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Hip-Hop Fridays: Rise up Hip Hop Nation - Wise up: Realizing Our Righteous Power by Kristine Wright

As always, I'd like to begin by offering peace and respect to all souljahs in the struggle - especially in times like these, when life for many is constantly threatened by wars; wars overseas, wars in the streets, and personal wars of the soul. The Hip Hop Nation has a part to play in these battles, and to that end, I offer here some thoughts.

When imperialist ideas and individualistic philosophies oppress the world as they do today, we often lose sight of the power we possess; we lose sight of where real power comes from. Real power comes from truth; Real power comes from righteousness; real power comes from love. Real power comes from us...the people. We are power.

It is easy to doubt our power when white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist ideologies (bell hooks) seem to have a stronghold on the world. We see it in the peaking statistics of African Americans living in extreme poverty. We see it in the famine and aids' epidemics in Africa. We see it in the invasion of Iraq and the hawkish warmongers in the white house and department of defense that would like to export war to a long list of other countries. We see it in the education and social program cuts in states across the country. We see it in the incarceration of our youth of color courtesy of our so-called judicial system. We see it in the Patriot Act. We see it in the blacklisting of anti-war, peace proponents. We see it in water cooler French bashing. We see it in the ever-increasing polarization of global resources. We see it in corporate greed. We see it in a patriotism that never questions but proudly displays the U.S. flag in cars as a symbol of superiority. We see it in the popularity of Bill O'Reilly. We see it in racial profiling of people of color, including now Arab Americans. We see it in the framing and minstrelsy of media and its increasing corporate concentration thanks now to the FCC. And yes, we see it in hip hop.

Given these critical conditions, it would seem that Imperialism and Individualism are winning many battles. But I would like to suggest that it is exactly in times like these that we must realize our true power and live up to our potential. Imperialism and Individualism will never win because there is no real power in them; and history has taught us that at best, their power is fleeting. No individual can survive alone, so at its core, the whole basis of individualism is a lie. As well, powerful empires have come and gone. This latest empire will be no different, because its power is based on iniquity. This society, like many of its predecessors, was built on hypocrisy and its very existence as a powerful nation depends on it. But no empire, past or present, can maintain power based on hypocrisy. Universal law will not allow it. In the end, universal law rules us all, even great empires; we all reap what we sow, and power based on lies and manipulation, no matter how entrenched, will fall really is as simple as that.

That, however, does not mean we should not address the dangerous repercussions of such power. It manifests itself in many ways in order to maintain its power for as long as possible, and hip hop is now falling into the same trap. Hip hop today seems to be searching for meaning, while simultaneously spinning its wheels in battles and beefs; formulas and stereotypes. In a system that gives us so few options, we have made choices that have benefited us while hurting us simultaneously. For example, artists find they can sell more records by degrading life, others, and themselves. And for that realization, they have achieved unparalleled monetary gains. But these gains have come with a high cost. One cost has been progress. The very things helping some are hurting many others. Our youth learn that the gangsta, pimp, and drug dealer lifestyles will help them make the money they so desperately need to survive this cold system, but it is these same elements that kill our youth before they have even lived. Our seeds have learned from society that they are not valued. Then through choices we've made as a culture, we reinforce the lie by becoming a part of the problem through flip lyrics and risky behavior.

The power of hip hop is not in record deals or celebrity. It is not in money or world hype, and it is definitely not in its hypocrisy. Hip Hop must decide NOW whether it wants to make the same mistakes others before it have gaining the world (at least as its audience)...but losing its soul.

So where does our power come from, if not the world stage and bottomless money pits? I offer here my roadmap for realizing our potential power as a collective.

Real Power must come from the truth. Hip Hop at its best tells the truth. The truth can never be undermined because it has no secrets to uncover; no agenda to expose; no ulterior motive to achieve. Our freedom will not come from laws, protests, or reasoning. It will not come from violent uprisings for the sake of the revolution either. Only the truth will make us free. And when we live the truth, we have a freedom that, although they may try, no imperialist, military state can ever touch.

Our power will come through righteousness. We must stop the hypocrisies that plague our culture. We must stop thanking God for rewards we receive from nihilism on vinyl and videos. Our Creator is not about bitches and hoes, killin' brothas, rockin' ice, or smoking blunts, and when we thank the Creator for the success of our latest multi-platinum murder rap, we are perpetuating the hypocrisy; living a lie, and exhibiting a lack of righteousness. In righteousness, what is right is clear, and there is no room for confusion. Hip Hop is confusing our younger generation and we must stop denying the powerful effects these mixed messages have on their understanding of the world. Righteousness is the pathway to truth; without righteousness, we can not realize our full potential as a people.

Our power will come from forgiveness. Mistakes have been made but if we let our mistakes keep us divided, it will impede our progress. We have to embrace our mutual interests, avoiding outside forces' manipulations for their monetary and political profits. A community divided is a community conquered indeed. Hip hop beefs today may sell records and magazines, but recent history has also taught us that they can take lives too - no one is exempt. As I've said before, I hope beefs won't become another pawn for the oppressors' use to keep a revolutionary community and culture from realizing its potential for a greater good. I challenge those in beefs to unite for our people, our survival, and our future...or at the very least, stop teaching our youth that beefing is the way to gain respect. In the real world beefing does not bring respect; it brings an early death. Beefing is killing our youth in cities across the country. At the same time, we, the community, must learn how to forgive young brothas and sistas in hip hop that have not always promoted the best examples for our youth. They are only telling their truths, playing the cards they have been dealt. But as a community, we must welcome them home, and show them the type of support that will help them make better choices for themselves and our community.

Our power will come through self-determination. I have spent a lot of time and energy trying to "fight the system", but have only now realized that instead of wasting time and energy fighting a system that many will die and kill to maintain, we would be better served building our own system. We will have no need to fight the system if we build and support our own institutions, educate our own youth, free our own minds, and protect our own communities. Self-determination is how we can free ourselves from dependency on a system that has never, and will never, serve us well. Instead of fighting only for justice...I say we also fight for just-us...for the people, by the people.

I call for a return to communalism. We have so many successful examples, both past and present, to build on, and although this list is in no way comprehensive, it hopefully provides some direction:

1.For economic empowerment, we must support businesses that invest in our communities and hire our people. Magic Johnson and other entrepreneurs that are investing in community based businesses and banking in inner cities provides one example that seems to genuinely help our communities.

2.For protection, we have much to learn from the Black Power Movement in general and the Black Panther party and the Nation of Islam in particular. We can police ourselves and protect ourselves from not only destructive behaviors on our streets like gang violence, but from racist state policing as well.

3.For education, we have our history to lead us. We have solutions at all levels of education, from Marcus Garvey Elementary Schools that serve as models for educating our own, to the vast library of scholarship and literature that teach our history and inspire us to action.

4.On the political front, we must support all those that continue to speak truth to power, especially those on the frontline in hostile territory (Maxine Waters, Kwame Kilpatrick, Al Sharpton, Kweise Mfume, Chuck D, KRS-One, Tavis Smiley, and the many other voices that speak to our interest). On the international level, we need to support Pan-African movements, and see our commonality with people of color across the globe. On the national level, we need to support efforts to organize us into a collective power, like Russell Simmon's Hip Hop Action Network, for example, and its efforts to repeal unfair drug laws that adversely affect our communities. On the community level, we need to support the numerous community-based organizations and folks that serve our communities day in and day out. We need to be those people.

5.For control of information, we must continue to support our own media (especially the number of progressive web sites that keep us informed when mainstream outlets continue to bamboozle most). Unfortunately, I can't always include BET and Radio One as serving our interests, but it is important to recognize that they have the ears and eyes of our communities and we need to make a more united effort to hold them more accountable for their programming. We need to criticize them when they are hurting our cause, but also celebrate efforts they make to serve the community. In that respect, I applaud Steve Harvey in LA on a Radio One station for his support of community activism by giving different community issues and organizations exposure during his program. As importantly, he also rightfully and righteously challenges some of the practices of his own industry and station.

But finally, and most importantly, our power must come from love and through love. Love is the rock on which a strong community can build its foundation. Everything we do must be motivated by our love for our people and our hopes for a better tomorrow. We can never give up on ourselves. The love of our ancestors brought us through our Holocaust, and we owe it to them to do the same for the next generation. We need to do our best to live life honestly and righteously. Remember that, life is the most important gift from our Creator from which everything flows...blessings, experiences, struggles, triumphs and most importantly, love. All of our most righteous leaders, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Malcolm X to Jesus Christ himself, understood that living the truth was where real power came from. Their greatest achievements were not gained from their untimely deaths, but were realized through their timeless understanding of how to live. Our freedom does not come from being Ready to Die; it comes from being willing to live...the righteous way. Power to the People!

Jah live...One love.

If you knew what life was worth, you would look for yours on you see the light...stand up for your rights...Life is your right, so we can't give up the fight - Bob Marley

Kristine Wright of the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine can be reached at

Friday, June 27, 2003

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