How I Navigate Social And Political Turmoil Amidst Raising A Family
Baba Zumbi of Zion I on raising children in a toxic social environment.
I’m a rapper, social activist, mentor, Tai Qi practitioner and parent of three beautiful black boys. With an immoral maniac ruling the nation, I’m not sure where to channel my frustrations while protecting my children’s best interests. In the '90s, fighting the political system was a challenge bound to oppression and, subsequently, dissatisfaction. Hip-Hop was where many of us found our voice — and, ultimately, an outlet to express our disdain for the systematic disadvantages plagued against minorities. As a father in 2017, I’ve found myself facing a stronger enemy: white supremacy. Not just the idea of white supremacy, but battling the people of white supremacy while fostering a safe environment for my kids to grow. Although racism has always been active in American society, I have never been confronted with such abrasive white nationalism — that can objectively only be described as terrorism (i.e. Charlottesville, Dylan Roof, Tamir Rice and Philando Castille).
In the '90s, when we first started making music within my community, we were all under the impression that hip-hop would help bridge the racial gap in America — or at least act as a catalyst and vessel for our painful experiences. Stories of institutional oppression and communal hurt were finally being heard and absorbed by society for what seemed like the first time. As the time passed, this culture became glorified for the wrong reasons and led to the exploitation of our suffering for capitalist gains. We were wrong; our message wasn’t heard. We were fetishized and turned into caricatures. I never fully grasped this until going on tour across North America.
One year, while on tour, we played a high-end ski destination where the audience was predominately white. After a solid performance to an enthusiastic crowd, a drunken ski bro sauntered up to me and blurted, "I would never call a nigger a nigger." He then stared at me as if I was supposed to be thankful for him. These kinds of situations continued while I was on tour with the popular reggae band Slightly Stoopid and Rebelution. I was ridiculed for offering a moment of silence honoring the innocent black citizens killed by the police. All I could think was, are these people even listening to my lyrics? The hate from the tour’s fan base poured into my social media. Fans would comment hateful things like, “Just rap, nigger.” These are the same people singing along to Rebelution’s songs about equality and love.
Now a father, I’m faced with the decision to either shelter my age six, two and one-year-old children from the violent world filled with the hatred that their so-called “land of the free” protects, or rip their childhood away from them and teach them the painful truths of their beautiful skin. I want my children to be able to express themselves creatively without being scared; it’s a tough decision and difficult line to draw.
One of the most difficult things for a parent of color is explaining what Neo Nazis, white supremacy and Donald Trump represent. Driving over an underpass in Oakland, my son noticed two signs stating, “End White Supremacy" and "Black Lives Matter.” He said, “Dad, what does that say?” I scrambled to find the words, but ended up telling him the truth, in general historical terms. He followed up with, “Dad, where do the racists live?” I replied, “the United States,” to which he responded, “WHAT?!” popping up out of his seat. As much as I would like to protect him, he will eventually experience the same racial hatred I once felt, in one way or another. Riots and racial clashes in Berkeley and San Francisco have become the new norm, with Neo Nazi gatherings escalating in select hotspots across the country. While from a more systematic perch, Dove ads characterize blackness as dirty and undesirable.
I've also had to confront issues of police brutality and Donald Trump with my son. Looking to the news generates confusion and, often, hatred. I want my children to experience love, and refrain from fear. Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland did not die in vain, they will live on through history books as civil rights martyrs, forced to give their lives for equal rights.
Hip-hop is in a weak state politically; black culture is fetishized and appropriated across all industries. Our culture of empowerment has been diluted by the corporations to emphasize materialism, misogyny and obsessive drug usage. Many black artists capitalize on our fetishized community without properly utilizing their voice to promote any change. Our children need to see and hear shining examples of black excellence in a world that leaps at the chance to demonize them.
I’m not censoring modern artists, but rather guiding their social consumption through education and exposure. While I appreciate fun, but a little superficial, artists like Lil Uzi Vert are not using their voices properly. ASAP Rocky called the pertinent black lives matter movement bandwagon and a fad when he blindly stated “all lives matter.” When artists are given incredible platforms, they must become aware of the institutions and corporations that exploit them. With these artists at the forefront of pop culture, how can our youth learn and voice informed opinions? I don’t know the answer, but I know it’s an important discussion.
I want my children to be raised by inspirational artists opposed to raising kids in white America. We are allowing the system to play us, settling for checks to keep our mouths shut and our bellies fat, while our people are persecuted state to state. Hip-hop has become pop music, but it can and will do better. It has to, for our children.