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Straight Outta Compton: Black America’s turning point?

Straight Outta Compton is the highly anticipated movie telling the behind-the-scenes tale of the group, NWA that may deliver more than just a storyline. The group defined Gangsta Rap, and redefined the perimeters of Hip-Hop by using music and lyrics to allow insight into the racial and economic injustices, anger, frustration and struggles of Compton in the late 80’s. Fast forward to 2015, with racial tensions quieter but at an all time high in urban areas around the country. Unarmed black men and women fall victim to police bullets, neighborhoods continue to wrangle with violence, all while the communities cry and march to a beat unheard by those not impacted or swayed by the social ills of “the ‘hood. “

Many who enjoy Hip-Hop today do so without the true social movement, message and potential of NWA. The “rapping for a cause” groups like NWA and Public Enemy have been all but replaced by those who are “rapping, just because.”  Maybe the movie will alter that tune by showing the true potential and possibilities of change hidden in and delivered by the music and the movement therein.

I am thinking, and perhaps quietly hoping, that young people will see there is and can be a message and change in music, one of substance and social consciousness without compromising the edge that urban areas and its residents have, and that so many others seek to duplicate.

I kinda wish that this movie will show there is more that can be done beyond participating in a march and Tweeting the hash tag of the moment to show support for and demand change to the plight of people of color in this country. NWA made America look up, wake up and take notice of who they were and what they were saying.

While the issues they rapped about still exist, I believe there is a greater platform upon which more can be said and done with and as a result of today’s music. There’s energy and a sense of urgency anxiously looking for an outlet. This movie may just be the channel.


Marching for a change of heart

For what seems like longer than usual, those protesting the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner and the seemingly growing list of African-American men who have died at the hands of police officers have sustained and gained momentum. People of all ages, races and geographic locations have not halted their cries for justice, and this is a good thing. But, in an age where discrimination is illegal and the justice system is allegedly blind, just what does that look like?

I had this conversation with someone who have a vested interest in this movement—a young African-American male. I wondered and asked, what exactly is the call to action beyond the march and movement for change? His comments still have me pondering the potential outcome of these efforts. He pointed out that during the Civil Rights movement, there were two things: a collective agenda and an effort to change the law. Desegregation was divisive, and sent many blacks scattering to the comfort of their respective corners which are not always occupied by others who look like them. What some want, others don’t; and, the paths to reach certain goals are now as varied as those who champion for them.

Then, there is the law. Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender or religious beliefs or practices is illegal. No more signs refusing service to blacks, who can now walk in the front door with everyone else. But, once they get there they are subject to the personal and sometimes prejudicial perspectives and subsequent actions of those therein. Sometimes, those actions are as subtle as being ignored; other times, they may result in a 911 call fueled by an innate fear that society continues to perpetuate.

So, what is the ask today of those marching? My young man was quite clear and definitive in saying that what is being asked for involves changing a personal opinion, a perception and an abandonment of a prejudicial thought or opinion. Who can change that?

While the election of President Obama as the first black president (half-black to those who still can’t accept the 1/3 rule) was supposed to validate a post racial society, it still doesn’t exist. Sure, we see white people who want to use the N-word because…well, blacks use it, and commercials openly show bi-racial couples and children, but the reality is that any blog or social media forum will give you a completely different—and scary—insight into some of the heartfelt perspectives and opinions still held (and thus acted upon) about people of color.

The real issue here isn’t about the police, even though they are at the forefront of this challenge. The real issue is that people still harbor personal opinions and prejudices based on ignorance that become evident in their job performances. We see this from sales clerks to corporate executives. Good people make good professionals; unbiased people make the same. But, this can be achieved only through exposure and experiences that create a more tolerant person and community. And, unless everyone marching is taking time to really get to know each other in the effort, I am not sure what else will result.

Talk to strangers

Today, I had a very interesting conversation with a stranger. It’s something I do as often as someone will entertain my invitation to talk. While waiting for a carry-out order in a chain restaurant, I sat next to a middle-aged white lady who was also waiting. The sights and sounds from the television at the bar easily spilled over into the pick-up area and offered the perfect opportunity and excuse to strike up a conversation, which I did and she obliged.
The topics weren’t serious—the holidays, the weather and family, and we transitioned easily from one to the other. She was pleasant and for a moment, I felt like I had known her for longer than the 5 minutes we had been sitting together. The conversation was easy and comfortable.
I enjoy talking to strangers. Doing so is disarming to those who may have already arrived at a preconceived opinion about me—who I am; my personality, what I think and do on a daily basis. Sometimes I start with “hello” or a compliment to put them at ease. Other times, I may even inject myself into a conversation already in progress, apologizing first for interrupting, of course.
In doing so, I have learned that most people want to connect with others; they almost seem starved for a personal connection that has been replaced by technology and relying upon the endless and usually subjective opinions of others. You know–cloaked prejudices and perceptions. But, what I have learned is that nothing beats a (mis)perception or impression of a person (or people) or like talking to them. And, as cliché as is may be, we really do have more in common than not.
At a time when our country teeters between a post-racial society and Civil Rights regression, nothing does more to break the fragile but age-old barriers like a simple hello. More often than not, people respond favorably and a positive impression and connection are made.
One hello, one person, one conversation and connection at a time; no new laws, policies or means of enforcement are required; Just a smile and two willing participants. Making a difference is really that simple.
Some of the best conversations and moments of my day are with or because of my encounters with strangers. Go ahead; try it sometimes.