Every movement that captures the people’s minds and hearts starts off with fervor. The enthusiasm, the momentum, and the overall passion espoused by the proponents of the cause is breathtaking, if nothing more than an inspiration to us all at the most basic levels, challenging each of us to better ourselves in some form or fashion. It’s the select few that protest, affect policy, lobby, or creatively contribute as a means to add something to the overall push for change. Even if you just post, keep posting! It’s truly “the sum of its parts” that makes a movement successful or not.
Lately, there’s been a major push for social change in a time that is nothing short of something out of the Twilight Zone or some bizarre sci-fi movie parallel universe with Christopher Nolan at the helm. We’re sitting on nearly 40 million plus unemployed, a severely crippled small business community the likes unseen in several generations, a federal deficit of almost 25 trillion, and, on top of all of those factors, we’re in an election year. Did I mention the pandemic? So, maybe the environment is ripe for change.
But why now? Quite possibly it’s the above-mentioned factors that make it different than in times past. I mean, there are some commonalities with these protestors and others over the last 70 years of movements reflective of social upheaval. References to Emmitt Till are evoked as people march, a name synonymous with the result of the white supremacist poison that’s infested this nation since its inception.
He, along with several of the many martyrs of the Civil Rights movement like Dr. King, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, JFK, RFK, amongst others, have left a foothold for generations to use to push forward, in attempts to make the “dream” somewhat less deferred.
What about those left behind to pick up the torch, those left to live out the legacy? Jesse Jackson, for example, was there at the time of King’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on that fateful day in 1968. He has championed the cause of civil rights for over a half century, with two unsuccessful presidential runs in 1984 and 1988 to add to his lengthy and impressive resume. Enter Al Sharpton, an activist who has parlayed his civil rights activism into a successful TV personality and MSNBC analyst. These were two warriors on the front lines in a Civil Rights era that found itself in “wilderness” of sorts after the assassination of Dr. King and the increased counter insurgencies that our government employed to break up grassroots organizations (e.g. the Black Panthers) deemed a threat to democracy. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Minister Louis Farrakhan who heads up the Nation of Islam and continues to herald the cause for black America, promoting economic empowerment void of the “hidden hand” of the duplicitous capitalistic system.
This battle for equal, or at least more equitable, footing is not for the faint of heart. It is going to take endurance and a perseverance unparalleled in our history. This entails the unraveling of the grossly one-sided social, economic and political policies of institutionalized racism that is so cleverly cloaked that many non-black people don’t even understand the racism they’re embodying, and I’m not referring to the overt racists here. There are seemingly well-intentioned people that are trying not to fall victim to the pitfalls of a racist system yet still trip over some “snares” the system has cleverly placed to persuade them from rising above their mental station, attaining some level of enlightenment (Think: woke, if you will, and not the “I have ‘friends’ that are black” type mentality).
A capitalistic regime throws out many “carrots” to entice people to continue on with the status quo or desire it because it needs the masses sedated with materialism and some semblance of middle class to dissuade a mutinous climate. These individuals need some guidance and correction, as many on the outside do, and can become strong allies in the struggle. The system understands that too much buy-in from the majority with the minority will upset the tenuous balance needed for sustainability in all of its social, economic, and political institutions. Imagine if the Reconstruction period had sustained buy-in from the white majority to weather the backlash from Southerners not so keen on racial, social, and political equality.
Switching gears, to use a boxing comparison, this movement will need both Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson in order sustain itself and bounce back from setback. Tyson came out the gate like no other boxer in recent memory, flooring his opponents in the early stages of the fight. His upper cuts and hooks were equal parts masterful and vicious. However, as the match raged on, both inside and outside of the ring, it wore “The Champ” down. Iron Mike wasn’t able to weather the adversity -and I don’t know many who could- as it came from all angles -personally and professionally.
Ali, on the other hand, won the championship title at three vary different times over a 21-year career, found himself out of boxing in the prime of his career as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, and suffered a double dose of racism being black and Muslim in America. Both of these exemplars are needed at various points in the overarching strategy to enact change.
As music often forms the soundtrack for change, Hip Hop, as the one genre looked to for the dissenting voice, is not without its kudos and criticisms, highlighting peaks and valleys in its storied history. There was a renaissance of black thought and consciousness within the culture (let’s put some rough borders on this one as 1988-1992), one that embraced an Afrocentric viewpoint coupled with self-expression and awareness with a social commentary rarely found at the same level before or since. The music was at a zenith in terms of creative limits being pushed and explored. Public Enemy, The Native Tongues collective, Gang Starr, Ice Cube, Geto Boys, Pac, Flavor Unit, and many more fed the hearts and minds -as well as the ears- with music that made indelible impressions on so many of us at the time and beyond. But something happened…
There is no one thing that is attributable to the change in Hip Hop. I’ve heard everything from the rise of the G-Funk sound to Bad Boy to the South’s rising influence and dominance on the music scene. Who really knows as this is the fodder that has started many a debate with no clear cut, determining factor to end one. The only real fact is that specific era of consciousness came to an end as the music shifted yet again, with many of the heroes of that wave not adapting -or being allowed to by the fickle nature of the Hip Hop community- to the climate and being relegated to the back of the room by their younger peers not trying to hear the conscious vibe as commonly. Protesting is a young person’s game. With the wisdom of the elder statesmen and knowledge only acquired through life’s experiences, protesting, much like Hip Hop, only stands to gain with the embracing of a multi-generational approach.
Regardless of where your stance on the “quality” of Hip Hop right now is, get in the fight. It’s not time to wait and see what’s going to happen with the election or the protesting or the policy changing. Life is not a spectator sport: you will be seen as choosing a side whether you consciously did so or not. The opponent has been digging in for many centuries with a government and capitalistic culture that feels threatened by a growing majority minority. The environment is ideal for change based on other similar movements in human history.
During WWII, Gandhi, a strong influencer on Dr. King and chief protagonist for Indian independence, choose to side with the British against the Japanese advancement in Asia. Gandhi was stuck between a rock and hard place: side with the oppressive imperialistic British regime who had been in India for the last 300 years and was at weakened point due to the exhaustive nature of the world war or choose that of a new imperialistic juggernaut -Japan. Quite candidly, he chose the familiar oppressor and the outcome was 87,000 lives lost as a result. It’s impossible to know what would’ve happened had the choice been different and many people were complicit in that decision aside from him. However, the proof is there and the loss of human life undeniable. Decisions are costly. Period. However, two years after the conclusion of World War 2, India was finally able to free itself from the shackles of imperialism and claim freedom in 1947 after decades of fighting -within and without- but making inroads via the sacrifices of the people knowing that complete independence was the only acceptable outcome.
Are we as a people ready to dig in for the long haul because it’s going to take more than black people to fight this fight. We need people from across the various divides to come together and champion the cause on a daily level. We are at the start of a 15 Round fight that necessitates both the metaphorical Tyson’s and the Ali’s in this one; we need the Dr. King’s and the Minster Farrakhan’s; we need the Cube’s, Kendrick’s, and Lil Baby’s so we can come out swinging early and sustain the momentum with clear leadership, perseverance, and a captivating and inspiring artistic landscape as the rounds get increasingly more and more challenging without a clear cut end in sight…but one still worth fighting for.