Cole Storm, A Disruption of the American Way

Windows have been SHATTERED! Doors UNHINGED! And musical communities nationwide are decrypting the profoundly effusive lyrics of J-Cole’s fifth studio album K.O.D (2018). Cole –as he’s affectionately called by fans—is no stranger to challenging unjust forms of power. His music gravitates around markers of the united state’s modernity: police violence, anti-Blackness, anti- Islam, and terrorism. Cole’s music always interrogates THIS country’s refusal to accept differences. A nation whose skeleton grows from the consumption of cultural, religious, linguistic, and cuisine diversity; yet its stakeholders are denied life. These socio-political issues and histories unfold and converge in Cole’s 2017 No. 1 single “High fImage of J-Cole or Hours.”

It’s BRILLANCE laced with MAGIC!

Dreamville residents (those fans who inhabit Cole’s sonic sphere) mark “High for Hours” as a signifier of the personal and cultural unpacking performed in K.O.D. In “High for Hours” Cole—per usual—links the Black individual to his questioning of the united state’s rhetoric of multicultural acceptance. In 4mins and 15 sec., three lofty verses and a hook that insinuates suicidal ideation, Cole grapples with questions of self, citizenship, democracy, religion, hypocrisy and violence. Nonetheless, it is Cole’s grounding of self within the Black experience of the “Ville” that is of interest to me. Cole locates himself—his individual self— as a member of the wider Black community and he uses his insider status to abort the misconception of the united states as a multicultural nation. Cole’s use of “we” in the middle of verse one and his opening parsing of u.s hypocrisy, are germane to this OpEd. By isolating my analysis to verse one, the first nineteen lines, and out of that the first nine lines—which will be examined last— and the last four lines—which will be examined first— I will offer a robust and concentrated examination of Cole’s situating of self within a collective Black identity that assists in his repudiating of the United State’s Multicultural Ideal.

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  1. American hypocrisy, oh, let me count the ways
  2. They came here seekin’ freedom
  3. Then they end up ownin’ slaves
  4. Justified it usin’ Christianity which saves
  5. Religion don’t mean shit, there’s too much ego in the way
  6. That’s why ISIS is a crisis
  7. But in reality this country do the same shit
  8. Take a life and call it righteous
  9. Remember when Bin Laden got killed, supposedly?
  10. ————————————————————–15.
  11. For real? I thought this was “Thou shalt not kill”
  12. But police still lettin’ off on niggas in the Ville
  13. Claimin’ that he reached for a gun
  14. They really think we dumb and go a death wish

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Anthony Appiah, in hiscomment in Charles Taylor’s Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition (1994), underscores the importance of identity, authenticity, and survival in the quest for public recognition in a multicultural nation. However, Appiah critiques “the multicultural West” for their refusal to treat “certain individuals…with equal dignity” (161). And Appiah is concerned with how these “certain individuals” occupy problematically fixed identity categories. But Appiah’s conception of “each person’s individual identity” as having a “collective dimension” and a “personal dimension” demands parsing and application (151).

One factor that binds the above “dimensions” are social scripts: a way-of-being that is associated with specific identity groups. Appiah says “demanding respect for [Black people] …requires that there are some scripts that go with being [Black]” (162). Yes! there are intragroup scripts that make attempts at a uniformed Black identity, which Appiah denounces. However, Cole reveals the external readings of Blackness which too informs the Black existence. Cole would agree that “[Black] identity is centrally shaped by American society and institutions; it cannot be seen as constructed solely within [Black] communities” that is why his critique is unrelenting (155). Line 18 represents the Black script assigned by systems of law-and-order. These systems view Black people as dysfunctional and requiring correction. 19th century white planters created the Black pathology trope as a mechanism of control and a justification for enslavement. They argued that enslaved persons were unable to provide for themselves and required 24/7 monitoring. Like all unchecked behaviors, the idea of Black people as inherently pathological—or troublesome—persisted into the 20th and 21st centuries. And Cole is challenging that delusion.

The words “claimin’,” “he,” and “gun” are vital to Cole’s criticism. Claimin’, a shortened form of Claiming implies an assertion that something is true has occurred, and typically, the claimant is unyielding in their belief. However, a claim is often unprovable; it is mere speculation that has no solid foundation. Thus, Cole suggests the claim requires dubious consideration. And if hesitant consideration is required then the claim should be dismissed.  Next, Cole uses the masculine pronoun “he” which privileges Black male victimization by these unsound claims. Cole’s use of “he” here connects to his later use of “we” (19) which situates him as member of the community of Black men harassed. For Cole, cops’ CLAIMS that a Black man/boy—often interchanged in media coverage on instances of police violence— attempted to grab a “gun” is illogical. Black children in general, but Black boys in specific, are given “The Talk”  about anti-Blackness and its corresponding violence. “The Talk” seeks to keep Black boys alive. If Black boys are taught to stay alive, as suggested by “The Talk” and Cole, then why would they “reach for a gun”???Woman holding sign "too many cops too little justice" and police lined up in the back

   “THE TALK” is a provisional solution to an endemic problem.

In line19 Cole poses “They think we got a death wish,” a rhetorical question. This quote furthers his interrogation of police rationality, and the use of we “implicates” Cole as one subject of the preceding claims made against Black boys. But the paradoxical statement— “death wish”— highlights Cole’s criticism more staunchly. The idea that a Black man/boy would reach for a gun to shot a cop is flawed; it is ridiculous, or a “death wish.” Death and wish are opposing forces. The noun death is a state of being, traditionally considered as negative. Iconography surrounding death are ghosts, spirits, cemeteries, and the grime reaper, to name a few. All of these aspects hold negative connotations. Death is negative. Nonetheless, Black communities daily wrestle with the possibility of death at the heightened presence of a law-and-order society.

According to Dictionary.com, to wish, is a verb that means to “feel or express a strong desire or hope for something that is not easily attainable.” The words “hope” and “desire” and “not easily attainable” suggests a wish is idyllic. If someone makes a wish, typically, it is for something good or beneficial. These two readings of wish imply its optimism— hopefulness. Optimism challenges negativity, proving them as an unlikely pair. Thus, “death wish” is an unnatural union—IT DOESN’T WORK! No one, usually, desires death. And if a Black man/boy sought a weapon in the presence of a cop, he would be one of those anomalies desiring death. Here Cole meditates on police violence, anti-Blackness, and the state’s attempts at suppressing Black communities.

Cole’s examination of police violence is warranted. If one would to study u.s history, even modern u.s history, the tension between Black communities and the police will become salient. In 2017 the tension and terror persisted! Whereas data on police violence is often partial, beginning in 2015 the Washington Post designed a system for readily collecting and organizing such data. For statistical representation, great! But it is no absolute. There are many narratives not included. Activists often comment on the lack of coverage of police terror, and when coverage is given it is usually by the community. But the tool bares use in its illumination of a national problem. Nevertheless, Cole was first-in-line to “articulate publicly and on a mass scale many of this generation’s beliefs [concerning the police state] … unfiltered by…corporate structures” (Kitwana 202).

Cole is the NEEDED voice!

In line one Cole declares American hypocrisy, oh, let me count the ways. This statement implies the multiplicity of ways the united states is hypocritical; Cole says: “let me count the ways.” The words count and ways connote that hypocrisy is pervasive in America—it is everywhere. Count suggests that there are numerous exhibitions of an object—there isn’t just one. Counting becomes faulty if out of sequence, thus sequential order becomes imbued within “count.” Coles counting of hypocrisy is chronological. Numerical objects are also relational. The former augments the latter. Therefore, Cole suggests that each instance of hypocrisy is contingent upon the last.

A way is the method used to perform an activity. The HOW you did something. Then to pluralize way infers that numerous methods were used in the implementation, in the u.s case, of hypocrisy. Bear in mind such methods are strategic and often political. Thus, Cole positions the united states as an entity who uses/ ed various modes of hypocrisy to establish its supremacy. Together, Cole’s use of count and ways illustrates the logical and numerous ways the united states employed mechanisms to order society that effectively displayed its hypocrisy.

One mechanism used was the demarcation of freedom and the slave in American History! The Pilgrim’s fleeing of persecution, yet their later participation in enslavement are never remembered together.  Cole pronounces “They came here seekin’ freedom/Then they end up owin’ slaves” (2-3).  Cole’s juxtaposition of these two pivotal events are the epicenter of the united states’ social, political, and cultural life. Hypocrisy was at the beginning.Audre Lorde

At the Copeland Colloquium in April of 1980, Audre Lorde delivers Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference. In this essay, Lorde’s arguments originate at the need to recognize differences and to understand it as vital to the human experience. She argues: “[I]t is not…differences between us that are separating us. It is rather our refusal to recognize those differences, and to examine the distortions…from our misnaming them and their effects upon human behavior.” Lorde, and Cole, ideas converge at the point of “historical amnesia” and the “mythical norm.” As Lorde reimagines the utility of differences, Cole likewise presents the facts of the united states’ handling of difference in hope of disturbing the blissful ignorance.

Cole remarks That’s why ISIS is a crisis/ But in reality this country do the same shit/ Take a life and call it righteous (6-8).

American flag painted w/ blood

Cole compares the United States of America to a terrorist organization! A country scared bya terrorist attack that occurred more than a decade ago. Therefore, Cole’s use of “same shit” to describe the similar actions of America and ISIS makes them kindred spirits. Sameness with ISIS, a symbol for all terrorists’ organizations, is the antithesis of how the united states IMAGINES themselves. And Cole emphasizes how it is just that—imaginary. Because in “reality” the united states is more like ISIS than unlike. The word “reality” suggests the physical world, not the one bound up by speech but the everyday. Whereas differences are primal to the united states, they have been “misnamed and misused in the service of separation and confusion” (Lorde 1980). Instead, difference has become a catchy slogan: melting pot! That is rhetorical, in practice the u.s inflicts terror on those socially different. Much like ISIS

Cole illustrates how terror and hypocrisy were seeded into this country. Above Cole again illuminates america’s hypocrisy by remedying its “historical amnesia.” Cole appears tired of “working to invent the wheel every time we…go to the store for bread” (Lorde). Cole wants us to remember. Cole is teaching us to make connections and pay attention.

Bakari Kitwana (2002), in The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture, is thinking about the pedagogical structure of Hip Hop and the factors that contribute to its success. In Chapter 8, Kitwana situates define Hip Hop as the “definitive cultural movement of our generation” by situating it in the public political sphere (195). He deems Hip Hop a Black modality useful for the transmission of knowledge from the main stream to the Black communities and vice-versa. And is interested in the Hip Hop figures that assist in that movement.

Line eight displays Cole’s mastery of internal contradictions. He says: They “take a life and call it righteous” (8). The action of taking a life, euphemistic for murder, is in opposition to righteousness. Righteousness infers morally correct actions, those things that are right. Righteous actions are also in alignment with God’s way. God denounces murder. In such, the united states’ infliction of terror domestically and internationally misaligns with its righteous essentials. It is not being truthful. Cole’s reference to Bin Laden’s 2011 ambush amplifies the above contradiction. Cole recollects, “Remember when Bin Laden got killed, supposedly?” (9). Remember is an ambiguous term; it serves both as a question and a demand. This informal gesture of historicizing, connects to Kitwana’s view of “rap music as ‘the Black CNN’’ (201). It becomes a medium of transmitting national news to pockets of Black communities. Whereas listeners may be unaware of Bin Laden’s death, Cole informs audience members of the death as to manipulate the collective memory and to progress his stance. He “articulate[s] publicly and on a mass scale many of this generation’s beliefs, relatively unfiltered by the corporate structures that carried it” (Kitwana 202). Yes, Cole prompts us (fans) to remember issues of national urgency; yet, he remains invested in having the voices of the margins heard.

Cole acts as news anchor for his fans.

Hip Hop is a way of being for many urban youth communities; it is their way of staying connected to the broader world. Therefore, consideration should be given to its importance to larger socio-political happenings. My analysis reveals how Hip Hop struggles to hold the united states accountable to its founding ideals—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Whereas artists do not fail, their efforts are often stymied by those same social powers under critique. Revolution is necessary. And Lorde specifies what type of revolutionary change is needed; she says: “the true focus of revolutionary change is…that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us, and which knowns only the oppressor’s tactics, the oppressor’s relationships.” Cole is reimagining a new set of tactics. We all must if we are ever to live a life free of terror.

Works Cited:

Appiah, Anthony. “Identity, Authenticity, Survival: Multicultural Societies and Social Reproduction.” Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition , edited by Charles Taylor, Princeton, 149-163.

Kitwana, Bakari. The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture, Basic Civitas, 2002.

Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” Copeland Colloquium, April 1980, Keynote Address.

OpEd

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it possible to create a post colonial cultural identity?

Although I agree with the common phrase “knowledge is power”, it does not account for those whose only source of knowledge came from people who have power over them. Daniel Goh and Philip Holden’s introductory chapter “Postcoloniality, race and multiculturalism” in the 2009 Routledge publication, Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore which address the issues, often racial, that arise when a entire society is based on a colonized foundation. Throughout the chapter Goh and Holden break down Malaysian and Singaporean history which has lead being viewed as one of “the most successful of postcolonial states in managing ethnic differences and conflicts”(Goh and Holden 1). This belief of a successful postcolonial state covers up what Goh and Holden see as a central issue in Malaysia and Singapore, defining their identity because it is complicated by the “instatutionalized colonial racial identities”(Goh and Holden 3).

This ideal of a successful post colonial nation is also challenged by the “tendency to read

multiculturalism [is a] purely Western phenomenon”(Goh and Holden 2). The western lens challenges the value of success in a non-Western society and parallels the corruption in colonization. British colonization placed Chinese as “commercial middleman aliens, Malays and Indonesian migrants confirmed to the fields as indigenous peasant smallholders and the Indians imported as municipal and plantation labourers” (Goh and Holden 3). These placements and divisions of peoples based on race and appearace have lead to the bigger issues in Malaysia, that “the values [of Malays] is already made”(Goh and Holden 3). There is a lacking of a sense of a national collective culture in Malaysia makes it impossible for Malaysia to be a thriving multicultural society as many claim it to be. If it is difficult to perceive or have a cultural identity, like it is difficult in Malaysia, then it is impossible to claim to be a multicultural society.

Goh and Holden’s attention to the lack of cultural identity in Malaysia work in conjunction with Tatum’s statement that “the dominant group has the greatest influence in determining the structure of the society”(Tatum 3). Where Goh and Holden’s beliefs diverge from Tatum is when Tatum states that “when a subordinate demonstrates positive qualities believed to be more characteristic of dominants, the individual is defined by dominants as an anomaly”(Tatum 3). According to Goh and Holden, those who have qualities of the dominant are everywhere, they are everyone in Malaysian postcolonial society. Unlike Tatum’s beliefs, sharing beliefs with the dominent or once dominating power is common and in fact embedded in Malay contemporary life.

It is interesting to question the identity of a postcolonial country. Is it ever possible for these countries to have their own identity, can they rebuild their cultural identity from before colonization? In a place like America there is a completely different set of challenges to a multicultural society that people in Malaysia will never face and visa versa.

Works Cited

Goh, Daniel and Philip Holden. “Postcoloniality, race and multiculturalism.” Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore, Routledge, 2009, pp. 1-9.

Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”. April 1980

An Island of Stability

We have a joke in the U.S. of seeing Canadians as exceedingly polite and inherently good. In reading Erna Paris’s “Canadians Must Never Take Multiculturalism for Granted,” I found out that Americans aren’t the only one’s who see our neighbors to the north that way.

Paris’s OpEd outlines the importance of multiculturalism to the Canadian identity, especially in relation to rise of nationalism and xenophobia across the Western World. She, in Canadian politeness, quietly boasts that the country is “the world’s most successful multicultural society” as she describes the history of Trudeau’s multiculturalism initiative in the 70s and Canada’s taking in of Vietnamese refugees (Paris 1). She points out that Canadian individuals learned from the horrors of the Holocaust that they (and the U.S.) sent Jewish escapees back to in 1939. In her second to last paragraph, Paris mentions that not all has always been well, blaming the “opportunistic unleash[ing] … bigotry” by those at the top (Paris 2).

I can’t help but read this as an attempt to hide problems.

PM Pierre Trudeau in the House of Commons, Ottowa

PM Pierre Trudeau in the House of Commons, Ottawa

Actually, not even an attempt, because I do believe that Paris believes what she is writing, but I see and my brain refuses to believe it. It’s easy for me to believe that Canadians are better people than Americans because that’s our American mindset. That doesn’t mean I believe that Canada is the multicultural utopia of the West. Reading Paris’s OpEd makes me wonder what the response of Canadian minority groups was to it. I have a friend who lives in Quebec and she’s told me of the xenophobia Canada has struggled with and the disrespect and mistreatment their Native people have had to deal with. When she was in school, she was told to pick a piece written by a Quebec poet and present on it. She chose a Native poet’s piece and was told by her teacher that it wasn’t “really Quebec”.

While I don’t find it hard to believe that Canada is doing better many Western countries in this nationalistic time, I don’t believe that “doing better” means presenting a Canada that is and has been accepting and progressively multicultural for decades now. We all have our problems and we should all strive to acknowledge and remedy them.

 

Works Cited

Paris, Erna. “Canadians Must Never Take Multiculturalism for Granted”.” The Globe & Mail, 1 March 2018. PDF.

Ms. Liberties Mixed Messages

One of the earliest memories I have is of box from when my family moved in first grade. This was a tiny move, I stayed in the same neighborhood, saw the same stores change into new ones and was honestly too young to even remember my old apartment. Moving is always challenging no matter how far the distance.  I cannot begin to relate or even imagine the hardships, pain or excitement that an immigrant must feel moving across oceans, often to America. Emma Lazarus’ 19th century poem “The New Colossus” portrays the timely message of the American Dream fostered by acceptance. In the mid 1800’s America was able to provide a home for those who were escaping disastrous or bad living conditions, but sadly the feeling of homesickness, longing for a home or a culture is simply not left behind.

Lazarus’ use of a metaphor emphasizes the savior that America provides for those who must leave their home. In the last two lines of her poem she writes, “Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door” (13-14) she compares immigrants to those who have experienced a tempest. This shines a positive light on America and what it as a country can provide for people. The acceptance and wiliness to take anyone in no matter the experiences, or storm like a tempest they have previously gone through. By comparing immigrants experience to a type of storm Lazarus provides a type of relatability for Americans andAmerican immigrants, as no matter where you are in the world there are always storms.

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The relatability of a storm creates a bride between immigrants and nonimmigrants, because they cannot relate on many levels. American Immigrants and Americans are inherently different. There is an overall sense of welcoming, relatability and acceptance for immigrants thought out “The New Colossus” and in American morals but this isn’t always the case. By assuming that immigrants have gone through a storm American are almost assuming that America is just better. This sets a foundation of pride in America has that tends to subdue or disrespect other cultures. Immigrants of the late 1800’s may have not wanted to come to America or may have been facing other personal hardships that America as a whole failed to recognize.

Now, prepositioned at the base of the Statue of Liberty this poem still rings true today. The message of acceptance and the American dream remains hopeful and uplifting, but there are certain changes the need to be put in place to make sure that as an American society we are living up to all the poems aspirations.

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Lazarus. Emma. “The New Colossus,” 1883.

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