Niggas Is Doing They Homework, Yo

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

Jay-Z, Cornel West, and Harry Belafonte before Decoded Talk

I had the pleasure and misfortune of running into videos my former students get involved with, and one of them featured a gang from one of the neighborhoods my school represents. I watched a bit of it, annoyed that these pseudo-gangsters would put their videos on YouTube (“Real gangsters move in silence …” – Biggie), but more perturbed because they paraded in a coterie down a set of project buildings. I watched as the faces I once knew, who I never taught but I saw promise to their teachers they would do better, yelled in defiance to the camera about another pseudo-gang and how “pussy” they were and how this set of misguided youth is more malignant than the other.

One even observed that their rival group never gets out and made this quip: “Niggas is doing they homework, yo!” and laughed heartily.

Inside, I sat there and boiled. On a day like today, remembering the types of struggles a small but powerful group went through to extract consent from the majority rule to do the things “niggas” like these take for granted. If they had been that loud in their projects during the time Rosa Parks was arrested for sitting in the front of a bus, police would have made sure they couldn’t even walk the sidewalk. If they had been that bold in their attire and violence, the firemen would have taken hoses and washed the colors right out (take that how you will).

If they had even thought about getting “back into school” and saying “Fuck this gang shit,” they wouldn’t have access to second-chance programs that let them follow through on their word.

My blood temperature got to 400° until a clip of Tupac Shakur’s “Dear Mama” played in my mind. When he said, “I hung around with the Thugs, and even though they sold drugs, they showed a young brotha love.” When I think about all my students who don’t have any figures around them that empower them, it’s only right that these young kids have this bravado: no one else picks them up. Many of their fathers leave, and their mothers don’t always know how to make a boy into a man.

Even the kids with two parents either have both parents working or parents who leave it up to the school to teach the kids about themselves. While I agree that this is a White culture and every other American should acclimate elements of the dominant culture, I also see that the lack of representation in all facets of academia as a means to dissuade internal interest for those very children. It may not matter for some people, but we see examples of social and economic stratification pushing many types of students away from learning anything.

At least if they join a gang, there’s a history there, and they have reflections of themselves in those groups, as dangerous as they may be.

It makes me wonder, though, if these niggas actually did their homework, would they make the gradual transformation from niggas to men of color, and eventually, kings?

Jose, who can’t stand Chris Matthews’ interview style …