A few weeks ago many folks in New York City were in an uproar. First because a young man, who lives with his mom in Corona, Queens, is studying engineering at the New York City College of Technology, and has a work-study job was detained by law enforcement stemming from the purchase of a $349 Ferragamo belt at Barneys. Second because Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter refused to speak out on the issue. Jay-Z is launching a signature collection at Barneys and is receiving pressure to dissociate himself from Barneys.
For reasons I'm sure are different than Jay-Z's I chose not to make any comments until I saw how this whole thing played out. As I expected, in our world of instant gratification and information overload, this story is now buried somewhere in cyber space.
That doesn't mean the story is no longer newsworthy or there aren't some serious dynamics worthy of discussion. It only means the "wow factor" and the controversy the media was expecting to come out of it did not materialize.
Succumbing to the pressure Jay-Z finally commented on this issue:
"I move and speak based on facts and not emotion. I haven’t made any comments because I am waiting on facts and the outcome of a meeting between community leaders and Barneys. Why am I being demonized, denounced and thrown on the cover of a newspaper for not speaking immediately? The negligent, erroneous reports and attacks on my character, intentions, and the spirit of this collaboration have forced me into a statement I didn’t want to make without the full facts." --Life and Times: A Statement from Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter
Earlier this week I had a conversation with a friend, a very conservative Republican, about the Stop and Frisk ruling. His comment to me was "I can't understand how you and other liberals can applaud the ruling. Don't you realize that you have condemned the youth you supposedly support to an uncertain future? Don't you realize how many African American and Latino youth are going to be killed because this ruling handcuffs the police and does not allow them to do their job?"
I've known this person for years and would be one of the first to say that he doesn't have racist bone in his body. That being said it goes to show how misinformed many people are and how little they know about what it really means to be an African American. His comments to me sounded like something I could have heard by watching FOX News.
So now all of a sudden there's a concern about the lives of African American youth? Is that really the case? I don't need to share the statistics. It's a well known fact that Stop and Frisk did not yield the results that it's proponents touted. When looking at the broader picture Stop and Frisk did accomplish something, it instilled fear. The same fear that the overseer used to control the master's slaves. The fear of control. The fear among many youths that they better stay in line or else they'll end up becoming part of the system.
One thing I believe everyone can agree on is educating our youth should be one of our highest priorities. To that end not only is reading fundamental, it is critical for our children's success in life. Unfortunately the statistics tell a different story.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas. Assessments are conducted periodically in mathematics, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, U.S. history, and beginning in 2014, in Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL).
Based on NAEP's August 2012 report, 67% of fourth graders nationwide were reading at their grade level. Eighth graders fared better with 76% of them reading at grade level. African American and Hispanic fourth graders reading at grade level were 49% and 51% respectively, eighth graders were 59% and 64% respectively. An excerpt of the complete table is at the end of this article.
Needless to say there is a lot of work to be done, especially in the African American and Hispanic communities. These statistics cannot be viewed in a vacuum, there are a myriad of socio-economic factors that must be a part of the discussion. One thing is for certain, we cannot solely rely on our educational system to get this done. these are our children, we need to shoulder some of the responsibility.
LiteracyNation Inc. is one organization that is making a difference. Their mission is both simple and powerful.
The mission of LiteracyNation is to encourage and promote youth and adults as well as those whose native language is not English, to develop basic skills in reading, speaking, and writing English, thereby empowering them to participate in their communities.
All it takes is one person with an idea, vision, and passion to start something. After that they need our support. Let's do the responsible thing and support LiteracyNation. They can always use more books and donations. Visit their website at www.literacynation.com.
Now that I have your attention let me explain why. As an African American there is nothing that I can do to eradicate racism. Racism is a mindset, it's a cultural philosophy. Racism is owned by those who choose to be racist. I can expose them. I can embarrass them. I can even put them in the uncomfortable position of apologizing. If I'm lucky, I can even impact them financially. The one thing that I cannot do is stop a racist from being a racist. In all likelihood an exposed racist may become more racist because they were exposed.
I'm getting a little tired of the media frenzy when someone is exposed for the racial comments they make. Don't get me wrong, I do a little happy dance every time but there are so many other things affecting us that the media could be giving a little more attention. Sometime I feel as if the media is saying "we caught one, be happy, we're the good guys".
On Sunday Africanglobe published an article titled Is Wendy’s Racist? Apparently, Their Scholarships Only Go to White Students.
Wendy’s, the third largest fastfood restaurant chain in the world, is being heavily criticized for the way they administer their scholarship program.
My response to the article was:
I met a gentleman at a function I attended representing the Marketplace. I shared with him the mission of our organization and the importance of social responsibility. As our conversation progressed he said that there are things that we as African Americans need to say that are being left unsaid. I knew exactly what he meant and we continued to have a very frank and fruitful discussion.
I thought about our conversation and decided if there’s something that needs to be said I’m going to say it. After all, isn’t that the socially responsible thing to do?
We will not progress unless we are willing to accept the fact that we need to shoulder some of the responsibility for our current condition. If we want to accept the accolades for our successes and accomplishments we must also shoulder some of the responsibility for our failures and missteps.
We cannot place the entire blame for our situation on external conditions.
Don't get me wrong, there are a multitude of things affecting African Americans that we have little or no control over. African Americans cannot eradicate racism. We cannot change the cultural philosophy of those who promote exclusion versus inclusion. I am not absolving anyone of their actions. All I'm saying is we need to spend more time looking inward at our own behavior and start doing a better job of holding people accountable for their actions.
One of the controversial lines in Lil Wayne's song Karate Chop is "Beat that p---y like Emmett Till". This one line has received notoriety and forced Lil Wayne to issue an apology. He also lost a couple of advertisers. I've read the lyrics of the entire song and that is not the only line I have an issue with. In my opinion the song is extremely degrading to women. Lil Wayne's apology does not mean much to me. There's a lot of money at stake in the rap game and I believe he did what he had to do to protect his financial interests.
To add insult to injury, there are those that find nothing wrong with the song. Rapper-singer Future commented:
Ernest R. Heyward is the Founder and President of the Marketplace for Social Awareness and Social Responsibility Inc.