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When a Rapper's Actions Speak Louder Than His Words -- A Tribute to Yasiin Bey's Bravery

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This blog pays homage to and samples the song "My Umi Says. "

"Shine your light on the world" -- Yasiin Bey (Formerly Mos Def)

You better hold this very moment very close to you...

At 33, despite growing up in Brooklyn during the golden age of hip hop, I am becoming ever more disillusioned with much of mainstream rap music. During the '90s it was in vogue for rappers to speak out against injustice. Groups such as Arrested Development, Public Enemy and Black Star questioned the status quo, utilizing their social capital to educate and inspire youth. We were "Headed for self-destruction", or seeking "U-N-I-T-Y", while "Fight[ing] The Powers That Be." As a teenager, the protest music of Bob Marley, Gil Scott Heron, Fela Kuti, Shadow to name a few; and this new music called hip-hop became the soundtrack of my life. That moment in history inspired me to protest injustice and is the reason why I remain idealistic and persevere to preserve social justice and equity today.

I ain't no perfect man -- I'm trying to do, the best that I can...

2013 has seen several rappers ensnared in controversy. Rick Ross intimated slipping a date rape drug and then having his way and "She ain't even know it"; while Drake walked into a strip club with a cardboard box filled with $50,000. Also let's not forget Lil Wayne's libidinous and infamous simile comparing a woman's ------ to Emmitt Till. The lingering aftertaste was a history lesson and loss of Pepsi's sponsorship. Perhaps the most bittersweet was Yasiin Bey, subjecting himself to a force-feeding procedure in solidarity with the 45 Guantanamo inmates currently subjected to this cruel and unusual punishment. Of all these multi-platinum rappers only one had the courage to endure pain, to shine a light on injustice. Only Bey, despite his imperfections, tried his best to raise consciousness and imagine a more perfect union.

Sometimes I get discouraged... Sometimes I don't want to be bothered...

In 2013, despite the ongoing cycle of upheavals in Egypt, here in post-Occupy America, apathy is a national preoccupation. Perhaps we are searching for a new job, or new sneakers. Regardless, too many don't want to be bothered with politics and protests. We subject ourselves to pain as we pursue happiness during Black Friday, sacrificing our lives for a deal on a flat screen TV. In May, those very TV's broadcasted President Obama expressing the need to close Gitmo, and limit drone strikes, while admitting that America is at a crossroad,

"We must define the nature and scope of this struggle or else it will define us... the original premise for opening Gitmo -- that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention -- was found unconstitutional five years ago. In the meantime, Gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law."

Obama ended the address by wondering,

"Imagine a future -- 10 years from now or 20 years from now -- when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are?"

Obama raised an obvious point and I wonder days after July 4th, after hundreds of thousands of flags were bought and flown, what does it mean to be a patriot in 2013?

Sometimes my heart gets heavy...

Four days after our Independence Day, Ramadan the Muslim holy month of fasting began. Will the Obama administration stop force-feeding during this time? Yasiin Bey's heart must have been heavy with this inconvenient truth. On July 8th, in an attempt to raise awareness of the untenable situation at Guantanamo Bay, he released a video simulating the standard operating procedure for force-feeding Guantanamo Bay inmates. While most rappers shoot videos with beautiful women, fancy cars and jewels, Bey was strapped up, held down and gagging as a feeding tube was inserted up his nose. Two minutes later Bey was writhing in pain, begging for help and for the ordeal to be over. The tears began to fall as he held his head in his hands, then the video flashed

"In Guantanamo Bay the full procedure is carried out twice a day, typically it takes two hours to complete."


That's all that matters to me....

I wonder if Bey's tears were caused by the physical pain, the realization that others are forced to do this by our government, or both. At that moment he seemed to be at a crossroad, headed down the road less traveled. He was swallowing a bitter pill of humanism and heuristic thinking. I think Bey is carrying the torch, shining a light on inequality like many before him including Frederick Douglass who exclaimed "Without struggle there is no progress."

All my people to be free, to be free, to be free...

Regardless of how aggressive you think the U.S. government's counterterrorism measures should be, I think most of us agree that force-feeding detainees held in indefinite detention violates the principles of this great country. Back in 2011, Time Magazine named Protestors as persons of the year. Despite apathy, protests are still very effective because if we are not challenged we are not changed. Indeed according to Democracy Now, on July 9, a day after Bey's video

"U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler rejected a prisoner's effort to halt his force-feeding, saying she lacks jurisdiction...."It is perfectly clear ... that force-feeding is a painful, humiliating, and degrading process." Kessler added: "It would seem to follow [the president] has the authority -- and power -- to directly address the issue of force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay."

I don't know if Bey's video influenced this judge to speak out, but I applaud Bey's efforts to hope for change we can all believe in.