Ten days ago I sat in a dark movie theater with my 15 year old son and my wife and watched the movie, Straight Outta Compton. It is a movie that portrays the rise and fall of the rap group N.W.A.
For those of you who aren’t into rap don’t stop reading because this movie had less to do with rap and more to do with history.
The movie brought back such vivid memories of the late ‘80s. It took me back to where I was and how I was feeling as a young Black man in this country. I had just graduated from Alma College in Alma Michigan and I was angry. Growing up in Detroit I assumed the world was like Detroit. I assumed people of color were abundant and at 18 I felt the obsession the adults had about race was overblown. Then I stepped foot on the white campus of Alma College. It was culture shock and a rude awakening that as a young Black male my voice was not wanted. At the time the student body at Alma was about 1100 students and of the 1100 students 13 of us were Black. I quickly understood what being a minority was about and more importantly I felt what that meant. Me and 12 other students were so out-numbered and such a minority that the school and its population didn’t have to listen to us, didn’t care to listen to us and didn’t know how to listen to us. It was a crash course in what being a minority in this country truly feels like.
I’m sure anyone who went to college with me would read this and be shocked that I saw that experience as I did and how I express it now. I’m sure most would say that I got along fine in that setting. But what most don’t understand is the weight and burden that comes with being a minority in a majority setting. Many don’t understand that the daily microaggressions slowly add up and as Marvin Gay sang, “makes me want to holler, they way they do my life.” I wanted to holler quite often in an environment that was a vacuum.
Up to this point, I lived in a city that had a Black Mayor, Black Police Chief, and majority Black population. There was rarely, if ever, a day in my first 18 years that I didn’t see someone else who looked like me. My college experience was the mirror image of my Detroit experience and it created a rage in me I can’t describe. I couldn’t wait to put in my 4 years and return home to Detroit.
The problem was after that awakening, I was changed. My eyes were open to the inequalities I was blind to and although I returned to a city whose membership mostly matched my skin color, I was still angry; angry at how I and people like me were viewed by the majority; Angry that my college life was a reflection of a larger society.
It was about this time that there was an outcry from the Black community about the unfair “war on drugs” that disproportionately arrested and harassed people of color. It was about this time that the unfair treatment towards people of color by police officers was approaching a boiling point. It was this time that the rage I felt was boiling and I needed a release. It was about this time that the rap group, NWA began to share life from their experiences. It was about this time, Spike Lee and John Singleton; two very talented film makers, were making films that spoke to the Black experience. In film and music they all were speaking, rapping, and showing what I was feeling. It was about this time that I felt heard. I needed that. I needed to feel heard.
The movie, Straight Otta Compton, brought all that back; all that angst; all that rage; all that despair! It did what movies should do. It forced me to remember something I shouldn’t have forgotten. It brought me back to 211 degrees; one degree shy of boiling. The movie made me remember and feel all that was going on in the early 90s. Then it happened as we sat on 211 degrees.
The video of the Rodney King beating was released pushing the temperature to 211.5 degrees. The acquittal of the police officers involved in the beating pushed the needled to 212 and all hell broke lose and Los Angeles burned. For some it appeared to come out of nowhere but the foot prints were there edging closer and closer to 212.
What scares me is today we are back at 211 degrees. The needle spiked with Trayvon Martin and each additional incident pushes us towards 212. It has been 23 years since the LA riots which occurred 25 years after the ’67 Detroit riots. The needle is moving as is history and once again we sit on the edge of our 20 to 30 year cycle in this country. Every 20 to 30 years a generation has enough and somewhere the needle hits 212. The foot prints are there.
As I stated, Straight Otta Compton, has more to do with history than rap music. It is a warning that we are again at this familiar cross roads and if we don’t do anything to stop it the country will shake AGAIN because a group is screaming to be heard. As always, many will wonder where this came from while stepping over the foot prints that told us it was coming.
So what can be done? We can’t ignore the rumbling pot on the stove. We have to begin to have an honest conversation about race. Talking about the uncomfortable will quiet the pot and settle the water.