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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Learning the Vernacular

White suburban kids (and their parents) get exposed to hip/hop culture and rap music. They think they know what it is because they have some understanding of the lyrics and the meaning of the songs. So many white kids dress up, flash signs, sag their pants, wear caps backwards, and use a rhythmic speech pattern to act like they are from the hood. Well LOL x 2. Not even close.

We have 2 young men, teenagers, that go to school and stay with us. That's a euphemism for "they have moved in" because their own living arrangements are less than desirable. I like having young people around and we always have kids over on the weekends. Well, these kids live those lyrics and the culture. Some buy into it more than others, but they all have experienced something that puts them in a position to understand and empathize with the songs. They have all experienced racism. White suburban kids will not have that experience and it will forever separate them from the real hood. Likewise, I will never experience it (and don't even get me started on the so-called "reverse racism" crap). These young men have little to lose, don't see what they have to gain, fight for their space on the planet every day, and try to make sense of a world that sees the color of their skin before they see them as a person. Some do well and pull on their bootstraps, some have solid families that support and shelter them, some have dreams and ambitions to go to college or trade school and make a good living as an adult. But they have a glass box around them - not just a glass ceiling. I've seen how neighbors and friends of color are treated by the police and know of the fear they carry with them. I've seen how my guys are treated when wearing a hoodie (sweatshirt with a hood) and sagging pants and it isn't too kind. I see how white people treat them when they realize they are with me. Suddenly the fear is gone because people assume that if they are with a white person, they must be ok. Imagine this reaction, day after day, week after week, until it is ingrained so deeply that it is your reality. I don't think suburban kids are getting it, do you?

I have learned to love Kanye West, Ludacris, Akon, and Solja Boy (although the lyrics to that song are quite an affront to women, but it has a great beat and you can dance to it :). I can do some steps, tolerate up to a point the bantering use of the n-word, and have learned to manage driving while having Lil' Wayne cranked up. I know that the music and the culture is theirs because they are teenagers. It is nothing worse than the political revolution lyrics that the Beatles, Chicago, Cream, and other 1960s groups churned out. However, hip/hop and rap are expressed in a different linguistic style. But at its core, its about power, politics, and control. Racism is the extra dimension that gives it the juice.

I currently am on the Berlitz learn the lingo program. Remember the movie, Airplane!, and the part where the white woman says, excuse me stewardess - I speak jive, and proceeds to talk to 2 black dudes on the plane. Well, sometimes I feel like I am learning to take on that role. I try not to use the words unless it actually works for me. Otherwise, I'm just mimicking and that is just wrong (as in wrooooong). So learn these words from your teenagers or a Chris Rock video and have fun -
roast, snake, busie (pronounced boo-see), the juice, bro, heat, po-po, scandalous, I'm down, fer real, crispy

And next time you see a kid with a hoodie or hear a hip/hop song - think about the dimensions that they represent. It is scary - because we are scary.

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