Revolution and regression
25th February 2013 · 0 Comments
By Edmund W. Lewis
I spent a lot of last week thinking about two brothers who have made a name for themselves as masters of the written word and symbolic leaders. One of them, Mumia Abu-Jamal is a U.S. political prisoner and revolutionary. The other is New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne.
While the two men have much in common, they are also worlds apart in terms of their life missions and sense of purpose.
Both men grew up poor, Mumia in Philly and Lil Wayne in the N.O. Both began pursuing their life’s work at an early age, with Mumia joining the Black Panthers at the age of 14 and Lil Wayne signing with Cash Money Records at the age of 16. Wesley Cook changed his name to Mumia Abu-Jamal as a way to connect with and honor his West African ancestors. Dwayne Carter chose Lil Wayne and Lil Weezy in part because he was one of the youngest rappers on the Cash Money record label.
Both men were fast learners and prolific writers. Mumia soaked up everything he could about journalism while still a teen and ultimately began his career as a revolutionary journalist who often reported on police brutality and the use of excessive force while many of his peers were still grappling with adolescence. Lil Wayne demonstrated a talent for rhyming and quickly rose up the ranks of talented rappers, becoming one of the city’s most heralded emcees. He has shared the mic with some of hip hop’s brightest stars including Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Both men have had skirmishes with the law. Lil Wayne has been arrested on a variety of drug and gun charges over the years… Mumia was arrested in 1981 for the murder of a white Philadelphia cop, and sentenced to die. Both men have been shot — Lil Wayne shot himself with a gun as a child and Mumia was shot during the incident involving the slain police officer. Mumia has maintained his innocent for more than three decades.
Millions of people around the world have rallied in defense of Mumia, saying that he was framed by the D.A. because of his Black Panther affiliation and probing articles.
There’s no denying Lil Wayne’s talent as evidenced by the millions of CDs he has sold and his fans around the world. Even President Barack Obama once mentioned that he has some of the rapper’s music on his iPod.
But Lil Wayne has also shown that he has some more growing to do. Last year he fumed publicly about being denied courtside tickets to an Oklahoma City Thunder playoff game and he is giving Shawty Lo a run for his money in the baby-making department. He has at least three baby mamas and is still running around like a misguided teenager with no sense of responsibility or maturity. While focused enough to launch a clothing line, Lil Wayne has also demonstrated a penchant for being a bonafide money-waster.
Recently he kicked off a war of words with the Miami Heat, cussing out LeBron James and DeWayne Wade on Twitter and bragging about sleeping with their teammate Chris Bosh’s wife. Not exactly the kind of behavior that makes you respect or trust someone but it does make for some raucous morning-drive jokes and juicy entertainment gossip.
Lil Weezy finally crossed the line recently when he disrespected the memory of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old murdered 1955 by white supremacists in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at a white woman. Lil Wayne makes a lewd reference to a sex act that will leave his partner’s private parts looking like Emmett Till’s face on a remix to the song “Karate Chop” by Future. While the song has been pulled and apologies have been issued, the damage to the family of Emmett Till has been done. Only someone with no knowledge of and respect for Black history could utter such a remark and think it was okay.
Meanwhile, Mumia Abu-Jamal continues to fight for oppressed people around the world even though he remains locked up after 30 years. He is every bit as heroic, defiant, courageous and resilient as Nelson Mandela and the late Geronimo ji jaga Pratt, two of the world’s most beloved freedom fighters. Despite being locked up, he has written extensively about the struggle for justice and equal protection under the law and continues to deliver on his legendary radio commentaries that can be heard on prisonradio.org. His books include Death Blossoms, Live From Death Row, Faith of Our Fathers and All Things Censored. A new film about Mumia, “Long Distance Revolutionary,” is currently being shown in New Orleans at Zeitgeist Theater It will be shown each night at 9:00 p.m. through Feb. 28.
At the end of the song “Jay, 50 and Weezy,” New Orleans rapper and wordsmith Dee-1 hits listeners with a chant that seems all the more appropriate after Lil Weezy’s remarks about Emmett Till and many Blacks’ halfhearted approach to standing up for justice, equal rights and democracy.
“Ancestors of ours are screaming from the grave ‘cause physically we’re free but we’re still some mental slaves,” Dee-1 says emphatically.
And now for a few questions:
• Now that the U.S. Department of Justice has openly called New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu a bold-faced liar, the Wisner Foundation has spelled out its problems with the questionable maneuverings of the Landrieu administration and the mayor is clearly reneging on his commitment to reforming the New Orleans Police Department, are you still solidly in his corner as he prepares to launch his bid for a second mayoral term?
• With Cathedral Academy and Xavier Prep set to close soon and most of the city’s public schools underfunded, overcrowded and under siege by profiteers, how are young Black people going to get an education to lift themselves and their families out of poverty?
• What if Black Catholics took a week, month or year off from supporting the Archdiocese of New Orleans through collections at Mass?
• With the ruling white minority dictating the curricula at private HBCUs like Dillard and Xavier, controlling the funds available to public HBCUs like SUNO and allowing groups to raid the funds earmarked for New Orleans Public Schools, isn’t it way past time to get serious about establishing and supporting independent Black educational institutions?
Does Sen. Mary Landrieu expect no one to hold her responsible for doing nothing to help Black New Orleans homeowners who were shortchanged by the Road Home program, saying and doing nothing about the illegal firing of thousands of New Orleans Public School teachers, administrators and employees after Hurricane Katrina and allowing Gov. Bobby Jindal and State Education Superintendent John White to get away with using public school funds for the state’s voucher program?
• Is anyone really surprised that New Orleans City Councilwoman Susan Guidry doesn’t think the violation of the two Black teenagers’ constitutional rights in the French Quarter deserve closer scrutiny?
• Has the mayor even opened his mouth or stopped doing the “wobble” long enough to even pass comment on the two Black teenagers mishandled by police in the French Quarter on Feb. 12?
• What would have happened to those two Black teenagers in the French Quarter if one of the youths’ mother had not been a member of the New Orleans Police Department?
• Does a city that refuses to expand educational and economic opportunities for people of color even though it is a majority-Black city and refuses to address systemic problems in its police department like illegal stops, excessive force and corruption even deserve another shot anytime soon at hosting another Super Bowl before it gets its act together?
This article was originally published in the February 25, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper