NewBlackMan: Sampling Again: Shawn Carter and the Moynihan Report Remix

Sampling Again: Shawn Carter and the Moynihan Report Remix

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

I have resisted the temptation to write about the media spectacle surrounding the recent birth of Blue Ivy Carter. The obsession has been striking on so many levels: (1) it seems to reflect a desire to represent Shawn Carter and Beyoncé as royalty. Their cultural visibility and power reaffirms a narrative about the American Dream and post racialness. Blue Ivey Carter becomes evidence of multi-generational wealth; her arrival in the world affirms the American Dream as Beyoncé and Shawn Carter now have millions of dollars AND the prescribed family structure (not sure about dog and picket fence). (2) There also seems an investment in constructing hip-hop as growing up as evident by a politics of respectability and through a patriarchal nuclear family. The media discourse has imagined a family (or children) as the necessary step toward becoming an adult.

Mark Anthony Neal brilliantly reflects on this particular aspect, noting how the media has constructed Carter as ushering in a new era for hip-hop. “There are of course other examples of rappers who do take parenting seriously.” More importantly, Neal works to disentangle lyrical flow from parenting:

To be sure, writing a song about your daughter is the easy part. Fathers are often lauded for the more celebrated aspects of parenting: playing on the floor, piggyback rides, the warm embraces after a long day at the job. Mothers, on the other hand, are often faced with the drudgery of parenting, like changing soiled diapers, nursing, giving up their careers to be stay-at-home moms, and the criticism that comes if they don’t live up to societal notions of what “good” mothering is.

The celebration of Shawn Carter’s fatherhood and the lack of commentaries regarding Beyoncé as a mother are telling on so many levels. At one level, it reflects the erasure of mother’s labor, as noted by Neal. Yet, at another level it reflects the desire to stage yet another referendum on black fathers and mothers within the public discourse. For example, Joanna Mallory recently penned: “Jay-Z anthem to fatherhood is music to the ears of black leaders and family advocates.” Arguing that, “72% of African-American kids are raised without a dad,” Mallory celebrates the birth of Blue Ivey Carter because she inspired her dad to write “Glory:

“But she is also rich in love, as Jay-Z exults in his song “Glory.” The best part? A lot of other babies are going to benefit. Because Jay-Z’s ecstatic reaction to being a dad will be the strongest boost yet to a growing movement in the black community encouraging responsible fatherhood.

Concluding that the song is a necessary remedy for absent black fathers is emblematic of the media discourse here: sensationalistic, simplistic, and wrapped up in a narrative of distortions, misinformation, and stereotypes. It is yet another reminder those critics should not wax sociological.

Having already written about this in regards to Colin Cowherd and Touré, I thought I might just recycle part of the “Blaming Black Families” piece, albeit with a little remix (I swapped out Cowherd’s name for Mallory). The fact that critics, politicians, and the public discourse continually recycles the same fallacious and troubling argument mandates that I merely recycle my work as well.

The efforts to recycle the Moynihan report, to define father as natural disciplinarian and mother’s nurturing, to link cultural values to family structures, and to otherwise play upon longstanding racial stereotypes, is striking.

Continue reading at NewBlackMan: Sampling Again: Shawn Carter and the Moynihan Report Remix.

NewBlackMan: Politics as Usual: Decoding the Attacks on a Liberal Education

Politics as Usual: Decoding the Attacks on a Liberal Education

by David J. Leonard, Mark Anthony Neal and James Braxton Peterson | NewBlackMan

Few university courses generate much attention from mainstream media, but Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson’s course “The Sociology of Hip-Hop: Urban Theodicy of Jay-Z” has drawn national attention from NBC’s Today Show, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, USA Today, and among many others. To be sure such attention is not unusual for Dyson, who is one of the most visible academics in the United States and has offered courses dealing with hip-hop culture, sociology, and Black religious and vernacular expression for more than twenty-years. Yet, such attention seems odd; hundreds of university courses containing a significant amount of content related to Hip-hop culture and Black youth are taught every year—and have been so, for more than a decade. In addition, there are dozens of scholarly studies of Hip-hop published each year—Julius Bailey’s edited volume Jay-Z: Essays of Hip-Hop’s Philosopher King, among those published just this year—and two Ivy League universities, Harvard and Cornell, boast scholarly archives devoted to the subject of Hip-Hop.

Any course focused on a figure like Jay-Z (Shawn Corey Carter), given his contemporary Horatio Alger narrative, and his reputation as an urban tastemaker, was bound to generate considerable attention, but the nature of the attention that Dyson’s class has received and some of the attendant criticism, suggest that much more is at play.

In early November, The Washington Post offered some of the first national coverage of the class, largely to coincide with the arrival of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne tour to Washington DC’s Verizon Center. Jay-Z dutifully complied with the attention by giving Professor Dyson a shout-out from the stage. The largely favorable article about the class, did make note, as have many subsequent stories, about the cost of tuition at Georgetown; as if somehow the cost of that tuition is devalued by kids taking classes about hip-hop culture.

Other profiles of the course and Dyson have gone out of their way to make the point that the course had mid-term and final exams, as if that wouldn’t be standard procedure for any nationally recognized senior scholar at a top-tier research university in this country. Such narrative slippages speak volumes about the widespread belief that courses that focus on some racial and cultural groups, are created in slipshod fashion and lack rigor; it is a critique that is well worn, and that various academic disciplines, such as Women’s Studies, Ethnic Studies and even Sociology have long had to confront.

via NewBlackMan: Politics as Usual: Decoding the Attacks on a Liberal Education.

Malcolm Gladwell on Bruce Ratner and the Barclays Center – Grantland

Ten years ago, a New York real estate developer named Bruce Ratner fell in love with a building site at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues in Brooklyn. It was 22 acres, big by New York standards, and within walking distance of four of the most charming, recently gentrified neighborhoods in Brooklyn — Park Slope, Boerum Hill, Clinton Hill, and Fort Greene. A third of the site was above a railway yard, where the commuter trains from Long Island empty into Brooklyn, and that corner also happened to be where the 2, 3, 4, 5, D, N, R, B, Q, A, and C subway lines all magically converge. From Atlantic Yards — as it came to be known — almost all of midtown and downtown Manhattan, not to mention a huge swath of Long Island, was no more than a 20-minute train ride away. Ratner had found one of the choicest pieces of undeveloped real estate in the Northeast.

But there was a problem. Only the portion of the site above the rail yard was vacant. The rest was occupied by an assortment of tenements, warehouses, and brownstones. To buy out each of those landlords and evict every one of their tenants would take years and millions of dollars, if it were possible at all. Ratner needed New York State to use its powers of “eminent domain” to condemn the existing buildings for him. But how could he do that? The most generous reading of what is possible under eminent domain came from the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Kelo v. New London case. There the court held that it was permissible to seize private property in the name of economic development. But Kelo involved a chronically depressed city clearing out a few houses so that Pfizer could expand a research and development facility. Brooklyn wasn’t New London. And Ratner wasn’t Pfizer: All he wanted was to build luxury apartment buildings. In any case, the Court’s opinion in Kelo was treacherous ground. Think about it: What the Court said was that the government can take your property from you and give it to someone else simply if it believes that someone else will make better use of it. The backlash to Kelo was such that many state legislatures passed laws making their condemnation procedures tougher, not easier. Ratner wanted no part of that controversy. He wanted an airtight condemnation, and for that it was far safer to rely on the traditional definition of eminent domain, which said that the state could only seize private property for a “public use.” And what does that mean? The best definition is from a famous opinion written by former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor:

Our cases have generally identified three categories of takings that comply with the public use requirement. … Two are relatively straightforward and uncontroversial. First, the sovereign may transfer private property to public ownership — such as for a road, a hospital, or a military base. See, e.g., Old Dominion Land Co. v. United States, 269 U. S. 55 (1925); Rindge Co. v. County of Los Angeles, 262 U. S. 700 (1923). Second, the sovereign may transfer private property to private parties, often common carriers, who make the property available for the public’s use — such as with a railroad, a public utility, or a stadium.

A stadium. The italics are mine — or rather, they are Ratner’s. At a certain point, as he gazed longingly at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush, a light bulb went off inside his head. And he bought the New Jersey Nets.

Earlier this year, NBA commissioner David Stern was interviewed by Bloomberg News. Stern was expounding on his favorite theme — that the business of basketball was in economic peril and that the players needed to take a pay cut — when he was asked about the New Jersey Nets. Ratner had just sold the franchise to a wealthy Russian businessman after arranging to move the team to Brooklyn. “Is it a contradiction to say that the current model does not work,” Stern was asked, “and yet franchises are being bought for huge sums by billionaires like Mikhail Prokhorov?”

“Stop there,” Stern replied. “… the previous ownership lost several hundred million dollars on that transaction.”

This is the argument that Stern has made again and again since the labor negotiations began. On Halloween, he and the owners will dress up like Oliver Twist and parade up and down Park Avenue, caps in hand, while their limousines idle discreetly on a side street. And at this point, even players seem like they believe him. If and when the lockout ends, they will almost certainly agree to take a smaller share of league revenues.

Continue reading at Grantland

Mark Anthony Neal @NewBlackMan: “I Arrived the Day Fred Hampton Died”: If Jay Z Met Fred Hampton


“I Arrived the Day Fred Hampton Died”: If Jay Z Met Fred Hampton

by Mark Anthony Neal | NewBlackMan

In the early morning of December 4, 1969, before dawn, the Chicago Police Department in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation—The FBI—riddled the residence of Black Panther Party leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, killing them both. Hampton, who was sleeping in the back of the house with his pregnant girlfriend was unable to defend himself (he had been drugged by an informant), leading poet and Third World Press founder Haki Madhubuti (then Don L. Lee) to describe the incident as a “One Sided Shootout.” On that same day, Shawn Corey Carter—the maverick hip-hop mogul and artist—was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, NY. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if these two—icons for two distinct generation of Black youth—might have ever had the chance to meet.

For those familiar with the legacy of Fred Hampton, simply known as Chairman Fred for many, Jay Z might seem the very antithesis of what Hampton represented. At the time of his assassination, Hampton was being prepared for national leadership within The Black Panther Party, which was decimated by incarceration (Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale) and exile (Eldridge Cleaver). Hampton was 21-years-old, five years younger than Martin Luther King, Jr. was when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the same age of Malcolm Little when he was when he began the prison sentence that transformed him into Malcolm X. Hampton was no ordinary young Black man.

Specifically the Black Panther Party was targeted by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s counter-intelligence program, known by the acronym COINTELPRO. The year before Hampton’s death, Hoover publically announced that the Black Panther Party was the “greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Part of the FBI’s strategy was to kill off the local leadership of the Black Panther Party, before it could ascend to national leadership. In that vein Hoover targeted the Black Panther Party’s breakfast program, because it was one of the most tangible ways the organization impacted their communities.

According to historian Craig Ciccione, author of the forthcoming If I Die Before I Wake: The Assassination of Fred Hampton, “The threat was on the local level because on the local level the organizing was most effective.” Ciccone suggests that killing off local leadership could be achieved on a much quieter level—he notes that virtually none of the Panthers killed in the late 1960s were part of the national leadership.

Of those local leaders, Fred Hampton was perhaps the most significant—The FBI created a file on Hampton when he was just an 18-year-old high school student, who would shortly become leader of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party. Fred Hampton was a compelling figure because of his skills as an organizer—he was instrumental in the creation of the Rainbow Coalition (a term later appropriated by Jesse Jackson) which included the Black Panther Party, young White activist known as The Young Patriots and The Young Lords, a national organization of Puerto Rican activists co-founded by Felipe Luciano, who was also a member of the original Last Poets.

Combined with his accomplished skills as an orator and his willingness to organize beyond the Black community, Hampton was the prototype for the next generation of Black activist, a possibility that was literally killed in the early hours of December 4, 1969.

One of the tragedies of Fred Hampton’s death is that his presence would not be felt in the Marcy Houses that Jay Z came of age in, or in any of the like communities across this country were young Black Americans lacked examples of political agency and activism that were in sync with their lives at the dawn of 1980s. The period, best known as the Reagan era, was marked by the child murders in Atlanta, the explosion of crack cocaine in Black communities, the emergence of AIDS and the collapse of the kinds of social and cultural infrastructures that helped Black Americans survive segregation and racial violence throughout the 20th Century.

Hip-Hop initially filled that void and though early hip-hop was little more than the “party and bullshit” that seems so normative today, it ability to allow young Black Americans a voice and alternative ways to view the world may have been it most potent political achievement. For example, Chuck D would have been Chuck D regardless of Hip-Hop, but how many young Blacks became politically engaged because Chuck D had Hip-Hop. Indeed as Jay Z details throughout his memoir Decoded (written with Dream Hampton), the possibilities that Hip-hop offered were compelling enough to take him from the street life.

The easy part of this story is to suggest that Jay Z, as emblematic of a Black generational ethos, has squandered Hip-Hop’s political potential on the spoils of crass materialism, middle-management wealth and a politics of pragmatism (as embodied by his man Obama). The feel good move is to imagine a 61-year-old Hampton and a 41-year-old Carter sitting down in conversation with Sonia Sanchez to discuss the legacy of the Black Panther Party on Hip-Hop and Carter’s funding of the Fred Hampton and Shirley Chisholm Institute for Black Leadership Development (which by the way Mr. Carter, need not be a dream). Unfortunately the history of Black political engagement is not as simple as one of those Staples “easy” buttons.

Continue reading at NewBlackMan: “I Arrived the Day Fred Hampton Died”: If Jay Z Met Fred Hampton.