By William P. Muhammad
Among people of color, the tragic problem of youth violence is a condition requiring serious introspection. In cities like Chicago, major news outlets report murder rates among teens as being at least one per week and in Los Angeles, violence between Latino and Black youth threatens the likelihood of Black and Brown coalition building. In order to address youth violence in our various communities, greater attention must be paid to the cause and effect nature of self-hatred, the reckless use of guns and a corporate driven popular culture that sells negative messages to young people.
As demographics continue to change into what some scholars have dubbed “the browning of America,” Blacks together with Latinos will outnumber whites in less than 50 years. While some may accept such change as nothing more than America’s natural growth and development, others are disturbed by the prospect of people of color inheriting the country.
In light of this inevitability, however, the consequences of self hatred among Black and Brown people handicap us from exercising our full birthright as American citizens. For Black people in particular, this problem is even more acute as high school dropout, unemployment and incarceration rates continue to increase. With a public education system that seems only prepared to fit Black youth into the lower echelons of an increasingly obsolete workforce, many will find few opportunities for advancement outside of illicit activity or wartime military service.
Either way, without the acquisition of an education stressing mathematics, the sciences or a useful trade, the options for young Black males in a 21st century economy will be limited at best. More often than not, those young men who have fallen through the cracks will face a deadly mix of unemployment and street life, and with the proliferation of firearms, drugs and gang warfare, the likely outcome is a harsh prison sentence or an untimely death.
If our youth receive proper guidance at an early enough age and they are taught to envision themselves as important fixtures for the future, they will see and better appreciate their educational and career path options. As the rule rather than an exception, by the middle of this century, Black America’s influence could expand to significantly affect both national and international trends. Whether social, cultural or political, positive and aware people make their mark on more than just their immediate surroundings.
Looking at the impact of music, as an example, between the 1980s and early 1990s, rap songs among young people helped to resurrect Black consciousness and awareness through pro-Black messages. Rapping on issues from social justice to Black unity and nation building, young people rhymed to groups influenced by Afrika Bambaataa, Grand Master Flash, KRS-One and Public Enemy. Partially guided by the Afrocentric movement, the Five Percenters and in some cases the Nation of Islam, messages of Black empowerment spawned similar awakenings in languages as diverse as Spanish, French, Arabic and Chinese. Having the potential to spark an international movement challenging both white supremacy and the status quo, by the early 1990s the message and character of the art form abruptly changed.
As Hip-Hop crossed-over into the “suburban market” and entered the so-called “mainstream,” corporate interests and “payday promises” changed the genre from the original orientation to one of “gangsterism” and misogyny. In many cases encouraged and promoted by white corporate executives, the commercialization of Hip-Hop derailed the messages that originally mobilized young people to the knowledge of self and Black consciousness. With the demise of the positive came the manifestation of the negative and what played out on records soon played out on the streets.
Today, within various communities of color, youth violence continues to escalate as patience within local government and law enforcement wears thin. If the right pretext for intervention occurs, it is not difficult to imagine battle hardened National Guards and increasingly militarized police departments being sent to suppress those accused of “terrorizing” their community. Deemed incorrigible and against the public good, those seen as sewing the wind will reap the whirlwind in the form of a system fighting to “restore order.”
To reverse the unfortunate and tragic losses we continue to suffer through the murder of our youth, there must be an immediate reassessment of our priorities as a people. With the inevitable demographic shift that will find Blacks and Latinos the majority by mid-century, we must be cognizant of the schemes designed to trick, distract and confuse us before it is too late. Through “racism, sexism and inordinate self-interest,” people of color have been played one against the other as class, education, or the lack thereof, have been used to divide us. As our numbers increase, so too must our wisdom. We can no longer afford business as usual and for the sake of our progeny we must unite or suffer the consequences.
Brother William P. Muhammad is an author and a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso.