Hill Harper: Art Of Life – Barack, Kanye, Self-Esteem and Letters to a Young Sister

 

Hill Harper has one of those

“everywhere” faces. Not the paparazzi-obsessed Page 6 type everywhere

– but more subliminal. Kind of like that robot dancing dude on the Chappelle Show that seems to get his

background cameo on every episode.

 

The noted actor is everywhere because he’s as well-accomplished

off screen as he is on. When he’s not burning his image on people’s TV screens as

Dr. Hawkes on the CBS crime drama CSI: NY

or showing up in a myriad of critically acclaimed films, Harper is most likely

trying to initiate change like his long-time homie Barack Obama.

 

He’s also been campaigning to get the guy he’s

known since they were both fresh-faced Harvard law students elected as the

nation’s first Black president.

 

The Iowa-born change agent has been splitting

most of his off-camera energy uplifting the minds of young people as an author,

speaker and organizer.

Harper’s

newest book Letters to a Young Sister

is a follow-up to his renowned book from 2006 Letters to a Young Brother, which addressed young male issues

through a variety of memoirs and contributions from leading Black male

celebrities.  For his new book, Harper

called upon his female friends in Hollywood to help lay some ground work. 

 

The multifaceted thespian gave us the

rundown on his new book, the issues that concern him most and Obama’s chance

with history. 

 

AllHipHop.com: What made you follow up your book Letters to a Young Brother with a book targeted toward young

females?

 

Hill Harper: When I started touring with my

first book I was speaking to big, big groups of people, and a lot of young

women would come up after I would talk and ask me questions like, “What

about us? What about the issues we face? What do you think about that?” The

more I paid attention and the more I listened, the more I realized how necessary

a book for young sistas would be, but from a male perspective.

 

Many of these young women are being raised

without their fathers in the house. Two-thirds of our young women are being

raised by single mothers so they have very little positive male guidance to

help them understand things. So that’s what led us to Young Sister.AllHipHop.com: Since you wrote it from a male perspective, what was the

preparation and writing process like in order to give authentic advice on the

subject matter?

 

Hill Harper: I met with tons of young women,

because the young women of today are a lot different than the young women of

five years ago. This is because of technology, texting, Facebook, Myspace…

all of the technology and all of the things that they face created a different

world. I met with tons of young women and interviewed them about what’s going

on in their lives, what their concerns are, their fears, where their obstacles

are.

 

Then I spoke and wrote to many of those, and

then I went out and spoke to women I respect that I call my “surrogate sisters”

like Michelle Obama, Eve, Ciara, Nikki Giovanni, Gabrielle Union, Sanaa Lathan,

Nia Long, Lauren London… all of these are contributors to my book. I obviously,

as a man, can’t answer of the questions, but I can give them the male

perspective. Still, I needed women to give them the female perspective.

AllHipHop.com: Now that you’ve written books dealing with the concerns

of both genders, what would you say is the biggest issue facing youth people?

I’m talking about both young men and young women. How would you recommend

dealing with it?

 

Hill Harper: The biggest issue by far is self-esteem

and self-worth. Our young women are battling. We are in a context where a lot

of things pointed at them, whether it’s the word bitch or the word hoe or the

way they are portrayed in music videos or the way people deal with them or talk

to them, a lot of that is negative. Ultimately, it affects their self-esteem.

 

What I believe, when we talk about future-based

activities: education, money, savings, protecting yourself sexually and not

getting pregnant or not getting a STD – these things are future-based

activities. You have to take account your future to make present day activities

right? If you don’t think that you’re worthy of a future then you don’t care

about those choices, and you make the wrong choices. So self-esteem and

self-worth are the key issues I believe are affecting both sides, not just

young women but also young men as well, but they manifest themselves

differently for men.

 

AllHipHop.com: Earlier you brought up the issue about misogyny in music

videos. Can you talk about your thoughts on Hip-Hop’s contribution to the

issues we are touching on?

 

Hill Harper: It’s just not Hip-Hop. It’s all

aspects of the media. I put myself in that camp. I collect check from a company

that puts on music videos and movies that demean us. An advertisement is just a

destructive as any music video. If you’re Nike or Adidas or a certain jewelry

line, and you make someone feel that unless they have your product they are

less worthy, that they are not as good, then you are doing just as much damage

– because not everybody can afford to have that product. So you hurt their

self-esteem.

 

I just don’t wanna blame music. Everybody just

wants to make music the bad guy, but that just isn’t true. Music is just doing

what everybody else is doing.

 “You see little babies rolling around with $80 dollar sneakers.

This is all a self-esteem problem. You could just as easily buy some Starburys

for $9.99 that are just as good, because it was made by the same company that

made those $120 sneakers. Take that [leftover] $110 and put it in a mutual

fund.”

AllHipHop.com: I want to touch on a the “art verses commerce”

argument for a minute. As somebody who is a part of a creative industry, do you

believe that responsibility falls on the artists and content creators, or the

marketers and content distributors when it comes to regulating offensive

content?

 

Hill Harper: My feeling has always been if you

are going to exploit the insecurities of people to profit from them then you

are wrong. And that’s what a lot of companies do. They know that a particular

population, particularly young people, are vulnerable and they are subject to

certain insecurities. Why do you think tobacco and credit card companies market

to young people? Because they want to get them hooked early.

 

Why do you think that certain companies make

someone feel like unless they have a certain type of sneaker that they are less

worthy? You see little babies rolling around with $80 dollar sneakers.

This is all a self-esteem problem. You could just as easily buy some Starburys

for $9.99 that are just as good, because it was made by the same company that

made those $120 sneakers. Take that [leftover] $110 and put it in a mutual

fund. Invest it and grow some wealth, so that you can be happier and you can do

what you want later on in life – like own your own home. It’s the people that

choose to profit off of the insecurities of people that I have a problem

with.  

“Kanye provided false evidence that appeared real. He put

something out there that he knew…he knew why he named his album College Dropout.”AllHipHop.com: How about with controversial content, those that may or

may not have a redeeming cause? Like with the case of Nas and initially naming

his album N***er. Nobody could tell

if he named it that because he wanted to say something on his record, or if was

just a publicity stunt.

 

Hill Harper: Every artist has a right to

freedom of speech and freedom of expression, there’s no question about that. I

believe that every artist, who is responsible, should be responsible about

knowing the effect that their content has and does. I’ll give you a quick example;

Kanye West named his first album College

Dropout. Now here’s the deal, I talk about fear being false evidence

appearing real. Kanye provided false evidence that appeared real. He put

something out there that he knew…he knew why he named his album College Dropout.

 

The sub-text was saying, “Yo, I didn’t

need to go to college to be successful.” But that’s not true. Why? Because

God rest her soul, his mother was one of the finest college professors in

Illinois. Kanye West didn’t get four years of college. He got 18 years of

college. So what his album title should have been was College Dropout… but Unless Your Mom is a Professor You Better Take

Your Butt To College. And that is what would’ve been accurate.

 

I call for artists to be accurate, but I don’t

call for censorship. I just don’t want them to present something that is

inaccurate, and it sits in the mind of a young person, whose mom wasn’t a successful

college professor, and [they] think that they don’t need all of that education

and knowledge to be successful – because Kanye didn’t need it. But, yes he did.

He just didn’t tell you he did. Look what he did. He learned. And what did you

name his next album? Graduation.

 

AllHipHop.com: Most of [your work] has been positive roles, but how

about the scripts that come across your desk? What criteria do you use to

select your roles, but still challenge yourself as an actor?

 

Hill Harper: Here’s the deal. I don’t judge the

role, because I’m an actor, I love playing roles. It could be the worst guy. I

mean I played guy in a movie called In 2

Deep, where I played Breezy T, who was a drug dealer. I had blonde hair in

that movie. And so it’s not about the role, it’s about the message of the

project. If I believe the project has a message that ultimately demeans us as a

people then I won’t do it.

 

For instance, in In 2 Deep I play a drug dealer who works for LL Cool J. Now, here’s

the deal, if that movie would’ve ended with LL sitting in a hot tub drinking

Crystal saying dealing drugs is good, than I wouldn’t have done the movie. But

it ended with me and LL dealing with a negative result because we participated

in a negative activity. And the good guy, who did right by the community, got

the girl at the end – Nia Long in that movie. So, if you do the right thing you

have a happy life. For me, it was about the overarching message in the project.

I won’t do anything that demeans us.

 “The worst things the media can jump on Senator Obama

[about] have to do with things that he didn’t even say himself. That tells you

something.”AllHipHop.com: Let’s talk about Obama real quick. You publicly support

the Senator. You’re from Iowa, his “spiritual home” as the media

refers to it. How do you think he’ll do in the general election against John

McCain – especially with his recent troubles securing votes from the white

working-class? 

 

Hill Harper: Barack Obama will be the next President

of the United States without question. I promise you. I’m on the national

finance committee for the campaign. I’ve known Barack Obama for 20 years now.

We went to Harvard together. I consider him a friend, and I need everyone to go

to Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com get the book Letters to a Young Sister. You’ll see Michelle Obama’s contribution

to the book. More importantly you need to register to vote in the general

election and deliver this election. We are going to win it. There’s no doubt.

But we need each and every one of us to participate in order to make it happen.

 

AllHipHop.com: Do you think his resigning from his church under such

negativity will have repercussions from some of his voters in the Black church

community? Did you think that it was important that he removed himself Trinity

Church?

 

Hill Harper: Church membership and faith is

such a personal thing. A lot of things that people don’t talk about is that a lot

of decisions families make, be it church membership, have a lot to do with your

children and the place that they can go to worship and how their experience is.

So this was a very personal decision. His children have friends there that they

go to Sunday school with.

 

But at the same time, the whole church has

become a circus, and they are ascribing quotes and words to him that he’s not

even saying. There is tons of press outside of the church. It’s become more of

a media circus than a place to actually respect faith. It has become a negative

to everybody, to the church as well as well as to the Obama family, so it just

makes sense.

 

I can’t speak on what church someone joins or [doesn’t]

join, because that’s very personal, but I can speak about how it can affect…

Something like this is a media creation, in a lot of ways. Statements that

aren’t made by Barack… The worst things the media can jump on Senator Obama

[about] have to do with things that he didn’t even say himself. That tells you

something.

    

Related Stories