Earlier this week, President Barack Obama and rapper Kendrick Lamar touted their get-together at the White House under the banner of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. The touching event was widely praised on social media, with Black Twitter and others noting, “First person in the White House with cornrows,” and more. Epic. Mind you, Kendrick is the rapper I said had the “Blackest album of the year 2015.” And now, just look at him and the crew on the red carpet in b-boy stances. Priceless.
Last night, POTUS offered his final State of the Union address, and he offered a populist message of optimism, positivity, and potential. Going into it, we knew it would be a different message than those from the past, and his timely speech addressed a myriad of topics, including terrorism, wage disparities, and employment.
Look, I’m proud to have had an African American president. Last night underscored that. I am less proud of how America has treated African Americans, especially during his tenure. Some of my friends are fierce, unwavering critics of the president. I am not. I have been fairly consistent from day one: we have to do for self if we expect true change to begin. Begin.
There is a powerful constituency that the president answers for. Black, Brown, and poor people lack that certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to colossal, global moments like the State of the Union. Oddly, matters of race were not mentioned at all in his commentary on America.
Like President Obama, of course I want to focus on our future. But the realities of the present and the past keep tugging on my coattails, hanging on like a precarious, invisible noose.
Tamir Rice, 12, comes to mind immediately. 9-year old Tyshawn Lee comes right afterwards. The 16-year old female student attacked by Officer Ben Fields. There are many more. As a father and a man, this is the future I have to contend with – one that will leave me with scars and memories of all that has happened. I won’t bother to regurgitate the facts and disparities, because, by now, you should know. We may have won the White House, but we lost the veil that had been thinly shielding us from the hatred that still exists in this country. Statistically speaking, it really sucks to be a POC in America these days. #facts.
Hours before the SOTU event, it wasn’t Kendrick but another unapologetically Black rapper named Karega Bailey that I listened to. Karega is the sort of rapper people say they want, but who rarely gets the backing like artists of a more commercial variety. Why? I’m not sure. He’s an educator. A married man of principle. He happens to rap about what’s going on…for real, for real. His new record, “No Indictment” (listen here), serves as an example. I stared in the mirror and drifted off as I listened to the song. In my mind’s eye I saw faces of people killed, crushed, mutilated by the system. The kids. The poor. The defenseless.
And then suddenly, I was catapulted back in the present. Now.
Understand, this crisis facing Black America is not only about police brutality. This is not only about marches and brazen acts of civil disobedience. This is not only about the school-to-prison pipeline. This is not only about wage disparities. This is not only about the complete loss of forward, financial motion. This isn’t only about militarized police forces, the killing of unarmed civilians, unacknowledged inner city violence, or even failing school systems.
This is about a loss of hope…the utter deterioration of faith. Fear.
The overall message of the SOTU was one of renewed expectation that something phenomenal is about to happen within America, even though that grim list of obstacles says otherwise. “Democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter,” POTUS said. This is precisely what has happened.
A recent study by Peabody College at Vanderbilt has revealed the grit and tenacity that African Americans take through life, school, and their pursuit of the American Dream ends up being a lengthy war of attrition that results in “alarming occurrences of anxiety, stress, depression, and thoughts of suicide, as well as a host of physical ailments like hair loss, diabetes, and heart disease.” (Shout out to Ebony O. McGee for revealing what we have been living.) Hell, I have my bouts with depression. But a friend of mine never fails to remind me of the ancestors and what they endured. And that helps some of the madness subside.
Don’t think I’m crazy, but I feel like I am able to see a renewed spark within President Obama. Most of us that support him have seen it on one recent occasion or another. That’s why the moment with Kendrick Lamar and the accompanying images are so fitting for these times we’re living in. In that moment, POTUS signified to us all that the White House was for EVERYONE – even a young, Black, and gifted lyricist kid from Compton.
Some things you cannot fake. For some, that meeting was more important than the SOTU speech. For others, it was a reminder that in a year or so, he’s going to exit the big, White House. It’s a frightening thought, because we have presidential candidates that would really like to set us back, deep into the doctrines and days of slavery.
The world is big and the issues facing the Nation seem insurmountable. I know people that were blocks away from the attack in Paris. I know people that dodged bullets in Ferguson. I’ve met most of the parents of the prominent cases of kids killed by police. I believe we need the same resolve our predecessors had if we are going to set things straight for future generations.
This means business. This means clean(er) living. This means raising educated, ambitious kids that #staywoke. This means maintaining a spiritual base. This means fending off the enemy while building your fortress. This means Black Lives Matter even when they don’t matter to the masses.
We have to stand up and stop cowering in fear. We have to stay engaged in the process even when our valiant African American leader is no longer there.