Mental Slaves: A Social Commentary Poem

by Mr. Westbrooks

After completing quarter three of English 2, I started teaching the same course again to a different set of students. Unfortunately, three weeks of PARCC testing threw my plans off schedule, so the students weren’t able to learn as much content/skills as the previous group of students. In lieu of the social commentary research paper, I assigned the students a project in which they would create their own social commentary literature. Being intrigued by the project-based learning opportunity I created, I decided I would do the project with them, at least partly.

Our administration’s vision was to have the students craft interdisciplinary projects that would be rich in content and aesthetically appealing to the eye. I thought U.S. History would go well with my social commentary unit. During the previous quarter, the history teacher had the kids create a PowerPoint presentation detailing a historical turning point. For my project, I had the students consider their historical turning point, and write a social commentary literary text about a current event, issue, or topic that relates to the historical turning point.

Through poems, short stories, essays, and a song students drew connections and expressed their points of view between the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Islamic State’s attack on Paris, racism during the 19th century and racism now, the Boston Tea party and the Verizon strike, the Bill of Rights and the gun control debate, and a few others. Many students struggled to find present-day connections to their historical topics and how to articulate the connections, but in the end, I received some insightful and creative texts. Below is the text that I drafted in between class periods. Look out for my students’ products in the near future.

Abstract

American chattel slavery lasted between 4-5 centuries in the United States. Thousands of people were stolen and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean in what’s known as the Middle Passage, and these Africans were used to fuel the American economy by essentially building America into what it is today. During that time of forced enslavement, African/African-Americans not only endured physical suffering, but they also underwent much psychological trauma. Since 1865, physical slavery was abolished by the federal government; however, remnants of mental slavery still exist in 2016. The following poem provides social commentary on the psychological slavery that continues to plague the descendants of enslaved Africans.

Note: The poem follows no specified rhyme scheme. It rhymes, but it’s not quite free verse. It’s…I don’t know. It’s something.

 

Mental Slaves

Courtesy of YouTube: No Joke Howard

Courtesy of YouTube: No Joke Howard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s misogyny and violence, but never doubt what rap do

That’s what I learned from Killa Cam on verse two

On the second installment of “The Professional” by DJ Clue

This is what Cam said on Fantastic Four Part two:

 

Back in the day, we was slaves

Whips and chains

It’s tradition

All I got…whips and chains

All I did…flip some caine

Now [Cam]* is sick of the range

Only a new six could fix the pain

 

Now, does his pain stem from his boredom with the range?

Or is he suffering from PTSD, no longer sane?

From a time of living righteous from which he could’ve been estranged

Yet strangely, he still saw himself as a new slave 13 years before Ye (Kanye)

 

What’s more, on the album SDE he made it plain

To paraphrase Biggie, you play ball, sell drugs, or entertain

 

Entertainer and athlete – Yeah, sure he’s gettin’ paid,

But William Rhoden showed and proved there’s a limit to his wage

Platitudes emanate from the so-called awake,

The type that convey clichés about ancestors rollin’ over in graves

 

But allow me to get to the theme of the prose,

About how our people think they’ve elevated, but haven’t yet arose

 

We’re mistaken if we believe bondage is only physical

That’s ended, but in 2016 we see the chains can be invisible

 

We’ve been fooled by the 13th amendment of 1865.

Mass incarceration and psychological chains prove slavery’s still alive

 

You got mis-education and religion mis-overstood,

Trap houses, liquor stores juxtaposed with churches in the hood

 

Across social classes, media conditions our minds.

Destructive music and reality shows keep the 3rd eyes blind

 

And when you’re blind you can’t see

Too much time in front of screens,

Which means you devote less time to read

Vocabulary devolved, less knowledge is gleaned

M.K. titled a chapter “The Most Beautiful Country”

He said with a limited word choice, you can’t be free

See, the peculiar institution was so mean,

That in 2016 they claim slave trauma is encoded in our genes

 

Solutions from the Oppressor, on which many of us are banking

Do we need psychological help to get our heads shrinking?

Our captive minds are ships with holes that keep sinking

Word to Carter G [Woodson], there’s no concern for your actions when they control your thinking

 

And to the choir members, this preaching isn’t new

You’ve got Kwabena Ashanti, Tom Burrell, Na’im Akbar, Alvin Morrow, Joy Degruy

But this verse isn’t for The Academy or debates on YouTube

I do it for the metaphorical unsaved; I do it for the youth

In particular, this was written by Mr. Westbrooks for his students in English 2

But even with knowledge and info, we become mental slaves to the truth

When we discourse about the source of the problem all day, we still lose

Because the time for us to MOVE is long overdue

Yet, we’re stuck in limbo about what we need to DO

So are the conscious folk any better than Killa Cam on verse 2?

 

~ Mental Slaves ~

 

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A Social Commentary on Social Commentary

Harrison Bergeron

by Mr. Westbrooks

In conjunction with a reading unit my students recently completed, I assigned a research paper that was based on the same theme as the texts we just finished perusing the prior week. What was theme of the unit? Social commentary. In the reading unit, we focused on how writers use various forms of literature (short stories, poems, and open letters) to make comments on the issues that are happening in society. After reading Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B,” Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron,” Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and “DudleLetter from Birmingham Jaily Randall’s “Ballad of Birmingham,” I had the students research the contemporary issues in our society, explain what they are along with the major current events surrounding them, and lastly offer their own social commentary on those issues.

One day when I took the time out of my already short lunch period to reteach how to format and craft a formal outline to two students, one of them challenged me to write a paper on the topic of social commentary. I accepted the challenge with no qualms, and what you’re about to read is the result. This piece goes out to Elvin from period 3/4, the only high school student I know that listens to Pro Era and Logic. (Rappers are social commentators too, by the way.)

Everyone has an opinion, or at least they’re capable and have the freedom of expressing his or her opinions, especially when it concerns events that occur in society. That’s something that hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. What has changed is the ways in which those opinions are expressed. In the past, individuals were limited in who they could reach, and there were limitations on who could be considered a social commentator, but with the advent of new media, anyone can reach anyone anywhere at anytime, and anyone can call him or herself a social commentator. People’s ability to create their own platforms and disseminate social commentary to the masses instantaneously can work to both the benefit and detriment of themselves and to society as a whole.

Everyone Can Have a Voice

If you consider any nation in this world, an indicator of how free its people are is the extent to which they can express themselves. It’s not the only indicator, but it’s a major one. Freedom of expression is also something that Americans take for granted since it’s readily available and accessible. Historically, such platforms like the printing press, soap boxes, pulpits, recording studios, meeting halls, and radio waves have granted individuals and groups the opportunities to express their points of view on politics, race, sex, economics, religion, identity, etc.

While some of the above mentioned platforms were limited to individuals in positions of leadership and those with money, 21st century media platforms has made the world’s audience available to the masses. In addition to the outlets that were operating in the past and are still functioning today, anyone can Facebook Debateset up a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or SnapChat account and voice his or her opinion on issues going on in society. Other Web-based platforms include sites such as WordPress (what I use), Blogspot, Blog Talk Radio, Blogger, Soundcloud, Weebly and Tumblr (“The Eleven Best Free Blog Sites”). Commentators’ choice of online platform is dependent upon their style, but the fact that basic usage of them is free for everybody, creates the prospect for anyone to give social commentary.

The downside to everyone being able to have a voice is that anyone can have a voice. While everyone is free to have an opinion, that doesn’t mean everyone should use a public platform to express it. There are too many social commentators that constantly spew out hatred, ignorance, and misinformation. While the producers of such content should be responsible for what they put out, the consumers should transform themselves into critics and analyze the information they’re taking in. While negative energy and just plain stupidity grind my gears, the widespread access to free and inexpensive media platforms used for the purpose of expressing social commentary should continue with the added caveat that public sharpen their third eyes and view the information critically.

Social Commentary Comes from Both the Producer and the Audience

In addition to everyone having the ability to establish platforms and disseminate information to the masses, contemporary social commentary allows the masses to respond to the commentators initiating exchanges and conversations between the producers and the consumers/critics. Historically, commentators responded to each other through newspaper editorials and pamphlets. In 2016, commentators and critics can respond instantaneously. If you read online articles, watch YouTube videos, or view posts on social media, you might notice that on many occasions, the comment section is more interesting than the feature piece. This also applies to the chat room format.

A variety of characters inject their thoughts into online open forums and call-in lines, and you never know what to expect. Constructive building, in which all participants engage with respect and the absence of emotionalism, sharpens everyone’s swords; however, debates can become toxic and unproductive when people begin to attack personal character rather than perspective and make comments strictly out of emotion instead of logic. Unfortunately, the elasticity of engagement between commentators is stretched wide, making the regulation of comments difficult to manage unlike that of a formal debate setting.

Despite the distractions that may arise in comment sections, chat rooms, and discussion boards, the chance for the public to directly respond to perspectives on the happenings of society is an advancement in social commentary. It’s not yet clear who’s able to define the specific criteria of social commentary, but one may argue that perspectives expressed in comment sections can be characterized as social commentary. This shows that in the 21st century, you don’t have to have a publication, radio show, organization, blog, or website to be a social commentator.

comments section

Final Thoughts

There are other points to be touched on and questions to be answered, but keeping in mind that this post was written for my students, I know that I’ve written well beyond their interest and attention span. The final analysis of social commentary in contemporary society is that people should take advantage of the platforms available to them. There are many spaces and opportunities for them to do so. For the youth, such as my students, who are now coming of age, it’s especially important for them to give their social commentary since they are our present and future. Think about how you can package your message in a way that supports your personal style and interests and a way that engages your peers, adults, and the youth coming after you. Be a responsible and productive social commentator by obtaining the knowledge, wisdom, and understanding before you release your message. In a society of ignorance inflicting the youth and the public at-large, the world needs it.

Purposeful Planning Part 1: The Undecided Student and Choosing a Career

whichway

By Nick Westbrooks

When it comes to deciding on what career path to choose, many college students knew what they wanted to do when they were in elementary school. There’s another group of students who thought they knew what they wanted to do, but either changed their minds when they got to college or at some point during their time at school. Then, there’s the sector of students who absolutely have no idea what they want to do.

They’re told to go to college, because they need an education to increase their chances of being “successful” in life, and they’re also told that it’s O.K. to not know what they want to do for a career yet. This is true to an extent, but many college students are given little guidance on how to make a decision. With the amount of time and money invested in a college education, it should be more desirable to figure this out sooner rather than later. Hopefully, these tips can function as a starting point to get the undecided individuals thinking about what they might want to do during and after college.

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‘Joyful Noise,’ ‘Dark Horse,’ and the Truth About Paganism

by Nick Westbrooks

Christian rappers Flame and Lecrae in their video for "Joyful Noise"

Christian rappers Flame and Lecrae in their video for “Joyful Noise”

Katy Perry

Pop singer Katy Perry in her music video for “Dark Horse”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a lawsuit against Katy Perry’s song and music video “Dark Horse,” Christian rappers Flame and Lecrae claim that Perry used their song “Joyful Noise” without permission and has contaminated its message with pagan imagery, but as Christians do they know where their religious doctrines and practices come from? 

Upon reading about Christian Hip-Hop artists Flame and Lecrae suing pop star Katy Perry over a song they believed Perry “partly” stole from them, I thought I would respond to the situation for different reasons and from a different perspective from what most people would expect. Besides the fact that I haven’t written anything in a long time, I found this situation as a whole and the public’s response to it to be relevant to subjects I’ve been studying independently over the past year.

I watched the videos for both songs, Flame and Lecrae’s “Joyful Noise,” released in 2008 and Perry’s “Dark Horse,” released in September 2013, almost a year ago. The public has been asking, “Why are Flame and Lecrae filing this lawsuit so late?” “Why are Christian rappers suing anyone?” and “Do the songs actually sound alike?” I won’t be answering any of the aforementioned questions, and they’re of no concern to me. You can visit the comments section of YouTube and other websites and join the conversations there.

As a person of African descent, my primary concern lies not in the claim that Perry used the song without permission, but the claims by the Christian emcees that their song “has been irreparably tarnished by its association with witchcraft, paganism, black magic and Illuminati imagery evoked by the same music in ‘Dark Horse.'” (NY Times) My other concern has to deal with why Perry deemed it acceptable to incorporate ancient Kemetic (Egyptian) culture and symbols into her music video.

To address the claims made by the rappers, I’ll consult a book that I read around this time last year, written by one of the world’s leading scholars of ancient and contemporary history. In 1970, Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan, simply and widely known as Dr. Ben, published his seminal and thought-provoking work African Origins of the Major “Western Religions.”  Dr. Ben uses the history, beliefs, and myths to argue that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam originated from ancient African spiritual systems and philosophies.

Namely, he focuses on the Voodooism of West Africa and the Mystery System and principles of the Nile Valley with African spirituality and influence reaching its zenith in Egypt. These spiritual structures among the many others were designed to “find the answer to the unknown factor responsible for life itself,” but have been relegated to paganism, voodooism, witchcraft, and black magic. As stated in the thesis of the book, Dr. Ben argues that the three major Western religions inherited many of the classical African spiritual rites and principles — from the laws, lessons and stories written in the religious texts, to the rituals performed during religious services. (For brevity, I’ll have to omit specific examples of the rituals and principles, but Dr. Ben discusses these in detail. The book is still available in print, or you can listen to Dr. Ben’s lectures on YouTube.) Ironically, many Jews, Christians, and Muslims criticize any spiritual or religious system outside of their religions as pagan. Certainly, the majority of the world is probably unaware of this research and analysis, and unfortunately most would most likely be close-minded and apprehensive towards considering and discussing Dr. Ben’s findings.

In a way, I can understand and agree with where Flame, Lecrae, and the producers included on the lawsuit are coming from. Yes, the dominant culture or the “powers that be,” which control mainstream media and supposedly the entire world have hijacked ancient Egyptian culture and have perverted it to the public as something negative and sinister. Scholars and conspiracy theorists writing and speaking on Freemasonry and the Illuminati have long postulated these views in articles, books, and videos. In this sense, the imagery in the “Dark Horse” video can be considered questionable. However, let’s be clear: Ancient Egypt in its original and purest context isn’t evil in and of itself. It’s reputation has been tainted by a certain group of people for the purpose of turning the public away from historical truths and reserving the facts of the benefit of an elite few. Don’t get me wrong, all societies, civilizations, and empires have their negative aspects, and in our teaching of history, we must tell the good, the bad and the ugly. Nevertheless, the Nile Valley’s contributions and ways of living outweigh the less desirable factors.

As a sidebar, people refer to the Illuminati as the secret society, the bloodline that allegedly controls the world, but the definition of Illuminati simply means “enlightened ones” according to Professor Griff who is accepted as an authority on this particular subject by the “conscious community.” Essentially, the ancient Egyptians who were masters of science, math, law, philosophy, architecture, astrology, etc. were the original Illuminati or Enlightened Ones, but not in the context of the “evil, devil-whorsippers” we know now. Prodigy  of Mobb Deep raps about this in the chorus of his song Skull and Bones.” 

Back to our regularly scheduled programming: If Flame and Lecrae want to go after Katy Perry for copyright infringement, then by all means go for it. If the rappers are to criticize Perry’s message and imagery in the “Dark Horse” video, they should demand that Perry leave the culture of their African ancestors alone and push Perry to stop her participation in the continued demonization of the culture. Lastly, they can tell her to end her contribution to the ongoing whitewashing of ancient Egyptian history as we see in the upcoming film The Gods of Egypt. 

Aside from entertainment news and conspiracy theories, the main point is that the moment when Christian artists or Christian anyone refers to Egyptian principles and culture as pagan is the moment when they characterize a considerable chunk of their own religion as pagan.

 

Back in February, several online outlets reported that 65,000 Muslims worldwide signed a petition against the “Dark Horse” video slamming it as “blasphemous.” The video depicted a pendant bearing the name “Allah” turning into sand. That’s another topic for another day, but I have to ask, where was the uproar from the “conscious community” about Katy Perry making a mockery of ancient Egypt and portraying herself as present-day Elizabeth Taylor?

 

Why Is Tim Wise Stamping the Anti-Racist Ghetto Passes at Teach For America

Full disclosure: I applied for Teach For America in October 2012. I went through the entire process and received my rejection email in just after the new year. Additionally, I recognize that many college graduates–Black and White–have gone through the TFA program and have become effective teachers who continued to teach beyond the two year minimum that the program requires.

Further, I’m familiar with Tim Wise’s name, but not his works. I found this article by Bruce Dixon for Black Agenda Report questioning Tim Wise’s endorsement of TFA to be damning and the accusations against TFA to have some merit based on my observations and research before, during and after the application process.

Teach For America is part of an elite bipartisan scam to privatize public education, starting, and perhaps ending with the inner city. TFA replaces qualified, experienced mostly black teachers who live in the communities they serve with mostly white temps, graduated from a 5 week course who will move on to Wall Street and other lucrative careers after only a couple seasons in the classroom.

Closing public schools and replacing experienced teachers with Ivy League missionary temps isn’t something that’s being done to wealthy white suburban public schools. It’s only the prescribed remedy for school districts full of black and brown youth, and black and brown teachers.

Read Bruce Dixon’s entire piece at Black Agenda Report.

Reflecting on Independence Day and Not Celebrating It

Writing for the Huffington Post, Pastor William H. Lamar IV contends that African-Americans shouldn’t celebrate the false sense of freedom the 4th of July emanates but rather reflect on America as what it historically was and what it currently is — a place where he is surrounded by “economic bondage, educational bondage, political bondage, health care bondage and religious bondage…”

There will be fireworks and Sousa. But I am sticking with Flav and Frederick. Why? I find little to celebrate. Douglass calls the Fourth “your holiday.” He does not own it. What happened to white Americans in 1776 was hardly felt by many black Americans in 1976. He calls the founders “your fathers.” He does not own them. And I cannot own them. They never intended for my ancestors to be anything but human cogs in the wheel of their economic prosperity. That is a fact. To forget that is to trample upon the bones of my forbears. I must reflect upon my ancestors’ elusive dream of freedom.

The government and the corporate media celebrate as patriots those who are uncritically supportive of America’s imperial exploits. That is not my heritage. I am Richard Allen’s son, the first black man to write a political pamphlet challenging America’s white supremacy. And we must keep writing. I am Ida B. Wells Barnett’s son, the powerful black woman who refused to let America lynch black bodies without sounding the alarm of outrage. And we must continue to speak up for those crushed by American violence masquerading as law and order. I am Bayard Rustin’s son, the black man who strategically organized people and resources to challenge the status quo and to demand justice from America. I am William H. Lamar III and Eartha A. Lamar’s son. I am only one generation removed from the ugliness of legal oppression in America. How can I celebrate liberty with bondage — economic bondage, educational bondage, political bondage, health care bondage, and religious bondage — all around me? On July 4, 2013, I will reflect on America as it was and as it is. And I will affirm my allegiance to my ancestors whose fight lives on in me.

Read William H. Lamar IV’s entire piece at the Huffington Post.

The Spirit of Garvey Must Live On

The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey

The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey

An editorial in The Final Call discusses the history and influence of the Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey. His example of self-determination and racial pride should be a model that we study and apply to the struggle for our liberation.

In the 20th century, the struggle for Black liberation produced many giants and many who suffered for daring to assert our humanity and our divine right to self-determination. One of the men of that era never to be forgotten is the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a great son of Jamaica and a father of modern Pan-Africanist thought.

The Garvey-led Back to Africa movement is one of the most important movements of that time and all time. It was rooted in Mr. Garvey’s wise understanding that the Black man had to have his own place among the nations of the earth and that continued attempts to join on to the White Western World and America were pure folly.

While others craved to be close to the former slave master, Mr. Garvey called for an end to hypocrisy and for the Negro to reject the status of an inferior being. He was inspired by the work of Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, but never met the great educator. He was also nurtured by earlier Pan Africanist and Black Nationalist efforts.

Read the rest at final call.com.