Global Activism

Hip Hop, Habeas & Building a Movement

Tuesday night I had the privilege to see Dead Prez and a host of other Hip Hop artists perform at the “Shut it Down, Stop the Torture” concert sponsored by the Hip Hop Caucus the ACLU and Amnesty International. The concert was organized to promote a national mobilization to reaffirm habeas corpus back on June 26th. The focus of this event will be stopping the terrorism the Bush regime is meting out U.S. and foreign citizens within our boarders, at Guantanamo, and throughout the world.


Tuesday was a powerful night of education, rhyme, philosophy, beats, justice, and peace – there was even a little Go-Go. I love Hip Hop, and especially Dead Prez for their poetry and lessons. What struck me the most? Intertwined with messages against torture and for the protection of civil liberties were messages from the ghetto. One song, Genocide, was not about Darfur. It was about the life of a man of color in a white world and the struggle to survive. I found myself screaming, “white people, give back the world.”


My education, both institutional and experiential, has consistently brought one reoccurring lesson to my quest for peace and justice: no one person or movement stands alone. When I think about our history, the people’s history of the United States, the one thing that still gives me chills is the collaboration between movements in the 1960’s. Then I ask myself – why don’t I see this collaboration now? Why are there so few people of color at massive demonstrations where a sea of white faces and Birkenstocks demand global justice? Why were there so few white people at the DC voting rights rally where U.S. citizens demanded the most basic of our inalienable rights? (DC is predominantly a ‘chocolate city’ – many people believe that this is a substantial reason why we have not been given the vote).


Inevitably when I think about issues around race, class, gender, and sexual preference I must first examine myself. I have never been to a community meeting in my minority white neighborhood where I am a sign of gentrification. I kept my Massachusetts residency for as long as possible to maintain my representational vote in Congress. I am a person of both privilege and oppression. I am, like all of us, some what racist, classist, sexist, and heterocentric. I try to engage these issues in my daily life, but, like all of us, find it difficult to overcome, but, so important to strive to overcome — to sing, “We shall overcome” like the great leaders of the 60’s once did.


As I read, write, and pontificate about peace and justice I see myriad problems brought to our world due to a lack of peace and justice. A Turkish woman is persecuted for covering her head with a hijab. A black man can’t get a cab because it’s assumed he doesn’t know how to tip. Refugees from the West Bank and Gaza desperate for shelter are refused because their ethnicity and religion mark them as terrorists. A Thai woman is overlooked for a promotion because her boss can’t see the authority and passion that lies outside his myopic understanding of her culture. On and on the desire to deny our personal struggles with ‘isms’ leads us further from overcoming them together.

I want to challenge you and myself to step outside of our comfort zones. To invite those who you feel would never come, and to go to them if they don’t show up to your event. To open your heart to the idea that as long as we persecute each other as individuals we will perpetuate the system that oppresses us all. Without harnessing the strength of our diversity and numbers we will never stop war. Without utilizing the ideas of all peoples we’ll never unseat the corporate machine. Without investing in the future of all our children we will never see justice in our world. Only when we do all of these things, will the demands of the peace majority be met.

By Barbra J. Bearden

7 replies »

  1. Point well taken. As strange as it may seem, I am so offended by the way most Black Americans still carry themselves in such a manner that almost forces the rest of the American population to blow the dust off of racial commentary. As one may easily guess, it’s all due to the radical change in Hip Hop music. I long for the return of conscious hip hop like it used to be; I don’t wear jewelry, I don’t degrade women and most important, I don’t go out to harm my own people. Being Black is one thing, but please stop the madness already. I want to be able to walk through my neighbourhood in peace. I should NEVER have to be afraid of my own people, EVER!

  2. I have heard lots of alligations of “torture” at Gitmo. What is going on there?

    It is my understanding that the International Committee of the Red Cross has been given access to the facility and is providing the watchdog function. Am I wrong?

    What is going on there?

  3. Vincent,
    I hope you’ll check this because I am afraid I did not articulate myself clearly. I believe it is the responsibility of those with institutionalized power (i.e. white people like myself) to take action to end oppression of ALL members of the human race. It is not the job of a person of color to remind me that I am being racist. A gay person should not have to tell me they have equal rights to persue love. It is my job to be conscious of how race plays out in our society and do my best to protect myself and my friends from abuses of our difference — becasue I am a person born into privledge I must work to give that privledge to all people. That includes understanding the intuitional racism that creates class divisions which breed violence and injustice.


  4. I strongly feel that we should all be responsible for taking action to end oppression, not just a select few who have a little bit of power or a little more money. It’s as simple as taking five seconds of time to say hello to a stranger, or helping an elderly person across the street with their packages. Whatever the action may be, it’s a start. With regard to racial issues or sexual orientation, not to sound too crass, but we all bleed red and s#!+ brown. Simply put, we are all in this struggle together. You know the old saying, united we stand, divided we fall. Your being born into privilege should not make you feel any more compelled to do your part than the homeless person hawking for change on major thoroughfares. We should all share in the responsibility. With that said, it is my hope that all people can at long last put their differences aside and work together for the common good. So many freedom fighters have shed precious blood and gave their lives for that very cause, and now we take it all for granted. My girlfriend and I will be participating in a local demonstration this week to hopefully open the eyes of the people in our neighbourhood. While the majority of the population here is clearly pro-peace and all that, there is still a need to make everyone aware that the issues that are in front of us should be handled as one. Whether Black, White, straight, gay, Dem or Rep… We should all be in this together.

  5. I could not agree more. I simply have a keen sense of my own responsibility to be proactive in bringing us together; both as a peace activist and as a person. You didn’t leave any information about the protest y’all are organizing — PLEASE, post it. Information is our ammunition.

  6. Sorry. Unfortunately it was yesterday… We weren’t organising it though, just participating. I will pass your blog url along to the organiser as I am sure that he can definitely give you more information. I’d have to get the email address from my girlfriend, but I will be sure to do that by week’s end.

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