Rap: A Global Message of Empowerment
Mentioning Civil Rights in the United States invokes emotional imagery of oppression: Racism, Slavery, Financial and Social Discrimination, Prejudice, and Hate.
It also invokes something else: a strong satisfaction knowing that we, as Americans, through our collective struggle and hard work have overcome much. Blacks and Women have a voice in government, through the vote. When our inner cities and communities have grievances, we can voice them without threat of violence or death. When we disagree, we can participate in a lively intellectual debate, rather than stopping the dialogue at the end of police baton or a lynching rope.
In America, We know we have rights. We know that we have a right to protect our rights and our families by any means necessary. We are willing die for them… many already have.
Rap music has reinforced this with the “Come at me Bruh!!!” attitude.
In the 1960s, Malcolm X and Dr. King were subjects of mainstream defamation, racially tainted criticism and called extremist, in part because of what they said. Malcolm said radical things like:
We declare our right on this earth…to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.
Don’t quote me on this… but I think all Cowboys, before they are allowed ownership of their ten gallon hat and a Compensator Class 4×4 Truck are required to say something similar. Yet when Malcolm said it… he was branded an extremist.
Malcolm also said:
The day that the black man takes an uncompromising step and realizes that he’s within his rights, when his own freedom is being jeopardized, to use any means necessary to bring about his freedom or put a halt to that injustice, I don’t think he’ll be by himself.
How right he was.
When Malcolm to spoke to the youth his message was, in part:
Without education, you’re not going anywhere in this world… …Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.
So in response to those who say Malcolm X was an extremist… cool story bro… The facts speak for themselves.
Dr. King’s crime? Having a dream and standing steadfast against all, being the stubborn willow that bends but refuses to break in the midst of the storm.
Dr. King and Malcolm were both assassinated.
Their oppressors had no credible opposite argument to silence them. Social shaming, harassment and other terrorist tactics didn’t work. They were murdered in the mistaken believe that their message would no longer be shared. What they didn’t understand is the quest for human rights never began with either Malcolm or Dr. King… nor did it end with them.
They were messengers. Their immortal message is the cornerstone of civil rights, repeatedly emulated, across the United States, and worldwide.
Then Rap was conceived and born. Enter the new messengers.
Public Enemy educated black communities to Fight the Power of oppression and let them know they weren’t alone with songs like 911 is a joke in your town. NWA told people to Fuck the Police, not because they were proud hardcore criminals, but because they were tired of oppression and police brutality. These are just two examples of many.
Rappers became messengers educating youth and reinforcing human rights, publicly taking a stand. People listened. They absorbed the knowledge like starving children.
Today, American Rap is an accepted art form with worldwide audiences. With tools like Twitter, Facebook, Skype, Reddit, Websites, Youtube videos and others, rap has gained global reach. A kid recording a session in a basement in Chicago can upload his song to youtube and have it heard in China.
American Rap became the messenger telling the world: it is ok to stand up for your rights, It is ok to face oppression and prejudice head on, it is ok to be inspired to choose your own destiny. American Rap exports the American Dream of Freedom of Speech and Human Rights worldwide. Teaching people to stand up to oppression with songs like “No Love” by Eminem and little Wayne.
The world listened.
Today there are rappers, break dancers, and hiphop artists all over the world. Former BET executive and founder of Raprehab Paul Porter and Raprehap leader and author Sebastien Elkouby were featured on international media news outlet Russia Today. There is no better example of the international community’s acceptance of Rap.
What is the point?
Today, In the United States and across the world, the fight for Human Rights is still being waged. Yet, many sit on the sidelines.
In the United States, minority voter participation is low and inconsistent. Music executives promoting rap music that glamorizes a life of crime are working for the same companies that are major stockholders in private prison companies, knowing that gangster rap will influence American youth to commit crime.
How does the rest of the world fair?
• Unemployment has dropped from 14.5% of the total labor force in 1999 to7.6% in 2009
• GDP per capita has risen from $4,105 to $10,801 in 2011
• Poverty has decreased – in 1999, 23.4% of the population were recorded as being in extreme poverty, this fell to 8.5% in 2011 according to official government figures
• Infant mortality is now lower than in 1999 – from a rate of 20 per 1,000 live births then to a rate of 13 per 1,000 live births in 2011
• Oil exports have boomed – Venezuela has one of the top proven oil reserves in the world and in 2011 Opec put the country’s net oil export revenues at $60bn. In 1999 it stood at $14.4bn
In Ukraine, the democratically elected government was violently overthrown by forces that included Svoboda and the Right Sector. Svodboda is a neo-nazi organization. Right Sector is a violently anti-gay Christian extremist militia. The Right Sector admits that it was the core of protester violence.
Objectives observers state the former Ukrainian government was corrupt and many of the protesters against the government had valid complaints. The former government was widely accused of using a sniper to mass murder its own civilians. Yet, an eyewitness account by a BBC journalist reveals the sniper he saw, appeared to be a protester firing from a protester controlled building. (2:55 in the video).
These just two international examples of campaigns of disinformation and hate being used to stifle human rights. There are many more, including, but not limited to, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Africa, Afghanistan and others.
In response to worldwide oppression, rappers, emulating America, use their art to protest oppression and empower their people.
When Malcolm X spoke to black youth in the 1960s, he said:
“Look at yourselves. Some of you teenagers, students. How do you think I feel and I belong to a generation ahead of you – how do you think I feel to have to tell you, ‘We, my generation, sat around like a knot on a wall while the whole world was fighting for its human rights – and you’ve got to be born into a society where you still have that same fight.’ What did we do, who preceded you ? I’ll tell you what we did. Nothing. And don’t you make the same mistake we made….”
“If you’ve studied the captives being caught by the American soldiers in South Vietnam, you’ll find that these guerrillas are young people. Some of them are just children and some haven’t reached their teens. Most are teenagers. It is the teenagers abroad, all over the world, who are actually involving themselves in the struggle to eliminate oppression and exploitation. In the Congo, the refugees point out that many of the Congolese revolutionaries, they shoot all the way down to seven years old – that’s been reported in the press. Because the revolutionaries are children, young people. In these countries, the young people are the ones who most quickly identify with the struggle and the necessity to eliminate the evil conditions that exist. And here in this country, it has been my own observation that when you get into a conversation on racism and discrimination and segregation, you will find young people more incensed over it – they feel more filled with an urge to eliminate it.”
What was happening in Malcolm X’s time is happening today.
You may think you have no voice or that your opinion doesn’t matter. However, if you go out into the world, be a part of it, you’ll find that while some may disagree, many others will support your position. We all have a voice… it just has to be used. If the youth of the Congo can bear arms to fight against oppression, surely we all can vote in our local and national elections. If we see police brutality, more and more of us are starting to video record it.
Raprehab’s motto is: where consciousness lives. It’s founder, Paul Porter often says P.T.I.: Process The Information. I encourage you support human rights in local communities and around the world. Learn the issues, Process the Information and act according to your conscience. Whether you support a local rap artist or a local civic rights group, I encourage you to use your platform to speak out to support those who contribute to their community and against those who would oppress it. When you run into opposition by those who would seek to silence you, fall back to your American rap heritage, smile and say:
“Come at me bruh!”
Bob Lewis is a married father of four, grandfather of two (so far…), who lives in Washington State. His goal is to inspire his readers to consider my words and hopefully address these issues individually through civic and public engagement. You can reach and find more of Bob’s writings at One Citizen’s Opinion