I love Kendrick Lamar. Not in some sort of fanatical, I may piss myself, cry, and pass out—in that order—if I met him type of way. I love Kendrick Lamar in the way that one loves an artist who speaks to them, and for them. It’s not the kind of love that makes you feel warm and fuzzy, but the kind that makes you feel fulfilled. It’s like when someone invents something that you always thought would work. You say to yourself, and perhaps your spouse, “see, I’m not a complete and total idiot.” In what is now ancient history(2015) Mr. Lamar released To Pimp a Butterfly. A groundbreaking album in what seems to be a catalogue of groundbreaking albums. With his song "The Blacker the Berry," Kendrick—if I could be so familiar—addresses a multifaceted elephant that resides comfortably on the chest of the collective African American peoples: duality, accountability, and agency.
In New York, if you’re an African American, you’re TEN TIMES more likely to be a murder victim than someone who is white. TEN TIMES! That’s a staggeringly heartbreaking statistic. 122 African Americans were murdered in NYC compared to 11 white people. Yet, there is a palpable denial on the part of many African Americans, when it comes to this statistical fact. I get it, “Black on Black Crime,” could be the title to the over-policing, dehumanizing manifesto. But, acknowledging the existence of inequitable violence within the black versus white community, does not diminish the fact that there are legitimate socioeconomic and psychological factors that are the source the inequity. I should be able to say that we have disparate amounts of violence within our community, without it being an attack, or an Uncle Tom-ism. Violence within the African American community is a symptom, and slavery, Jim Crow, racism, discrimination, poverty, and their resultant socioeconomic impacts, are the cause. Those issues need to be addressed and remedied. Full stop.
Remedying the vast array of issues plaguing the African American community however, will take time. A long time. Not only that, it will include capitulation on the part of some of the worst offenders in the oppression parade. I think a large portion of us can agree that waiting for the person who’s kicking your ass to stop kicking your ass, is a good way to end up getting your ass kicked. A more viable strategy—at least to avoid an ass-kicking—would be to do anything else. There is an unwillingness to remain patient in the face of police reforms, yet there seems to be a willingness to wait until there is less wealth disparity, less education disparity, less employment disparity, and less incarceration disparity, to address the fact that I’m TEN TIMES more likely to be killed than my white friends.
We know that violent crime frequently remains within racial barriers, so more often than not, it’s someone who looked like me, that’s going to kill me. This is not propaganda. This is just fact. We can not control the obstacles that have been placed in front of us, nor can we prevent further obstacles from emerging. All we can do is control our response to these obstacles. How do we respond as a people to the socioeconomic truths that plague our society, whilst simultaneously trying to dismantle their existence? It cannot be to wait for the ass-kicking to stop. Nor can it be with hypocritical posturing in the face of one of the 14 police shootings of unarmed African Americans, when 2,600 of the 2,925 African Americans who were killed in this country were killed by one of their own.
What Mr. Lamar does in "The Blacker the Berry," is challenge our people to hold one other accountable. He’s entreating us to take ownership over the sins we commit, and take agency over the direction of our communities, while still advocating for the end of the sins committed against us. These two things can coexist. If you think they can’t, you’re in denial, and you’re part of the problem.