Common cannot love away racism

You know who I really feel sorry for right now?


Now on paper, there’s really no need for me to feel sorry for a guy who just won the Academy Award, has a couple of Grammys, and has Kanye West on speed dial, but I do because right now, I’m guessing that he’s being made to feel like kind of a dope.

That’s because the rapper/actor got smacked upside the head with a lesson I got my freshman year of college. That lesson: It’s gonna take more than love and human kindness to get rid of something as intractable as racism, even if you make that gesture of love on a popular national television show.

In case you missed it, New Jersey’s Kean College rescinded Common’s invitation to speak at the school’s Spring Commencement thanks to pressure from the State Troopers Fraternal Association.

Common and the commencement

Seems that 15-years-ago, Common recorded a piece called “A Song for Assata” which told the story of Assata Shakur, and her involvement in the death of Trooper Werner Foerster, her conviction for murder, her escape from prison in 1977, and her decision to escape to Cuba.
Problem was, at least to the State Troopers Fraternal Association, (the group that gave us the phrase “racial profiling” by the way) was that Common told the story from Shakur’s perspective. So they complained, used the phrase “taxpayer’s money” a lot, and Kean University caved.

That kind of thing doesn’t really surprise me much. If we’re all honest with ourselves, the most power person in any city isn’t the mayor, the city council president or the police commissioner. It’s the president of the city’s Fraternal Order of Police.
But why I feel kind of bad for Common is because not too long before this happened, he did an interview on “The Daily Show”. As part of that interview, Jon Stewart, as he is wont to do, talked to Common about racism.

When he said that racism could be eradicated by extending a “hand of love” to Whites, and compared continuing to talk it to being in a bad relationship, I winced because I knew this wasn’t gonna end well. Most multi-car pileups don’t.

Is it Common to be part of the ‘New Black?’

Immediately, Common got lumped in with a group derisively called the “New Blacks,” or as singer Pharrell Williams put it in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Blacks who don’t blame “other people” for their problems and think that all of this systemic racism talk needs to stop.

So naturally, when the Kean University thing happened, I knew Common got clowned on. Especially since comedian Chris Rock was sharing his series of Driving While Black “selfies” on Instagram and showing folks that systemic racism is indeed still alive and well.

(By the way Isiah Washington, I drove a 1999 Honda. I got pulled over all the time. The end.)

Now while this ended up like a train wreck for Common, I get where he was coming from. I mean, hey, I thought we’d have this whole racism situation settled by 1986.
As I’ve mentioned on other columns on this site, I’m an Army Brat. I grew up near what is now Joint Base Dix-McGuire-Lakehurst and went to school in the Pemberton Township School District.

To say that PTHS was diverse was an understatement. We literally had people from all over the world and who had traveled all over the world at my high school. In my neighborhood alone, the group of kids playing kickball in front of my parents house was made up of White kids, Black kids, Puerto Rican and Panamanian kids, kids from the Philippines, Korea, China, Germany, Haiti and just about everywhere else.

My personal experience wasn’t common

It wasn’t a utopia by any means. Few places are. But most of the time, if two kids were having a fight at my high school, race was probably at the bottom of the list as a cause. Being a jerk was probably somewhere near the top.

I graduated in 1982 and went off to The Ohio State University for college. It was a chance to be out on my own and to spread my wings a little. After I moved into my room at Lincoln Tower, I met my roommates and we all pulled out our yearbooks.

People kept staring at mine because it was easily the most diverse. I remember getting asked “All of you were in the same school, and you didn’t fight all the time?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Why would we fight?”

I learned that later on that year when one of my fellow students told me, and I’m paraphrasing here, that I had his permission to stand out in front of his house holding a lantern. That was after he called an Arab friend of mine a “sand nigger.”

It took three guys catching me in mid air to keep me from, well, committing assault.

But I started to realize that, well you’re not in Pemberton anymore.

That kind of made me sad because it was the beginning of the end of my belief that you can solve racism with a hand extended in love. By the time I was covering hate groups in Reading in 1998, I saw that I was naive when I said to the Dean of students as a college freshman, “I thought we’d be done with all of this racism stuff” to the Dean of Students at OSU after my “Why do you keep asking me what color I am?” essay was answered with “You’re a journalism major. Congratulations on choosing the most racist major at this school.”

Maybe that’s what happened with Common.

But I think he’s gotten the message now.

Photo: Common (Copyright by Denise Rashid Getty images)

denise clay 2Denise Clay is a veteran journalist, a former adjunct professor, and an active member of the National Association of Black Journalists. She is a regular contributor to Click here to learn more about Denise.

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