Troy Davis & The New Jim Crow: It Could've Been Me

As I sit here stunned and a bit silenced, I’m befounded by the decision to murder a man with no physical evidence, witnesses who recant their testimony, another shooter identified, and a pile of evidence pointing to doubt in the murder of an off duty police officer, Mark MacPhail. If you are unfamiliar with what has been happening here, then simply type in Troy Davis into any search engine and read up on the facts. Kevin Powell, Lisa Guerrero have written some amazing pieces and Jasiri X has had an amazing push for the stay of execution for Troy Davis that you can read as well.
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10 Years Later: An Essay on Post 9/11 America

We now have 10 years between us and the events which re-shaped the U.S. forever. 10 years have passed and much has happened in between those years. The landscape and cultural structure of the U.S. has changed forever. Those events which scarred many Americans gave us a real life glimpse into the face of evil. Many lost loved ones, friends, family members, co-workers, and witnessed horrific sites of people jumping to their deaths and explosions in buildings where the implied reason made you conclude more deaths were occurring; contrast that with narrative of heroic acts aboard United Flight 93, people carrying the disabled down flights of stairs, brave firepersons giving their lives up for the masses, and the countless law enforcement officers who risked their lives to save people trapped below the rubble. Yes, lives and families were changed on that day 10 years ago. In a flash, it appeared that, the nation was united and coming together; but what unification was it? What were we actually coming together for? War? Peace? Revenge? Atonement?

Liz Sidoti in her captivating essay “9/11 Brought Us Together, But Was It Unity?” asks the timely question of national unity; moreover, she challenges the notion of “patriotism” in the context of violence and death. And, Sidoti places the idea of “unity” back in our faces 10 years after these events. She states, “We mourned together, raged together, resolved together. But it wasn't long before the perception of a united America gave way to the reality of division. Political polarization became the norm. And partisanship, gridlock and a loss of faith in institutions returned in force.” Are we that “together” and does patriotism always mean war and the ensuing deaths of our “enemies?” What is the “War on Terror?” And which “terror” are we actually fighting? Joseph Tuman reminds us that much of what we see communicated to us in the form of “terrorism” is socially constructed and he asserts that, “Terrorism today may seem like a relatively new phenomenon, but in truth, the practice of terrorizing for political, ideological, religious, and/ or economic purposes extends back many thousands of years and across many different cultures” (p.2 in Communicating Terror: The Rhetorical Dimensions of Terrorism. 2010.). Therefore, whose “terror” takes precedent? What does it take for the masses to take notice of “terrorism?” These are deep questions which lead to even deeper trails of thought in the realm of “terror.”

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Amy Winehouse: Toward A Theology of Suffering

Almost every great artist/ performer over the last 50 years has struggled with their demons. But their struggle has given us some of the best art, music, dance, poetry, books, and even theology. One of my favorite quotes is in the DVD extras of the film Bruce Almighty when Bruce is having a conversation with God (Morgan Freeman) and asking him why he didn’t save this young man when he was brutally picked on as a kid. God simply answers and says that if the kid had not gone through that pain and hurt, the poetry and literature he wrote about, which inspired many later in his life, would have never come to fruition.

Most of us have a theology which takes us far from pain and suffering. We have tended to label being “Blessed” with affluence and wellbeing. We tend to see those who suffer as being “lost” or even worse, in “sin.” I remember spending almost an entire semester trying to convince a young college class of mine at a private Christian university that there were actually homeless people who were Christian and had a strong relationship with God.
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Armageddon & Bull Sh*t Theologies

One week ago (Saturday May 21, 2011) we should have all been blown to cosmic dust, or raptured up into the Heavens, or put into purgatory, or…what is it about the end times that gets us all in a query of frenzy? What is it about mass death in the name of God that has a lot of religious pious individuals smiling from cheek to cheek and actually being overwhelmed with happiness? A lot of this has to do with the belief in something that is obviously bigger than us and brings us immense self-identity, self-worth, and a false sense of self-righteousness; the same concept happens with, say, health freaks, environmental zealots, and anyone who has found the “Gospel” in a “religious” type context. Sociologist J. Paul Williams depicts this religious process as 1) the secret level—which a person keeps to their self and does not discuss or divulge religiosity which transcends into 2) the private—in which the person divulges information with carefully selected people; then comes 3) the denominational—which the individual shares with many others in a large group and, lastly, 4) the societal—where the “gospel” is shared with all, typically vigorously, and with much passion (J. Paul Williams The Nature Of Religion 1962). It is at this point (The societal) which the person can become zealous and over energetic to share this new found “news” with others.
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Death & The Neo-Politics of Bad Guys in Post 9/11 America

So, what do we celebrate when a social villain is killed? I got the news on my phone while I was running around Chuck E Cheese (A local video/ mini-amusement restaurant) with my four year old: Osama Bin Laden Dead; Killed by U.S. Forces. My initial reaction was nothing. What could I feel? A man, who had allegedly done all these horrific things to our country, was now killed. What did that mean to me? Not a damn thing. During the Vietnam war era, hundreds of African Americans carried signs that stated: No Vietnamese Ever Called Me A Nigger!” I have to, in context, say the same thing in regards to Bin Laden: What did he do to me? The nine police officers that brutally murdered friends of mine during the late 80’s are still alive—and well I might add. The police officers that shot and killed a bi-polar elderly African American man because he wouldn’t come down off his roof are still alive and were never brought to trial. The people and entities who brought crack cocaine into my neighborhood and addicted millions for decades to come…are still alive. Therefore, what should I celebrate? The death of an entity? That ideology is still very much alive and well. Moreover, part of that ideology was created in the “heat of passion” when the U.S. was making love with members of guerilla Afghans who would in turn, kill the infidel Soviet Union soldiers, so that we could avoid World War III during the late 70’s and early 80’s and still flex our military muscle—using Bin Laden and his merry men as grunts.
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Continuing The Legacy of Dr. King in Post 9/11 America

These days it is difficult to fully embrace the idea that we live in a “post-racial society” when we in the Black community still see our young people shot down at the hands of police officers (click here. This young man was from one of my home towns on the Central Coast of Ca. where I did Young Life for many years). It is difficult to imagine a society where “race” and the “color” of our skin are not looked upon as the measure of a person/ people group. It is challenging to see through a lot of the subtle, overt, and venomous racism that swirls in our media, political rhetoric, and societal structures almost every day.
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Engaging the Hip Hop Culture

This is the third and final segment in my interview with Bobby Duran on The Soul of Hip Hop. Here we talk about engaging an unreached people group that is more spiritual and global than you might think.

This is the third and final segment in my interview with Bobby Duran on The Soul of Hip Hop. Here we talk about engaging an unreached people group that is more spiritual and global than you might think.

Daniel Hodge Part 3 - "Engaging the Hip Hop Culture" from ConversantLife on Vimeo.

The Network of Consumerism

On this day saturated in the praise, worship, and deification of consumerism, I thought it be good to reflect on an old film that gets at the heart of where a society is embedded. When California is at a 22% unemployment rate (that figured factored by looking at the state average of unemployed plus those whose unemployment benefits have run out, those who have worked multiple jobs who do not have unemployment insurance, those are considered “discouraged” workers, and those who are small business owners who do not “show up” on the economic map), a national average of at least 15% unemployment (same equation used above, but we’re not considering those who are also too sick and or incapable of working due to mental illness), and an economy that does not seem to be “restarting” as quick as the propagandized pundits would hope, you would think that people would think twice about buying that iPad or X-Box. Yet, people have been camping out for the last week just to get “50%” off of something that was marked up to begin with.

Moreover, much of society has become increasingly selfish and self-centered as it relates to actual sharing and the spreading of wealth. Folks see the “poor” as lazy, ineffectual and a scourge on societal resources; of course until they themselves end up there, which seems to be happening more frequently these days.

We seem to capitulate to the insanity of spending more while numbing ourselves with the material goods of our day; only to need the next hit once the “second edition” is revealed. Now, I make no bones about me being a consumer as well. However, over the last few years my family and I have had a chance to step back and look at some of our spending habits in contrast of our love for people. As I have stated prior, our society and American Dream has become less about “life” and more about the love of things and the use of people; rather than the other way around.

This clip below is from the 1976 film Network. In an almost prophetic voice, the clip illustrates where our culture has gotten in relation to consumerism, materialism, and the dis-enlightenment of the American mind. As Neal Postman has articulated eloquently we as a society have “Amused ourselves to death.”

Thus, as we sit back and reflect on food, family, and friends, let us also begin to peer deeper into the habits of our American mind in relation to community and those who “have not.”

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Kanye & That Apology

This morning I had the opportunity to have a great discussion on the radio with Sharon Kay on 88.1 FM WFSK in Memphis. The hour long radio show had us discussing many elements of Hip Hop. One of the issues that came up was that apology given earlier this week from a one Mr. Kanye West to George Bush. That was an interesting conversation and one that has had many Hip Hop heads talking all week long.

Do I agree with the apology? Well, yes and no. While I am all about looking back and reflecting on life, growth, and our own mistakes, I’m also not one to apologize for truth and the “calling it like it is” vernacular seen so well from Hip Hop culture. The apology sends a mixed message as to what was really happening at that time during those fatal days following hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Mississippi. Moreover, it diminishes the reality and legacy of classism and racism which was seen so well in 2005.

Kanye has been on a bit of a quest to find meaning. As I’ve asserted in the past, Kanye’s life is an interesting one. On the one end you have an extremely talented person who shows no signs of slowing down. However on the other you have a person who has had some major setbacks in his life and with the death of his mother, only adds to the complexity of issues; compound that with no one with the ability or the access to let Kanye know there is come “crap” in his life and you have someone who is, at points, barreling down the track of life at dangerous speeds. Hence, I respect Kanye for coming out and admitting the error of his ways.

That said, let’s take this a bit further and see the deeper issues at hand. First, Kanye’s comments were a broader statement and criticism of the attitude and ethos from the government at that time towards the people of New Orleans and Mississippi. Michael Eric Dyson states, “West was suggesting that the government had callously broken its compact with its poor black citizens and that it had forgotten them because it had not taken their plain to heart. West’s claim that ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people’ was a claim not about Bush’s personal life, but rather his professional life” (Come Hell or High Water p. 28). Therefore, we begin to see the systems, which have so often been against many ethnic minorities, come to realization right before our eyes through the advent of live video those days in September of 2005; Kanye was merely calling out the madness of discrimination.

Second, it diminishes the face of classism and racism. By apologizing, it now opens up the door for “See, I told you it was never really that way!” It clears a pathway for those who are unaware of the legacy of racism and classism to dismiss the depth of Kanye’s words and the even deeper issues of race and ethnicity in this country. The apology pushes the very complex, difficulty, yet necessary conversation regarding race in this country further away from the center of conversations. Moreover, it makes it look like Kanye was, once again, just “acting like a nut.”

Third, it makes Kanye look a bit schizophrenic. No, I do not mean the brutha is mentally ill. However, with this apology, I have heard many say that Kanye’s point just doesn’t’ hold water…I mean look what happened with him and Taylor Swift. Thus, this is just one more notch on the“You people are just making this stuff up” social belt.

Fourth and lastly, we have yet to really deal with those issues regarding race and ethnicity stemming from those weeks in September of 2005. Once again, Dyson reminds us that “Bush’s claim that race played no role in the recovery efforts betrayed a simplistic understanding of how complex a force like race operates in the culture” (p. 31). It is never easy to discuss race. And for those in dominant culture who have never really had to deal with race in the way ethnic minorities have, or continue to be frustrated because “We’re still talking about this” have never really seen the historical tradition of racism in this country. Yes, race and ethnicity are multifaceted and with the emergence of “mixed” people groups, we have an even more intricate road ahead of us. Kanye’s apology does not help the conversation regarding race and ethnicity. Moreover, it takes us back a few steps.

Take a trip down to the 9th Ward in New Orleans and you will see that not much has changed. More importantly, greed has settled in and the land is being divided up through the process of gentrification. Most of the people I have interviewed who lived through the horrific ordeal have told me that the city just “doesn’t want them back.” When you have over 200,000 people displaced, there will always be room for “change.” What change will happen still remains to be seen. But the problems of the poor still remain at large.

The last issue here is of course, class. Because there were just as many poor White’s in that mess during the flooding as there were Blacks. In fact, many of the faces you saw in the videos from New Orleans were of poor working class White’s who were just as “messed up” as the Blacks were. Kanye’s comments also included them. How you say? The niggarization process, which Cornel West has suggested is the process of marginalizing and oppressing a people group similar to the way Blacks have been in this country and at times adhering to some of the same methods of discrimination (e.g. locked out of jobs, a lack of access to education, a disparity in resources). In many ways poor White’s are in some of the same boats Blacks are; particularly because society has forgotten about them too. Kanye, though indirectly, was addressing those issues too.

So, in the end, we have some items on our cultural and social table we need to discuss. Does Kanye have that much power and say so Dan? No, of course not. What I’m merely referring to here is the social and cultural significance of both his statements and the state of our country. I’m hoping we can continue to move forward and engage in these very serious discussions. Moreover, I’m hoping that the world in the next 15 years will begin to see some of the more serious problems regarding race, class, and gender. Here’s hoping that the discussion and ensuing solutions continue!

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Daniel White Hodge, PhD, a Hip Hop scholar & cultural theorist focuses on race relations, film, cultural trends, and spirituality. His book, The Soul Of Hip Hop (IVP) deals with the theological gospel of Hip Hop culture & its people.