This month, March, marks Disability Awareness Month in the United States. A disability is defined as “the experience of any condition that makes it more difficult for a person to do certain activities or have equitable access within a given society.” Disabilities can be visible (someone with down syndrome or a wheelchair user), invisible (dyslexia or diabetes), physical (an amputee), mental (PTSD) or a combination of all. According to the CDC, 1 in 4, or 26% of Americans identify as having a disability. As of 2021, that number included 5.5 million African Americans. Unfortunately, many black people are unwilling to disclose or have yet to have their disability diagnosed – and we, the black community, must change that!

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Rap By The Gun, Die By The Gun

“I never ever ran from the Ku Klux Klan and I shouldn’t have to run from a Black man ‘cause that’s….”. If you grew up listening to hip-hop then you know the rest. This next lyric though, “Funky fresh dressed to impressed ready to party!” MC Lyte rapped rhetorical, “you not guarding the door so what you got a gun for?” Exactly. That part!

Self-destruction. The hook to this hip-hop classic still waxes prophetic today. It begsthe question and crystallizes my thoughts around the killing of Takeoff, one third of Grammy-award winning multi-platinum rap group Migos. Add Nipsey Hussle, Young Dolph, PNB Rock, Jam Master Jay, Biggie, Tupac, and some I probably missed to the list as well. Sad thing is the list of rap artists killed in nonsensical gun violence is probably as long as the never-ending list of Blacks killed by cops. Tragic how we just can’t name them all. In either category. But I digress, back to Takeoff.

The moment I heard Kirshnik Khari Ball was killed while shooting dice with his uncle,Quavo, at a private birthday party held at a Houston, TX bowling alley, I just shook my head and said, ‘a dayum shame.’ Another black body left for dead. Blood spilt in the streets like roadkill. Here we are months later, and estranged cousin, Offset, is stillmourning according to wifey Cardi B’s recent post. She said she’s ‘hopeless’ trying to console her inconsolable spouse. Was I saddened by Takeoff’s death? Yes, but I found (and still find) it hard to emote because gun violence in hip-hop is so prevalent. Rap by the gun die by the gun.

I shared this exact sentiment a couple weeks later over wine and over-priced bar bites with two girlfriends at a Ruth’s Chris Happy Hour. Shock from one and peppered with lots of questions from the other as I argued not all but most hip-hop is self-destructiveand the reason for Takeoff’s death. I blamed rap music and its videos 1000%. I held itaccountable for another brother — somebody’s son, nephew, uncle, cousin, friend, inspiration, hope – dying over something so stupid. As I swirled my Napa Valley redand adored its legs, I told them you can’t rap about shooting and killing and solving street issues/problems/conflicts with a gun, and not expect that same energy to manifest in your own life. C’mon now, y’all know this. There’s power in words, or scripturally speaking, “life and death in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).

I stabbed at my tuna tartare and in my best MC Lyte flowed real saucy-like, rap by the gun die by the gun! I told my girls, how you gone rap about it and not be about it?Hip-hop pushes out so much violence these days, and every other negative destructive narrative imaginable, how can artists expect it not to show up at their doorstep? It’s downright foolish ignoring universal law — you reap what you sow. Takeoff reaped what he rapped. I said it.

Don’t think for a minute life does not imitate art. We’ve heard this argument before. I’m not positing anything new. I’m just bold enough to bring it up again…and again…and again and vouch for it. Now here’s the rub: I’m a 52-year-old, well-educated with two degrees, six-figure earning, professional woman of God that LOVES hip-hop! Ican quote scripture as well as lyrics. My fiancé calls it “speaking in songs.” Ha!! Sad but true. I better articulate myself using rap lyrics instead of my well-paid-for boarding school vocabulary and SAT words. For example, you say karma. I say tables turn suckas burn to learn (Chuck D from Public Enemy shut it down with that one!).Saturday mornings when I’m on the air on New York’s #1 for R&B 107.5 WBLS, I frequently use Migos’ “Stir Fry” as a music bed. No lie, I can spit “Bad and Boujee” like I’m the honorary fourth member of Migos!

As I banged at the bang-bang shrimp I opined that the person who pulled the trigger on 28-year-old Takeoff with a point-blank gunshot to the head and torso, probably modeled what he heard and saw in Migos’ music and videos. One of my girls nearly choked on her Chardonnay. Crazy, I know because we rock to their music and love it! 

Yet and still, rap kills. Imho, it’s what took Takeoff’s life. Yep, I said it again.

Flow with me. Most of today’s music normalizes guns, alcoholism, drug-selling, drug use, and condones this whip-out-a-piece-and-pop-off-mentality instead of skillful mature conflict resolution. This is part of the reason why I believe most young men and women today do not know how to deescalate situations that don’t involve aggressive confrontation and/or violence. They react versus respond. I pushed.Furthermore, today’s rap music is not only incredibly violent, but also very rapey andsexist. Now I’m really dragging it with my girls. Cis-gender males and females making non-inclusive, completely tone-deaf lyrical content that breeds ignorance andcontributes to the self-destruction and downfall of our communities. 

One of my girls asked as she nearly spit out her pinot gris, so who gone check us, boo? What to do next? Who is accountable for this culture of violence that is bred in hip-hop? The other one chimed in, and on whose shoulders does the responsibility for cleanup and eradication fall. Bluntly, I do not know. Elementary answer yes, but it’s my truth. I really don’t know. If forced, I suppose I could offer up the low-hanging fruit of an answer, ‘it’s socio-economic, the environment these artists come from…blah blah blah.’ Or I could go all esoteric on you and state what former music-mogul-turned-Yogi, Russell Simmons, recently espoused on IG Live: that rappers need to find God and speak from their hearts-center which bear a natural inclination to do good and seek peace. He’s one to speak! Too easy. Cliché. Too earnest.

Like Sway, I didn’t have the answers either. None of us at the Happy Hour that night offered up any viable remedies for changing the trajectory of a long-standing art form that’s misogynistic, rapey, violent, and systemically branded to be that way. The very problem with hip-hop is that the very problem is inherently interwoven throughout the genre that becomes accepted as culture. 

I dipped my extra crispy fries in some spicy mayonnaise and boldly said, rap music is doing exactly what’s is supposed to do — and lotsa’ money is being made off it too!Most mainstream (especially trill) rappers glorify gratuitous violence as entertainment in exchange for profit. New and established artists alike, even the icons too, normalizegun violence, sexual violence against women, crime, hustling, prison, and drug culture, and make it sexy in the music. This stuff sells and kills. Massive revenue for artists and labels alike. But truth be told this ain’t all on the artists. If we’re being totally honest, we all have some skin in the game and are accountable for this lucrative violent creative energy that self-destructs. Can hip-hop ever rid itself of this stank? Is there anybody to check rap artists and the music they make?

I roll called the folks I thought should be indicted for enjoying, consuming, programming, promoting, selling, and eating the fruit that kills. People who create, write, scout, A&R, sign, produce, engineer, master, promote, air, perform, program,award, emulate, glorify, mimic, follow, acculturate, listen, and rock to rap. Me included. Record labels, streamers, radio, video outlets, TV & film, social media, and consumers all bear some of the responsibility too. Guilty (pleasure).

By now, Happy Hour started to wind down. Drinking my last drop of cab I proclaimed, I may not have pulled the trigger and taken Takeoff’s life that fateful night or been in the circle of onlookers, but (as a lover of hip-hop) I got blood on my hands too. As I passed down the last cocktail napkin, I reiterated my empathy and said Boogie Down Productions and KRS-One were spot on with their Stop the Violence Movement back in ’89 that prophesied we’re headed for self-destruction. 

As I closed my tab, I closed my argument. Our beloved hip-hop is lethal and self-destructive: we’re already there.

Takeoff’s untimely death was both tragic and totally avoidable—and fully blamable on the genre and culture of the music he both participated in and deposited into the landscape. There. I said it one last time.

We dropped the tip and a final time I dropped my take on Takeoff. Rap by the gun die by the gun. Periodt! Clean up the music/lyrics and you’ll clean up the blood in the streets. Roll dice on that.

We all left Ruth’s Chris singing, “self-destruction. You’re headed for….”

Looking Back: The Black Panther Party

By Maura Mulholland

The 1960s were a time of upheaval in U.S. history. The decade seared the idea of freedom into the American psyche, with the hippies, feminist movement, and civil rights campaigns enjoying immense public attention. But many of these attempts to rectify the wrongs of the American condition failed to achieve their loftiest goals, and more extreme groups rose to spread their own truths and directly address the problems they saw in the world. 

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) emerged in 1966 in Oakland, California. It was the brain-child of Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, two students at Merritt College. The organization formed around the ideas of socialism and Black nationalism, particularly opposed to the scourge of police brutality on the Black community. The BPP had many enemies during this era, largely because of their focus on armed self-defense against oppressive figures. Many felt this outlook was extreme, but the BPP saw it as the only way to establish Black communities as an independent force, and to reverse the sidelining of Black opinions and narratives in the media and government. 

While the Black Panthers were admirable in their concern and advocacy for the Black community, there was and is a great deal of controversy surrounding the philosophies and actions of the group. One frequent accusation is that the Panthers were unfair and sexist toward the Black women in their midst, perpetuating misogynoir. While early publications of the BPP were centered on the Black male experience, by 1968 two-thirds of the Party was made up of women, and their leadership pushed a more egalitarian “womanist” narrative. Throughout the 1970s, the Panthers worked to promote women to leadership roles within the organization. 

The ideas that the Black Panthers pushed brought into the mainstream continue to power progressive activism today. Their unflinching focus on racism and police brutality in the North, which was largely ignored by traditional Civil Rights groups, inspired the formation of modern groups like Black Lives Matter. In addition, the Panthers dedication to mutual aid as the foundation of both community and organization has been copied by a wide array of modern activists. The Black Panthers’ community work has been replicated nationwide, with the installation of community fridges, mutual aid funds, and survival networks in cities all over the country. While the Black Panthers were often portrayed as violent radicals, their contributions to modern activism and neighborhood charity provide a more balanced perspective on their racial platform. 

Unequal Treatment in the “Black League”

By Maura Mulholland

The NBA is overwhelmingly comprised of Black players. Since the 1990s, the majority of NBA rosters have been filled by African American talent. Despite black leadership within organizations and the Players Union, instances or racism from fanbases and league and team executives are still a regular occurrence. These altercations have been on the rise recently, with numerous players and administrative employees speaking out against biases inherent in the sport. 

Allegations of racism have recently emerged against Robert Sarver, the owner of the Phoenix Suns. Sarver, a white man, allegedly used the n-word repeatedly when quoting a Black player. When asked to stop, he argued that as an NBA owner, he should be permitted to use the word. The incident was witnessed and reported by former head coach of the Suns, Earl Watson. Since that time, Sarver has been cited by almost seventy current and former Suns employees for fostering a hostile work environment. According to sources, he frequently makes off-color racial comments, and exhibits misogynistic and inappropriate behavior, including making inappropriate sexual comments about his wife to employees. He has also been cited for claiming to “own” someone who works within the Suns organization. 

Beyond problematic administration, fans at NBA games have recently exhibited racist behavior against Black players. LeBron James has publicly complained about fans’ racism, especially the fan base of the Boston Celtics. On his HBO show, “The Shop”, James described an incident where a beer was thrown on him while leaving a Celtics game in Boston, a situation that he believes reflects the fan bases racial prejudice. Kyrie Irving, a visiting point guard for the Brooklyn Nets, had a water bottle thrown at him at a Celtics game by Cole Buckley, a twenty-one-year-old student at the University of Rhode Island. Buckley was charged with one count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. While Buckley was not charged with a civil rights violation, it was noted by investigators that race was likely a contributing factor to his violent acts. 

These very prominent examples fail to illustrate the levels of implicit and explicit racism that NBA players face on a regular basis. Since the first non-white player took the court in 1947, African Americans in the NBA have increasingly moved to the forefront of Black celebrity. While the league, pushed by the Players Union, has actively tried to root out racism within the Association, it continues to be a problem at both an administrative and fan base level. By holding anyone involved in professional sports accountable for any racist comments or acts, we can work towards a more inclusive league that reflects the contributions of African American players, coaches, and executives to professional basketball.

A Review of Surviving Southhampton

Surviving Southampton by Vanessa M. Holden, is a historical text about the 1831 Southampton Rebellion, commonly known as Nat Turner’s slave rebellion. This book is unique as it focuses on the often overlooked role of African American women and children before, during and after the revolt. Holden describes the human geography of the Southampton area and argues that the key communication throughout the African American community was perpetrated by mainly African American women. Vanessa M. Holden has a Ph.D. in African American and Women’s and Gender History from Rutgers University; she is currently an assistant professor of History and African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky. 

More traditional narratives about the American south focus on men and paint women as merely an accessory to the main story. This is true especially when it comes to history surrounding Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion. The general narrative is that men led and coerced the insurrection and white men (the militia) put an end to it. Surviving Southampton tells the stories of women and children in the Antebellum south. Holden argues that women and children were essential to the communication throughout Southampton because of the mobility they had within their jobs. She argues that women and children on the slave plantations were crucial for planning the insurrection because they were able to get inside information from their positions of being in spaces with white people.  

While making important points about how historians study slave insurrections, Holden struggled to maintain focus on her main points. Chapter 5  accounts the many trials that happened after the revolt, and the first page of that chapter (page 81) mentions 26 different enslaved people who do not factor into her larger narrative. Overall, Holden’s work is an admirable attempt to expand the historiography of Nat Turner’s rebellion that fails to make itself accessible to a broader audience.