More of the Same
Lauryn Hill and Jeru the Damaja’s historic debate is a perfect analogy for where we are now as a people
Not a day goes by without vitriolic rhetoric being spewed on Twitter or another social media application. Because of the pandemic, there’s a void in our collective psyches that’s usually filled with sports and reality television, which is instead being filled with similar replacements. Every event no matter how sparse or far-fetched it is now becomes fodder for any side to generate attention and too often we all get dragged into it. I’ll speak for myself and say I am thoroughly tired of Gender War Twitter days.
But amid all the lies, damn lies, and statistics, there are moments where I remember certain events and have to concede a point in the column of both men and women. Times when I must acknowledge the hypocrisy. The lip service love for black men that’s contradicted right after it’s offered. Statements from brothers I know that say shit like “well what did Meg expect dating who she dated”. Times like these are when I must admit that as enlightened as I like to think we are, ignorance still exists and reigns supreme.
There is a history of suppression and oppression from black men to black women and you don’t have to always look far to see it. Scrolling through my YouTube favorite video lists the other day, I stumbled across one of my favorite videos. The conversation between Lauryn Hill, Crazy Sam, and Jeru the Damaja in the early 1990s is one of those pieces I look at once a year to remind myself that despite the progress I feel we have made as a race and gender, there remains significant work to be done.
The cipher shows all the major problems that still affect us as a people in America from police brutality to a collective lack of organization, but it also reinforces the gripes black women have with us as black men from the paralysis of analysis to the outright silencing of black women when they offer their opinions. With everything we are going through, now’s the time to re-examine this video. Lauryn Hill and Jeru the Damaja Cipher.
My Execution Might Be Televised
Describing America’s history of police brutality would take more time than I have, but I’ll sum it up by saying it has been here, it is still here, and barring any major systemic change, it will be here. In the cypher, rappers, activists, and citizens alike sat down to discuss the causes and effects of seeing people brutalized by the NYPD. The conversation is interesting on several levels: First; we find that men like Jeru the Damaja and Crazy Sam are connected on a central premise: they want black people to be safe. However, they differ on how that should be accomplished.
In the eyes of Jeru, he feels as if the solution is black people recognizing the nature of the threat against them and making decisions based off that consciousness. In a lot of instances, his rhetoric mirrors that of the Nation of Islam, Five Percenters, and other sects we tend to take shots. What’s interesting is that Crazy Sam tells Jeru we agree on 90% of what was said, but that other 10% is where we differ. Contrary to popular belief, all black men don’t feel the same as the other on basic issues and even when we agree, it’s never unanimously. 10% is where mutual respect lies.
Next, we find that the people that are the most vocal about the abuse are black men who are disproportionally affected by it. In the video, we see men like Method Man and Irv Gotti solemnly taking in all the emotions and energy being given. It’s clear from the environment which is heavily male that black men feel strongly about their survival and that they knew that a solution was necessary for us to advance.
Round and Round We Go
But amid the brother’s “building with each other”, we can always find moments of destruction. Lauryn Hill’s attempts at inserting herself in the conversation perfectly reflects the suppression of thought we frequently hear black women speak of. Not one to be ignored, Lauryn continues to assert herself fighting to press Jeru and the others in the circle on a viable solution to solve the problem. The harder she fights to be included in the circle however, the more she finds her thoughts and her behavior limited and stifled. It’s hard for Lauryn to get in a word, but when she does she drops gems.
“We talk about us being kings and queens and that’s all good. We discovered math and science, but now let’s master math and science for right now so we can have economic power. We have to deal within ourselves and eliminate them from the equation.”
What Lauryn is saying in that moment is par for the course. Too often we as a people get caught in the paralysis of analysis, focusing on the topical issues rather than concentrating on applying ideals. In the end, all we have is a lot of verbal jousting and flowery language from the people we deem leaders.
The more Lauryn tries to explain herself she finds black men silencing her. When she presses them for a solution, the dynamic once again shifts to an unspoken desire for her to accept what is being said rather than challenge its lack of practicality. All too often we ask for opinions only to stifle them. We want everyone to be at the table, but not eat from the table. Worse of all there are many men who are still unable to see how their actions reinforce this.
Ultimately, though I have faith that we will confront these issues. Outlets like Twitter allow us to be exposed to varying thoughts and though it can feel as if people would rather preach to people instead of engaging with them, the flooding of opinion and thoughts help those unsure of where to start.