Saturday, January 13, 2007

M.L.K. Weekend?

It’s really startling to consider that less than forty years after his assassination and just as we are entering the second decade of the federal holiday recognizing his life and work, so many people see Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as a party weekend. I am not opposed to partying during “King Weekend,” as long as these parties have a purpose. For example if promoters for weekly parties decided to give a portion of that weekend’s proceeds to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or countless other organizations working for the public good, I would have no objections to such a party on “King Weekend.” Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. Instead, what has occurred is that many people have turned what was to be a holiday honoring the African American crusade for freedom into a niche-marketing angle. If this is already occurring within our lifetime, I am afraid to imagine what this holiday will look like when our children are in their thirties. Will they be subjected to car salespersons promoting huge price slashes because it’s “King Weekend?” Better yet, will “King Weekend” be designated as the first major shopping event of the New Year, and department stores all across the country will roll out their Kente print banners to lure people in their aisles? I can see it now, someone will coin the phrase “The Dream Shopping Weekend,” and business owners will follow suit and offer 75% discounts on all items in their stores.

All of this may be light years away, but then again….

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Uncle Bush Needs You

President George Bush’s announcement last night that he intends to send 20,000 more troops to Iraq has been forthcoming for weeks. The fact that it comes on the heels of the disclosure that over 3,000 American soldiers have already died in combat in Iraq and another 10,000 have been injured severely enough where they could no longer perform, made the President’s proposal even more alarming. Bush’s desire to rebuild Iraq is rapidly decaying into a Sisyphean tragedy. The debate over the mission that the President has sent American troops is no longer over whether it’s noble or ignoble as was during the earlier days of the war in 2003, but now strictly over whether it’s suicidal. Considering that, the falsified evidence put forth to stir this latest stage of the Iraqi War was that Saddam Hussein possessed “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMDs), it’s worth pointing out that the President’s policies have seemingly become their own WMDs. The steadily increasing casualty rate, that in addition to the American military lives lost, more than 100,000 Iraqi soldiers and civilians have died since 2003 tragically iterates this last point.

The war in Iraq bears particular significance for the various installments of hip-hop generations. While broadcasters like Bill O’Reilly and the various sports networks are quick to identify controversial figures like 50-Cent, Allen Iverson and Eminem as members of the “hip hop generation,” they never discuss the connection age-wise and in terms of musical interest between the soldiers fighting in Iraq and those striving to make their way through poverty and despair in America’s inner-cities and rural areas. While they are fighting very different types of battles, many in this generation are inspired by the same music and artists, and I do not necessarily mean rap artists. Being a member of “the hip hop generation” does not mean that one solely listens to rap music much in the same way that being an American does not mean that one is automatically Christian. Yet, pundits have no qualms about invoking God and Christ when discussing whom these soldiers are turning to for guidance, while often being paradoxically muted about the connections between soldiers and hip-hop.

To bring this meditation to a close, poor people in the United States, particularly poor Black and Latino-Americans have been lured into military service as a means of escaping poverty for the almost a century now. Since the late 1970s, military enlistment has often been presented as a way of escaping prison, the other institution that preys on young Americans. However, there has been no other period in the last thirty years where the stakes have been higher for young people in the United States. Before he can send out those 20,000 troops to Iraq, President Bush must first find them and train them. This means that those of us with younger brothers and sisters, cousins, etc. currently graduating from high school we have to be particularly diligent in educating them about the realities they are facing. They cannot use military service as a means to pay for college or economic mobility without honestly being prepared to risk their lives. Failing grades, schools and poor job prospects/economy places poor people at an extreme disadvantage and we must resolve ourselves to make sure that prison and military service in an unjust war are not the prevailing options for our brothers and sisters. We must be determined in acknowledging that President Bush may need us, but he need not kill us.

The Nightshift Chronicler