Usually, I let things ruminate before I post them. I sit with my opinions, maybe, I’ll read/listen to what others have to say, and then I write. But, I just listened to the new Kendrick Lamar song, “The Blacker the Berry,” and I need it to be documented on my page NOW.
You know, this blog was supposed to be about Hip Hop: A woman’s perspective on what’s going down in Hip Hop, was the original premise. But, for the past few years, Hip Hop has bored and disappointed me. It hasn’t reflected my perspective or my story, and in most cases, it has simply felt like its given up on itself. Yes, artists like Kendrick Lamar, Azalea Banks, some J Cole, and Common have piqued my interest, but I haven’t been getting what I need from Hip Hop the way I used to.
But, “The Blacker the Berry”….. (biting fist now)
Kendrick Lamar, I salute you. I mean, I’m not surprised that you would be the one to remind us what Hip Hop is supposed to be… but thank you. Thank you for releasing a song that is honest. That’s complicated. That’s ugly. That’s reflective of what’s going on now. “The Blacker the Berry,” captures so much of what I’ve been thinking as I read the news, as I see what’s going on in East Oakland. Thank you for having a message that’s layered and rooted in the hypocrisy of this country. Thank you for understanding your position as an artist, and making your airtime count. Whether people agree with you are not, they’ll listen to what you have to say, and maybe, we can begin begin to have some real dialogue.
I wrote this a few months ago, but never posted it. Since it’s Langston Hughes’ birthday, as well as the first day of Black History Month, I thought it would be fitting to post it today. As always, when referencing students, names have been changed to protect their identities. For this narrative, I decided to use the names of Kendrick Lamar and Lupe Fiasco to replace the names of my students, because at one time, they were boys too–maybe collecting their thoughts is similar ways as my scholars.
In the beginning of the year, my scholars and I read a biography about Langston Hughes. We were reading about Hughes’ early life—how he almost grew up in Mexico City, but his mother moved back to the States. How he and his mother struggled to find stable jobs, despite having college educations. And of course, we learned about Hughes’ skill for writing poems in the voices of Black people he knew from the streets of St. Louis and Harlem.
When we got to the point of the story where Hughes can’t find a job outside of being a busboy or bellhop, I paused and asked my students what was the problem, or conflict, of the story.
“There is no problem,” said Kendrick Lamar, who is one of my strongest students.
“Really? You don’t think there’s a problem?”
In addition to gathering information for their upcoming essay on Hughes, we were also working on how to write a succinct summary, by focusing on conflicts within a story. A common conflict we’ve read about is how racism has interfered with the work of leaders such as Cesar Chavez, Richard Wright, and Sonia Sotomayor. I was surprised that racism wasn’t an obvious problem to locate for Kendrick.
Using our class signal for disagreeing, other students, however, showed they had located a conflict in the story.
“Lupe Fiasco, why do you disagree?” I asked.
“There is a problem in the story. I think the problem is that Langston Hughes can’t find a job, because the white people won’t hire him for the good jobs, because he’s Black.”
Most scholars communicated they agreed with Lupe’s noticing.
“That’s not a problem,” Kendrick, who’s not really into the whole raising your hand system, shouted.
Sounds to me.
Like a prawww—lum.
“A prawww-lum?” I said. “There’s a difference? Tell me more.”
I knew what he was about to break down for us. I, like Langston Hughes, know that my people have a beautiful gift of playing with language, creating new words, as well as new ways for using words that transcend what’s been deemed “appropriate” for school. Kendrick broke down his wordplay like very simply. He said:
A problem is something simple that can be solved. But not being able to get a job, because you’re Black? Well, that’s a Prawww. Lum.
At this point, Kendrick could have dropped the MIC and spent the rest of the day enjoying recess, as far as I was concerned. Not only did he demonstrate one of Langston Hughes’ life-long projects—to honor the beauty and skill of Black people seducing the English language as we see fit—but he also summarized one of the biggest praww-lums that continues to plague communities of color.
As I prepare lessons to tackle fifth grade standards—the skills that I’m supposed to have taught my scholars by the end of the year—I wonder….
When will the beautiful ways that my students manipulate and engage with language be honored and showcased in a respectful way? When will my scholars’ sophisticated observations about the world be valued, and be a part of the ways they are formally assessed and evaluated? When will unemployment for Black men no longer be a praww-lum?
My students and I will read some of your words tomorrow. They love you and can relate to you.They memorize you without me instructing them to do so. Maybe, it’s because you affirm their voices and their beauty.
The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.
The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.
Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.
This is why I love you and your words, your legacy and your spirit.