Monday, July 2, 2007

Three points and two pennies

Ebony magazine's current issue has a pretty bold cover (above). I haven't read the article completely, but I do know one of its lines read: "This whole thing started with three words. “Nappy-Headed Hos.'"

Now, my question is this? Did we really wait until 2007 and a guy named Don Imus to have a candid discussion about race, vernacular and "the culture of disrespect"? Why did we wait so long? Was it because it wasn't front-page news until Imus said it? Was it because Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were on primetime news doing interviews? Was it because it was about the women's basketball team of Rutgers University? Was it because rappers like 50 Cent are famous for songs that include similar phrases?

I can't really answer those questions. All I can do is offer my two cents.

Personally, I think there are three problems with the topic that we're only just now beginning to be honest and frank about within the African-American community.

The first problem is parenting. Just as African-American parents should encourage their children to perform in the classroom (and their respective athletie or artistic endeavor), parents must encourage their children to surround themselves with good people. I have never used the n-word or the derogatory terms for females commonly stated in songs by rappers when addressing any individual, man or woman. The reason? Because I've never been arund anyone who would tolerate those types of words coming out of my mouth.

That said, parents must try to educate their children on the importance of being around good like-minded people. They must also practice what they preach. Just as you wouldn't want to put your child in a room filled with smoke, you shouldn't put your child in a room of foul-mouthed adults.

The second problem is about pop culture and the overly-emphasized role it has in the African-American community in particular. It is not uncommon for a young black student to recite the lines of rapper 50 Cent or know the best scoring move of Kobe Bryant, yet not know enough to make a passing grade in the classroom. There is nothing wrong with enjoying rap music or basketball. There is something wrong with not enjoying school enough to make it to the next grade.

Again, parents play an instrumental role in making sure children prioritize their lives. Educators, and administrators, must also understand the role of pop culture on these young students and find new, innovative ways to inspire students to seek the same wealth and professional success as the people they see on television, only through the education.

Lastly, the problem is with blame. Too often, we seek to blame before we seek to understand. What does Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People tell us? "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Exactly. In order to make the Don Imus' of the world understand, completely, why they can and should never be allowed to say the derogatory things they sometimes say (or want to say), we must - as an African-American community - understand why we have allowed these words to be said within our own community. Our music. Our streets. Our schoolrooms. Our homes.

Before we can blame, we must listen. By listening, I believe we can really move the needle forward to a day when children can listen to 50 Cent's lyrics without using that negative, derogatory language themselves.

But that's just my 50, I mean two, cent.

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