one page discussion

one page discussion

XtiOA M3N S,NLU:i’ltlN

IT’s BIGGER THAN HIP HOP. Copyright © 2008 by M. K. Asante, Jr. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. ~artin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

www.stmartins.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Asante, Molefi K., 1981- lt’s bigger than hip hop: the rise of the post-hip-hop generation I

M. K. Asante, Jr.-1st ed. p. em.

Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13: 978-0-312-37326-9 ISBN-10: 0-312-37326-0 1. Mrican Americans-Social conditions. 2. Mrican Americans-Intellectual

life. 3. Mrican Americans in popular culture. 4. Mrican Americans-Race identity. 5. Popular culture-United States. 6. Hip hop-United States. 7. Rap (Music)-History and criticism. 8. Music-Social aspects-United States. 9. Mrican American youth-Attitudes. I. Title. E185.6l.A725 2008 305.235089’96073-dc22

2008019523

First Edition: September 2008

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

For

M. K. Asante, Jr.

:elves, making the world go ’round,

~ to be. Poet Saul Williams reminds

to imagine world peace. Why? Be-

l stolen from us. We can imagine

it in every movie, every TV show,

1ce because we’ve never seen it be-

p-hop generation to create alterna-

Jossibilities, then who will produce

Lg cowards and let’s have a revolu-

Dudes just wanna live a caricature,

y really wanted to do something, if

start a revolution.” That revolution

advent of digital and Web technol-

is utilizing forms of new media to

how we think about our world.

A ghetto can be improved in only one way:

out of existence.

-JAMES BALDWIN

First off, thanks for granting me this interview.

No problem. It’s time for me to set the record straight.

About … ?

About me. Who I am. And actually, more importantly, why I am who

I am.

See, people who live in me know me on an intimate and visceral

level, while people who live elsewhere probably know what I look like.

However, most of these folks, residents and nonresidents alike, don’t

understand who I really am.

Is it important that they know who you really are?

Is it important? It’s essential. Imperative. Especially for the post-hip-

hop generation. They are going to be the ones whose decisions will

33

34 M. K. Asante, Jr.

affect me the most. They’ve been fed a hyperrealistic, inadequate por- trait of who I am and if not dealt with it will cause confusion and vital opportunities will be lost. Basically, they need to understand me

in order to fully understand themselves.

All right then, so, who are you? Who is the African-American ghetto?

I’m a place where people are and have historically been forced to live.

Which people?

All types of people: brilliant, courageous, beautiful, crazy, funny, tal- ented, strong, injured, soulful. All types. Geeks. Shoemakers. Schol- ars. Comedians. Athletes. Scientists. Lovers. The whole spectrum.

The common denominator is that they’re economically poor and Mrican-American.

I’m curious about your name, “Ghetto.” What does it mean? Where does it

come from?

Linguists trace it back to the I tal ian words ”getto ” (to cast off) and “borghetto” (small neighborhood), the Venetian slang “gheto,” the Griko ”ghetonia” (neighborhood), and the Hebrew word ”get” (bill of divorce).

The first time my name was written was when English traveler and writer Thomas Coryat, on a foot journey through Europe, described “the place where the whole fraternity of the Jews dwelleth together, which is called the Ghetto.”

And what year was that?

1611.

Early in its usage it meant a walled-off and gated section in cities where Jews were confined. The word was mostly used in Italy, near port cities like Venice where a lot of Jews lived and worked. Jews were

IT’S BIGGER THAN HIP HOP placed under strict regulations, f curfews that prevented them fro1

that wasn’t enough, sumptuary la

shaped yellow badges and yello\i

Jews and opening themselves up

who were the majority.

Damn. Did other writers back in the ‘

Yeah, lots. In 1879, British writer

in Life of St. Paul. Edward Do\i critic, makes many references to gl

Shelley. British author Israel Zan~

Ghetto and Dreamers of the Ghetto Jack London in Martin Eden expl right into the heart of the workin

these writers, it wasn’t widely disc

When did it become widely known?

The word blew up in the mid-19

set up ghettos that, just like in

cramped, tightly packed areas of

However, unlike previous ghetto

poverished, overcrowded, and dis

or brick walls, wooden fences, an

leave, the penalty was death.

So it was death either way?

Adolf Eichmann, a top Nazi of

the “Final Solution to the Jewisl

atic genocide that attempted to

tion in Europe. In preparation,

M. K. Asante, Jr.

l a hyperrealistic, inadequate por-

with it will cause confusion and

:ally, they need to understand me

.ves.

he African-American ghetto?

V”e historically been forced to live.

:eous, beautiful, crazy, funny, tal-

ypes. Geeks. Shoemakers. Schol-

Lovers. The whole spectrum.

1t they’re economically poor and

Nhat does it mean? Where does it

1 words ”getto ” (to cast off) and

the Venetian slang “gheto,” the

td the Hebrew word ”get” (bill of

en was when English traveler and

Jrney through Europe, described

ty of the Jews dwelleth together,

~d-off and gated section in cities

d was mostly used in Italy, near

Jews lived and worked. Jews were

IT’S BIGGER THAN HIP HOP 35 placed under strict regulations, forced to live together, and put on

curfews that prevented them from being out at certain times. As if

that wasn’t enough, sumptuary laws forced Jews to wear special star-

shaped yellow badges and yellow berets, identifying themselves as

Jews and opening themselves up to taunts and attacks by Christians

who were the majority.

Damn. Did other writers back in the day write about your name?

Yeah, lots. In 1879, British writer Dean Farrar writes about the ghetto

in Life of St. Paul. Edward Dowden, a nineteenth-century literary

critic, makes many references to ghettos in his analysis of Percy Bysshe

Shelley. British author Israel Zangwill wrote the books Children of the

Ghetto and Dreamers of the Ghetto, both biographical studies. In 1908,

Jack London in Martin Eden explains that his characters “plunged off

right into the heart of the working-class ghetto.” Despite its usage by

these writers, it wasn’t widely discussed or popular.

When did it become widely known?

The word blew up in the mid-1930s when the Nazis took power and

set up ghettos that, just like in previous times, confined Jews into

cramped, tightly packed areas of the inner cities of Eastern Europe.

However, unlike previous ghettos in Europe, these ghettos were im-

poverished, overcrowded, and disease-plagued areas enclosed by stone

or brick walls, wooden fences, and barbed wire. And, if Jews tried to

leave, the penalty was death.

So it was death either way?

Adolf Eichmann, a top Nazi official, came up with what he called

the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” a program of system-

atic genocide that attempted to eradicate the entire Jewish popula-

tion in Europe. In preparation, Eichmann began to move all Jews

36

into ghettos. The Nazis, between 1939 and 1945, set up more than

three hundred Jewish ghettos in the Soviet Union, the Baltic states,

Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary. During the Holo-

caust, nearly all the Jews in the ghettos were killed-so yes, death

either way.

Do you see yourself as being related to those .Jewish ghettos of Europe?

Of course. Take the Warsaw ghetto, as an example of institutional

overcrowding, where Jews, who were 30 percent of the population,

were forced to live in 2.4 percent of the city’s area-about ten people

per room. Most apartments had no sanitation, piped water, or sewers.

Starvation was rife.

So, similarly, during my birth in America, Urban Renewal (which,

behind closed doors, was called “nigger removal”) was all about sys-

tematically uprooting Blacks from sections of the city deemed “valu-

able,” then forcing them into projects. For every ten homes that they

destroyed, they only built one new unit in the projects-institutional

overcrowding.

Many things are the same: the social isolation; the normalized ter-

ror by authorities; and state-sponsored racism, to name a few.

And what about other ghettos around the world-do you see yourself as

related to them?

Of course. Every .ghetto-from Soweto to L’!le-Saint-Denis, from

Brixton to Chiapas, from favelas to shantytowns-! am one with.

Why?

‘Cause oppression is oppression is oppression, man.

Some people say that you’re a ttstate of mind 11?

Which people?

IT’S BIGGER THAN HIP HOP Um-

1 say survival is a state of mind. 1

And what’s soul?

Soul is graceful survival against it

That’s heavy. All right now, can you

American ghetto?

Definitely.

All right, so, 40 Acres & A Mu

film company, it’s also the colic

were supposed to be issued to ens

forty acres of farmland and a mu

name was Special Field Orders, 1

16, 1865, by Maj. Gen. William

So what happened?

Well, when President Abraham I

his replacement, revoked Sherma

had already received land had it<

Abolishing slavery with no res

prison cell, while leaving all othc

and telling an inmate that “the~

perhaps the most confining, is l the prisoner imprisoned.

Anyway, without any restitutil

cycle of sharecropping, also knov

to white landowners from their )

also occurred later in South Mric

for Blacks to own their own land

cause, by the end of the year wi1

M. K. Jr.

939 and 1945, set up more than

e Soviet Union, the Baltic states,

and Hungary. During the Holo-

tettos were killed-so yes, death

those Jewish ghettos of Europe?

o, as an example of institutional

re 30 percent of the population,

the city’s area-about ten people

;anitation, piped water, or sewers.

America, Urban Renewal (which,

gger removal”) was all about sys-

ections of the city deemed “valu-

ts. For every ten homes that they

tnit in the projects-institutional

::ial isolation; the normalized ter-

~d racism, to name a few.

1e world-do you see yourself as

1weto to L’!le-Saint-Denis, from

;hantytowns-1 am one with.

,pression, man.

mind”?

IT’S BIGGER THAN HIP HOP Um-

1 say survival is a state of mind. That’s where soul comes from.

And what’s soul?

Soul is graceful survival against impossible circumstances.

That’s heavy. All right now, can you talk about your roots as the Black

American ghetto?

Definitely.

37

All right, so, 40 Acres & A Mule is not just the name of Spike Lee’s

film company, it’s also the colloquial term for the reparations that

were supposed to be issued to enslaved Mricans after the Civil War-

forty acres of farmland and a mule to cultivate that land. The official

name was Special Field Orders, No. 15, and it was issued on January

16, 1865, by Maj. Gen. William Sherman.

So what happened?

Well, when President Abraham Lincoln was killed, Andrew Johnson,

his replacement, revoked Sherman’s orders. The very few Blacks who

had already received land had it quickly taken away.

Abolishing slavery with no restitution is like opening the door to a

prison cell, while leaving all other exits bolted, chained, and locked,

and telling an inmate that “they are free.” The cell door, although

perhaps the most confining, is but a multitude of forces that keeps

the prisoner imprisoned.

Anyway, without any restitution, Blacks were forced into a vicious

cycle of sharecropping, also known as Slavery II, where they paid rent

to white landowners from their yearly yield. This form of neoslavery

also occurred later in South Mrica and Zimbabwe where it was illegal

for Blacks to own their own land. Sharecropping is a vicious cycle be-

cause, by the end of the year without fail, the sharecropper is always

38 K.

in debt, meaning he can never free himself from the land. This, cou-

pled with de-citizenizing Jim Crow laws, made it impossible for Blacks

to own land in the South, binding them-through the law-in the

shallow pits of poverty.

That was in the South. What about in the North?

Around the times I just mentioned, 1865-1876, Blacks comprised

less than 5 percent of industrial northern cities like Detroit, Chicago,

Philadelphia, et cetera. Blacks in the North, because of racism and

discrimination, weren’t allowed to work in factories or join unions,

which reduced them to the lowest, dirtiest, grimiest, nastiest jobs-

jobs no one else would do.

Beginning around 1914, though, large numbers of Blacks started

moving to industrial hubs like New York City, Philadelphia, Balti-

more, Maryland, Detroit, Chicago, etcetera.

Because things were so bad in the South?

It was “so bad” everywhere. But mainly because World War I, which

began in 1914, called for a lot of unskilled factory workers. And

you know when America needs weapons, they don’t care who makes

‘ em.

Blacks kept coming North, looking for work, even after the war

was over. During the twenties alone, over two million Blacks came

North in hopes of a better life. You had a lot of Blacks looking for

work in an already impossible job market, then the Depression hits.

But that affected pretty much everybody, right?

Yeah, everybody was affected. But while everybody was affected, you

must remember: Blacks were the first to get fired when things got bad

and the last ones to get hired once things finally picked up. But that

IT’S BIGGER THAN HIP HOP wasn’t the worst of it by any stn:

pened next was unconscionable:

President Franklin D. Roosevel

alleviate the poverty of the natior

How?

It was clear that Social Security-

and the unemployed, and a lump

tory Minimum Insurance were p1

viating poverty.

Roosevelt drafted these progr:

nomic Security, and they were 1

Deal. One of the major proble1

eluded domestics and agricultura

two-thirds of the Black workforc

Can you-

Can you let me finish?

My bad.

I haven’t even got to the worst p::

All right, please continue.

Where was I?

FOR was cutting Black people out oi

Right, right. The Federal Housin

under FD R. This organization

percent of the purchase price, w

to buy a home only had to coug

K. Asante, Jr.

himself from the land. This, cou-

laws, made it impossible for Blacks

~ them-through the law-in the

the North?

·d, 1865-1876, Blacks comprised

rthern cities like Detroit, Chicago,

:he North, because of racism and

work in factories or join unions,

, dirtiest, grimiest, nastiest jobs-

L, large numbers of Blacks started

:w York City, Philadelphia, Balti-

et cetera.

th?

Linly because World War I, which

~ unskilled factory workers. And

Lpons, they don’t care who makes

jng for work, even after the war

te, over two million Blacks came

u had a lot of Blacks looking for

1arket, then the Depression hits.

>dy, right?

vhile everybody was affected, you

;t to get fired when things got bad

things finally picked up. But that

IT’S BIGGER THAN HIP HOP 39 wasn’t the worst of it by any stretch of the imagination. What hap-

pened next was unconscionable:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt cut Black people out of his plan to

alleviate the poverty of the national Depression.

How?

It was clear that Social Security-which provided benefits to retirees

and the unemployed, and a lump-sum benefit at death-and Manda-

tory Minimum Insurance were proven methods of reducing and alle-

viating poverty.

Roosevelt drafted these programs under his Committee on Eco-

nomic Security, and they were passed by Congress under his New

Deal. One of the major problems was that both of these acts ex-

cluded domestics and agricultural workers, who made up more than

two-thirds of the Black workforce. Then with all of-

Can you-

Can you let me finish?

My bad.

I haven’t even got to the worst part yet.

All right, please continue.

Where was I?

FOR was cutting Black people out of all his programs.

Right, right. The Federal Housing Administration was also developed

under FD R. This organization guaranteed mortgages for up to 90

percent of the purchase price, which meant that people who wanted

to buy a home only had to cough up 10 percent rather than the 25

40 M. K. Asante,

percent to 30 percent required before the FHA. The FHA made

home ownership possible again-which was an important part of re-

covering from the Depression. In the thirty-five years after its creation,

home ownership skyrocketed.

What was the catch?

The catch was that the FHA refused to guarantee mortgages in

Black communities due to a process called redlining. In most of

these places, Blacks couldn’t receive loans at all. Once the FHA re-

fused to give loans to Blacks, private lenders replicated the govern-

ment’s policy and position, which, really, was about denying Black

humanity.

Can you talk about what redlining is and how it affected you?

The term “redlining” was coined in the 1960s by activists in Chicago.

It refers to a process where affluent or white neighborhoods were out-

lined in blue and considered type “A”; working class neighborhoods

were outlined in yellow and considered type “B”; and of course, Black

neighborhoods were outlined in bloodred ink and considered type

“D.” These maps were created for FHA manuals as well as private

lenders. The FHA advised banks to stay away from areas with “inhar-

monious racial groups” and recommended that municipalities enact

racially restrictive zoning ordinances and prevent Black home own-

ership.

During the second great migration (1940-1970), when 4.5 million

Blacks came North, industrial cities decided to segregate the indus-

trial from the residential areas. Remember, during this time, Blacks

had absolutely no political power and overt racism was at an all-time

high. Therefore many Black areas were tagged as industrial neighbor-

hoods.

IT’S BIGGER THAN HIP HOP And what did that industrial tag mea1

The industrial tag prevented thes

any new construction and even lit

be made.

So, why didn’t Blacks just leave thes’

Those redlined areas were me. I

where people are forced to live, be

in the real estate market and segr

could not, live where they pleased

because of those things I ju~t men

So you’ve been around for a long time

Well yes, but I didn’t always look

See, during the sixties and befo

isolated, lived in me very viably. I ~

nesses and Black-run institutions.

this period was not a problem in r

Crack?

Whoa-not yet, slow down. That

Way before crack, there was “ni

called by government officials.

Okay, yeah, you mentioned that earli~

Right. Officially dubbed Urban R

to transform poor neighborhoods

structures that would attract tour:

ban Renewal program had its sh:

1949, but it did not get under w

when the Eisenhower administrati

M. K. Asante, Jr.

,efore the FHA. The FHA made

vhich was an important part of re-

le thirty-five years after its creation,

fused to guarantee mortgages in

cess called redlining. In most of

ve loans at all. Once the FHA re-

ate lenders replicated the govern-

‘ really, was about denying Black

d how it affected you?

. the 1960s by activists in Chicago.

or white neighborhoods were out-

:’A”; working class neighborhoods

:red type “B”; and of course, Black

1loodred ink and considered type

· FHA manuals as well as private

stay away from areas with “inhar-

mended that municipalities enact

es and prevent Black home own-

1n (1940-1970), when 4.5 million

:s decided to segregate the indus-

nember, during this time, Blacks

1d overt racism was at an all-time

rere tagged as industrial neighbor-

IT’S BIGGER THAN HIP HOP 41 And what did that industrial tag mean?

The industrial tag prevented these neighborhoods from undergoing

any new construction and even limited the improvements that could

be made.

So, why didn’t Blacks just leave these red lined areas?

Those redlined areas were me. I told you earlier that I’m a place

where people are forced to live, because of discrimination via racism

in the real estate market and segregation. Blacks could not, I repeat

could not, live where they pleased, even if they had the money, and

because of those things I ju~t mentioned, they probably didn’t.

So you’ve been around for a long time?

Well yes, but I didn’t always look like I do now.

See, during the sixties and before, Blacks, although segregated and

isolated, lived in me very viably. I was anchored by Black-owned busi-

nesses and Black-run institutions. Believe it or not, “crime” during

this period was not a problem in me. But then …

Crack?

Whoa-not yet, slow down. That’s later.

Way before crack, there was “nigger removal,” as it was sometimes

called by government officials.

Okay, yeah, you mentioned that earlier.

Right. Officially dubbed Urban Renewal, this program was designed

to transform poor neighborhoods into new, architecturally attractive

structures that would attract tourists and increase business. The Ur-

ban Renewal program had its shaky origins in the Housing Act of

1949, but it did not get under way in a serious fashion until 1954,

when the Eisenhower administration made several changes in the law.

42 M. K. A sante, Jr.

Of course I was chosen for Urban Renewal because the people who

lived there didn’t have any political power. Whites during this time

made all the decisions for Blacks with no input or say from Blacks.

Under Urban Renewal, I was razed and rebuilt and the Blacks who

lived in me were forced out.

When you say “forced out, 11

what do you mean?

I mean forced out. Eminent domain, the process whereby the state

seizes private property for government or private use, gives the gov-

ernment the authority to jack residents.

Where did the displaced Blacks go?

Uncle Sam decided that they needed to construct new areas for these

displaced Blacks to live. So they built shabby, health-hazardous, cheap

housing in me called housing projects.

For every ten homes they destroyed, they built one unit in the

projects.

So is this why you are the way you are today?

Not quite-there are a few more things that happened to me that

I feel contributed significantly to who I am today.

On top of “nigger removal,” the federal interstate system had a

devastating effect on me physically and psychologically. When I

wasn’t razed for Urban Renewal, they would build highways that

went right through me and separated my people from others. This

created further isolation for Blacks and it simultaneously created in-

sulation for whites as they fled to the suburbs.

Thanks to these new highways, though, whites could get into

the city when they needed to. Between 1950 and 1970, 70 million

whites fled the city and moved to the suburbs. The reason this white

flight was so devastating is that whites took jobs with them when

IT’S BIGGER THAN HIP they left and eventually moved 1

suburbs.

Soon after, the factories left, tc

tories had been one of the prima

the quicksand of poverty. Howevc

To the suburbs?

No, overseas. Multinational corpo

places like India, Indonesia, and

world. Places where the wages are

there are no environmental or lab

olds working sixteen hours, makin

don’t go overseas, they use prison

which is, in essence, slave labor. ]

rivals what they might pay a child

Major corporations do this?

American Airlines, Boeing, Corr

Hewlett-Packard, Honeywell, IB

Microsoft, Motorola, Nordstrom,

Instruments, Victoria’s Secret, an

In addition, the mechanizatior

of people well below the poverty 1 vice sectors are all that’s left for lo

ever, these jobs have been declini

other sectors.

What about Black professionals?

Integration was another fierce blo

Mter the end of legal segrega

had traditionally been instrume

M. K. Asante,

L Renewal because the people who

al power. Whites during this time

rith no input or say from Blacks.

led and rebuilt and the Blacks who

1u mean?

ain, the process whereby the state

nent or private use, gives the gov-

ents.

ed to construct new areas for these

ilt shabby, health-hazardous, cheap

~cts.

rayed, they built one unit in the

today?

things that happened to me that

rho I am today.

b.e federal interstate system had a

Jly and psychologically. When I

they would build highways that

Lted my people from others. This

; and it simultaneously created in-

b.e suburbs.

s, though, whites could get into

ween 1950 and 1970, 70 million

he suburbs. The reason this white

v-hites took jobs with them when

IT’S BIGGER HIP 43 they left and eventually moved businesses out of me and into the

suburbs.

Soon after, the factories left, too. See, post-World War II the fac-

tories had been one of the primary ways for Blacks to climb out of

the quicksand of poverty. However, those jobs fled with the whites.

To the suburbs?

No, overseas. Multinational corporations got out of me and headed for

places like India, Indonesia, and other impoverished nations of the

world. Places where the wages are dramatically less, unions are illegal,

there are no environmental or labor laws. So, they’ve got twelve-year-

aids working sixteen hours, making pennies per day. When companies

don’t go overseas, they use prison labor instead of creating real jobs,

which is, in essence, slave labor. I mean, the rates they pay prisoners

rivals what they might pay a child in an impoverished country.

Major corporations do this?

American Airlines, Boeing, Compaq, Dell, Eddie Bauer, Chevron,

Hewlett-Packard, Honeywell, IBM, JCPenney, TWA, McDonald’s,

Microsoft, Motorola, Nordstrom, Pierre Cardin, Revlon, Sony, Texas

Instruments, Victoria’s Secret, and Toys “R” Us, to name a few.

In addition, the mechanization of many low-skilled jobs left a lot

of people well below the poverty line. So jobs in the domestic and ser-

vice sectors are all that’s left for low-skilled workers. Since 1975, how-

ever, these jobs have been declining in real dollars and in relation to

other sectors.

What about Black professionals?

Integration was another fierce blow to me.

Mter the end of legal segregation, the Black middle class-who

had traditionally been instrumental in creating, maintaining, and

44 It Asante,

patronizing businesses in me-bounced. They, too, fled for the burbs,

leaving the poorest of the poor behind.

Finally, Blacks left me in a mad exodus along with the whites at the

end of legal segregation.

That reminds me of a Malcolm X speech.

Which one?

It’s called “Message to the Grassroots.” He says,

This modern house Negro loves his master. He wants to live near

him. He’ll pay three times as much as the house is worth just to live

near his master, and then brag about ”I’m the only Negro out here. ”

”I’m the only one on my job. ” “I’m the only one in this school. ”

You’re nothing but a house Negro. And if someone comes to you right now and says, “Let’s separate,” you say the same thing that the

house Negro said on the plantation. “What you mean, separate?

From America? This good white man? Where you going to get a

better job than you get here?” I mean, this is what you say. ”J ain’t

left nothing in Africa,” that’s what you say. You left your mind in

Africa.

[A chuckle is shared]

I know this is kind of off topic, but I gotta ask: Why are there so many damn

check-cashing places, liquor stores, and take-out Chinese restaurants in

you?

Actually, not off topic at all. I just told you that the Black middle

class fled. Well, when affluent Blacks left me and bounced to the

suburbs, the businesses, following the money, left, too. To give you a

popular example, there were, during segregation, more than three

n·s BIGGER HOP hundred Black movie houses arou

right? Tell me how many are there

· Okay, let’s see, um-

Exactly.

So with the flight or destructi1

left only the businesses you men

mary goal is to capitalize on Blad

italize and exploit low-wage earnt

and who need quick money; pawt

need to liquidate personal valuabl

Chinese restaurants, through the 1

the Black poor by offering food-

ers admittedly don’t eat-to Blac

high health costs. And liquor sto

every corner, capitalize on the de1

being poor and living in me.

Rick James once commented: ”One tt

to worry, it’ll be there tomorrow.” T~

ten years?

It all depends.

On … ?

What it has always depended upo

What are some of the things you’d lik

do? Things they could do that would i

who live in you?

How much time you got? [Laugh1

K. Asante, Jr.

meed. They, too, fled for the burbs,

Lind.

exodus along with the whites at the

;h.

s.” He says,

:s master. He wants to live near

h as the house is worth just to live

·out “”m the only Negro out here. ”

n the only one in this school. ”

. And if someone comes to you ‘?,”you say the same thing that the

rz. “What you mean, separate?

nan? Where you going to get a

ean, this is what you say. “! ain’t

tt you say. You left your mind in

:>tta ask: Why are there so many damn

and take-out Chinese restaurants in

.st told you that the Black middle

lacks left me and bounced to the

the money, left, too. To give you a

ring segregation, more than three

IT’S BIGGER THAN HOP 45 hundred Black movie houses around the country. You’re a filmmaker,

right? Tell me how many are there now.

Okay, let’s see, urn-

Exactly.

So with the flight or destruction of viable Black businesses, that

left only the businesses you mentioned-the businesses whose pri-

mary goal is to capitalize on Black poverty. Check-cashing spots cap-

italize and exploit low-wage earners unable to afford a bank account

and who need quick money; pawnshops capitalize on poor folks who

need to liquidate personal valuables in order to make rent. Fast-food

Chinese restaurants, through the thick bulletproof glass, capitalize on

the Black poor by offering food-very unhealthy food that the own-

ers admittedly don’t eat-to Blacks at a low monetary cost but with

high health costs. And liquor stores, which can be found on nearly

every corner, capitalize on the depression and despair that come with

being poor and living in me.

Rick .James once commented: “One thing ’bout the ghetto, you don’t have

to worry, it’ll be there tomorrow.” That said, where do you see yourself in

ten years?

It all depends.

On … ?

What it has always depended upon: the people.

What are some of the things you’d like to see the post -hip-hop generation

do? Things they could do that would improve you and the lives of the people

who live in you?

How much time you got? [Laughter]

46 M. K. lsante,

Tell me what time it is.

All right, first, the post-hip-hop generation should understand there-

lationship between poverty and health. That’s something that we

haven’t talked about yet and it’s absolutely essential.

Lack of income, clean water, food, and access to medical services

and education are all related to poverty and health-and all of this is

intensified in me. Because of urban diets and environments, people in

me have extremely high rates of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease,

and asthma. Not only are my residents more likely to have illnesses,

but because they are poor, they are more likely to be limited by these

conditions. Health issues prevent many from working or, at the least,

limit their productivity-ultimately lowering income.

Asthma, lead poisoning, malnutrition, anemia, ear infections-

all of these are not only costly to treat or even diagnose, but all lead

to permanent impairments. So, for example, children who live in

me are twice as likely to suffer from lead poisoning, which many,

many studies have shown has serious effects on the brain causing

learning problems, hyperactivity, coordination issues, aggression, er-

ratic behavior, and brain damage. There is a lot of lead in much of the

housing in me, especially in the projects, so children are exposed to

lead.

See, health is connected to everything. Both lead poisoning and

asthma are severe problems on their own; however, they mushroom

because they greatly diminish a child’s school performance and are

the leading causes of absenteeism. Not to mention many children are

malnourished, which leads to headaches, lack of concentration, fre-

quent colds, and fatigue. You would think that schools in me would

be more equipped to deal with these kind of issues, but they are actu-

ally given less funds. It’s a systematic holocaust.

Every illness, especially untreated, makes it more difficult to deal

with an already extremely difficult environment. People who live in

n·s BIGGER HIP HOP me are more likely to work and liv,

to their health.

What do you-

Oh, not to mention that just be

from poverty is a huge detriment t

Dr. King, in a book called Wb

Community? said-

Are you paraphrasing?

No, I memorized it. It’s that good.

The children s clothes are too skim} wind, and a closer look reveals the

eyes, and you are reminded that vi,

ries which they can ill afford. The

become a graphic symbol of medicc.

mastered most of the diseases from

is something wrong in a society wh

What do you think can be done about ·

People need universal health care, J

the desolate pits of poverty. Right

more than 43 million Americans i1

have to be like this. Congressman J pie, proposes a single payer plan 1

Americans without increasing to1

never been approved. Moreover,

just my people, but most Americat

ducted showed that 77 percent 1

government should provide univer

M. K. Asante, Jr.

:neration should understand the re-

health. That’s something that we

>solutely essential.

)Od, and access to medical services

verty and health-and all of this is

1 diets and environments, people in

abetes, hypertension, heart disease,

dents more likely to have illnesses,

~ more likely to be limited by these

nany from working or, at the least,

ly lowering income.

utrition, anemia, ear infections-

treat or even diagnose, but all lead

ur example, children who live in

~om lead poisoning, which many,

~ious effects on the brain causing

:::oordination issues, aggression, er-

~here is a lot of lead in much of the

rojects, so children are exposed to

rything. Both lead poisoning and

~ir own; however, they mushroom

hild’ s school performance and are

Not to mention many children are

:laches, lack of concentration, fre-

ld think that schools in me would

;e kind of issues, but they are actu-

tic holocaust.

~d, makes it more difficult to deal

t environment. People who live in

IT’S BIGGER THAN HIP HOP 47 me are more likely to work and live in conditions that are detrimental

to their health.

What do you-

Oh, not to mention that just being poor-period-and the stress

from poverty is a huge detriment to one’s health.

Dr. King, in a book called Where Do ~Go From Here: Chaos or

Community? said-

Are you paraphrasing?

No, I memorized it. It’s that good. He said,

The children s clothes are too skimpy to protect them from the Chicago wind, and a closer look reveals the mucus in the corners of their bright

eyes, and you are reminded that vitamin pills and flu shots are luxu-

ries which they can ill afford The “runny noses” of ghetto children

become a graphic symbol of medical neglect in a society which has

mastered most of the diseases from which they will too soon die. There

is something wrong in a society which allows this to happen.

What do you think can be done about this?

People need universal health care, for starters, to begin to climb out of

the desolate pits of poverty. Right now, nearly all of my citizens, and

more than 43 million Americans in total, are uninsured and it doesn’t

have to be like this. Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), for exam-

ple, proposes a single payer plan that would provide coverage for all

Americans without increasing total costs, every year; however, it’s

never been approved. Moreover, this is what the people want-not

just my people, but most Americans. A USA/Harris poll recently con-

ducted showed that 77 percent of the general public believes the

government should provide universal health care.

48

The other important thing is unemployment insurance. Unemploy-

ment insurance keeps people who have been laid off above the poverty

level; however, the way it’s structured now, 60 percent of people who

are laid off don’t receive any temporary monies. We must do this. It would mean no person willing and ready to work should be living in

poverty.

Another thing is expanding Supplemental Security Income, a pro-

gram that provides benefits to those permanently disabled, and workers’

compensation, a program that provides benefits to workers who have

been injured on the job. Everyone who cannot work should receive

benefits. Right now, people who have been temporarily disabled from

injuries caused off the job cannot receive benefits from either program.

What’s worse is that even those who are permanently disabled-by

mental illness, disability due to addiction, and hard-to-prove conditions

like back pain-are not eligible to receive any benefits.

How much would all this cost?

That can’t be determined for sure, but consider this: in 1999, the

“poverty gap,” which is the amount of money needed to raise all the

incomes to at least the poverty line, was $65 billion. Yearly Social

Security income is $500 billion. And the tax cut we got in 2001 was

$1.3 trillion. America has the loot.

Why are your schools, some of which I attended, failing?

Because poor Mrican-Americans are forced into me, my schools are

almost completely segregated. Secondary and elementary schools are

funded mainly through local taxes, so my schools have much fewer

resources per child and significantly less money to fund education.

My students are bringing noneducational issues like hunger, do-

mestic violence, homelessness, abuse, and many other personal prob-

lems that demand greater resources. However, despite this, my schools

IT’S BIGGER THIN HIP HOP are getting far less money than, sa

have to deal with these issues.

Can I read you a passage? I came acros

point.

Sure, go ahead.

This is from Savage Inequalities: Childr

Kozol:

“Don’t tell students in this school a1

into a toilet here if you would like

dents in this city. ”

Before I leave, I do as Christoph

room. Four of the six toilets do not

eaten away by red and brown corro

have no seats. One has a rotted wo£

towels and no soap. Near the door t

empty toilet-paper roll.

“This,” says Sister julia, “is the t

Louis.”

Almost anyone who visits in the

a short time, comes away profound

dren, after all. They have done not

no crime. They are too young to ha

One searches for some way to undel

frequently, as generous as ours wou

penury and squalor for so long-m

tion. Is this just a strange mistake t

That’s the sad reality.

K.

ennploynnentinsurance. lJnennploy-

tave been laid off above the poverty

red now, 60 percent of people who

,orary nnonies. We nnust do this. It

l ready to work should be living in

,plennental Security lnconne, a pro-

pernnanently disabled, and workers’

~ides benefits to workers who have

~ who cannot work should receive

tve been tennporarily disabled fronn

~ceive benefits fronn either progrann.

rho are pernnanently disabled-by

ction, and hard-to-prove conditions

eceive any benefits.

~, but consider this: in 1999, the

t of nnoney needed to raise all the

1e, was $65 billion. Yearly Social

1d the tax cut we got in 200 1 was

1ttended, failing?

re forced into nne, nny schools are

ndary and elennentary schools are

, so nny schools have nnuch fewer

r less nnoney to fund education.

lucational issues like hunger, do-

e, and nnany other personal prob-

However, despite this, nny schools

IT’S BIGGER THIN HIP HOP 49 are getting far less nnoney than, say, suburban schools, which don’t

have to deal with these issues.

Can I read you a passage? I came across it recently and it echoes this

point.

Sure, go ahead.

This is from Savage Inequalities: Children in America/s Schools by Jonathan

KozoJ:

“Don’t tell students in this school about ‘the dream. ‘ Go and look

into a toilet here if you would like to know what life is like for stu- dents in this city. ”

Before I leave, I do as Christopher asked and enter a boys’ bath-

room. Four of the six toilets do not work. The toilet stalls, which are

eaten away by red and brown corrosion, have no doors. The toilets

have no seats. One has a rotted wooden stump. There are no paper

towels and no soap. Near the door there is a loop of wire with an

empty toilet-paper roll.

“This,” says Sister julia, “is the best school that we have in East St.

Louis.”

Almost anyone who visits in the schools of East St. Louis, even for

a short time, comes away profoundly shaken. These are innocent chil-

dren, after all. They have done nothing wrong. They have committed

no crime. They are too young to have offended us in any way at all.

One searches for some way to understand why a society as rich and,

frequently, as generous as ours would leave these children in their

penury and squalor for so long-and with so little public indigna-

tion. Is this just a strange mistake of history?

That’s the sad reality.

50 M.K.

Along the same lines, the late, great artivist Ossie Davis once said, *I

believe the ending of poverty is the cultural assignment of our time.” Do

you agree?

Jr.

Yes, and racism in this country is intertwined with poverty-so

yes, poverty and racism. I mean, in America, the richest nation in the

world, on any given night, 562,000 American children go to bed

hungry.

Do you think the U.S. government cares?

Follow the money, the budget, and you’ll see what the government

cares about. The U.S. budget represents not only political and eco-

nomic interests, but moral ones as well. Don’t believe what politicians

tell you their priorities are, look at the budget and decide for yourself.

A child is born into poverty every forty-three seconds, and without

health insurance every minute in America. This is public information.

One of the most common misconceptions is that the government

can’t solve the poverty problem and that everything that could possi-

bly be done has been tried. The government can in fact solve the

problem and it’s not that expensive. The reality is they haven’t been

willing to consider eradicating poverty in this country.

So what do we do?

Didn’t Frederick Douglass say that “Power concedes nothing without

a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Yeah, he did.

Well, there you go.

It’s up to the people, in me and outside of me, to make this a pri-

ority. Demand justice and true equality.

But they don’t understand because of misrepresentation. That’s why

I agreed to this interview.

IT’S BIGGER THAN HIP HOP KRS-One once said, “It’s not a novelt

without loving poverty.” Do you agree

Most definitely. Poverty is nothin~

torted and misrepresented, thougl

both glorifies and demonizes me a·

addressing who I am.

So I take it you feel misrepresented?

Of course. There is me, as I am, wi

economic, and structural racist po

that fails to address any of this in<

The misrepresentation leads to

dents. They believe, both those wh

who reside in me,- that their poven

addicted, sexually promiscuous, an

is the reason for the poverty, when

completely different. To give you :

live in me are not addicted to drug

inal activity, and are not on welfa1

those who absorb the images on r mainstream rappers.

America is a very individualistic

are blamed for their poverty anc

wealth, disregarding inheritance, c

mean, Bush is as responsible for r are for their poverty.

Yeah. So do you think this has politica

Definitely. If the majority of Arne

because of their own faults, then

should get out of it on their own. Tl

M. K. Asante, Jr.

; artivist Ossie Davis once said, “1

:ultural assignment of our time.” Do

r is intertwined with poverty-so

n America, the richest nation in the

000 American children go to bed

res?

nd you’ll see what the government

Jresents not only political and eco-

well. Don’t believe what politicians

· the budget and decide for yourself.

~ry forty-three seconds, and without

\merica. This is public information.

conceptions is that the government

1d that everything that could possi-

government can in fact solve the

V”e. The reality is they haven’t been

rerty in this country.

t “Power concedes nothing without

~r will.”

l outside of me, to make this a pri- Iality.

.se of misrepresentation. That’s why

IT’S BIGGER THAN HIP HOP KRS-One once said, “It’s not a novelty, you can love your neighborhood

without loving poverty.” Do you agree with that?

51

Most definitely. Poverty is nothing to love. My image has been dis-

torted and misrepresented, though, so you have a white media that

both glorifies and demonizes me at the same time, while never really

addressing who I am.

So I take it you feel misrepresented?

Of course. There is me, as I am, with all of the institutional, political,

economic, and structural racist policies, and then there is my image

that fails to address any of this in a real way.

The misrepresentation leads to a public consensus about my resi-

dents. They believe, both those who reside elsewhere and, sadly, those

who reside in me,· that their poverty is their fault. That they are lazy,

addicted, sexually promiscuous, and so on and so forth, and that this

is the reason for the poverty, when the reality, as I’ve touched upon, is

completely different. To give you a quick example, most people who

live in me are not addicted to drugs or alcohol, don’t engage in crim-

inal activity, and are not on welfare. This would come as a shock to

those who absorb the images on TV and in movies and the rhymes of

mainstream rappers.

America is a very individualistic society. So, as a result, poor people

are blamed for their poverty and the rich are credited with their

wealth, disregarding inheritance, class privilege, resources, etcetera. I

mean, Bush is as responsible for his wealth as most of my residents

are for their poverty.

Yeah. So do you think this has political ramifications?

Definitely. If the majority of Americans think that the poor are poor

because of their own faults, then they’ll also believe that the poor

should get out of it on their own. They believe the poor are undeserving.

52 M. K. Asante, Jr.

All of this is reinforced by popular culture, which literally makes fun of

poor people. Their lack of education is laughed at, their squalor glori-

fied, their struggle criminalized. People certainly don’t want to change

the policies.

There’s this big thing about ”pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.”

You can’t pull yourself up by the bootstraps if you don’t have any

damn shoes!

What about the violence in you?

Violence? [shrugs]

Well?

Was Nat Turner violent?

Uh, I’m not-

Reminds me of Nat Turner, because he was not violent, he was re-

sponding to slavery, which was violent. The conditions in which my

residents live are violent. There’s always been this attempt to demo-

nize my residents. They call survival after a hurricane “looting.” They

call protests against a system that keeps them poor “riots.”

Look, man, as long as I’m around, there will be desperation. What

do you expect if you put the poorest folks together in one area, take

away jobs, destroy social networks, police the hell out of them, harass

them-I mean, seriously, what do you expect?

Is there anything else that you’d like to tell the post-hip-hop generation?

Organize, organize, organize. The time is now.

Thanks for your time.

Peace.

We were born intc

we are not prepar’

-eERNADE

“And finally, how does it feel to be

professor?” asked the energetic hm

which I was being phone interviev

“I haven’t started yet, however,

“I’m sorry, brother Asante, I’m

me.

“Oh,” I grunted, feeling cheate

“It was nice talking to you. (

Morgan State University.”

“A’ight, thanks, peace,” I sai<

phone.

I wanted to answer the questi<

excited about the position; hu


Comments are closed.