What Our Kids Can Learn From Kendrick Lamar & India Arie
By Muffy Mendoza on January 30, 2014
India Arie's music has always held a special place in my heart. It reminds me of sunshine, dewed grass and everything that is light and wholesome in life. Now Kendrick Lamar isn't all sunshine and trees, but the track "Hol' Up" on his Section 8.0 album had me hooked on how melodically he delivers rugged lyrics. Long story short, I am a fan of both artist. But, I believe there is something crucial African-American parents can take away from their Grammys' snubs.
During an Oprah interview a few months ago on my favorite OWN show "Super Soul Sunday" I heard Ms. Arie say that the moment her motives changed (when she started making music for the masses instead of out of a place of love and connectivity) was the moment it ceased to be fun for her. And perhaps more importantly, that she began to feel pain doing something that once brought her joy. And it made me think about why we are often in such a rush to give away the things that bring us joy. Why is it that when you have a new idea, or create a work of art we are in such a rush to make it "mainstream."
Certainly, everyone has a dream, or a craft that they have perfected that they want to scream from the mountaintop about. But why are African-Americans, in particular, always in such a rush to make everyone else notice their greatness. Why is it not enough for that thing that you place so much value on to stay in the comfort and safety of your own family and friends. Especially when we know that, unfortunately, this world does not always give due respect and admiration to our greatness.
I tell my kids often that what they discover, think and create is for them to share when and if they decide too. I explain to them that the world may not be able to appreciate what they view as greatness, and that the world's perception of their greatness in no way defines them, nor their ideas. Further, I make sure they understand that the American idea of success is flawed and is by no means the only definition of prosperity. In other words, I tell my children you can be a great artist, worker or friend right in the confines of your community and still experience the same level of gratification and monetary prosperity that you would if everybody knew your name.
That doesn't mean that I don't want them to be successful at what they do. It just means that I want their gifts and talents to benefit them and the ones they love, more than they benefits the masses. Because these very masses can decide at one point, or another, to turn on them. And further, they need to succeed on their own terms without the clouds of popularity, 'keeping up with the joneses' and mass appeal hovering over them constantly.
Some might say well what about money. And I'd reply, well what about money. Only selfish and greedy humans need over a million dollars to make themselves happy. Our middle class ancestors lived on less and built self-sustaining communities that created the likes of Micheal Jordan, Denzel Washington and Michelle Obama. Now imagine that Jordan, Denzel and our First Lady had kept their talents within the confines of their communities and families. If each person of African descent in Hollywood brought even a fraction of what they possess back to our communities we'd be a completely different people right now. If we'd work together, it wouldn't matter if we had a Black president or not.
I say this to say that just as India Arie told Oprah that it was not the mainstream success that brought her happiness and glory, but her ability to find personal gratification from her music that makes her smile daily, at some point we have to move our children away from in Lauryn Hill's words, feeding your outer-man while our inner-man is dying."
In the near future African-Americans have to stop raising our kids to solve everyone else's problems except our own. Because ultimately our problems become theirs, and there is nowhere, even in Hollywood, they can go to escape them. The Grammys failure to recognize the talent of Kendrick and India prove that. (Not to mention, undoubtedly the greatest actor of our time Denzel Washington had to wait until after Malcom X, Glory, Fallen and countless other films to receive an Oscar.) I have to say that I would rather my sons never knew fame, or riches and keep their integrity and livelihoods for themselves than for them to experience the guilt and shame that comes with sharing their greatness with an entity that will ultimately drop them like a bad habit.
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