Tag Archives: Black

Double Consciousness and the So-Called ‘White Standard’

“After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,–a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself though the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,–an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

~W.E.B. Du Bois (1903)

I think it is very important to deeply consider what we perceive as the standard by which we begin to measure our conceptions and perceptions from. On the one hand, Du Bois is identifying that the so-called ‘white-standard’ which has been arbitrarily set as the objective and thus, has been normalized as what and who the ‘true American’ is, is very problematic for people who do not identify as cisgendered-white-wealthy men. If that is the standard from which we measure from, then people who look and identify as we do will always feel left wanting and inadequate. It is my belief that it is because this standard has been internalized that Black people and other PoC tend not to perceive ourselves and other PoC and Black folks as valuable as we actually are.

This so-called standard is a false standard. In fact it is no standard at all. The cis-gendered-white-wealthy-man is an anomaly and is in reality nothing more than a fabricated ideal of what is presented as the norm. Wealth is not nearly distributed widely enough even among white males to be reckoned as norm even within said group. Furthermore, White people in general are in the minority worldwide, and are quickly becoming the minority in the United States, so by that reckoning they are not the norm either. However, and this was especially true at the time that Du Bois wrote this, that what made the ‘white standard’ the touchstone was the power structure that was in place.

Still true to this day, white men control much of the politics, business, and media which shape our world and our perceptions of it. For example, the ‘scary black male predator,’ which Hillary Clinton is noted for exploiting in speeches is a prime example of this touchstone being put to use. The concept of the scary dark ‘other’ is old and I have traced it back to Ancient Greece and the term ‘barbarian’ which, was used to disparage the Persian people. I have also encountered it studying explorers and colonists when they employed the term ‘savages,’ to describe native indigenous populations. The same meanings those words carried, is carried by the word ‘nigger,’ and are carried by the terms ‘thug’ and ‘criminal.’ The meanings associated with these terms are uncouth, untamed, uncivilized, illiterate, unteachable, lascivious, sexually promiscuous, weak, and feminine, but also hyper-masculine. After mass media emerged within our society, and following the Civil Rights Era the terms ‘thug’ and ‘criminal’ were made synonymous with Black by very clever politicians and during the 80s with the War on Drugs under the Reagan administration, the ‘scary black man trope’ was exploited with a new veracity. The result was the villainization of an entire generation of black men that was so effective that by the end of the 90s and epidemic resulting from the shortage of black men was declared. Most were incarcerated in the rapidly developing Prison Industrial Complex ushered along by the Clinton administration’s 1994 Crime Bill.

During the 80s and 90s, gangsta rap also emerges and becomes a highly profitable venture. One of the clearest, most distinguishable images from gangsta rap is the ‘scary black male predator’ who shatters all the social conventions of American society and makes his own way by feeding his own people poison, killing all who get in his way, is hyper-sexual and masculine, uneducated, and acquiring riches until they end up dead or in prison. However, this is neither how Hip Hop began, nor is it what comprises the vast majority of the artists who wield the skill and participate in the craft. Again, we see something that has been normalized that by no means forms the majority and the questions are how and why?

Dr. Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar, the author of “Hip-Hop Revolution,” equated gangsta rappers with being “modern day minstrels.” A minstrel is the fictitious rendition of a Black person that accentuates and exacerbates the most stereotypical features attributed to Black people for the purposes of humor that began in the 1830s. Essentially what is being done is that the “perception” of Black people is being compared to the ‘standard’ in a very demeaning and dehumanizing manner. This has also been called “Black Face.” Ogbar argues, correctly I think, that when Black males fulfill the role of a gansta rapper that they are in effect putting on Black Face for a primarily white consumer population. To some extent, those acting out these roles like Ice Cube or Master P, are expressing the internalization of the standard. However, much like the earlier minstrels who also were black, it was a means to an end to gain financial security. Whatever the reason, the result has been the perpetuation of the ‘white standard’ and its foil the ‘scary black male predator,’ the ‘criminal,’ and the ‘thug.’

In part, Du Bois was seeking to inform the Black population of this dynamic of the United States culture and to re-empower and re-imbue those most affected with the truth; the ‘white standard’ is a farce, but the power and the impact of it is very real.

Which brings us to what Du Bois is revealing about the “double consciousness,” namely, that because of this standard and the internalization of it we (our people) tend to perceive ourselves from the perspective of the progenitors of the so-called ‘standard.’ Any Black person who has had to seek employment with a white-male owned business, with white-male managers has probably walked into their offices knowing exactly what their worth is and what they are capable of while simultaneously also knowing what their worth and capabilities are perceived as. This contradiction often leads to what has been termed “Code Switching,” i.e., shifting, augmenting, or otherwise concealing the features that are most stereotypically ‘Black.’ For example, the usage of ‘proper English’ in place of the stigmatized although, just as grammatical, African American Vernacular English. This is done to appear closer to the ‘white standard,’ not necessarily to be perceived as more white, per se. Other characteristics may also be augmented such as, dress and body language. The further away from the ‘scary black man trope’ we can get the better; at least, that is how the game is played.

This is merely one example, but the phenomenon can be witnessed throughout the society of the United States. It can also be observed between other groups, such as, between men and women, wherein there are wage-gaps and glass-ceilings. The more masculine a woman can present herself, the more likely she is to be respected in a male dominated world. To complicate matters more, if the woman is Black that is a triple consciousness, and if the Black woman is also Trans that is a quadruple consciousness, and if the Black Trans woman is also poor that is a quintuplet consciousness. The intersectionality of these oppressions and systems of power dynamics are pervasive. The point is that there is no sector of this society, the buses, schools, friendships, stores, traffic, anywhere that is free of this phenomenon. Anywhere and everywhere that a Black person can be in this society where there are also white people the “double-consciousness” also exists.

The importance of Du Bois’s observation is the realization that once the phenomenon is identified and the truth is revealed to people they can then begin to unpack the social fabric of this so-called ‘white standard.’ Today we are in a much different position than in 1903 and we have access to much more information, historical or otherwise that reveals our people did not begin as an enslaved people, and that cis-gendered white males do not comprise the majority of our society, let alone the world. It helps us to begin the process of undoing the internalization of this ‘standard’ by allowing us to see that we can form our own standards. It further helps us to see the folly and the harm of the standards we hold other people to, unjustly. We may even begin to see that some standards need to altogether be laid to rest because of how harmful standards can be in some regards. Having a standard that killing is wrong is probably a good general standard to have. However, having a standard of beauty can be very problematic and hurtful. The difference I believe lies in the attribution of value to people based upon a standard, especially since they have tended to be set at a level or on something that is almost impossible to achieve and is anything but the norm; anything but standard.

A phenomenon that seems to be such a pillar to so many of the harms the people in our society suffer, it begs the question, if a culture shift is what we need to heal so many of these harms, should this not be one of the places we begin our work?

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Roots Reaching Black

Had to make it PHAT, had to take it back

Had to rep for a culture that the roots are reaching Black

Beautiful, Powerful, Indisputably Immutable

The history a crucible, the music is a tool to use

Cathartic when it needs to be, hard to beat society

At times, the rhymes, plant the seeds we need to breathe

Through police brutality, fatalities, impunity

the root of e-vil, our people see the enemy

An internal colony, Fanon saw the tragedy

Overseer to officer, KRS, a prodigy

His progeny, are challenging, violence’s monopoly

By the state, the fate of which, attempt to claim us property

Hip Hop is the voice/ and the weapon of choice!

Since Grand Master Flash and DMC were making noise

Cuz with the “Message,” hood pov-erty, was being challenged

& “Fuck the Police,” expounded on that knowledge

 

My roots are reaching Black

to Tupac and Biggie Smalls, to Jay z and Goodie Mob

To Lauren Hill and them all

My roots are reaching Black

To Assata, MLK, Malcom x, and James Brown

that’s the tip that I’m on

My roots are reaching Black

to the pride of a nation, and the fight for Liberation

Cuz our history’s bomb

My roots are reaching Black

Through the Hip Hop in my blood, and the music in my soul

Yo! The revolution’s on!

 

Not to say it’s not a party music, wouldn’t be true

It’s the part of the genre, we be celebrating to

Get ya club on, ya dance on, or smoke a blunt to

Or, however you hang, when you’re chillin wit your crew

Don’t be fooled, “Walk Ruff and Stuff with yo Afro Puffs”

Was Black Power, to the core, filled with Black Love

challenging pat-riarchy, white standards of beauty

And Internalized Oppression with con-tinuity

Queen Latifa, a master emcee

Blessed us with her presence in the 1980s scene

& Helped to make the music what it is to you and me

So Lauren Hill could call out “Politrixions” with the Fugees

While Bill Clinton, prison warden, playin the sax

Signed into law, the 1994, Crime Act

No more education in the prison labor system

& 3 Strikes was made law by those Politrixions

 

My roots are reaching Black

to Tupac and Biggie Smalls, to Jay z and Goodie Mob

To Lauren Hill and them all

My roots are reaching Black

To Assata, MLK, Malcom x, and James Brown

that’s the tip that I’m on

My roots are reaching Black

to the pride of a nation, and the fight for Liberation

Cuz our history’s bomb

My roots are reaching Black

Through the Hip Hop in my blood, and the music in my soul

Yo! The revolution’s on!

 

What is problematic, was the corporate takeover

of a cultural art form, meant to restore the

pride of our people, integrity the needle

The One’s and Two’s, the Wheels of Steel, spinnin through to freedom

When they moved in and sup-planted, their business model

& Threw down the throttle on producin gangsta bauble

to make a Modern-Day-Minstrel, Black Face, metropolis

but a Dangerous Black, outta control, was all you got from this

While the War on Drugs, was being waged, out on our Streets

The Reagans and the Clintons, were pulling back their sheets

Stereotypes, that fed the hype, of the white supremist blight

and the P.I.C. was being formed right in plain sight,

With these images that the corporations spun about us

The public in Amerika, had no doubt, about us

Thank god the Underground rose to challenge all this B.S.

Where people like Mos Def and Immortal Technique flourished

 

My roots are reaching Black

to Tupac and Biggie Smalls, to Jay z and Goodie Mob

To Lauren Hill and them all

My roots are reaching Black

To Assata, MLK, Malcom x, and James Brown

that’s the tip that I’m on

My roots are reaching Black

to the pride of a nation, and the fight for Liberation

Cuz our history’s bomb

My roots are reaching Black

Through the Hip Hop in my blood, and the music in my soul

Yo! The revolution’s on!

 

The sound of resistance, the people and the message

Answering the questions, most pressing to the masses

Ripping through the truth, conflicting our community

Familiar and sad, like, this is nothing new to me

Jobs are always fleeting degrading our sense of worth

Our schools so deplorable it’s education that hurts

Drugs on the streets, but don’t own a poppy field

The youth are packing heat for safety, can we be real

Red Lining, White Flight, Welfare, Ghettos

Out-sourcing, Globalization, yup and there goes

The neighborhood, with the manufacturing work

To other countries, into prisons, where they’re getting paid dirt

150 years from slavery, but ain’t much changed

Time to claim the economic means and shatter these chains

Hip Hop, the voice of the oppressed and the poor

So, I’m wit LL Cool J, “It’s time for war!”

 

My roots are reaching Black

to Tupac and Biggie Smalls, to Jay z and Goodie Mob

To Lauren Hill and them all

My roots are reaching Black

To Assata, MLK, Malcom x, and James Brown

that’s the tip that I’m on

My roots are reaching Black

to the pride of a nation, and the fight for Liberation

Cuz our history’s bomb

My roots are reaching Black

Through the Hip Hop in my blood, and the music in my soul

Yo! The revolution’s on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roots are Reaching Black

Had to make it PHAT, had to take it back

Had to rep for a culture that the roots are reaching Black

Beautiful, Powerful, Indisputably Immutable

The history a crucible, the music is a tool to use

Cathartic when it needs to be, hard to beat society

At times, the rhymes, plant the seeds we need to breathe

Through police brutality, fatalities, impunity

the root of e-vil, our people see the enemy

An internal colony, Fanon saw the tragedy

Overseer to officer, KRS, a prodigy

His progeny, are challenging, violence’s monopoly

By the state, the fate of which, attempt to claim us property

Hip Hop is the voice/ and the weapon of choice!

Since Grand Master Flash and DMC were making noise

Cuz with the “Message,” hood pov-erty, was being challenged

& “Fuck the Police,” expounded on that knowledge

 

My roots are reaching Black

to Tupac and Biggie Smalls, to Jay z and Goodie Mob

To Lauren Hill and them all

My roots are reaching Black

To Assata, MLK, Malcom x, and James Brown

that’s the tip that I’m on

My roots are reaching Black

to the pride of a nation, and the fight for Liberation

Cuz our history’s bomb

My roots are reaching Black

Through the Hip Hop in my blood, and the music in my soul

Yo! The revolution’s on!

 

 

Not to say it’s not a party music, wouldn’t be true

It’s the part of the genre, we be celebrating to

Get ya club on, ya dance on, or smoke a blunt to

Or, however you hang, when you’re chillin wit your crew

Don’t be fooled, “Walk Ruff and Stuff with yo Afro Puffs”

Was Black Power, to the core, filled with Black Love

challenging pat-riarchy, white standards of beauty

And Internalized Oppression with con-tinuity

Queen Latifa, a master emcee

Blessed us with her presence in the 1980s scene

& Helped to make the music what it is to you and me

So Lauren Hill could call out “Politrixions” with the Fugees

While Bill Clinton, prison warden, playin the sax

Signed into law, the 1994, Crime Act

No more education in the prison labor system

& 3 Strikes was made law by those Politrixions

 

My roots are reaching Black

to Tupac and Biggie Smalls, to Jay z and Goodie Mob

To Lauren Hill and them all

My roots are reaching Black

To Assata, MLK, Malcom x, and James Brown

that’s the tip that I’m on

My roots are reaching Black

to the pride of a nation, and the fight for Liberation

Cuz our history’s bomb

My roots are reaching Black

Through the Hip Hop in my blood, and the music in my soul

Yo! The revolution’s on!

 

 

What is problematic, was the corporate takeover

of a cultural art form, meant to restore the

pride of our people, integrity the needle

The One’s and Two’s, the Wheels of Steel, spinnin through to freedom

When they moved in and sup-planted, their business model

& Threw down the throttle on producin gangsta bauble

to make a Modern-Day-Minstrel, Black Face, metropolis

but a Dangerous Black, outta control, was all you got from this

While the War on Drugs, was being waged, out on our Streets

The Reagans and the Clintons, were pulling back their sheets

Stereotypes, that fed the hype, of the white supremist blight

and the P.I.C. was being formed right in plain sight,

With these images that the corporations spun about us

The public in Amerika, had no doubt, about us

Thank god the Underground rose to challenge all this B.S.

Where people like Mos Def and Immortal Technique flourished

 

My roots are reaching Black

to Tupac and Biggie Smalls, to Jay z and Goodie Mob

To Lauren Hill and them all

My roots are reaching Black

To Assata, MLK, Malcom x, and James Brown

that’s the tip that I’m on

My roots are reaching Black

to the pride of a nation, and the fight for Liberation

Cuz our history’s bomb

My roots are reaching Black

Through the Hip Hop in my blood, and the music in my soul

Yo! The revolution’s on!

 

The sound of resistance, the people and the message

Answering the questions, most pressing to the masses

Ripping through the truth, conflicting our community

Familiar and sad, like, this is nothing new to me

Jobs are always fleeting degrading our sense of worth

Our schools so deplorable it’s education that hurts

Drugs on the streets, but don’t own a poppy field

The youth are packing heat for safety, can we be real

Red Lining, White Flight, Welfare, Ghettos

Out-sourcing, Globalization, yup and there goes

The neighborhood, with the manufacturing work

To other countries, into prisons, where they’re getting paid dirt

150 years from slavery, but ain’t much changed

Time to claim the economic means and shatter these chains

Hip Hop, the voice of the oppressed and the poor

So, I’m wit LL Cool J, “It’s time for war!”

 

My roots are reaching Black

to Tupac and Biggie Smalls, to Jay z and Goodie Mob

To Lauren Hill and them all

My roots are reaching Black

To Assata, MLK, Malcom x, and James Brown

that’s the tip that I’m on

My roots are reaching Black

to the pride of a nation, and the fight for Liberation

Cuz our history’s bomb

My roots are reaching Black

Through the Hip Hop in my blood, and the music in my soul

Yo! The revolution’s on!

A Prisoner on the Streets of America

I am a true renaissance man and I have experienced so many forms of life and held so many positions or roles that it is difficult to narrow my thinking down to one foundational experience that has shaped and influenced my life. I died in a car accident when I was seven years old and the outcomes of being brought back to life and my faculties resulted in every person who was close to me expressing that I had a great role to fulfill on Earth.

I grew up in rough, alcoholic, and often violent home when I was younger and this heavily shaped my perception of poverty, addiction, relationships and vulnerability. My parents split when my mother had to flee from my father after he threatened to kill all of us before killing himself. That morning was the last time I ever saw my father and that definitely had a major influence on my life. The only place my family could flee to were areas in Oregon where my brother and I were the only black students in the schools. This was at a time that Oregon still had a prohibition in its State Constitution stating that Oregon was to be a white utopia and that black people were not permitted to settle within the limits of the state. Those experiences definitely shaped my perception of the world and my life. When we finally escaped the racist treatment of the people in Oregon, we moved to the Central District in Seattle where my brother and I, being tri-racial and coming directly from an all-white area lacked much of the social capital needed to be accepted by the black community in Seattle and found ourselves ostracized as outsiders. Those experiences also shaped my perception and influenced my life.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself indoctrinated into gang-life, criminal activity, and drugs. As a result of my behaviors, I spent a lot of time incarcerated and even went to juvenile prison for an extended period of time. It was there that I began to write poetry, which later in my life would lead me to being a spoken word and hip hop artist and being named Renaissance the Poet. After I was released from their prison, I was not able to shake the gang or the drugs, but the poetry stuck with me. On my eighteenth birthday I was given a drug called ecstasy, and under its influence was when I had my first experience with god. That experience caused me to leave the gang and the drugs alone and before I knew it, I had walked across the country from Washington to Massachusetts where I joined and became a priest in a cult.

I stayed with them for the better part of a year before I was able to escape from the mental imprisonment and the only method I knew to shut out the demons swirling in my head was to use drugs and alcohol to silence them. However, when I found myself back in Seattle I was ensnared by the chains of addiction once again and when the excitement of my return wore off, all of my family and friend severed their ties with me. I was left homeless, without prospects, and alone. Worst of all, the drugs were no longer working to silence the demons swirling in my head and a deep depression set in. After giving up everything I thought I was supposed to give up for god I felt truly alone because to me at the time that not even god could save me from myself.

Without anything else holding me to the planet or the people on it, I decided to take my own life by jumping off the Aurora Bridge. However, while I was walking to the bridge from Lake City, a lesson I head while I was in prison came back to me. There was an O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that came to visit us and he told us that strangely, he discovered that he felt more free when locked-up, and more of a prisoner when he was on the streets. At the time I heard him say that, I thought he was out of his mind, but as I became a victim of the streets and was on my way to end my life I finally understood what he meant so many years earlier. Aside from having my liberty taken from me, the single other largest factor to the peace I felt while I was in prison was that I was not using drugs. So, while I was on my way to the bridge I decided to call the emergency services and with the direction they gave me while they treated me overnight in a few short weeks I was able to find my way into a chemical abuse treatment facility, which changed my life forever. I have been sober ever since and I have never felt as hopeless as I did that night I walked to the bridge to end my suffering.

Getting sober did not solve all the problems I had in my life, but it did provide me with the tools to access a level of peace necessary to confront those problems. I had four felonies and several misdemeanors on my criminal record. Furthermore, I had failed high school and at the current standing when I left, I was a 0.0 GPA student. I had no place to call home, no friends, and my family wanted nothing to do with me. I was able to gain access to a half-way house for people in transition from institutions and shortly after I began living there I woke up to the news of 9/11. I did not know it when I moved in, but the house was run by a Mormon church, and while there is nothing wrong with helping the community, I had a hard time coping because of my experience with the cult I was in; there were too many similarities. Then given the factors of my history that were barring me from both employment and education, I decided to go to a Job Corps facility.

If there was any experience in my life that I believe really set the stage for the man I was to become, then it was my experience at Tongue Point Job Corps Center in Astoria Oregon because it was there that I learned that I as an individual could have a positive impact in the lives of the people around me. Job Corps used to provide a bi-weekly allowance for the students that lived on campus, but that stipend was very limited. However, students could get a job to subsidize the funds they were lacking and I was encouraged to become part of the student government. I did and within a few months I had worked my way up the being the student body president of the facility. Aside from providing for the extracurricular activities for my fellow students we also challenged microagressions and negative stereotypes, although, at the time I did not know that is what we were doing. We challenged the center’s policy on sagging pants and how it related to the administration’s and staff’s perceptions of black youth who sagged their pants. I sagged my pants at the time and I was the president. More important, it was the issue that the students wanted me to bring up and fight for them.

While at the job corps facility I earned my G.E.D., my high school diploma, and printing apprentice certificate, and even started college. My goal for attending college was to go into law school, become a lawyer, then enter into politics and eventually become the president. It was a mixture between my experience at Job Corps being the president and a class I had in when Mr. Mollette my high school history teacher that told me that any American citizen could become president, one of the days that I passed through his class. I dropped out of school a few quarters after beginning and returned to Seattle thinking that I would get into college, but that was much easier said than done. My criminal record from when I was a juvenile still haunted me and I was barred from employment in most establishments.

I gave up on the idea of ever being able to afford college and found myself working in a used retail store for about a year when I began my journey into construction work. A man I met started hiring me on weekends to do odds and ends for him and paid me well. Then he brought me on as his first full time employee and decided that I would become his apprentice and eventually buy him out and take over the company. Within a few years I had become a professional heavy equipment operator, pipe-layer, estimator, and project manage and then I became a partner in the developing construction company negotiating contracts with Mid Mountain Contractors, Turner Construction, King County, and the City of Seattle.

During this time with the construction company I also started, hosted and ran the Cornerstone Open Mic & Artist Showcase, a hip hop and spoken word open mic that happen monthly at the Fair Gallery and Café on Capital Hill in Seattle, with my best friend and adopted brother Marcus Hoy. Mark Hoy and Sean Stuart are the people who named me Renaissance the Poet, because of the rollercoaster life I had lived prior to meeting them and the skill I had with poetry. The Cornerstone, as it became known, was a hub for revolutionary minded poets and artists from around the Puget Sound area where we discussed and challenged some of the most disparaging issues confronting our generation, such as, patriarchy, sexism, racism, and state control of citizens. Some of us may have been revolutionaries and activists at the time, but for the most part we were simply artists learning how to exercise our minds and our voices while we were learning how to exist and survive in the world we were all born into. In the more than five years that we hosted the Cornerstone, there was not one fight, and this was nearly unheard of for any hip hop venue anywhere at the time. Many relationships were forged there and the underground cultural element of resistance and justice was kept alive and fostered.

In 2010, our company won the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business “Minority Business of the Year” award. However, I always felt that I had missed my true calling to fulfill a great role on earth and thought that becoming a lawyer was the method I was supposed to take to achieve that role. In 2008, the economy spun on its head and we went into a dire recession that put a lot of pressure on our company. In 2011, a couple years after I had destroyed my knee mentoring some youth with the organization called TSB, the Service Board, battling to keep our business afloat and continuing to damage my knee, I realized that construction was never a trade I wanted to be in and decided to do whatever it took to go to college. So, I left R.J. Richards CE LLC and enrolled in North Seattle Community College (NSCC).

Somehow and somewhere along the line I had gotten this plan for my life and what I was supposed to do with it embedded into my head. I am going to write a new socioeconomic system for the entire planet that is environmentally sound, socially just, and equitable for all; and I am going to see it implemented before the day I die. I began studying history, philosophy, economics, sociology, psychology, biology and mathematics and my understanding of the world exploded my perceptions of humanity and the insurmountable character of my goal. That is when I became involved with another student government and I was brought in as the Student Fee Board Coordinator, which was the treasurer for the college. To do that job I had to study the Washington State laws associated with public monies and student fees, and to study ethics because I had to select and train a board and we were going to have to make tough ethical decision. Before that I knew being part of the government enabled me to have a lot positive influence in the lives of marginalized people from my experience at Job Corps. However, I never fully grasped how much power the United States Congress has on the lives of every citizen in the United States until I was given a smaller, yet similar role. People can design all the best programs in the world, but if they do not have the funds to get them started and to maintain them, then they may often never be able to achieve the goals of their programs.

At this time OCCUPY was challenging the corporate structure and control of people’s lives worldwide after the economic collapse in 2008. Like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about the white clergy who questioned the movement while he was in the Birmingham jail during Project Confrontation, I agreed with their aims, but I disagreed with their methods. I disagreed with the mostly because I did not comprehend how they could be successful. It was a leaderless movement with demands that ran the spectrum. At the time it seemed to me that the movement lacked the necessary cohesion to achieve its aims. It was not that I disagreed with any of the demands. To the contrary, I believed that all of the things people were asking for should be achieved. My issue at the time was that I thought they could achieve more of their demands if they focused on them one or few at a time. I did not get involved with the movement because I did not understand it.

In 2013 I graduated from NSCC and had been accepted to the University of Washington (UW). When I first started at NSCC I thought that I would enter into the Law, Societies, and Justice program at UW, but by the time I entered the university I had settled on double-majoring in history and philosophy. I was still intent on progressing onto law school. I thought getting a good background in reading and research, with training in analysis, which the discipline of history would provide me with would be helpful in this regard. I thought having a strong understanding of morality and ethics, and the philosophical frameworks they are grounded in, plus developing my argumentative skills, which the discipline of philosophy would provide would further prepare me for law school and the work ahead of me. My ethical training began with a look at global justice, which confronted issues such as poverty, hunger, gendered vulnerability, social contracts, state legitimacy, climate change, immigration and feudal privilege, and many forms of oppression. It was these arguments about justice, which is to provide for that which promotes most the flourishing of all human beings, not the interpretation of it as punishment common in the United States that exposed me to the concepts of obligation and responsibility. History provided me with a lens into why these conditions exist and what factors led them to come into being. The courses at UW changed the way I envision my role in the world and I began to feel an immediate responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to benefit people.

During the summer of 2013, Sarra Tekola, my partner in life, brought me to my very first protest. We traveled down to the Columbia River on the border of Washington and Oregon States to participate in the Portland Rising Tide opposition to the coal and oil that were being shipped from the west coast to China. At the time, Sarra was an Environmental Science major at UW and part of the Divest University of Washington coalition and she schooled me on how important the issue of climate change was to our survival as a species. She also hipped me to the fact that people of color worldwide are the not only the first impacted by the effects of climate change, but are also the most impacted by it as well. She informed me that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of the best and brightest scientists on the planet determined that if we as a civilization burn enough carbon to increase the temperature of the planet by two degrees Celsius cumulatively, we will enter into a negative feedback loop of destruction that we will not be able to recover from. Desertification will destroy once plush and arid farm lands, like what had happened to her father’s people in Ethiopia. Melting polar ice caps will submerge places like the Philippines displacing millions, many of whom will die in the process. So, it was important to protest the extraction and transportation of carbon producing materials for everyone on the planet, but especially for people of color because people of color have nest to no power in the decision making circles like the U.S. Congress and the United Nations. It was scary and every moment I thought I was going to be arrested. Canoes spread across the river to block any ships and people spanned the bridge above holding signs, while a group rappelled off the bridge to display a huge banner. We did not stop the extraction or transportation of fossil fuel materials that day, but it felt good making a stand with like-minded people for the sake of justice.

The summer of 2014 I went to Greece with the Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS) of UW to conduct research on immigration. I thought my time in Greece would help me to work on the issues surrounding immigration in the United States. Greece had been suffering from a major recession for several years and was also experiencing a major influx of people from the Middle East and the African continent. Most of the migrants were fleeing from deplorable situations and most did not intend for Greece to be their final destination, many wanted to continue onto other European Union (EU) nations. Greece was the entry point by both water and land into the EU for many migrants. However, the EU had tightened its policy on migrants and because of the Dublin II Regulation, the EU was returning any migrant discovered in any country to the country they entered into the EU at to process their applications of asylum. In addition to the recession, and the lack of financial assistance from the EU for both the residents of the country and the new influx of immigrants, there was also a nationalist and xenophobic organization oppressing the immigrants named Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn was a two-winged organization like the Dixiecrats of the South because they had nineteen percent of the parliamentary seats in Greece, in coordination with an organization like the Ku Klux Klan because they had a grassroots physically repressive regime harming immigrants. Immigration could be studied in any country in the world, but the particular set of conditions in Greece enabled us to observe the systematic denial of almost every singly right it is commonly agreed that people inherently possess simply for the sake of being human.

My second night in Greece at the American College of Greece dorm that UW has a satellite facility, I was taking a smoke break in the smoking section when for officers on two motor cycles turned the corner and immediately jumped off their bikes and pointed assault rifles at me simply because I am a black man. This may seem like a strange assertion until you have been to Athens, Greece and become acquainted with the reality that millions of people smoke and because of the smoldering heat that many people are out on the streets at night. There was nothing about me or what I was doing that was out of place except for the color of my skin. Luckily, I had my passport on me at that particular moment and I was saved from being hauled off into one of their immigration prisons. Their whole attitude toward me shifted as soon as they discovered I was an American, but until that moment I felt as though they regarded me as less than the mud on their boots would have shot me just to get a laugh. It was not until I hung out with an enterprising group of migrants from all over Africa in Monostraki Square—an electric flee market—and spending time with a parliamentary member that I learned Greece was a police state, and that the police had the authority to act independently of the government. I heard stories of how the police would select a street that migrants were known to frequent, then would block the exits, beat all the people of color and then imprison them. I spent most of my time in Greece terrified for my life from both the police and Golden Dawn because I did not have the social networks or rights that I had back in the United States. However, two nights before we left Greece I received word about the execution of Michal Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by officer Daren Wilson and I knew there was no escape from state sanctioned or permitted violence.

The O.G. Vice Lord’s words came back to me and kept playing over and over in my head about how we are prisoners on the streets. Being a black man in America I exist as W.E.B. Du Bois mentions, with a “double-consciousness,” constantly viewing myself from two lenses; I experience myself as a man, and I am also always conscious of my status as a “black” man as viewed by white Americans. People of color in the United States suffer from dire economic sanctions which impose poverty upon us with a capitalistic system and an ideological framework of individualism. The system of oppression is held in place through red lining, the regressive tax system, voter disenfranchisement, poor education, and limited access to capital. Until I began researching the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP), I did not understand why many of the people I grew up with ended up in prison or dead, or locked in the revolving trap of poverty. I did not understand or even know about the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) or how it was linked to the Military Industrial Complex (MIC).  I had learned, like most people are taught that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ended slavery. However, what they do not teach is that slavery was abolished “except” in the case that a person is convicted of a crime. From that debt peonage and convict leasing emerged and over time prison slavery became a huge industry in the United States to the point that now America which has five percent of the world’s population also warehouses twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. The largest consumer of prison labor in the United States is the U.S. Department of Defense, a.k.a., the MIC.  But prisoners also fabricate furniture and produce paint and clothing for many companies. Prison labor subsidizes many industries that otherwise would be too expensive to conduct in the United States, industries that create products other countries would have a comparative advantage producing. Prisons are an oasis for profit that is garnered from the exploitation of millions and that also disproportionately disparages communities of color.

Applying the aforementioned information about the PIC to the statistics about the rates of suspension, expulsion, and incarceration of the youth of color in the U.S. the School-to-Prison Pipeline began to make a lot more sense. Black children and children of people of color are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school. From the ninth grade on, one suspension or expulsion makes them fifty percent more likely to be incarcerated. After these children are incarcerated they become seventy-five percent more likely to enter the adult penitentiary system with prison slave labor, and over eighty-five percent likely to remain trapped in recidivism for the rest of their lives, in addition to their being disenfranchised from their first incarceration in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of all these factors is a phenomenon known as Institutional Racism/Discrimination that permeates America’s society and institutions. The police and prosecuting attorneys have been granted arbitrary discretionary power and legal protections to act with impunity in its dealing with citizens. So, in toto, the U.S. Department of Justice with all its subsidiary prisons and law enforcement agencies when stripped of its colorful and well-sounding appeals to justice and order dissolves to a system of oppression, suppression, and exploitation.  With this understanding of the ‘criminal justice’ system in the United States, the fact that most of the people I grew up with wound up in the negative feedback loop of poverty and exploitation, or how and why Michael Brown’s executioner was able to commit the atrocity with impunity were no longer mysterious to me. We, being people of color, whom at any time can have our very lives stripped from us because the laws of this country deny that we have a right to life, are prisoners on the streets of America.

Therefore, when I returned from Greece and Black Lives Matter, which was started by Alicia Garza after the assassination of Trevon Martin in 2012, decided to organize and protest the abuses of law enforcement and for justice in the Michael Brown execution, given my sense of responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to the benefit people of my community, I joined the movement for Black Liberation. My participation in the movement has taken many forms over the last year reaching from protests, to arrests, to testifying at Seattle City Hall and King County Metropolitan Council chambers, to giving a speech to Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee. All the while I was still a student at UW continuing to learn about the system we live in and the factors that helped to created it. My academic pursuits definitely suffered when I became involved in the movement because my time became divided, but that does not mean I have not continued to be successful. I highly doubt that I will be selected as the valedictorian as I was when I graduated from NSCC, but I nonetheless, have managed to maintain a very strong GPA given all of my community activity. However, that has no longer been my primary objective. I have used my education to learn what happened during previous social movements and struggles and I now understand the importance of a leaderless movement and demands that are specific to the regions they are made. I have learned precisely what I did not understand about the OCCUPY movement. There are some similar macro-problems, such as racism and institutional discrimination that people of color suffer everywhere, but those problems are expressed differently in different places. Furthermore, there is a history of the U.S. Department of Justice, through programs like COINTELPRO under the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that systematically destroyed activists and Civil Rights organizations in the 1960s and 70s.

I have lived one incredible, rollercoaster of a life that has made me a jack of all trades, and a true renaissance man. At no time have I ever known where one event would lead me. And looking back it is very difficult to pinpoint any one specific event that shaped me into the man that I am or the man I am becoming. Taken out of context, none of the major shifts or events in my life will tell anyone very much about me, who I am, or why I do the things I do. But the words of the O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that I met while locked up have been with me since then. There is something very wrong with feeling like and being a prisoner on our own streets. A place where one might think epitomized the essence freedom. That contradiction of beliefs filled my soul with dissonance and it reverberated through all of my life-experiences until it shook loose the warrior in me. Renaissance means to revitalize, or to bring new life. The system we live in has become a runaway train that no one seems to know how to stop or get off of, and what we need is to breathe new life into our civilization. We need a new system of values and an expanded conception of “we” that signifies, represents, and displays through action that we and our planet are all connected and intersecting components of our world organism. Each and every one is vital. No one is expendable. We all have our roles to fulfill on Earth. We are all responsible.

The Struggle Within

Setting out for justice, challenged at every turn
Only been centuries, I’d hoped, that we’d learned
But we still hate each other, just, want the world to burn
like here is your mother, cremated in an urn
Created in a flash can never be replicated
but the human intellect, selective and sedated
The individual over-weighted,
slated to be evaluated,
personal gain delineated
Look at the ones who finally made it
Sellin out they people to fatten they pockets lint
think they gettin somthin, but they souls have been spent
forgotten who they are, and what the movement meant
So, it is no wonder, that we’ve barely made a dent

Liberation from these chains, those were the calls that rang
Up and Down the streets, of a country so deranged
Estranged from its people, Hatred spewing from its steeples
Addicted to the havoc, like, the poison in a needle
Fear to be without, Hunger causes doubt
Will change what we’re about, till we purge the poison out
Taught to stand alone, we have to make our own
Buildin Brick by Brick, until, we can call it home
But, these are the chains that bind us
The gears, of the machine that grinds us
denies us the vital relations
Marx called it alienation, I call it constipation
Yet, Either way, it is the clot, that clogs the heart of our nation

So we stand at odds, casting lots and throwing rocks
Killing those who stand beside us, fearing plots
Co-Intel insidious, but something much more hideous
the pity is, we are worse than cops
Because our skin grants us in
we think an ally, even friend
But programmed by the system
opponent where it ends
We think of us, we think of me
We think of all our family needs
We think of all the harm been done
We think of all the treacherous deeds
And we come again to see
that beyond all the rhetoric
Alone is how we came, and alone is how we’ll leave
Till it shatters the meridians
And fills our hearts with greed
We assassinate and take, cuz we failed to believe
In us.

“Colonizer’s Language” a Spoken Word piece by Renaissance the Poet

This spoken word piece contends with the concept of the Colonizer’s Language and how we use language to describe and identify ourselves. This piece unpacks some of the history of the term “nigger” and how it impacts us in the present.

Hustle for Life (New Hip Hop Music) by Renaissance the Poet

(Lyrics)
Streets are alive
With the hustle for life
Man on the corner
with end on his mind
Jesus Saves
What you read on the signs
But its Hard to tell
from the scope of the lies
Death in the veins
See the truth in the eyes
Pray to the what
Watch it darken the skies
Rims on the ride
That’s the rich roll on by
Girl in the stoop
Beggin somethin to buy
Nap knotted hair
Bags everywhere
Life on the block
But the People just stare
No where to go
Why would she care
Nothing to give
She Filled with despair
Doesn’t wanna to live
never been fair
Always felt odd
That much has been clear
A little outta place
In the race, and the case
Is that rats in a maze
With their hunger ablaze

Will lose ever trace
Of the face that they had
Turn on each another
Till tummies turn glad
That’s a gun in the jack
He Pullin the strap
What he learned in the rap
Is the money come fat
What it mean to be Black
Is ya packin the stacks
Hundreds and fifties
And ya fast on the mack
Wagin, War on ya own
Till the gate at ya back
St. Peter at the entrance
With his hands on the map
Finally set free
From a Life long trap
He wrapped in boxt
hat never endin nap
To die a good death
What’s better that
If not to be rich
Then not to be bitch
Cuz cowards die quick
May live a little bit
But their image is shit
Ain’t got no heart
And that is far
From being Par
With the mark of dogg
Dyin BIG, livin small

A slave to the rich
Another turn snitch
Succa packin books
Gettin mixed in the twis
tHoles in his sneaks
can’t afford no kicks
Spent on tuition
His dream is a mission
But he missin the kissin
Doin math in the kitchen
Wantin out the ghetto
Cuz this gimmick isn’t livin
Never knew his father
nother man in prison
3 strikes hit him
& Sent him down river
Like he had a decision
A choice in position
Economy dippin
& Jobs been stringent
No education
teachers went missin
Like the rent, the food,
The Electric bills and
So, he hit the streets
With dope in possession
To keep himself safe
He was packin a weapon
Then sold to the wrong
Turned out to be a cop
That’s all it took,
Like that, he was gone

So, never knew his father
& his mother never home
He know where she be
But, never think on
Ashamed,
cuz of how she meets
The needs of the weeks
Bringin in the CHEESE
How she Pays the rent
Buys what he eats
Keeps him in clothes
Puts shoes on his feet
Roof over head
All the books that he read
Every thing he is
Is owed to what she did
she, Grew up the same
But, the game ain’t fair
Not, for a woman
Hungry kids in her lair
Then be surprised
That what she’d never do alone
Changes real quick
When there’s children at home
And a man will divest
His purse of the rest
Of his cash and his checks
For a chance to invest
& molest her breast
And shatters her pride
When it comes to the sex
The apex
Of her moral conquest
And utter Distress
she resorts to drugs
To quite the stress
At first, a means
To cope with the mess
But soon, She’s lost in the hell
With the rest
Strung out
Doped out
The end never come about
Needles in the corner
Dying all she ever think about

This on his mind
Hittin books on the grind
Doing every thing he can
To make a better life
But, times have been hard
He fallin behind
He doesn’t look the same
See the end in his eyes
When his grades start slippin
& The pressure up & quickens
begins to lose hope
he can make his own footprints
Stead of follow dad’s
Right into prison
The only difference
He had a decision
Not like, the man
On, the street, with the sign
Old age, bent cage
Near blind, crook spine
Denied, confined,
despised, resigned
display signs
But what it reads
on its only line
Silent
but The loudest Scream
cut through the ages
every fiber of being
This decadent, vagrant
Fallin, caved in
Misses by the system
Even though that it made him

Hopeless, how he wrote it
Totin despair
wishin that somebody care
Enough to spare
Time enough
To see what is there
On that cardboard sign
Scribbled in felt
A life of trouble welled
Spilled and dispelled
into 4 letters spelled
The surmise of his life
And the same is true
For everyone else
& The sign read
Simply,
HELP…

The Streets are alive
With the hustle for life
It’s easy to see
But, we like to deny
This hustle ain’t shit
& these people will die
They’re not like us
All they had to do was try
It’s not my fault
This world is contrived
rich above the poor
Grindin, riskin their lives
For a piece of the pie
Bein spoon fed lies
just the way it is
Underneath these skies

But, if I care, for my own
Then I’ll, be, alright
Cognitive Dissonance
Used to defy
Just-if-ic-ation
to cope with the lie
that the response we need
doesn’t require
People to rise
Open their eyes
Seek and devise
A way to revise
How we’re livin our lives
Marginalized
here is the end
See the truth in our eyes

Help, is what you
Hear in our cries
& not because
We’ve have never tried
But rather because
We’ve been denied
Consigned, front line
War on Prime Time
We fight, by right
To have, their life
Even if you make it
A crime

This is why the streets are alive
& This right here
Is a Hustle for Life