on selling out: what has your degree done for your community lately?

last week I read imani brammer’s "open letter to bobby shmurda." my feelings and emotions were all over the place. the person who always has an opinion - and is ready to voice it - couldn’t say anything. I shared the post on social media  because it was a great read, but my heart couldn’t fully support or stand in opposition to anything she wrote.

you see, when it comes to hip hop I find myself torn. the conscious and righteous person inside of me says you shouldn’t support music that degrades women, glamorizes illegal behavior or adds no value to the plight of the black people. everyone should be about the business of lifting up the best of us, not the worst of us.

then there is the side of me that says, music is a form of expression, right? part of expressing yourself is telling your truth, explaining life in your words and experiences. we don’t ask rock artists or blues artists or authors or dancers - or even black r&b artists to limit their expression to help uplift a whole race of people. why do we ask hip hop artists to do this? why do we require them to limit their self-expression to fit into our boxes or to wear this burden of black consciousness? aren't the stories they are telling have value? don’t they have a place in this body of work that we are building?

I believed they did, but I also could see how they could perpetuate the negative stereotypes and the drunk and dependent mindset that exists in our community.

so, I stayed quiet as I tried to find my voice, my perspective.

as I read the comments that filled the space below the FB post, I started to find my voice in response to brammer’s main point, which was that shmurda was a puppet making money for “the man.” [That was a very loose paraphrase.]

thinking on that point led me to a scene from one of my favorite movies - brown sugar.

during the movie dre (taye diggs) finds out that his label is about to sign a new group that is completely commercial. he is adamantly opposed to the decision and goes to his boss to express his frustrations.  his boss blows him off and essentially tells him he has two choices - deal with the decision or find another job.  dre is at a crossroad.  he has to decide what is most important to him - his reputation as a music executive dedicated to promoting artists who produce quality music or making money.

here’s the conversation from the scene:

dre: I was thinking about yesterday when I got my hand handed to me by that MC. and I realized, I’m the cat you’re writing on when you say hip hop has lost it’s way. …. I was ready too, ready to leave millennial. [ready to] give them my high-minded speech and just bounce. then I started thinking about the money, upward mobility, suits - and I punked out.

sydney: you didn’t punk out.

dre: you gotta admit I punked out a little bit.

sydney shakes her head.

dre: not even a little bite-sized melt in your mouth not in your hand punk out?

sydney: okay. maybe a tiny bite-sized punk out.

dre: See!

sydney: dre, we all sell out a little in our careers. It’s how we survive the business.

sydney’s words are so true. we all sell out a little bit in our careers. It’s how we survive. what makes your sell out different than his?

and let me say this: i don't believe that just because one does the other has to, but i do believe there is no place for judgement - especially when you can't say you aren't doing the same. people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. we should have no judgement. we should offer other options and and begin to determine how we create a black economy.

moving on ...

recently motherjones, a nonprofit news organization that specializes in investigative, political, and social justice reporting, released a list of Fortune 500 companies that support the political resegregation of America. I am sure many of us patronize or work for these companies. are we not sell outs?

i don’t want to continue to point fingers. i want to offer solutions to moving our community forward:

  • unify.
  • develop an agenda and organize the people.
  • create options.
  • regenerate the black dollar in the black community.

ultimately we have to use our power and influence to create positive change for disadvantaged people. we all have a small flock to guide. make sure you are guiding your flock when the opportunity is there - even if it makes you (or your position) uncomfortable.

i will leave you with this question from minister louis farrakhan: “what has your degree done for your community lately?"

p.s. if you are wondering the moral of it all here it is: don't point the finger calling someone a sell out unless you can unequivocally say you aren't selling out yourself. AND if you don't have other options to offer that don't include selling out then you should - keep. those. fingers. to. yourself. basically, people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, present company included. offer solutions not criticism.

corporate social responsibility should not be a brand campaign

"over the last 20 years, #CSR has not proven all that effective & certainly not enough to make #socialchange.”  

~ @svpcharlotte Twitter account

this begs the question why? why haven’t corporate social responsibility programs been effective at answering business questions and pushing social change?

CSR's move from a function of human resources to marketing has created a trend that is not good for business and doesn’t support social change. too often companies use their CSR programs as an extension of their branding and marketing efforts. they believe that having their name and logo attached to a cause will bolster business. it may, but the success of the program won’t be easily quantifiable. they won’t be able to measure the return on investment in a way that shows the impact on business or the community because they didn’t design their CSR program to create long-term, deep impact on their bottom line or community. this is what CSR should be about, giving deep for positive business results and to push social change. to accomplish this companies should:

  • align their charitable giving with their business goals.
  • partner and collaborate with other for-profit companies and non-profit organizations to address community need.
  • develop a sustainable, long-term funding model to provide continuous support for the community.
  • be consistent to build brand loyalty.

#pr is more than publicity

if you believe what you see on television and on social media, you would believe that public relations is all about a party and securing media coverage.

news flash: there's more to #pr than partying and media coverage.

why are you getting excited about those one-time hits? that isn't sustainable.

instead of seeking your :15 seconds of fame during your album or product release or once every few blue moons in the media, opt for a strategic #pr plan that builds your brand and deepens brand loyalty.

just like true health starts with a lifestyle change, true #pr starts with organizational change that is deeper than a campaign or publicity.

think about this: what does your brand say about you when there is no campaign and when no one is watching?

twerking and philanthropy: black American culture

i have two goals for this post:

1. to show my support for the culture of twerking.

2. to show the connection between twerking, philanthrophy and black American culture - it isn't really an obvious or direct connection so pay close attention.

first, the culture of twerking.

i have not always been a fan of music that when played your body instinctively begins to shake, gyrate and move as if you have no bones, ligaments or other structures. in fact, i would leave the dance floor exclaiming this music is so ghetto. that was circa early - late 90's - and possibly into the 2000s. i was speaking then of Miami bass music, which was becoming extremely popluar among youth my age. the society that i modeled my behavior after looked down on this type of music. it actually looked down on hip hop; so, after a while, i decided that hip hop too was ghetto. i didn't listen to it. i didn't like it. i wasn't going to be a part of THAT music.

then jay-z released kingdom come and i fell in love with hip hop. this time i took it all in. i began to not only love the old school, pre-1994 hip hop, but the new stuff too. i still do today.

as i grew in listening to the music, i started to hear things that others didn't. i heard cries for help. i heard social injustices. i heard people suffering. i heard a freedom of expression, which are all the foundations of hip hop.

ALSO SEE: hip hop: there's a message in the music

i not only heard things. i also saw things. one of the main things I saw in response to much of this music - from a dance perspective - was this thing called twerking. much like my response to hip hop before, i was like ummm, this is ... maybe not good. for some reason i couldn't completely turn myself into a twerk critic like the rest of the world (thank God for the gift of no judgement). after a while i just had to admit i was fascinated with twerking. i mean how can you hate someone who can move their bodies like that? when we watch ballet, jazz, tap and hip hop dance we are awed, amazed and clapping. what is the difference between that and twerking?

ain't it too dance (hear me say this in my sojourner truth ain't i a woman voice). 

fast forward to the airing of big freedia dance and the episode where he connects it all for me (as it relates to why i - and most blacks - should value twerking). the gist of the conversation is this - twerking is part of west African culture.

stop. let that sink in, and take a pause to read this madame noire article from 2013, "in defense of twerking," as it sums up everything i currently feel on the subject - especially the part about how we have allowed our culture to be put in the box of the individualized and selfish Western culture.

as black americans we love to have this connection with Africa. we have started calling ourselves African-Americans. we are wearing our hair in its natural state. we love to wear African-inspired fashion - but those things are safe (i suppose). they are safe because they fit - somewhat - neatly into the culture box that we have been given by mainstream society. this is the box that says these are parts of your culture you can enjoy and still receive approval from us.

this is where the connection between twerking, philanthropy and black American culture come together for me - though not as neatly as the things in that culture box.

on tuesday, august 5, i had the pleasure of spending an hour or so with dr. emmett carson, founding CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. it wasn't a one-on-one meeting, but i do feel like i was the only one in the room as dr. carson shared is thoughts on "what's community got to do with it?" the answer? everything.

dr. carson passionately laid out the evidence that helped him develop his truth (and later i came to find it was mine as well) as it relates to today's state of the black community and the role of community and philanthrophy.

dr. carson says philanthrophy built our community. blacks self-funded education, civil and human rights organizations in the past. their collective pooling of money also helped blacks realize economic self-sufficiency. we - blacks - made things happen for our people. we leveraged the communal culture of our African ancestors and took care of our community because, as dr. carson so eloqently stated, "we weren't going to the ford foundation for no grants."

and then we integrated.

he suggests that integration gave us an opportunity to shed the burden of blackness and we did. the result - academic achievement gap, increased crime in our communities, an economically depressed black community where more people are losing homes and struggling to survive than in past decades and the death of HBCUs. not to mention the the suffering of people of color across the country and the destruction of the black family  (in total and separately). all these things exist while we have the most buying power in history, the most millionaires in our communities and the highest number of athletes and entertainers with foundations that are supposed to help the community (serious side eye on that last one).

ALSO SEE: 21st century black American culture: drunk and dependent

so, what do twerking and philanthropy have to do with black American culture? they are both rooted in our African ancestry and are a part of American culture by the mere fact that we have that culture, but were born American. the way that we do both are unique to us and can be said to be a part of black American culture. the dominant culture in America has tried (pretty successfuly, i might add) to tear both from us.

in the case of twerking we are told it is salacious, nasty, ghetto, unappealing - who wants to be associated with any of those things?

our history in helping our people help themselves was turned into help everyone because we are all equal. that means that our black money shouldn't just be invested in our black people. we should share it.

we've bought it all - hook, line and sinker ... and look where we are  now?

time for a change. time to embrace our culture and take back our communities.