I was at a friend’s Saints party on Sunday and the Don Lemmon/Russell Simmons controversy came up. I had only seen the first part of this public verbal volley – how Don Lemmon responded to Bill O’Reilly and read the Open Letter from Russell Simmons when we had this conversation. The two men I was speaking with at the party are in their forties and they agreed wholeheartedly with Lemmon – saying that young Black men need to pull up their pants and stay in school. They cited the upbringing they had where for one, his parents rode him hard to have manners and stay in school and the other, whose father had passed, had his single mother and his uncles keeping him in line.
I compared sagging pants to bellbottoms to them when one pointed out the dissimilarity – and I had to agree that the consequences aren’t the same. A white hippie could wear bellbottoms and not have the same consequence as a Black youth wearing sagging pants. The lack of credibility is already a part of racism in America, a young Black man doesn’t need more. But I still am conflicted because what about Afros, picks in the hair, Black Fist jewelry (symbolizing Black Power), but as my friends pointed out – these are a source of Black pride, sagging pants are not. Okay, I conceded, but I didn’t want to write sagging off simply because it was offensive to my own sensibilities, which are narrowly focused on my own world view.
And the use of the N-word – don’t get me started – I totally agreed on that part of Lemmon’s 5-point plan. I have long been an outspoken critic of deleting that word from our vocabulary and have lamented the inability to listen freely to a radio station because I never know when it is going to pop up as my son is listening. As a matter of fact, I was listening to KMEZ 106.7 at around 2:30 PM yesterday (August 27) on my way to pick up my son from school and the DJs were two men and a woman (this could be the DL Hughley Show with Jasmine Sanders and Steve Wilson but since I don’t listen to this time slot that much I am not sure). The topic was what babies hear in utero and quickly it devolved into the men competing for one liners that their babies might have heard – lines such as “don’t remember my name” “I’m unknown on the birth certificate” “you don’t know me” – all delivered to lots of yucks, which was bad enough, but when it turned on the female DJ and they talked about her as having been adopted [which she said was true], and the laugh line was “your real parents last words to you were ‘bye bye'” that is when I tried to call the station.
I didn’t get through – which is perhaps lucky because I was pissed. Honestly, I don’t think children growing up without fathers is funny, but especially I am vexed by the callousness of men fathering children that they have no intention of parenting, which is the single most irresponsible thing I can think of to do if you are a man. Then to top it off with birthparents who might be so insensitive to a child they know they will give up for adoption (which I don’t believe most who carry a child for nine months are) saying “bye bye” in utero as some amusing comic refrain is the height of stupid. Just plain stupid.
I actually felt sorry for the woman DJ – because ha ha ha, it’s not funny.
But I digress.
After I had that conversation at my friend’s house, I came home and did more research and saw Lemmon’s response to Simmon’s Open Letter and on many of his points I agree, plus I didn’t like the fact that Simmons wrote his letter then took to his Twitter account to get down and nasty. But again, I am conflicted – in the original video, Lemmon concurred with O’Reilly about staying in school BUT we know for a fact that schools are one of the most racist institutions in this country SO making it the personal responsibility of young Black men to excel in them is nothing short of ludicrous. That’s not to say they can’t, it’s to say why would they want to? Which is why Black parents around this country are reconsidering how their children get educated and considering home schooling. Education needs a serious overhaul as the majority of teachers are white and they are inherently racist, as Tim Wise says so poignantly in his book, White Like Me:
When I was in school, white teacher were among the biggest problems, and they still are. Then, as now, they fronted as enlightened, open-minded people, but so many of them reinforced (and still reinforce) racism and white privilege every day; punishing kids of color disproportionately even when whites break the rules just as often (look it up if you don’t believe me; fourteen studies, and they all say the same thing); blaming poor performance by kids of color on their “dysfunctional” families or cultures, or anything but their own tired teaching methods; or writing off racial graffiti or threats as “isolated incidents,” even when they happen dozens of times.
I did agree with Lemmon that Simmons needs to understand what he is doing and what influence he wields on young Black people and on this we all agree wholeheartedly – why does everyone including Frank Ocean have to use the N-word? Why don’t rappers write lyrics that lift up young people or lyrics that speak to the situation – political, environmental, cultural – without belittling their audience?
My friend sent me an email this morning in response to our conversation after I sent him Simmon’s Open Letter saying I had to agree with Simmons on some of his points – my friend is in his forties, an artist, and was raised by a single mother:
Hey rachel,I checked out your email and I think that from a white or a black perspective you will get certain opinions. I only told about 5 people mainly black and Spanish to check out Don Lemon. If you were to ask more black people – male or female – to check out the CNN story the majority would probably agree with me. My take on the whole story that he presented is from being a black male. Until now, me being an older black male growing up in the ghetto in the 70s, [I remember] when hip hop started, you couldn’t even curse. Young people are influenced by rap music, some live and die by it. Don’s messages were more directed to black men in America trying to find a solution to help young black men. Bill O’Reilly commented on what goes on in the black community that black people oftentimes talk about among ourselves. There were two stories to this issue the first one was titled “Pull your pants up ” that’s the one that Russell Simmons claims he saw. The second one was Don’s response, you got to see them both to understand what black people in America think about black people. Powerful hip hop artists have the power to make change in their own community with their lyrics – Russell Simmons made money for years off of young black people. I think he can influence them to pull their pants up. Not only him, there are many other rappers that can do the same thing and some of them are cleaning up their lyrics. In America, some communities, mostly white, always say when something goes bad in the black community where is your leader?, because we look up to certain black men with power as our role model. Russell Simmons is a role model for the young African American black men. Now you have two black men with power arguing about what is right and what is wrong about wearing sagging pants. IT’S very degrading and disrespectful to wear your pants sagging out in public. Russell Simmons has the power to make change in the black community because he is a leader. Young black men look up to the hip hop culture – they respect them. Russell Simmons has a business to run and he’s not worried about the wellbeing of young black men. Don Lemon just said he welcomes anyone who has a solution – NO matter if it is Bill O’Reilly or a black person.The problem is that we have too much black on black crime [with] mostly young black men killing each other. We as black men gotta find a solution, that is what he was trying to say. Being a smart black man growing up in the ghetto you are labeled as a punk or a sell out in the black community. I know because I deal with it all the time.That’s why Russell Simmons made those comments about them. I like Don Lemon. I think that he thinks outside the box. He is just saying what a lot of educated black men and women who are middle-class talk about behind closed doors. I hate seeing young black men wearing their pants saggin out in the public. The pants sagging started inside the penitentiary and young black men just embraced it as a culture. Hip hop adopted it and tried to made it cool. Is it? I think not. I also saw a young black female with her 4 year old son walking across the street with his pants sagging. I did not think that was hip. We as black men hold young black men to a higher standard because they are the future. A lot of young black men grow up without respect and discipline. My mom and my uncles showed me respect and discipline growing up because they are old school. Sometime old school works, especially when she had to raise me and my brother by herself. I want black kids to grow up and be better than me, not to pick on one of his own race because he is smarter then them. I think you should check out more of Don Lemmon’s articles; a lot of black people will agree with them. If you ask a white person and a educated black person, and an uneducated black person their opinion about the Don Lemon show then you will see what I am saying. We can’t blame the past on our future. Check it out my friend.
Sent from my Galx
While I have a lot of respect for my friend and what he is saying, I also feel that you cannot pull away the strands of racism from these issues. Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. said at an NCORE conference I was attending that “the people fueling the music and N-word industry are not Black people.” To understand how we got to a point in our history where young Black men are disenfranchised, where they are trying to reclaim the N-word, where their standards are not the norm, you have to understand history. Why would it be that prison culture would flood urban fashion – is it because of the school-to-prison pipeline created by a racist society? Hmmm. Blaming the victim is the easiest route to status quo – ask any woman who has been raped. Not to mention, we and young people have bought into the psychosis of hegemonic capitalism. So to blame black Youth or culture on what is going on in the Black music industry today is to be short sighted:
In the Black Agenda Report, by Solomon Commisiong writes about Corporate Hip Hop, White Supremacy and Capitalism:
Hip hop culture (rapping, djing, graffiti art, and breaking, etc.) was unequivocally created by youth of color in the Bronx during the early 1970s. Even though the origins of hip hop are entrenched in black and Latino communities throughout New York City it is currently pimped/used by large white owned corporations (media, record labels, etc.) to create astronomical bottom lines, reinforce capitalistic ideals, and adversely mass program black and brown youth. Hip hop has been co-opted, from the black community, by the white corporate establishment in much the same manner as was rock-n-roll (originally called rhythm and blues).
Once again, Black culture has been co-opted and distorted in the United States – go figure. This is nothing new. So while yes I do agree with Lemmon and my friend that we have to take responsibility for our actions and be accountable to our society, I think we are still a schizophrenic culture where every time Black culture tries to insinuate itself into the mainstream, it gets co-opted by a racist society. Sagging pants are not good choices for anyone [albeit I would have preferred to see Miley Cyrus sagging than giving a faux rim job to a large Black woman sporting a teddy bear], no more than believing Blacks can own the N-word or turn it into a term of endearment. Black rappers can stand up against the machine and take their music back to the streets – but they won’t make the money they’re making off of it like they do now at the rates whites buy and sell it. As for schools, the U.S. education system is a dinosaur that needs a major overhaul, there are some who are seeking alternative routes, and then there is everything else, but to fix a problem, first we have to acknowledge we all have one.
I think in my Open Letter to Don Lemmon, I would ask him to step up. To not just discuss what Black people “ought” to do, but to contextualize reasons why some of these dynamics have come to pass by threading it back through history. Most people in the U.S. don’t know their history, or at least their Black history and white privilege, and I’m not saying only whites don’t know – it isn’t being taught in any kind of meaningful way – students in school don’t know, teachers don’t know, people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s don’t know – and everyone needs to understand where and who we have been, in order to get passed our past and move ahead.