Thoughts for Martin Luther King Jr. Day from Armstrong Williams and KRS-ONE
A Two Way Street by Armstrong Williams
“Oh he speaks so well.” White people say it admiringly of black people all the time. Condoleezza Rice whispers into the right ear of the President when he makes decisions that impact the free world. She is a brilliant and accomplished lady. But the first thing white people say when talking about her is, “oh, she is so articulate.” White people love it when black people “speak well.” It makes them feel comfortable.
It tells me that there still exists in mainstream society some subtle expectation that black people do not speak well, and some unconscious belief that black people are less educated. The anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birth seems a good time as any to address the issue.
I think we can all agree that for much of this country’s history, the relationship between white Americans and their former slaves has been less than equal. A shared history of slavery has created social hierarchies that passively reinforce racial prejudices. Certainly, there has been a progression from the days when those blacks that demanded freedom from oppression were made to fear for their lives. The racism of today isn’t so blunt as to be about skin color, as it is about cultural patterns that slavery wrought. It is about cultural division that was sewn so deeply into our social fabric, for so long, that even today white Americans have trouble imagining themselves as the “other” skin color. In short, modern racism is about elitism and a lack of empathy.
This lack of empathy manifests itself in the popular culture. There was a time when the only dark faces you saw on TV were thugs and criminals. Now you see black comedies. Even so, the new “black wave” of TV has produced little more than the kind of shows that assault you with their blackness. The sort of dramas that can’t move beyond images of angry black characters. The sort of comedies that substitute “black lingo” for actual jokes. The black characters on these sorts of shows are not so much human beings as they are categories.
In the workplace, the lack of empathy is even more pervasive, if more subtle. Despite the fact that black Americans are presently enjoying record highs in terms of per capita income, they continue to earn just 56% of the median income of white families. That’s just a 1% improvement since 1965.
The technological revolution has dramatically expanded the high level job market and therefore holds the promise of finally facilitating equality in the workplace. Sadly, young, qualified black Americans continue to face very real barriers in the workplace that prevent them from taking advantage of these new opportunities. Dr. Margaret Simms, Vice President of Research at the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies, has observed that young black Americans suffer in the labor market due to a perceived deficit in “soft skills.” Simms defines soft skills as “thinking and problem solving skills, oral communication skills, personal qualities and work ethic, and interpersonal and team work skills.”
For example, when hiring, bosses may look for those personal traits they associate with their own success. Consequently, they may end up hiring people who look, think and act in a manner similar to themselves. If confronted with a minority applicant who looks, sounds or communicates differently, they may turn these differences into perceived soft skill deficits.
As a South Carolina-area attorney specializing labor law confided to me, “We constantly see employers who treat minorities more adversely than they would do whites in similar circumstances. . . . We occasionally see hiring from closed sets of talent pools. . . .Very frequently we see employers who operate under unfounded stereotypes and assumptions about the abilities of minorities and women. I think this is probably reflected in the differentials in pay between men and women and between whites and minorities.” It is also reflected in the joy white people express when they encounter a black person who “speaks well.”
For a long time I wrote about how blacks need to stop embracing victim status. I wrote about how we need to stop feeling sorry or ourselves, how we need to put the onus on ourselves to succeed as individuals, rather than excusing failure in advance due to the group to which we belong. I talked about the dangers of affirmative action lulling us into treating ourselves as somehow incapable of succeeding on equal footing. As Justice Clarence Thomas once observed, “The [civil rights] revolution missed a larger point by merely changing the status [of minorities] from invisible to victimize.”
I still believe that liberalism has not solved our most basic problems. Instead, it has put us in the mindset that we have to be fed government programs, instead of being given access to capital and the opportunity to create our own jobs. I take heart in the fact that the younger generation of black Americans is finally saying it is time to move beyond the basic covenants of liberalism and finally face who we are and what we need, not solely as blacks, but as individuals. But you know what? The onus should not just be on us. True equality is a two way street. And every time I hear a white person remark about how Condoleezza Rice “speaks well,” I am reminded that the other side isn’t doing their job.
Contact Armstrong Williams through www.armstrongwilliams.com
The Promised Land - Reflections on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Hip Hop Nation by KRS ONE
PEACE AND MUCH LOVE TO ALL GENERATIONS OF HIP HOP KULTURE! We are truly a blessed nation! In these times of war, mass unemployment and social unrest let US become the changes that we would like to see in the world. We are an international culture of new people on the earth. So let US be the civilization that we expect others to be. Together (as a Hip Hop Nation) we truly have a great opportunity to establish peace, love, unity and safely having fun with our Hip Hop activity in the world. And NOT with our "hip-hop" activities in the world, but with our collective unified "Hip Hop" activity in the world we have an opportunity to establish a "True World Order".
Yeah, I know that there are some that shall (and have already) unjustly criticize our efforts toward peace from "behind the screens". But civilization building is NOT for everyone, nor can everyone even comprehend the importance of such an attempt. Nevertheless, such an attempt must be made for our own security as adults and as parents as well as for the security of our children and their children's children's children. No criticism, debate or unjust slander can ever move US from the fulfillment of our ancestor's dreams.
Our Hip Hop preservation movement is NOT just about the preservation of Hip Hop as Breakin, Emceein, Graffiti Art, Deejayin, Beatboxin, Street Fashion, Street Language, Street Knowledge and Street Entrepreneurialism it is also and more importantly about continuing our ancestors dreams/visions of true freedom, justice and equality amongst ALL people; this is the world's true order. WE MUST NEVER FORGET THE STRUGGLE! Our ancestors as well as our children and the future of Hip Hop are depending upon US! TODAY! Either, you ignore this fact or you engage this fact; either way, the choices that you make and the effects of such choices shall come to pass in YOUR own life and prove the character of who YOU really are.
There is never a reason, nor is there ever time, to criticize or debate the movements of others when you are busy working at the realization of your own movement. Its funny to me how some people have so much to say about KRS ONE and his attempts to establish Hip Hop as an international community of peace, love, unity and having fun yet they have made little or no progress at all in that which they espouse as the solution to the social ills of our time. My message is clear; "Rap is something we do, Hip Hop is something we live!" Therefore, how shall we live as Hiphoppas? Sure, we can sit around and brag about the greatness of our ancestors and recount their victories of the past, but when shall we rise to our own victories in the present?
How long shall we reminisce over the glory days of the Civil Rights Movement without continuing the struggles and maintaining the victories of such a movement today? How long shall we romanticize the fact that our ancestors were civilization builders without even attempting to build any such civilization for ourselves today? All of this is a disgrace to the very greatness of our elders and ancestors! By talking about our ancestor's greatness and not continuing in the footsteps of such greatness do we not betray the very greatness that we are speaking of? It's better to remain ignorant of your ancestor's achievements than to know of your ancestor's achievements and do nothing to continue their legacy! Is this not a traitor to their very ideas? A traitor to the movement? Is this not a true sell-out?
Say whatever you like about KRS ONE (good, bad or indifferent) but one thing is for sure, no amount of criticism shall ever remove or shake him from the continuation of what his ancestors and elders lived and died for. Call me whatever you like; from "a true prophet" to "a false prophet" none of it matters when compared to the real struggle of our people to gain their rightful place at the table of peace and prosperity. And who are "our" people? This begins our reflection on the "Promised Land".
Ya know, as I see it, the world is not terrorized by religious fanaticism; it is more terrorized by religious apathy. Too many people in the world today are not taking their religion or spiritual practice seriously. Too many people have simply lost their faith. And why? Scandals? Inconsistencies? Poverty? Sickness? All of or some of these may be the cause of such mass faithlessness but from what I see, people loose their faith when they are distant from the knowledge of their God. They don't really know if their God truly exists or not, and within such distance created by doubt people forget what God really looks and sounds like. So when God appears to them in the form of a man or woman (or other animal), the logic of the World tells them that such an appearance is just a person espousing some really good ideas. "Oh, he was a great man" or "oh, she was a great woman" but never do they assume that they were in the presence of their "lord" and "savior". And this, I think is the main reason why many people are faithless today; they're forever waiting on a savior that has already appeared!
Too many people are waiting for their savior to appear in the way that their oppressors have determined when a true savior will always be at odds with an oppressive government that chooses to enslave its own people and contradict its own laws. In fact, this is the reason for a savior; to free humanity from the restraints of ignorance and oppression. Too many people have been indoctrinated in the Jesus story without really knowing anything about the life of the Christ. This is why when their savior appears they don't recognize him/her; they're to busy looking for Jesus. Throughout most of recorded history men and women of God alike have appeared to their people with divine solutions and remedies to rid their people of their oppression. But in ignorance, the People themselves reject their OWN savior and even assist in his assassination. As Jesus pointed out; "thou killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent to thee" (Matthew 23: 37).
A savior is a person who saves or rescues. No bells, no whistles, no hype! Just a person who saves others. "Savior: a person who rescues another from harm, danger, or loss (American Heritage Dictionary). A "lord" (throughout history) is a person who has authority, control or power over others. "Lord: a man of renowned power and authority (American Heritage Dictionary). And yes, there are other definitions to "lord" however, when it comes to a spiritual teacher or "savior" this is what someone's "lord" would be. A "lord" is your master, your chief; the one that you submit to, the one that you deeply respect. Different from "The Lord" which is usually ascribed to Jesus the Christ, "a lord" is someone that you have entrusted your life to. They lead you.
On January 15 th 1929, my "lord" and "savior" Michael King was born. He would adopt the name Martin Luther (named after the German theologian who challenged the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century which resulted in the establishment of the Protestant churches) and after attending Moore House College in Atlanta, Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and then Boston University were he received his doctorate, Martin Luther King Jr. became Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He is my "lord" because I give him such authority over my life. He is my King! I respect him. I believe in him! He is my "savior" because the only reason I am freely doing what I am doing and freely going wherever I wish to go is because of him and his sacrifices. In all honesty, I could NOT be KRS ONE in the way that I am if it were not for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.! He saved me from White racism! He liberated me from self-destruction! He stood up for me when I could not stand up for myself. And to him I am forever grateful.
His strength has given me strength. His courage has given me courage. His faith has given me faith. His vision has given me vision. In truth, I am living HIS dream! I don't need to look at a 2000 year old Christian history for instruction when I can simply follow the instructions of MY lord and savior Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who laid his life down in 1968 so that I could live more comfortably today in 2006. Those who have benefited by Dr. King's sacrifices yet prefer to honor Jesus as their lord and savior will be shocked when Jesus returns to them saying, "I never knew you." For it was Jesus who said, "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:12-13).
We can talk all day about revolution and "what we gotta do" but if WE are not willing to exalt to sainthood those who lay down their lives for OUR freedom and comfort then we are truly lost! When are WE going to honor OUR own "lords" and "saviors?" Is this not the beginning of any effective revolution? Why put your faith in the sacrifices of foreign messiahs, saints and saviors when your own father has given HIS life for the advancement of YOUR well-being TODAY? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. IS THE CHRIST! He is the "savior" of all who believe in him and his words. And as Hiphoppas, we must pay very close attention to the instructions of OUR savior if we are to grow and develop as a truly righteous nation ourselves.
In his famous "I Have A Dream" decree Dr. King said; "In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plain of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with Soul Force!"
This is the essence of any true Hip Hop movement. In fact, it is our belief that Hip Hop is the fulfillment of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech. When studied closely one can see that Dr. King's words were directed to his four children and all those of the younger generation of his time. When he said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character", most people assumed that the only nation Dr. King could have been talking about was the United States of America. That one day IT would live up to its creed of "all men" being "created equal" with the "unalienable rights" of "life, liberty" and the "pursuit of happiness". Indeed Dr. King was talking about America as a nation, but it is clear that he was NOT talking about the America that he was protesting against. He saw a radically different America than even the one that exists today! In fact, after Dr. King's assassination in 1968 things got worse!
Dr. King's vision of true racial unity and equal citizenship under the Law never fully materialized for the people of the United States. As much as Americans love to hear about integration and the vision of ONE America with many shades and colors, in real life Americans are more segregated as a nation today than ever before. Despite the enormous advances made by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall toward a totally integrated American school system (for example) today, schools that bear their names are known to be the most segregated schools in the United States!
You can limit your analysis of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" decree to just being the protest speech of the day if you like. But if you were one of the Black or White children that his speech was referring to then Dr. King's Word is to be understood in the realm of prophesy, prediction and instruction not just (as the average American mind remembers it) as protest words for his time. On the contrary, Dr. King was not even speaking for his time; he was speaking for OUR TIME! Most of what he said in that famous decree was said in future tense. Dr. King said; "one day right there in Alabama, little Black boys and Black girls will be able to join hands with little White boys and White girls as sisters and brothers".
Most people because of their own prejudices refer to the phrase "as brothers and sisters" figuratively. They doubt that "little Black boys and girls" and "little White boys and girls" can actually be real "brothers and sisters!" And they doubt this because for Black children and White children to become real blood brothers and sisters this means the creation of a new race, a new sect of people. And this concept goes way beyond what most people can actually handle today. As prophesy, Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech calls a new nation into existence. And because he was speaking to the future of those youths (us) born between 1960 and 1970 (generation X) who became the pioneers of modern Hip Hop and instinctively created the alternative multicultural, multiracial, omni-faithed community that Dr. King predicted, it is safe to say that WE are the true citizens of the nation Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed about. HIP HOP IS THE PROMISED LAND!
No where else on earth is there an international culture that is home to all races, classes, ethnicities and religious beliefs other than Hip Hop. No where else on earth is a person truly judged by the "content of their character" rather than by the "color of their skin" than within Hip Hop. Dr. King said, " One day on red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood". Nowhere has this happened in the world on a mainstream level except within the community of Hip Hop. As pimped-out, thugged-out and drugged-out as we appear to be, Hip Hop is NOT a racist culture. Our existence as a Hip Hop community fulfills Dr. King's prophecy philosophically and historically. Within our Hip Hop community a person gains money, power and respect through a display of high skill in one or more of Hip Hop's unique elements. Here, you are truly judged by the content of your character (your attributes, your abilities, your reputation, who you associate with) not by your race or ethnic origin. Hip Hop is beyond all that.
But just like the original vision of Hip Hop being about peace, love, unity and having fun was betrayed by the very people that it was designed to help, so was Dr. King's dream also betrayed. Dr. King not only saved Black folks from years of segregation and forgave America and showed America true unconditional love but he also gave America a way out of sin and laid out the foundations for a truly civilized nation. In response, Black folks booed him, President Johnson would call him a "nigger preacher", the N.A.A.C.P. disowned him and in the end White folks killed him! DAMN!
As a result, "The Dream" of Dr. King fell upon the ground and both Blacks and Whites trampled over it! Even those of his own "Southern Christian Leadership Conference" sought after the success of their own careers rather than continue the realization of "The Dream". And let me say right here, that I am not be overly critical of anyone's efforts. But after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death it seems that everything went back to the way it was. People from Dr. king's own camp seem to have forgotten the "Dream". Proof of this is the simple fact that many Americans especially Black Americans don't even know who Dr. King is or what he was really all about. Is this the fault of "the White Man" or is this the fault Dr. King's own Black People?
Why do WE allow illegal drugs to be sold on those streets named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Why doesn't every Black home have a picture or a word of Dr. King hanging upon its walls? Why have Black scholars allowed Black children to learn of Dr. King as a man who "let the dogs bite him" as opposed to teaching them the deeper meanings and benefits to not using violence as a way to solve problems? Why aren't ALL children taught about the strengths of non-violent passive resistance? Why are we more interested in Dr. King's sex life than we are the realization of his "Dream?"
Even further, why hasn't Dr. King's final campaign for the relief of poverty and the redistribution of wealth for poor Black people not followed through on after his death? When Dr. King said in his famous last decree on April 3 rd 1968 at a Masonic Temple/Church in Memphis Tennessee; "And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn't done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed" did any one really hear him. Or is it just a coincidence that long years of "poverty" and "neglect" is also being said to be the cause of terrorism today?
Why is it that the only part of this last decree before his assassination that anyone gets to here is the very end of the decree where he says; ". I've been to the mountain top. And I don't mind. Like anybody I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a People, will get to the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know that we as a People will get to the Promised Land". Why haven't we frequently heard the other parts of that famous decree where Dr. king also said; we are asking you not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. .not to buy Sealtest Milk. Tell them not to buy .Wonder Bread. .We are choosing these companies because they haven't been fair in their hiring policies. .I call upon you to take your money out of the banks .we want a bank-in movement in Memphis". Why we ain't hearing these messages frequently. What if every MLK day we as a People withdrew our dollar from the companies Dr. King mentions as well as from those companies that advertise on B.E.T. and M.T.V. and on local radio stations that promote crime, lust, deceit and everything that Dr. King stood against and died for. What if we really listened to our lord and savior Martin the Christ? The true M.C.!
For if we really studied the Word of our savior we would also hear him saying to the Black Church in his same April 3 rd decree; "so often, preachers are not concerned about anything but themselves! And I'm always happy to see a relevant ministry. It's all right to talk about 'long white robes over yonder,' in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It's all right to talk about 'streets flowing with milk and honey,' but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preacher must talk about the NEW York, the NEW Atlanta, the NEW Philadelphia, the New Los Angeles, the NEW Memphis Tennessee. This is what WE have to do."
So why we ain't doin' it! Well, that answer also rests within that same April 3 rd 1968 decree. Dr. King, referring to Luke 10: 25-37 talked about the "Good Samaritan" and how we must ".develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness." Pointing out how a priest and a Levite passed a beaten and robbed man on the road and how a Samaritan stopped to help, Dr. King made this point: "And so the first question that the Levite asked was, 'if I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But then the good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: 'if I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him? That's the question before you tonight (referring to the sanitation workers then on strike in Memphis). If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office everyday and every week as a pastor?' the question is not, 'if I stop to help this man in need what will happen to me? If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?' That's the question!"
And that's the answer, "dangerous unselfishness" we must develop this character again. People are ".not concerned with anything except themselves" and this is how crack cocaine can be sold on Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd and the police as well as Black leadership seem to be powerless to such blatantly illegal activity. As a Hip Hop nation we must not disgrace the blood of our ancestors and elders. As Dr. King said in Chicago; "We must make it clear, WE are going to live in dignity and honor, that WE are supposed to live there because WE are GOD'S CHILDREN and if WE are GOD'S CHILDREN he loves us (Hiphoppas) like he loves ALL of his children!"
This is Hip Hop! And either we are going to interpret Dr. King's Word literally for OUR instruction today or we are going to interpret Dr. King's words as historical protest poetry placed more in the realm of entertainment than in the realm of true nationalism.
Dr. Martin Luther King's Jr.'s birthday is celebrated as a Federal holiday every third Monday in January. This year it rises on January 16 th 2006. This is an official Hip Hop holiday. Let us raise the awareness of OUR "lord" and "savior" Martin the Christ in the minds of OUR children. So, in recognition of MLK Day on January 16 th 2006.
Let us fast from spending money on things we really don't need.
Let us tend to the needs of the poor; wherever and whoever they may be.
Let us watch any of the documentaries on Dr. King with our families.
Let us repent and stop disrespecting Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd.
Let us support all museums and community centers bearing Dr. King's name.
Let us abstain from illegal drug use as well as alcohol and junk foods.
Let us show mercy, love, care and forgiveness toward one another.
Let us honor our parents, elders and ancestors.
Let us share ideas, food, etc with someone from a different race or ethnicity.
LET US BEGIN TO ACT LIKE THE NATION THAT DR. KING SAW IN HIS DREAM!
To be continued.
Visit The Teacha KRS-ONE and The Temple of Hip Hop at www.templeofhiphop.org
Monday, January 16, 2006