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