To play in the park is to give the fans and the people something.”

And Afrika Bam is perhaps most responsible for instituting the values of collecitivism, intellectualism, Afrocentricity and cultural open-mindedness within hip-hop. He knowingly used his turntables as weapons in which to educate and break down cultural barriers all over the world.

But even these cats didn’t create the rules in and of themselves, the rules developed organically. Democratically. Nor are the founding fathers above these rules that have governed hip-hop culture across five decades now. Once upon a time, being held in violation of these informal rules in the court of hip-hop public opinion was the greatest fear any hip-hop head could have. But in these anarchistic times in hip-hop, we seem to be in a wild west of sorts where anything goes.

Already released an album called The Blueprint, Cuban Linx or The Carter? Go ahead and release another one. There is no hip-hop sheriff to enforce the norm of originality. In fact, artists are encouraged to draw within the lines of safely confined boxes as much as possible. Being original could mean the end of a rapper or producer’s career. And hip-hop has always aspired to live a life that’s juicy like Biggie, no question. But it is rare these days to hear an anthem of success that is rooted in the collective struggle of all the stereotyped “black men (and women) misunderstood” the way that track was. Today’s rich rappers are far more likely to mock the poor than to relate to them or speak to their struggle. And most of us non-artists who love hip-hop on the ground floor are far too busy these days to go check out a hip-hop show or festival with other like minded souls. Besides, our I-Phones have all the songs we’d hear at the concerts anyway. And the technology is dope. It’s more efficient to have your music accessible on modern devices than having to carry around a huge boom box everywhere. But these gadgets, coupled with the self-absorbed rappers spitting drivel out of them, are helping to make our culture more individualized and less collective in a way that does not follow in the tradition laid out by Kool Herc.

Make no mistake, cultures are not meant to stay the same. Much of the change that culture’s inevitably experience is good. Japanese culture spans thousands of years and remains very traditional. But it’s probably a good thing that men in their culture no longer respond to bringing shame on themselves or their families by taking their own lives.

Next month we want to explore whether this cultural transformation within hip-hop matters or not. And if so, who does it matter to? I hope you’ll join me again at that time.

Peace and God bless,

009

 

 

Noyzes – November 14

Noyzes

November 14 – Volume 15, # 11

“Hip-Hop and Chimichangas”

At its core, Illanoyze is a hip-hop company.

Hip-hop.

For many, even passionate fans of hip-hop, this would mean that we are inspired by rap music.

And it is without doubt that our vision has been inspired by rap music. How could it not be when you grew up listening to the likes of Tribe, De La, Common, Too Short, The Wu, Black Moon, CMW, NWA, the Geto Boys, Monie Love, Outkast, Special Ed, Cypress Hill, Public Enemy, EPMD and Gang Starr?

Most rap music (even bad rap music) is derived from hip-hop culture. But hip-hop culture is so much more than rap. When I say that Illanoyze is a hip-hop company, this means that our vision is rooted in the culture of hip-hop, not just the wonderful music that it yields.

Most of the mediums that we in the general public use to gain access to the four elements of hip-hop culture; rap music most specifically, are controlled almost exclusively by people who have little love and comprehension of hip-hop culture. For them it is a way to make a buck. And for most consumers, hip-hop is something used for entertainment and amusement, but isn’t given much consideration beyond that.

On these pages, I have always attempted to write in a hip-hop voice. “Attempt” is an inaccurate description. At this stage of my life it would be far more difficult for me to try not to be hip-hop than attempt to be. Still, in over a decade of essays I have largely been derelict in that I have taken for granted that there was a consistent and wide-ranging understanding of what principles are at the foundation of hip-hop culture. To be sure, I have spoken on matters of rap, but I have not directly addressed: what is hip-hop exactly? Moreover, does hip-hop even matter enough to define it? Why can’t it just be? And if we are to define hip-hop, that begs the inevitable question of exactly who is and who isn’t hip-hop? And what behaviors, ideas and products are synonymous with hip-hop culture and which ones are not? It wasn’t hard to tell who was really down back in 1988. It’s a lot more difficult today. Is that good, bad or indifferent? Hip-hop has come a long way since 1988. It’s come a long way since 2008. In 2009 Common hosted inauguration festivities while presidential fundraiser, Jay-Z, had a front row seat for the historic transfer of power. Who would have guessed that could have occurred back when Bill Clinton was disparaging Sista Souljah to curry the votes of middle class white people? No question, hip-hop started at the bottom but now it’s here. But where is here exactly? We’re a long way from home, but do we know where we’re at? And maybe even more importantly, where is hip-hop going from here?

I am uncertain that we will be any more clear on these matters going forward. And as cocky as I am, I certainly am not arrogant enough to surmise that I’ll have magically come up with all the answers at this time next year. The primary goal of this series of essays is to promote dialogue and hopefully enhance some level of understanding about this culture of hip-hop that is loved by many but understood by a precious few.

Most of this is because hip-hop is mainly viewed as a commodity that can be purchased at a store or online along with Apple Jacks, Dove, a cell phone charger and margarita mix. There can be no doubt that hip-hop has become a commodity for sure. And that’s not all bad. But I want to use this as a space to explore hip-hop’s function beyond the marketplace.

The first thing that I think is vital in facilitating a proper comprehension of hip-hop is to understand the concept of culture. I’ll dig into this more deeply next month, as well as scrutinize whether or not hip-hop meets the criteria for a culture.

I’ll follow this up by exploring the process of how culture becomes commercialized. Not just hip-hop. (If it is a culture) Most all cultures experience their transformation from something that is lived and breathed to something that is bought and sold. You can drink Irish culture by chugging a bottle of Guinness while you’re wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day in Boston. The real Guinness, not this wack ass Blonde Lager they’re trying to trick people into buying. But no matter how drunk you get, your black ass ain’t Irish. You can have a hefty helping of Japanese culture when you order some sake to chase down your sushi. You can even use chop sticks and leave your shoes at the door. But when you leave out of that restaurant you’re going to still be a white dude from Kansas. You’d think you’d be eating Mexican culture when you’re eating a chimichanga but you’d be wrong. Chimichangas are an American creation and you might have trouble locating some when traveling through Central America.

Much like chimichangas, sometimes products that pose as hip-hop in the marketplace are totally detached from their true cultural roots. I hope to give readers a more clear comprehension of which commodities are rooted in hip-hop and which are not. In other words, which are chimichangas and which are huevos divorciados.

Some people may feel like who gives a fuck where they originate from? Chimichangas taste good. That’s all that matters. So I also want to explore why it’s important to make the distinction between expressive forms that are derived from hip-hop and which ones are not.

Most significantly, I want to analyze why this distinction is important to you. Yes you. And what role you (and me) play in the process of blurring this distinction.

Throughout this discussion -which will go on for the next calendar year- I will explore where hip-hop came from in order to get a more full understanding of how it got to where it stands in 2014-15.

And hip-hop isn’t static. It’s a living, breathing, steadily evolving culture and art form. So where appropriate, I will also sound off on major shifts and new developments in hip-hop as they transpire over the next 11 months.

And this colloquy will conclude with an honest and thorough examination of where hip-hop is going. Throughout, I highly encourage readers to submit their thoughts and questions as well in an effort to push the dialogue forward.

We’ve all heard the notion that hip-hop is dead and of course this is ridiculous. Nas didn’t believe that either, he was merely trying to provoke a sense of urgency for the culture that he and I love so dearly. The writings here are crafted in that spirit. There should be a sense of urgency as it relates to hip-hop. The extent to which it needs to be saved is up for debate and I hope to provoke a healthy dose of that here.

What is not up for debate, however, is that hip-hop’s continued worldwide vitality cannot be sustained without grassroots action. I hope I can do my part to illuminate what we are moving for, where we are moving to and exactly who is and who is not moving with us. And most importantly, I want to show why hip-hop remains worthy of taking action for.

Peace and God bless,

009

 

 

 

Noyzes – September 13

Noyzes

September, 13 – Volume 14, #9

“They Reminisce over You”

“When the lights shut off and it’s my turn to settle down,  My main concern, promise that you will sing about me.” – Kendrick Lamar, Sing About Me-

 “Never be another, he was my brother, Trouble T-Roy” –Pete Rock, T.R.O.Y.

Mustering the words to describe both my personal, and the collective, sentiment over the Trayvon Martin verdict was as arduous of a task as I have ever undertaken. That verdict broke my heart and left my spirit beaten down like it hadn’t been in quite some time.

That pales in comparison to my struggle in composing this month’s Noyzes which is dedicated to the memory and the life of my good friend, brother and business partner Troy Mackey.

Troy left us well too soon on July 31 of this year. This was one of the more surreal days of my life.

Almost a month later I’m still in a state of shock over Troy’s passing. Troy seemed invincible, after all. He was the type of dude that you just assumed was gone live forever. I rarely remember Troy being sick and the only time I ever saw him hurt was following the only 10 minutes that he ever stepped on the basketball court with me. That afternoon Troy nearly broke every bone in his body before ultimately being sidelined by an ankle injury. Troy was as comfortable on the basketball court as I am under the hood of a car.

But where Troy was comfortable was in his own skin. Troy was one of the precious few among us who not only knew exactly who he was, but was at peace with that.

More of us could find this peace if we possessed as many outstanding traits as Troy did.

Troy Mackey was loyal to his friends and family. He wasn’t at ease unless those around him were as well. Troy was consistent. Troy’s word was his bond. He was smart. He was funny. He was a psychotically hard worker. Troy would go the extra mile. He was a good listener. He was resourceful as hell. He was protective of his loved ones. He was pragmatic. He was humble. He had no problem acknowledging his shortcomings and worked hard to master them – and everything else that he put his mind to. Troy was open-minded. He was reliable. He was honest. He had some good weed. He had good manners.  He made everyone that he spent extended time with a better person.

My stature was diminished significantly when Troy took in his last breaths a few weeks back.

I was introduced to Troy through business 13 summers ago when he literally bought into the vision that we had for this company even more than those who had witnessed its genesis up close. It didn’t take very long for Troy to become much more than a business partner. Troy became not just one of my closest friends in the world, he became family. Through some of my greatest victories and most bitter defeats, Troy was at my side. But make no mistake, 10,000 men couldn’t replace what he has brought to our company. Troy had no vanity in him at all so he absolutely abhorred the spotlight, preferring instead to make his contributions quietly behind the scenes. But none of that surface-level shit is possible without Troy Mackey. It was Troy who built a presidential podium with his bare hands (just as he did most of the furniture in my home) for our first skit on Noyzemakers. I didn’t ask Troy to do this, but it was important to him that the company put on a good public face. It was Troy, and not me, who took months full of classes on his off days from his full-time gig to learn the production techniques that allowed my aesthetic and professional blemishes to be better concealed on the show. It was Troy who steered the wheel many times when I was away pursuing some of my individual interests in Champaign, Illinois, the District of Columbia, Cape Town, South Africa or Charlotte, North Carolina. After being terribly skeptical about Troy’s ability to endure my abrasive management style, it was Troy that was the last man standing when everyone else abandoned me in this mission. It was Troy whose infectious spirit and unwavering optimism defined this company during the many times that my knees buckled privately. His contributions to Illanoyze are absolutely immeasurable.

Troy’s actions in the company mirrored how he lived his life. He wasn’t one person when working with Illanoyze and someone else in his personal life. Troy Mackey was truly a good dude all the time. He wasn’t good because it was good for business. He wasn’t good because he was afraid that God or Santa Claus would punish him if he wasn’t. He wasn’t good because he wanted everybody to talk about how good he was. He was good because that’s just who he was. A tear or two might be shed over me when I inevitably pass out of this life, but while I haven’t made many enemies, it won’t take very long to recall some of my darker moments or two, or fifteen. And this will be from the people who love me. But you will be hard-pressed to find anyone who has anything bad to say about Troy. He was a one of a kind great guy. Worse than the deficit that his void creates in Illanoyze, it is hard to see who on the planet will pick up the weight of good will that evaporated into the atmosphere with Troy’s passing.

It doesn’t take much for me to be selfish. And I ache over losing my big brother, my protector and confidant. But what I lament more than my own personal lost is what the world has lost in losing Troy Mackey. There are a whole lot of motherfuckers on this third rock from the sun that are just taking up space. More yet who are actively and routinely bringing negative energy to the world. Troy was someone who made this planet a better place. There have been clichéd attempts at easing my personal pain with notions like God needed Troy. But God needs little from us. He (or she) is God after all. Good people with godly spirits have affected a lot of positive change in this world. There isn’t a time in the history of the planet where such people were so desperately needed. To have one of God’s shepherds removed from the battle seems hard to reconcile. I trust that God has his reasons but I’m not sure I ever will fully comprehend them. This world needs more people like Troy, not less.

In spite of my questions, my faith is still strong. Having had the pleasure of knowing a righteous dude like Troy Mackey is living proof that there is a God.

I still believe in God. But I don’t believe in heaven. But whether there’s a heaven or not, Troy Mackey will absolutely live forever. That’s if I have anything to say about it. Troy is so valuable to Illanoyze that my first thoughts as it related to business; upon learning of his death, was that I was going to have to shut down the company. That’s just how vital Troy has been to everything that we do. But Troy would hate me if I closed up shop with us still having so much work left to do. If there are ghosts, Troy would surely haunt me from the grave if I did such a thing. And he’d probably haunt me by doing something particularly cruel like smoking all my weed or something. That’s because the only thing that he loved more than his company was his adolescent son and his loving wife, Andrea; who is officially the world’s strongest woman after seeing how she’s handled the loss of this giant of a man. Troy and I talked at length about how the primary purpose of our company was to have some infrastructure that he could leave for his son, Troy. Too often in the black community the only thing we leave our children is our debt. Troy wanted more for his son. It was for Troy, Jr.  that he would sit with me until 3 or 4 in the morning editing a show to make sure that it was perfect. It was for little Troy that his father would put off repairs on his car so that Illanoyze wouldn’t do without. It was for his son that Troy endured my impatience and impetuousness. To fully abandon this mission would be a ghastly betrayal to Troy and the principles that he lived his life by.

Presently however I’m still sorting through the loss of my brother too much to give very much attention to where Illanoyze will go as a company. I ain’t got the strength that Troy’s wife and mother have shown. A nigga has been going through a straight thing in the weeks since Troy passed. So the only thing that I know for sure right now is that both personally and professionally, I’m going to do my earnest to live up to the great example that Troy set for everyone he came in contact with.

I’m going to take huge joy out of even the smallest moments a lot more. I’m going to appreciate my family and friends more than I do. Silly, arrogant mortals that we are, we all take for granted that we’re going to have more time. “I’ll call my sister next week,” we think. “I know I missed going out for drinks with the fellas this time but I’ll get up with them next month.” And then we wake up one day like I did on the morning of July 31 and find out that there is no next time. If there are people in your life that are important to you, tell them you love them today. Don’t send them a text, don’t post it on fuckin’ Facebook. Don’t send out a lame ass tweet. Tell them in the flesh. While you can.

I’ve been so fucking busy this summer. Writing. Editing. Re-writing. Doing research. Reconstructing the Illanoyze business plan. Playing out a season with the Bulls in NBA2K.  I had been planning to take the time to tell Troy how grateful I was for his friendship and his dependability through the roughest time of my life in 2010-11. A time of my life where I literally could count on one hand (and without using my extra finger) the people in my life that I could count on. Without cats like Troy I wouldn’t have made it here, to the other side of that crisis. But I ran out of time and I didn’t get a chance to tell Troy just how important he was to my recovery. His widow assured me that Troy knew this but I’ll still never forgive myself for not making time to guarantee that he knew it.

I’m not going to allow that to happen again in any relationships going forward because if someone in Troy’s condition can’t make it to see tomorrow then all of us are living moment to moment. I’m going to honor Troy by literally getting my hands dirty more. I’m going to try and be more patient and attempt to laugh away the stress more frequently. And if I’m lucky I hope I can go out like my man, Troy, did: prepped to get some pussy with some weed at his side.

Rest in peace, Troy. I love you. I will make sure that they sing about you and reminisce over you indeed, my brotha. There will truly never be another.

Peace and God bless,

009

 

 

Noyzes – August 13

    Noyzes

August 13 – Volume 14, #8

“The Bullet, Not the Ballot”

“What’s wrong with motherfuckers, when will they ever learn/Keep playin’ with that fire and that ass is gettin’ burned/Fuckin’ with semi-autos one foot is in the grave/ We givin’ all of y’all somethin’ to be afraid of” –Mobb Deep, Burn-

Like many things in modern pop culture, the “stop snitchin” motto that was all the rage on T-shirts, DVD’s and in minstrel rap songs a few years back was taken a bit too far. To the casual observer “stop snitchin” didn’t represent loyalty and honor, but rather served as justification for untold degrees of communal neglect and a total lack of personal accountability for the crime that is making our black communities into warzones all across the nation. But to only look at the surface of this creed would obscure a lot. What that campaign reflected is a long, historical mistrust of all of America’s institutions, and the criminal justice system in particular.

Only chattel slavery itself is responsible for the ruin of more black lives than America’s criminal justice system. As O.J. and Osama can attest, white America has been known to hold a grudge or two. So I have little doubt that they would quickly appropriate into their cultural world view an antagonistic attitude toward some of the nation’s most beloved institutions had they been subjected to the generations of trumped-up charges, police beatings and killings, state-sponsored executions, voter disenfranchisement, legal double standards and economic deprivation that black people have experienced in America up to this very moment.

We don’t have to look to some distant yesteryear to see these grievances. There are people in our community who remember well the families of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers failing to receive proper justice. As a teenager I watched Rodney King get beaten within an inch of his life like the rest of America, but somehow the all-white jury in the original trial found this assault totally appropriate. I am from a state where the governor had to reluctantly end the death penalty because the Chicago chief of police had beaten so many men with such severity that, by the dozens, they’d rather confess to murders that would falsely send them to death row rather than have the beatings continue. Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Eleanor Bumpurs, and Patrick Dorismand are just some of the black people that have made major headlines after their deaths at the hands of the same racist ass cops who would be called heroes on 9/11.

“Stop Snitchin” might have been over the top, but black folks have more than good reason to approach the criminal justice system with extreme skepticism. On Sunday, July 14, 2013 we got one more reason when George Zimmerman was found not guilty for the cowardly murder of 17-year-old, Skittle-toting Trayvon Martin.

I was aware that there was talk, both before and after the verdict, of calm and urging black folks not to riot. I understand this caution.

Although most of the business owners in the black community don’t look like the people who live there, ultimately it has been the resident-patrons that have had the hardest time rebounding from the after-effects of Watts, Newark and Chicago. The Asian and Arab business owners just get reimbursed from white-owned insurance companies and use the riots as one more excuse to economically isolate the ghetto from the rest of the city. And it would have been cruel irony indeed for urban riots and subsequent looting to be responsible for sending scores of black men and women to jail on a day when George Zimmerman escaped such a fate. Throwing bricks into windows and stealing I-Phones would have felt good for a little while. It would have felt real good. But after the dust settled and the smoke cleared, it wouldn’t have solved anything. Trayvon Martin would have still been dead and George Zimmerman’s pussy ass would still be free.

That being said, it would be quite un-American for the black community to remove violence as an option in response to the systemic pathology of white supremacy that took Trayvon Martin from us the way that Medgar Evers, Martin King, Emmitt Till and thousands of unnamed others have been in generations before.

Word to Sun Tsu, to eliminate violence against a system that has practiced both literal and psychological violence against black people since our arrival in North America would be downright impractical.

Don’t let liberal white pundits and members of the bourgeois negro intelligencia tell you any different. The stance taken here is not the position of some emotional militant. Quite the contrary. In the days since the verdict I have deliberately shut myself off from most of the commentary surrounding this case both in social media and in the world of journalism. I am quite clear and say this not with malice in my heart, but just as a rational member of a community that had its collective hearts broken that Sunday morning. And I say this as someone who doesn’t feel that the white power establishment in this country has any interest whatsoever in keeping people like me protected.

Why shouldn’t we get violent in the face of such threats? After all, working through the system didn’t solve anything either. And the outrage and downright despair that was felt in the black community that Sunday morning was not just rooted in one mischaracterization of justice, but fits in with a larger pattern of state-sanctioned violence against black people in this country.

Black people have been met with violence since our introduction to these shores. We were brought here violently. Our mothers were subjected to violent rapes. Our families were broken apart, sometimes with children physically being ripped from their mother’s arms.

But that was in the past we all thought. After all, Obama is president. And Oprah is beloved by white America. And look at how well Jay Z and Rick Rubin get along. And make no mistake, a lot of progress has been made racially in America. I don’t want to totally shit on how far we have come. But I’m also not going to sit back and let America continue to suck its own dick for its overstated commitment to equality while black blood continues to spill in the street.

When racial progress is talked about historically we often imagine a society that self-corrected over time as white America woke up one morning and finally wanted to behave like decent human beings and allow black people modest gains such as being able to vote and sit where they wanted to in public transit.

It was just ignorance that held people back and once people became more enlightened to just how debilitating white supremacy was, we eliminated racism almost overnight. But white boys like Branch Rickey and John F. Kennedy are no heroes. This country has had to be forced to do the right thing at every turn, kicking and screaming.

If we want to prevent the next Trayvon from being publicly lynched after he was physically taken from us, the black community and its allies will have to force America once more.

To be sure, just as violence should not be removed as an option, peaceful democratic measures should not be either. We should work in mass to eradicate ridiculous legislation such as the Stand Your Ground Law, and stage economic boycotts in the state of Florida. I’m even prepared to make a major sacrifice and forego South Beach. I know black people are frustrated by the results of the trial and we should be. But white conservatives have shown that the legal system has been, in some ways, even more effective in maintaining white supremacy than overt displays of racism. By using the law, white supremacists get to both keep their feet on black folks necks and avoid being explicitly labeled as racists. So we should make note of their example and continue to be proactive on the political front, particularly as the nation darkens demographically over the next couple of generations. But maybe it’s time that we model other actions of those who want to maintain the white power structure.

Much has been made this past year about another unique aspect of American democracy, namely the right to bear arms.

At the core of this incessant need for so many white folks to cling to their guns is the same thing that’s rooted in bullshit laws like Stand Your Ground. It’s the same thing that compelled the jury to rule that George Zimmerman had no choice but to lethally defend himself from a 17-year old kid while he possessed the knowledge that the police were just minutes away from rescuing him from the embarrassing ass-whooping he was in the midst of receiving. All of this is because black men like Trayvon -black men like me- are viewed as a threat that’s scarier than Osama Bin Laden and the Bogeyman put together.

Although descendants of slaves like myself and Trayvon have been in North America far longer than most Europeans who immigrated to the States willfully, we continue to be viewed as dangerous outsiders. As people who don’t fully belong. As people who aren’t afforded the same rights as “normal” Americans.

Considering the historic proportionality of violence between blacks and whites in America and throughout the world, that they would be so scared of us is downright laughable. Since we have to deal with the consequences of the irrational, infantile fear created by white supremacy no matter what we seem to do, maybe it’s time that we give America something to really be afraid of.

If Trayvon Benjamin Martin’s family couldn’t get justice in a case that seemed as open and shut as you can get; a case where the whole world was paying attention, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

We can follow President Obama’s timid call to respect the system by not responding violently in such instances, but it just is not sound to allow for this kind of violence to go on. It is high time for black people to organize militias in their own communities.

Calm down scary white people and bougie niggas, I’m not advocating that cats go into Beverly Hills and the Gold Coast brandishing weapons. Not yet anyway.

What I am advocating is something similar to the original goals of the Bloods. Of the Gangster Disciples. Of La Cosa Nostra. Of the Irish mobs.

While each of these aforementioned organizations have drifted far from their original framework, initially they set out to protect their ethnic communities from racist powers that conspired against them. Back in the late 19th and early 20th century, public officials made no pretense that they would work in your best interests. The Irish, Italian and Polish minority were literally on their own before they were able to become white and blend into the system. These white ethnics integrated into civil society and became politicians, police officers, teachers, dentists and clergymen. But as Martin Scorsese depicts of the Irish in Gangs of New York, they also were more than willing to crack a few heads if they felt physically threatened in their communities.

With gun laws relaxed across the nation allowing common citizens to stand their ground when they feel threatened, it is high time that black people mobilize to form militias to ensure our protection against physical threats – both foreign and domestic.

There have been some good white people in history that have worked towards the cause of making black people full citizens in a nation that they helped to build with their bare hands. Help that is sincere, and that is given on terms dictated by our community, is welcomed. But make no mistake, the only help that we can count on absolutely is from one another. We are on our own. Shit, most of these white folks are dumb enough to still vote Republican and ain’t got good enough sense to help their damn selves anymore. How the fuck they gonna help us?

The lack of empathy for the black experience that was on full display before, during and after the Zimmerman trial isn’t fully malicious. It’s malicious mind you. Just not fully.

White people have been trained to hate, fear and despise black people. Shit, though I’m loathe to admit it, in my experience no one hates, fears and despises black people more than black people.

So we can’t count on folks of any hue who have been subconsciously reared on white supremacy to protect our children. We should demand this of the American power structure for certain. Loudly and frequently. But we would be downright foolish to count on this with all that we have seen in our history on these shores.

We can’t be caught with our guard down again. The next time a George Zimmerman gets any ideas, he should be shot in his face. Word up.

While it is true that a black man is at a huge disadvantage in the criminal justice system. At least you have a chance of running into six people as stupid as the jurors who adjudicated this case. Even if George Zimmerman had been rightfully imprisoned he still would have had his life. Even that wouldn’t have given Trayvon back his.

I feel strongly that it was a Eurocentric world view of black people, informed by 500 years of white supremacy, that influenced Zimmerman’s initial impression of Trayvon Martin as he was walking home minding his own business. This mentality was also prevalent in the Sanford Police Department’s decision not to press charges against Zimmerman, something I’d have a hard time imagining if Zimmerman were black and not a Latin trying to pose as a Gringo. I think this same strain of white supremacy informed the jury’s decision to overstate the threat that was posed to Zimmerman, just as it caused the jury’s foreman to characterize the peaceful protests that forced the trial as riots. If black people gathering peacefully is a riot, then what the fuck would this dumb bitch call all the anti-Obama rallies that black people have endured over the last six years where uneducated, welfare dependent rednecks show up with loaded guns?

But putting race aside, this trial revealed that the criminal justice system as it is currently constituted, like many of our systems (education, health, financial….) is not equipped to work for much of anyone, regardless of their race. It works least of all for racial minorities and others who don’t have powerful forces on their side.

A strong argument can be made that the prosecution did not do a sufficient job in the case. I am not a litigator myself so I can’t really speak to that one way or the other. That being said, you didn’t need fucking Matlock or Perry Mason to help someone draw a conclusion of what happened on that February night in 2012 when Trayvon lost his life. Rather than focus on what was omitted from the proceedings, consider these facts that were made available to the jury. The jury knew that Trayvon Martin was unarmed. They knew that Zimmerman was armed when he disobeyed a police order to return to his home. The jury saw Zimmerman tell the police on camera the following day that the gun was in the small of his back, only to have his attorneys and close friends say time and again in court that it was just below his stomach. Other inconsistencies include Zimmerman telling the police a street name on video that he later used in court as an excuse to confront Trayvon, saying he was only there to correctly identify the street name. The jury heard Zimmerman’s numerous police calls that focused almost exclusively on black people and even involved the use of some racial slurs. The jury was fully cognizant of the fact that Zimmerman was a minor expert on law enforcement, arming him with the legal rationale and language in which to skillfully craft a plausible defense. There are many, many, many black men in this country who are spending the night in prison tonight based on far flimsier evidence than was brought to bear against George Zimmerman.

One of the people who was chosen to arbitrate over whether or not the Martin family would receive the justice they were due was an individual who said that they didn’t look at the news or read newspapers. If the only criteria for being responsible for such an important decision is being clueless then there are millions of mindless teenagers out here who don’t even know who the vice president of the United States is who can easily qualify. Being ignorant and uninformed is nothing to be honored, but the “greatest criminal justice system in the world” deemed this sufficient in allowing this woman on the jury.

Such actions suggest that the only way to eliminate bias is to be divorced from facts. But actually the best way to eliminate bias is to be as informed as possible. While many white people may think that we black folks overstate racial profiling and the like, to have someone who is totally oblivious to its existence preside over a case that was so informed by racial profiling is unimaginable. This is like someone serving on a jury for a hate crime involving a Jew and an Arab, and this juror has absolutely no historical knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The direct facts of the case should absolutely be most important, but the larger social context matters as well. Nowhere else in our system are such important decisions left to people devoid of even the most fundamental expertise.

Too often winning a case is less about the facts and far, far more about wining the jury selection. That’s because we can predict how people will view certain things by knowing what color they are, how much money they make, and what religion they are. It is shameful that in 2013 people in America seem so incapable of looking beyond their own limited experience that they can’t base decisions off anything else.

But this shouldn’t be.

When those kids got killed in Sandy Hook, I didn’t need to be white to empathize with them, nor did I need to be a parent. Or someone who had lost someone in my family to gun violence.

All I needed to do was be human. It is always wrong for someone to lose their lives, but especially when they are not only not doing anything wrong, but are actually in the places they’re supposed to be. If our children can’t feel safe at school, if they can’t feel safe walking from a store to their parents’ suburban home, then where can they be safe?

I’ve long felt that the best way to protect ourselves as individuals is to make sure that the village is protected. But village people we are not here in America. We remain tribal in spite of all our pretense and masquerades. The veil that Du Bois wrote about well over a century ago remains as rigid as ever in our society. Black people have done all they can to penetrate this veil in order to gain basic civility, acceptance and even love. We have quite foolishly tripped all over ourselves in trying to adopt the American Dream lifestyle. We’ve done unthinkable things to our hair, skin and bodies to conform to a European standard of beauty. We have mastered our oppressor’s language, letters and laws. We have cursed our Gods in favor of those who were used to justify our bondage. We have given our lives by the millions in wars abroad, only to be treated with contempt back home. And yet me, my father, my brother, my uncle, my sister, my aunt, my best friend, Barack Obama and Trayvon Martin are routinely treated with fear and suspicion when we ain’t doing shit but trying to live our lives. We live with this fear when we are followed in stores, followed on highways, and now, even followed on sidewalks.

But the jury foreman never experienced that fear. And nobody she knows, or anybody they know, have experienced it. But most all, even the most fair-minded white person, has felt the irrational fear that paralyzed George Zimmerman’s common sense that night in February. And in a country that is being dumbed down on every level, it takes no effort to be oblivious to the experiences of those who are different than you even if you don’t make a deliberate attempt to avoid current events like the jury foreman proudly proclaimed.

I don’t know if giving every black man, woman and child a gun to protect us from future “creepy-looking” George Zimmermans is enough to keep us safe. But I know exactly where black men like myself stand in the eyes of this system. That’s the same place that we always have. In its crosshairs.

For years, I have found positively comical the notion that America is post-racial and that Barack Obama represents some racial breakthrough. The truth is that the Chi Town homie got roughly the same percentage of the white vote as other Democrats have received in recent elections. The first black man is president due in large part because people of color were determined to put him there. We did this in spite of herculean efforts to try and restrict minority voting that included making up slick new rules and imposing extended waits that lasted several hours in some precincts. But black folks were determined to see this process through by any means necessary.

It is high time that black folks return to this philosophy of any means necessary outside of the ballot box as well.

Peace and God bless

009

Noyzes – July 13

Noyzes

July 13 – Volume 14, #7

“Dance Like Nobody is Watching”

“I love Christmas. The memories, the songs, the trees, the re-gifting, the inevitable stupid fucking fruit cake. I love it all. I even like the idea of a nice man who sees me when I’m sleeping and knows when I’m awake. And that  man’s name is Barack Obama.”-Bill Maher-

Although the issue has been simplified ad nauseam by political pundits and opportunists alike, the controversy over the recent revelation that the government has been surveying our private phone calls and e-mails is a complicated matter.

While I personally think that the terrorist threat to the United States is far, far overblown, a reasonable argument can be made that a government that didn’t do everything within its power to protect its citizens would not be doing its due diligence.

And while it is absolutely undeniably true that these government actions violate the Constitution, it is important to consider that the Founding Fathers never intended for this to be a document etched in stone. They understood perfectly that future leaders and citizens would have to adjust the legal statutes to the times that they lived in. And Tommy Jefferson and John-John Hitchcock didn’t live in a world populated by chemical weapons, dirty bombs and nukes that can destroy whole metropolitan areas in seconds. If they had, perhaps they may not have been so particular about things like warrants and court orders.

But they were particular about these things because they knew what it was like to live under a government that could enter the homes of its citizens at any given time searching for evidence of treason. Or worse yet, could actually plant evidence in their homes. The men who wrote the Constitution understood that the arduous procedures that our courts demand would mean that some crimes would go unsolved. But they also understood that if their citizens couldn’t feel free from these kinds of intrusions, then all other freedoms were virtually useless. Even in a stable democracy, it’s a madd, madd world out there. We should at least have some refuge in our homes.

Still, in spite of our constitutional protections that are written in men’s blood, I’m not surprised that our government has taken such action. Not one bit. This sort of police-state monitoring isn’t novel. And this most recent wave of surveillance was reported on as early as 2006, and there were even stories circulating about the program earlier in this calendar year. Plus, when you have a name like Kareem Muhammad you have learned to live under the assumption that Big Brother is always watching. And while there is not as much documentation of surveillance of common citizens in America as there has been in many nations, there is a long history of the U.S. government spying on and infiltrating groups that they considered subversive such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or the Black Panthers.

The government claim this go-around is that they only studied patterns of phone calls and e-mails and did not actually monitor the content of phone calls directly, which is sharply disputed by Edward Snowden, who is either a whistle blower or a traitor depending on what you believe.  But even if one accepts the Obama administration’s account (which I don’t at all) even this is too grave of an intrusion in my opinion. The government doesn’t have a right to know who I called any more than they do the right to listen in on the convo.

I wish I was surprised that the Obama-led government followed in the tradition of the one that preceded it. But I’m not.

What I continue to get surprised by, however, is just how much I seem to be in the minority in feeling that these paternal actions of the government are unjust. According to several polls, most Americans think that it’s all-good for Uncle Sam to violate all sorts of privacies so long as they keep us safe.

Look, I know 9/11 was fucked up. I do. And I understand people’s concern.

But don’t let your fear paralyze your rational thought. We’ve already lost so much in doing that already. Lost money spent on two useless wars. And sometimes literally lost money, not just metaphorical. 4,500 Americans, 1.5 million Iraqis and 19,000 Afghanis have lost their lives in needless wars that bore little fruit. Must we lose our collective soul too? Or at least lose it any more than we already have?

Look, I don’t think that Obama is the fascist that Bush was. I trust dude’s judgment for the most part. And while I may be among the naïve few, I still believe that the policy goes against his core beliefs, but he has a job to do. While Obama should still feel ashamed of himself for his role in this shamockery, the narrative concocted since 9/11 requires that the national security aspect of his job is treated with extreme caution. But what if that job is filled by Ted Cruz, Rand Paul or Paul Ryan next time? Or – believe it or not- someone even crazier than one of them? Lord knows what the fuck Mitt Romney or John McCain would have done with that kind of access to people’s personal information. But at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter whether my trust in Obama is warranted or not. Shit, I trust my mama too, but I don’t want her listening in on my phone calls either. Whether or not I have anything to hide from my mama or Obama is immaterial. It’s the principle of the matter.

All I heard after 9/11 is that the attacks were not just on the symbolic infrastructure of western capitalism, but they were an attack on our very principles. But one by one, we seem not to believe in those principles anymore. If we ever did.

We hear all this jazz about how America has the greatest criminal justice system in the world. If that’s the case, then our nation’s leaders should try using it sometimes. While I do understand that terrorism is not the same thing as fighting the mob or cutting down on drunk driving, there are mountains of data that suggests it is far more effective to fight terrorism like a crime instead of fighting it like it’s a war. If someone gives probable cause that they are a terrorist then the government should be compelled to secure warrants for wiretapping and the like as they have always been required to do; whether their target is drug dealers whose trade imperils an entire community or a Christian fundamentalist who plans to blow up an abortion clinic. But to just assume the criminality of the entire nation is some whole other bullshit. It’s not constitutional, and in the long-run these kinds of tactics don’t make people safer.

It is very true that while the “good guys” who spy on us are going through the legal rigmarole and red tape, that the terrorists could very well strike and kill someone. And this is a very grave risk, one that should not at all be underestimated. But this is true of all crimes.

Over 10,000 people will be killed this year in car accidents by drunk drivers, nearly 3 times as many were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center. But only those whose behavior has deemed them a heightened risk should be required to pass a breathalyzer to start their cars. Sadly, the only way to get on the sex offender list is to commit an actual sex offense. But until they commit the heinous acts, the future sex criminals among us should be allowed to walk around freely and unimpeded. In a free society, some sick and immoral people will extend those freedoms to their very limit. But we all agreed a long time ago that what we’d give up by living otherwise would be the worst crime of all.

Or at least I thought that we all agreed.

Peace and God bless

009