“It’s not about where you live, it’s about what lives in you.”
(American politician, social activist, and president of the NAACP)
“Rep yo’ city!” The infectious slogan seeps into many current hip-hop albums. The hands of listeners instinctively shoot up and regions are instantaneously declared.
This inherent need of black people to establish a connection to a place is not new. The call and response aspect of this practice is not new.
Every day we are subconsciously practicing age-old traditions, but the loud music of the mainstream is drowning out the true message: Representation is power.
The Dogon tribes of Mali, the largest country in West Africa, believed that spoken word brought things into existence. With that understanding, language itself is a call to action. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik El Shabazz) were catalysts of the civil rights movement. Their speeches and declarations ignited the crowds and created a collective consciousness for the 1960s. Now, the effect is the same, but the significance is generally lacking.
It is our obligation to represent not only where we came from, but also why we have come. We have come in the names of Assata Shakur, Paul Robeson, David Walker, Nat Turner, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Gabriel Prosser, Harriet Tubman and countless others known and unknown who have dedicated their lives to our perpetual struggle for freedom.
We have come to continue where our ancestors left off, but our mission is lost amidst the notion that prejudice and racism has faded out.
We are the representatives of our forefathers. We are the embodiment of glorious civilizations that spanned the continent.
With black history month looming on the horizon, we must ask ourselves if we are representing our heritage or only misrepresenting the truth.
Russell Nichols is a junior magazine production student from Richmond, Calif. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.