This week, I spoke at a conference hosted by the Center for Church and Prisons in Boston, Massachusetts. Rev. George Walters- Sleyon brought together a group of people to discuss the prison problem in America, including d**k Gregory, Dr. Umar Johnson, the rapper Jasiri X and others who are on the forefront of the mass incarceration epidemic in America.
During my speech, I spoke about how hip-hop music, at least what we hear on the radio, has become the gospel of self-destruction. There is almost nothing about the lifestyle being promoted on most urban radio stations that leads to prosperous or healthy outcomes. Instead, from the time they are young, black males are fed consistent messages that tell them to stay high, drunk, ignorant, violent, broke and incredibly unproductive. Listen to most songs on the urban station in your city (which is just like the one in the next city over) and within 60 seconds, you will hear some message reminding black men of how to destroy their lives.
It’s not until years later that a brother is in a prison cell or on his d***h bed that he may begin to question whether or not he’s been duped into believing that his life was meant to be nothing more than one thugged out calamity after another. Every time a black man is convinced that he is a loser, our community loses another man who could have been an adequate husband and father. When black men are k*lling one another, turning into alcoholics or drug addicts, dying from HIV, going bankrupt or never learning how to read, there is some child, somewhere, who has lost the chance to have a good role model in his life. Racism already marginalizes us enough; we must not be convinced to marginalize ourselves.
Quite frankly, this angers me to no end. It’s one thing when we confront systematic obstacles that lead to failing schools, mass incarceration and few economic opportunities. But we must also realize that one of those oppressive systems consists of corporations like Clear Channel, which stack their profits by feeding black men a brain-eating disease called “IWannabeaStraightNigger-itis.”
Right after my reference to hip-hop and it’s problematic turn for the worse, I was accurately critiqued by the rapper Jasiri X, who interpreted my comments about hip-hop to mean that I was referring to all of the music in the genre. He reminded me that there are conscious artists like himself, Immortal Technique, d**d Prez and others who are not interested in using their skills as a tool for black male self-destruction.