Commentary: Send in the Clowns ... Please!

Article excerpt

African American youth, particularly black males, are targets in American society. It is almost as if they have had a bull's-eye painted on their backs at a young age, even before they are sent off to school. The circles must be iridescent and magnetic to attract those elements in society that profit from the exploitation of children. Corporate capitalists use television to target the children for their unhealthy food products which are completely unnecessary for a wholesome, nutritious diet, as well as over-priced shoes and clothing imported from countries where the hyper-exploitation of children and adults guarantees huge profits. When our children enter the overcrowded and under-funded urban public schools, they are targeted disproportionately for separate Special Education classes and programs that increase the likelihood that, even if they complete twelve years of schooling, they will lack the skills needed in an increasingly technological service economy. Many of our young people have circles added to their personal bull's-eyes by the failure of parents and guardians to nurture their spiritual and moral sensibilities through prolonged exposure to their religious and cultural heritage. And many religious institutions have failed to reach out and make this task easier. Knowing who they are and why they are here at an early age is an important way to erase those circles that may be drawn by negative influences in the school or neighborhood.

In some areas black teenagers are the targets of drug dealers and law enforcement officers, and their own personal bull's-eyes make them highly visible targets, especially if they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Creating safe and wholesome recreational spaces for our young people has not been a priority within our communities, and for that reason the children have the adults to blame for their increased vulnerability. The elders respond that the young people become targets in school because "they don't know how to act.... If these children spent more time learning and less time loud-mouthing the teachers, they would not even notice the lack of recreational facilities." But the failure to provide supervised sports, athletic, and musical programs for our children means that they spend more time in the streets where they are more likely to become entangled with (and targeted by) the prison-industrial complex. It has been demonstrated numerous times that sports and musical programs can be used to motivate children to excel academically. And yet we have allowed school officials to curtail or drop those programs most likely to spark academic success, and the resulting gap in our young people's educational experiences has been filled by peers, promoters, or profiteers.

Whereas we would want all our children schooled in the rich African American musical heritage of Spirituals, Blues, Jazz, and Be-Bop, as well as our contributions to European musical forms, on their own they are narrowly exposed to Funk, R & B, Hip Hop, and rap music. Whereas we would want all children to receive athletic training that would not only benefit them physically, but would also allow them to participate in healthy competition that would nurture their self-confidence and self-discipline, on their own they might find role models on the basketball courts who may or may not be burdened by their own personal bull's-eyes.

Since there is evidence that in too many instances the school, neighborhood, and even some families have been doing a lousy job of protecting and nurturing our children, and television and the news media have focused much attention on the negative aspects of Hip Hop, the question is: What role can Hip Hop culture play in erasing the circles around the bull's-eyes that make our children such highly vulnerable targets? …