All Articles Tagged "black community"
This weekend, President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and their good friend and advocate, Kerry Washington were all very busy giving three commencement speeches in various parts of the country. Mrs. Obama spoke in Tennessee at Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School, Kerry was in the nation’s capital delivering her address at George Washington University, her alma mater. And President Obama was in Atlanta, Georgia speaking to the men of Morehouse College yesterday.
In his inspiring speech, the president spoke about Morehouse’s illustrious history, encouraged the graduates to use their degrees and experience to help someone else achieve, discouraged them from blaming their shortcomings on race, as he once had, and discussed the importance of being good, family men. Check out some of the highlight’s from the president’s speech and watch it, in its entirety on the last page.
The president opened with a joke, explaining what it might have taken for some of the graduates to get there and thanked the parents for helping them get there.
Some of you are graduating summa release laude, some of you are graduating magna release laude, and I know some of you are just graduating, “thank you Lordy.”
I see some good looking hats on the moms and grandmas here today. Which is appropriate, since we’re here on Sunday, and folks are in their Sunday best. Congratulations to all of you – the parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, family and friends who supported these young men in so many ways. This is your day, too. Just think about it – your sons and brothers have spent the last four years far from home and close to Spelman. And they still made it here today. So you must be doing something right. Graduates, give them a round of applause.
Then he talked about the graduates, the new Morehouse men, have a responsibility to live up to the tradition of the college.
That’s the unique sense of purpose that has always infused this place – the conviction that this is a training ground not only for individual success, but for leadership that can change the world.
Dr. King was just 15 years old when he enrolled here at Morehouse. He was an unknown, undersized, unassuming young freshman who lived at home with his parents. I think it’s fair to say he wasn’t the coolest kid on campus; for the suits he wore, his classmates called him “Tweed.” But his education at Morehouse helped to forge the intellect, the soul force, the disciple and compassion that would transform America. It was here that he was introduced to the writings of Gandhi, and Thoreau, and the theory of civil disobedience. It was here that professors encouraged him to look past the world as it was and fight for the world as it should be.
And it was here, at Morehouse, as Dr. King later wrote, where “I realized that nobody…was afraid.”
Think about that. For black men in the forties and fifties, the threat of violence, the constant humiliations, large and small, the gnawing doubts born of a Jim Crow culture that told you every day you were somehow inferior, the temptation to shrink from the world, to accept your place, to avoid risks, to be afraid, was necessarily strong. And yet, here, under the tutelage of men like Dr. Mays, young Martin learned to be unafraid. He, in turn, taught others to be unafraid. And over the last 50 years, thanks to the moral force of Dr. King and a Moses generation that overcame their fear, and cynicism, and despair, barriers have come tumbling down, new doors of opportunity have swung open; laws, hearts, and minds have been changed to the point where someone who looks like you can serve as President of the United States.
Since April is World Autism Awareness month, I wanted to talk about autism and how it affects the black community. More children than ever before are being diagnosed with autism and the Center for Disease control (CDC) estimates that 1 in 88 children have been identified with having autism or a related disorder. This is a significant increase from previous years.
What is autism anyway?
Autism is a gene disorder in which a child’s behavior, communication, and social skills do not develop in the typical way. Usually the first signs are seen when these children are babies. They may avoid eye contact, resist cuddling, or fail to spread their arms out in hopes of being picked up. As the child grows older, parents may notice he has trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own, has delayed speech and language skills, fails to develop friendships, or creates daily rituals (eg, needing to always eat foods in a specific order). Autism is more common in boys than in girls and is a disorder that stays with the person for the rest of their lives.
So, how does it affect the African American community?
Here are the facts according to recent studies:
- In a study that compared children in different communities, they found that the largest increases in the disorder were among Hispanic (110%) and black children (91%).
- White children received diagnoses of autism at 6.3 years of age, compared with 7.9 years for black children.
- Black children required more time in treatment before receiving the diagnosis.
- Black children showed greater delays in language compared to white children.
Early awareness may be the reason why there is a higher increase in diagnosis; however, it is not entirely known why the disorder is higher in the Hispanic and black communities compared to the white community.
Am I The Only One Who Feels Mistreated When Visiting Some Asian-Owned Beauty Supply Stores Catering To Black Hair?
I dread going to most Asian-owned hair stores. No disrespect to those stores that do great work and have great deals, but at this point, I just do. I have found their vast array of hair selections and hair care products usually comes with some discriminatory practices and poor service. I have visited enough Asian-owned beauty supply stores to know that there are some that have exemplary customer service and value our patronage. However, their numbers are few and far between. My negative experiences at different Asian-owned beauty supplies are far too frequent for them to be considered simple coincidences.
I went into one of the aforementioned hair stores for the sole purpose of purchasing a half-wig. After looking around intently, I saw one I liked, but before I could even point to it to try on, the employee quickly told me that I would need to purchase a stocking cap. This would have been a non-issue for me (since I know how important it is to maintain hygiene in a place like a hair store) if it weren’t for the fact that there was also a white customer in the store trying on wig after wig with NOTHING on her head. In all fairness, every customer should be required to wear stocking caps when trying on hair, but when I politely pointed this out to the employee, you would have thought I was speaking a foreign language or walked in that joint looking like Pig-Pen. She was far from concerned with the white customer’s head, but she very concerned about mine.
I was determined to have a positive attitude at the next hair store I visited (which was also Asian-owned) despite my previous less than pleasant experience. I was eager to try a variety of hair products I saw in a hair magazine so I sought assistance from one of the hair store employees who happened to be white. I gave her the names of the products and I asked her where I could locate them in the store. She hadn’t heard of any of the products and had no idea where to start searching. I switched gears to something I thought she could actually help with and asked her to price a couple of their best ceramic flat irons. She informed me that all the flat irons worked the same and it didn’t matter which one I bought. I asked her if she was new. She said no, but I really wished she would have said yes. Maybe then I would have felt better about her lack of familiarity with the hair-care products that were all over the shelves that she didn’t bother to educate herself on.
A few weeks later I went into another Asian-owned hair store to buy a blow dryer and a few hair accessories. There were three Asian employees near the entrance of the store. None of them greeted me nor did they offer me any form of assistance when I walked in. I proceeded to search for the hair accessories on my own, undeterred, since my previous visit taught me to help myself as much as possible. I found them, and afterwards, I asked for assistance. I told one woman what I wanted and she brought it out to me. I went to check out with what amounted to be a large purchase. The lady who helped me was so cordial and complimentary after noticing all the products I was buying, and I was not surprised to find that it was one of the same people who ignored me earlier. I decided enough was enough and that I had just put my last dollar in the register of an ungrateful business. I re-evaluated my choices of the hair stores I went to and decided to halt my visits to them altogether.
The deliberate prejudice practices of some Asian-owned hair stores I have visited is down right unacceptable! Moreover, hiring employees with little to no knowledge of black hair care products to work at a hair store targeted towards blacks in a predominately black neighborhood when they clearly have no interest in trying to learn is equally shameful. Sub-par service in certain Asian-owned hair stores is doled out towards blacks more often than not. Adding insult to injury is the fact that these stores set up shop in primarily black areas. Yet their unfriendliness, lack of good service, and unappreciative attitudes seems to be ignored as they make money off of black dollars. In my opinion, it seems that a loss in revenue may quite possibly be the only way for these establishments to feel the effects of their tired business tactics and poor customer service, and start treating all of their customers equally and a lot better.
Have you had similar experiences at some Asian-owned beauty supply stores?
When it comes to networking and learning more about a variety of topics, Meetup.com has become a go-to website. On Meetup, users can join groups based on their interests and then gather together offline. The site hosts groups for book clubs, outdoor adventures, and networking, and several groups specifically for black professionals in technology have made an impact in cities across the country.
Mike Street, organizer of the New York-based Blacks in Technology (BIT) group, describes Meetups as “good way to get off of the computer and meet people in real life. You can develop a vast network of people who can help you in any situation.”
This BIT group, which has more than 820 members, originally started in 2009 and Street took over as organizer in 2010. The group hosts a variety of events every month, ranging from casual brunch get-togethers, to events in conjunction with larger organizations and companies, to Q&A sessions over Google+ Hangouts. Street said the group has attracted marketers, developers, designers, and even human resources recruiters.
On October 30, about a dozen members of the group gathered via a Google+ Hangout to hear from Brian Shields, co-founder of IncubateNYC, an incubation program that helps entrepreneurs. The session featured a Q&A between Street and Shields about IncubateNYC and entrepreneurship, as well as questions from the group about advice for starting their own businesses.
“Our main goal is not just to create a blacks in technology community in the New York area, but also bring more visibility to the different professions in technology and the people working in tech who are African-American,” Street said.
On the other side of the country, Blacks in Technology-Los Angeles holds monthly meetings in Google’s Venice, CA offices that consist of a featured speaker and time for questions. John Malonson, the organizer of the group, said BIT-LA was originally for tech professionals and tech-savvy people, but it has now grown to include people who just have an interest in technology and want to learn more.
“We never want technology to be a barrier or hurdle for entry for anyone,” he said. “We average 40-plus members who show up each month, physical attendees to bounce ideas off of and if people have questions.” He also highlighted the nearly 400 group members who are available to ask questions and connect online and on the Meetup site.
Malonson said the group has focused a lot on social media lately, and hosted Wandia Chiuri as she spoke about “Magic Tricks for Viral Growth” in early October. While the specific topics change, both of these Blacks in Technology groups try to focus on issues that interest their members, no matter how versed they are in technology.
And members can learn from one another, as Malonson said. By getting together in person and getting to know people with various backgrounds, careers, and years in the industry, there is always someone who can answer questions or help out other members.
Going forward, Street said he hopes to start a board to assist him in organizing the group, but the main goal for the coming months is to grow in numbers.
Malonson agreed: “I’d like to double the size of the BIT-LA group and we want to make it accessible for people for people who can’t physically attend.” Google+ Hangouts, he added, were one way to do that.
Networking with other African-Americans is an important element for blacks in technology.
“I noticed that I might be one of the only black people at other Meetups,” Street said. “We wanted to create a safe, comfortable space for people in the industry to come and gather and close the gap.”
Malonson said that several people who joined the group then commented that they had been looking for such a place to connect with other black technology professionals for a long time.
He also highlighted the importance of connecting with larger groups outside of Meetup groups, such as the Black Data Processing Associates. Additionally, on October 6, an event for black women in technology, Focus100, was held for the first time.
Street also added, “it is important to go to the larger Meetups [and other industry events] because your career should exist outside of your racial identity.”
Overall, while Meetups start online, they bridge the gap between online and offline, and can be a place for more experienced tech experts to learn more or for newer professionals to get a foothold and start to grow.
Meetup Groups that focus specifically on African Americans in technology add an extra layer of networking to the lives of black professionals. While connecting in larger forums may be educational and insightful, these in-person meetings can build a community and help make the industry feel close-knit. This can lead to mentoring relationships, more partnerships among black professionals, and an open and comfortable entry point for those interested in getting into the technology industry.
Increasingly, we’re seeing technology-focused groups for African Americans forming in places across the country. If this is your area of interest, seek one out and sign up. And if you’re a member, tell us what it’s like in the comments.
When it comes to social media, of course Facebook is the top dog. But within the black community, Twitter has become a go-to social media site.
In February 2012, Pew released data about the demographic profile of US Twitter users and found that 28 percent of black Internet users said they were Twitter users. Comparatively, only 14 percent of Hispanics and 12 percent of whites said the same.
Looking deeper into this trend, there are two main reasons why blacks turn to Twitter more than their general market counterparts: the age and mobile-readiness of black consumers. A third, not as noticeable, reason is that black consumers are more active in using social media to follow news, entertainment and politics than other consumers — areas where Twitter is already making an impact, especially because of its real-time nature.
Just as the overall black population is younger, so are Twitter users in general.
In 2011, the Census reported that the overall median age in the US was 37.3 years old, nearly five years older than the median age for US blacks, which was 32.7. Because of the young age of the black population, they are more likely to use social networks, increasing the current penetration rate.
And looking specifically at Twitter, a June 2012 study from website monitoring company Pingdom found that the average Twitter user is 37.3 years old, compared to 40.5 for Facebook and 44.2 for LinkedIn.
Indeed, Twitter’s unique shorthand, including hashtags and @ replies, and the ease with which it supports real-time communication, are appealing to younger consumers who have grown up spending more time texting with friends than sending emails. Facebook, on the other hand, expands upon more traditional forms of sharing and communication comfortable for older consumers, with its photos and messages.
This is demonstrated more clearly by March 2012 data from Common Sense Media, an organization that provides media and technology information to families and kids. When asked about the main social networking site that they use, 19 percent of black US teen Internet users said Twitter was their main site, and 49 percent said Facebook. Among teens overall, only six percent highlighted Twitter and 68 percent said Facebook was their main social network.
Another reason for the move to Twitter is that black consumers have been early adopters of mobile technology, texting and accessing social networks on their mobile phones. Twitter, likewise, has always positioned itself as a mobile-first company, even deriving the 140-character limit of tweets from the original character limits of text messages.
During BET’s Hip-Hop Awards show on October 9, social media tracker Trendrr analyzed 2.6 million Twitter interactions related to the show, which included all tweets, @mentions and hashtags, according to an article in Mashable. Of those interactions, 70 percent came from mobile phones and only 30 percent from the Web.
Compare this to the 2012 Oscars, which reaches a more general market. It saw 44 percent of its related Twitter interactions come from mobile, according to Trendrr. BET encouraged this mobile participation, by offering a specific Hip-Hop Awards app, and its mostly black audience responded in full force.
Real-Time News and Entertainment
Twitter has emerged as the go-to platform to follow real-time news and television events, such as the BET Hip-Hop Awards, the presidential debates and MTV’s Video Music Awards, all of which led to spikes in related conversations on Twitter.
There are several topics that overlap as both interests of the black community and places where Twitter shines as a social site.
With its ability to bring together conversations around hashtags, Twitter has become a place for many users to get and follow news. Additionally, Pew found that black social network users were slightly more likely to get news from social networks overall.
Between May and June 2012, Pew asked social network users if they had seen news on a social network during the previous day. Of black social network users, 38 percent said they had, while 35 percent of whites and 34 percent of Hispanics said the same thing. Blacks, however, saw the greatest increase from 2010 in this type of news consumption, up 22 percentage points.
Going one step further, into political news, blacks were interested in using social media as part of political activities, according to the 2012 “Politics on Social Networking Sites” from Pew. Nearly half (48 percent) of black respondents said social networking was important for keeping up on political news, compared to 44 percent of Hispanic respondents and 33 percent of white respondents.
Twitter not only has more users than the smaller social TV applications, but also has the real-time nature that helped it become a go-to platform for TV conversations, more so than Facebook. BET, in particular, has embraced this trend, encouraging viewers to tweet, showing tweets on-air during live TV shows like 106 and Park, and connecting with fans throughout the day on Twitter.
While all social sites can provide entertainment and news information to a degree, Twitter has emerged as the best real-time solution. That is attractive to black consumers who enjoy participating in conversations around news and entertainment on social media.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Twitter continues to keep its popularity with the black community. Are you on Twitter? Do you prefer it over other sites and, if so, why?
Did anybody else spontaneously start singing, in the Kreayshawn voice, “One big Binder, full of bad b***hes…” when Presidential candidate Mitt Romney started talking about a binder full of women during Tuesday’s debate? Just me? Okay, well I’m sure I’m not the only one who instantly thought of Cam’ron’s “Horse & Carriage” when President Barack Obama amusingly referred to Romney as “Mr. Me Too?” Well, if you didn’t you are probably thinking it now.
It’s funny how we associate things with both positive and negative attributes. On their own, both Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci” and Cam’ron’s “Horse & Carriage” might illicit some negative reaction for their explicit language, misogynistic lyrics and overall wack content. However, in new context, say a gaffe by Mitt Romney and a well orchestrated zinger by the president, they become wonderful salient postscripts to otherwise muted points.
And this might happen more than we think. Like during the same debate, when a sole woman stood up in front of both candidates and asked, “President Obama, during the Democratic National Convention in 2008, you stated you wanted to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. What has your administration done or planned to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?”
Both candidates, while disagreeing over the ban, co-signed each other on the community’s role in violence. And while the president was more kid gloves about it, suggesting that the end of violence can only come through community efforts, Romney took a more direct tone to the whole “community effort” discussion with talk about family values. To be more exact:
“But let me mention another thing. And that is parents. We need moms and dads, helping to raise kids. Wherever possible the—the benefit of having two parents in the home, and that’s not always possible. A lot of great single moms, single dads. But gosh to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone, that’s a great idea.”
Well maybe Romney’s binder full of women is actually a matchmaking look-book for all those crime spreading single moms out there?
But seriously, no one should be surprised by Romney, a self-professed religious man, would champion the family unit as the solution to social problems. I think that is basically his answer to everything. Can’t afford college? Ask mom and dad. Likewise, it was Paul Ryan, Romney vice-presidential hopeful, who just last week asserted that, “The best thing to help prevent violent crime in the inner cities is to bring opportunity in the inner cities. Is to help teach people good discipline, good character.”
But that didn’t stop people in my news feed, particularly angry black folks, from balking at his solution to violence and issuing charges of coded racism and sexism, pointing the finger at poor single parents. Single parents, particularly single mothers for all the ills in the community so what’s the big deal if we add gun violence to the list? Of course I am being facetious but how is Newt Gingrich’s advice that the NAACP “should demand paychecks and not food stamps,” any different than Bill Cosby’s now infamous Pound Cake Speech? Or Philadelphia Mike Nutter, who gave his best Southern Baptist routine in the pulpit about how our youths are damaging the race any different than Rush Limbaugh asserting that some people are just meant to be born slaves because they are lazy?
Point is that black folks have been on this social conservative/personal responsibility kick for a long time and lots of our folks were willing to co-sign some of these very conservative values when the speaker just so happened to be black. How many times will someone go off about hood rats and welfare queens? How many of us regularly scowl at the antics of project dwellers and thugs? How many times do we read comments below stories about lazy shiftless Negros, messing it up for the rest of us good…er…African Americans? So what makes Romney’s sentiment less meaningful now?
Is it the message or the messenger?
A City College of New York assistant professor of political science, Daniel DiSalvo, has written a column for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette discussing what the headline calls “The Great Reverse Migration” of blacks away from the northern parts of the US.
Citing the astounding figures found throughout The Warmth of Other Suns, the fantastic book by Isabel Wilkerson about the first Great Migration of blacks to the North to escape Jim Crow, DiSalvo notes the millions who made the trip to places like New York and Chicago during the 1900s. About six million to be exact.
But now there are new stats showing that a high number of blacks are making the reverse trip to places like Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and Florida. More specifically, they’re making the move from big cities to other cities like Dallas and Atlanta (though moves to the suburbs have been plentiful as well). Citing figures from the New York Times, the column says that by the end of the 2000s, the black population in the South had grown 75 percent. New York, Illinois and Michigan are the states seeing the biggest exodus.
“Many of the migrants are ‘buppies’ — young, college-educated, upwardly mobile black professionals — and older retirees,” the column says. In other words, blacks who are moving up the ladder are seeking greener pastures (literally) by also moving to places where they can have bigger homes, a backyard, and a solidly middle class way of life. A lot of older retirees are also laying down fresh roots across the South.
DiSalvo pinpoints three reasons for this movement: job prospects, housing prices and the state of public education. The author, who is also a senior fellow at Manhattan Institute’s Center for State and Local Leadership, a conservative-leaning organization, goes on to talk about the possible political repercussions. Among them, the political impact of black immigrants, such as people from Africa and the Caribbean; and the difficulty in creating “predominantly black districts” as the black population spreads out. He posits that blacks may “try their political fortunes” outside of the Democratic party.
“New political attitudes among blacks also have trouble finding expression when black candidates are concentrated into one party,” the column says, suggesting that blacks may turn to the GOP or become independents.
While there’s no doubt that the economic and political landscape is changing for the black community, DiSalvo seems to take his argument a little too far. Blacks in this country continue to make great strides. More blacks are going to college, becoming entrepreneurs and joining the ranks of the middle class.
However, the economic recession has taken a toll. Black unemployment remains high. Women and minority business owners have trouble getting funding to start their businesses. Pew research shows that economic mobility has “stalled.” Some argue that many of the gains made by the black middle class were lost when the housing market went bust. So some of the same economic concerns linger, and progress has created a crop of new ones.
And, at least right now, Mitt Romney and the GOP aren’t making the case that he and his party represent all people. Romney is still reeling from the secret footage containing his talk about the 47 percent. Now there’s new ( or rather, old and played out) video of the President that’s again raising issues with race and race-baiting. And many are still thinking about the scant minority presence at the GOP convention. “…Obama is also president for Americans they felt were not reflected at last week’s largely white Republican National Convention, including advocates for women’s reproductive rights, Latinos fighting for immigration reform and the DREAM Act, and gay rights activists,” reported NPR around the time of the Democratic convention last month.
As I read through the latest outrage at the moment, aka, the hoopla over new rapper Chief Keef, I keep hearing Georgia Anne Muldrow and Erykah Badu lyrically asking, “what if there were no n****rs, only master teachers?”
For those who don’t know, Chief Keef is the Chicago teenager (above photo, to the left), who started out of as just another YouTube rapper and has now become one of hip-hop’s most buzzed about artists. Not only has he just inked a deal with Interscope Records, but he also has caught the attention of such hip hop mavericks as Kanye West, who hopped on a remix of his song, “I Don’t Like.” He is also being investigated for a possible connection in the shooting death of fellow Chicago rapper, Joesph ‘Lil JoJo’ Coleman (above, to the right), who may I add, was only 16.
Keef, who was born Keith Cozart, drew the attention of law enforcement after laughing off the murder of Lil JoJo by saying via Twitter, “Its Sad Cuz Dat N—– Jojo Wanted to Be Jus Like Us #LMAO.” He is also known for promoting and supporting gang culture including dancing around in his music videos with what appears to be automatic weapons and tweeting the hashtag “#300” — a known reference to the Black Disciples. And at 17 years old, Keef has already faced numerous criminal charges, including a weapons charge, which has already landed him on house arrest.
The response to the rise of Keef has been rather swift, most notably from fellow Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco, who publicly criticized Keef for perpetrating the hoodlum lifestyle, which runs parallel to the culture of violence already running amok in the streets of Chicago. Many folks I have encountered have agreed with Lupe, claiming that Keef, and others of his elk, are a burden to the community. “These n****rs are the reason why our community is the way it is,” has become a commonplace mantra in the minds of some black folks. But truth be told, I see plenty of Chief Keefs in my community all the time. And when it comes to what’s wrong with the community, there is enough of that blame to be shared all around.
Young people, particularly young black people, have longed played witness to serious and lethal violence within their own communities. When I graduated from high school, the murder rate in Philadelphia was around 4oo deaths per year. My nephews and niece, who only a month ago, learned of the shooting death of a teenager only steps away from their front door have already grasped the finality of death, even before they can mature enough to witness adulthood. Recently, I saw a bunch of little kids, between the ages of 9 to 11, roaming the street around 12:30 in the morning like a bunch of aimless orphans. Unfortunately, seeing hordes of parentless children at odd hours of the night has become so much of the norm that I didn’t even bother to flinch. The reality is that long after Chief Keef’s moment in the limelight has faded – whether it be from gang violence, the prison industrial complex or crossing over to the mainstream – the community will still have a violence problems. If we don’t get a handle on it, there will be someone else, someone younger, to take his place. Exhibit 1: 13-year old Lil Mouse.
But even as the threat of losing an entire generation (i.e. the children) grows uncomfortably near, many of us have become stagnated in prayer, hope, apathy and the wait for change to come. I noticed this much last week when all eyes were fixated on the Democratic National Convention. Collectively, African-Americans are more involved in the political process than most other minority groups, supporting a one-party system by as much as 90 percent. However, we have yet to see the fruits from all of our labor or loyalty. Nevertheless, when Rahm Emanuel asked us whose leadership we wanted in event of “an unforeseen crisis, challenge or conflict,” we don’t bother to question whose leadership is in charge as a teachers strike looms and blood runs red in the streets of Chicago. We smirked and laughed alongside former President Bill Clinton, who worked his arithmetic mojo while reaffirming President Obama’s commitment to the work requirement in welfare reform, a policy called by most a dismal failure. And as the RNC’s mantra/question – “Are you better now than four years ago?” – blared from our television sets, many of us couldn’t wait to nod our heads in the affirmative, even when the reality – at least for us – suggests otherwise.
2006 was the year I graduated from high school and also the same year Kanye West released his hit single, “Touch the Sky.” Seeing that I was getting ready to enter my freshman year of college, Kanye’s aptly titled album Late Registration became the soundtrack to my pre-collegiate life. There was magic in that whole album; but I particularly bonded with “Touch the Sky” because when Kanye said, “You gon’ touch the sky, baby girl!” I knew he was talking to me. I studied that song. With its sample of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up,” it became my inspiration. You may also remember that in this epic song there was a short verse from up and coming Chicago rapper, Lupe Fiasco. Laden with references to Japanese and American cartoons, I never fully grasped all Lupe was trying to say. I just knew he was introducing himself as a young rapper on the come up. He didn’t move me like Kanye but I dug his pacing and added his name to my rap radar.
When I got to school, I found myself surrounded by a whole bunch of what I called “Chicago Kids.” There were swarms of them ranting and raving about their love for their city, Harold’s Chicken and their sports teams. (Thank God the Bears lost the Superbowl to my hometown team, the Indianapolis Colts, or I would’ve never heard the end of it.) But the Chicago Kids weren’t completely obnoxious, truth be told they put me onto some good stuff, including Lupe Fiasco. The girl who would later become my best friend from college, asked me if I’d heard of Lupe. I wasn’t a connoisseur of his music like the Chicago kids were, but since he was on my favorite song and therefore, my rap radar, I knew his name. She let me listen to the first single, “Sunshine.” With lyrics like, “You’re the starry skies above me, won’t you please come down and hug me,” it was a love song, about a regular dude approaching a girl who just so happened to dig him too. It was beautiful and I was officially a Lupe fan. After that single, his first album Food and Liquor didn’t disappoint. I knew I dug it but I didn’t understand how deep it actually was, until I watched one of my guy friends rapping along to “He Say, She Say,” a song from the album.
A group of us were sitting around in the community lounge, pretending to study. My friend, who was on DJ duty, played Lupe’s new album. “He Say, She Say,” came on. Immediately the energy shifted from light and jovial to heavy and pensive. If you’re not familiar with the song, essentially it’s a very heart wrenching conversation between a mother, son and an absentee father. Both the mother and the son plead with the father to spend more time, explaining how his absence is having a negative effect on his academic and emotional progress.“To be a man, she try to make me understand that she my number one fan but it’s like you booing from the stands, you know the world is out to get me, why don’t you give me a chance?” I knew it was a rare piece of art when I first heard it and I loved it. But I was left utterly speechless as I watched one of our guy friends lose himself in the lyrics. For a dude who seemed to take very little seriously, he was in a trance rapping and bobbing, his eyes closed. I knew, with no words necessary, that he was singing his own story. And he didn’t even have to write it, Lupe did it for him. It was so real and so tragic that I gained an entirely new level of respect for Lupe. And with the release of each album, my love and respect continued to grow. There was The Cool with songs like “The Fighters,” “Go Baby,” “Gold Watch,” and the song that would become one of my theme songs, “Paris, Tokoyo,” (the original and the remix). That was late 2007, early 2008, the same year Barack Obama was elected President of the United States.
Then a few years later, things took a turn for the worst. By 2011, Lupe had some choice words for President Obama, calling him “the biggest terrorist” in one breath and then claiming he doesn’t get involved in politics in the next. When I first heard this, I couldn’t believe it. I had to look it up for myself because, though Lupe had always been very opinionated, this just wasn’t like him. But alas, it was true. His argument was that the United States’ policies inspire other countries to attack us. And if we didn’t have these policies other countries wouldn’t try to take us down. For someone who admittedly doesn’t follow politics, this seemed like a very haphazard and outrageous thing to say. And it didn’t stop there, earlier this year Lupe went on to say that President Obama is a “baby killer” because he’s authorized the use of “predator and reaper drones.” Lupe argues that the drones are killing innocent civilians and not just the terrorist targets the U.S. government is after. Lupe likened President Obama’s methods to a drug dealer: “Drug dealers can say the same thing. ‘I didn’t mean to kill all the people in the restaurant. I was just trying to get that one dude who killed my cousin. Just so happened that that little girl was there.’ Same thing.”
Some of the things that people obsess about completely go over my head. One of those things is hair, not just how we wear it, what we do to it, but even the amount on people’s heads can be a topic of discussion for hours. For some reason it seems like this obsession is even larger in the black community. Do you mind if we discuss this?
I was born with a lot of hair on my head, and with that hair came a lot of length. Being a child in Mobile, Alabama, I went to school with white students who also had long hair, so I didn’t think my hair was anything out of place. It wasn’t until my family moved to East St. Louis that I found out how large of an issue it was in the black community. My first day in the predominantly black school the secretary took me my teacher, and right after I introduced myself the secretary turned me around to show my first grade teacher my ponytail that reached my butt. Before I knew it, I was taken to (and this is not an exaggeration) every single classroom in that building. After I said my name and where I was from (“that southern accent is so cute!”) I was immediately turned around to show not just the teacher, but the entire classroom how long my hair was (Umm… are we going to learn something today?)
I couldn’t understand what the big deal was. It was just hair. The same stuff that I try to avoid having drop into my food while I ate, or what my mother took hours to press before I got a relaxer. Then it began to define me, it felt like it was all I was known for. I remember in high school having a frienemy (the same one who told everyone about me being commando) say: ”I can’t wait ’til prom, me and my sister are getting weaves and all the guys are going to stare at us. Because honestly, that’s the only reason why guys like you. You’re not that pretty, it’s just because of your hair.” I can’t believe that friendship didn’t last.
But she wasn’t the only one with that mindset. Once a girl got a fresh weave, they would literally go to me, fling it in the air and say: ”You’re not the only one with long hair now!” Then grab a brush out of their bag and start brushing it extra hard. I was always thrown off (“Soo… you don’t have the answers to the trigonometry homework…?”) If I wasn’t in competition with these girls, they thought I was in competition with other girls with long hair. I remember people having a full blown discussion on whose hair was longer, and I would get so frustrated. ”Who cares?! It’s just hair!!”
But the madness continued even after I left the school’s halls. Even now if I’m walking in a store, it’s not uncommon for someone to just stick their hands in my head and fill around for tracks and when I turn around say: ”Oh, I just wanted to know if it was real.” As if that’s supposed to excuse them from violating my personal space. Or the endless unwanted hair advice I get from people who have less hair under their armpits. ”See, if you dip your hair in chocolate and rinse it out after ten minutes, it’ll grow like crazy! See, I did that, but my hair got too long and I couldn’t handle it, so I cut it! That’s why it’s short now!”
Even though I’m in my twenties and have gotten used to the craziness over the protein follicles that grow out of my head, it’s a new adventure to see people react when they see my 19 month old’s hair. After my c-section the first thing that my doctor said wasn’t that my baby was fine, or that she had ten fingers or ten toes, it was: ”Oh my goodness! This baby has so much hair!” And he invited other nurses to come and see while my insides were laying on the table. ”Umm… could someone please bring my baby to me?!”
Even a week ago, taking my daughter to the mall with a twist out we were stopped constantly so people could ask about her hair, touch her hair, and this woman while I was in the bathroom wouldn’t leave me alone until I promised to put two afro puffs at the top of her head (Lady, why does it matter? Unless you’re going to start stalking me, you’re not going to see it…)
Now, I’m not trying to play the part of “Oh woe is me, I have all this long hair and don’t know what to do.” I’m not going to lie, I feel blessed that I have the hair on my head, and the fact that while some people spend the same amount of money on a luxury car payment a month all I have to do is unwrap my hair and only spend $6 on olive oil. I know that a woman’s hair is her crowning glory, but that’s it. A person’s hair shouldn’t overcast the person underneath it, or what she has accomplished.
It hurts me to think that my daughter will have the same struggles of meeting her future boyfriend’s parents and hearing: ”Don’t ever cut your hair, it’s the best part about you,” or having her great grandmother cry if she decides to cut her hair in a bob (which is what happened with my grandmother), or have people she thinks are friends use underhanded comments to say that all she is is her hair.
But really, that’s all it is. It’s just hair, and if you can attain it by growing it yourself, going natural, relaxing it, weaving it up, that’s fine, but don’t just reduce a person to that; because honestly, it’s just the lowest common denominator of a someone’s personality.
Not only does Kendra Koger have hair, she also has a twitter account. Tweet her @kkoger.
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