Roundtable: Location, Location, Location
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
This is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya. On today's Roundtable, can where you live influence how long you live? And a new study gives states a failing grade for making college affordable.
Joining us today in our New York bureau, Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. Plus E.R. Shipp, professor of journalism at Hofstra University's School of Communication. And from Spotland Productions in Nashville, Tennessee, Jeff Obafemi Carr, host of the radio show Freestyle. Welcome, everyone.
Mr. MICHAEL MEYERS (Executive Director, New York Civil Rights Coalition): Thank you.
Professor E.R. SHIPP (Professor of Journalism, Hofstra University): Hi.
Mr. JEFF OBAFEMI CARR (Radio Host, Freestyle): Thank you.
CHIDEYA: So before we move on to new topics, let's spend a couple minutes talking about the legacy of Tupac Shakur. It really strikes me that in much the way that some people see Martin Luther King Jr. as a martyr, some younger people - and not just in America, you see his posters up all over Africa - see Tupac as a generational martyr. And in fact that's what we heard in our A section piece on Vern Chamberlain(ph) of the Tupac Shakur Center.
Jeff, let me ask you this: Do you think that this is a fair comparison to kind of look at Tupac in some ways as the liberator of the hip-hop generation? Why do you think that is?
Mr. CARR: Well, you know, I think it's a yes or no question. He's not a martyr in the same light. Was he a martyr for human rights, civil rights and the like? It's a yes and no question. If you look at Martin and Malcolm, although relatively young when they died, they were old enough to have outlived their individual youthful foolishness and come into their own as true leaders.
Tupac was in the phase of finding his voice not just an artist but as a personality of leadership. I remember speaking at Dr. John Henrik Clarke's funeral several years ago, and I recounted an experience I had with him when he was asked as a big critic of Western religion where he thought he was going to go when he died.
And Dr. Clarke told about how a young Malcolm X came to him in Harlem and was frustrated because he couldn't get masses of people to listen to him. When Martin and Malcolm were alive, they weren't immensely popular with the masses. But because of their legacy they're more alive now than they ever were.
Dr. Clarke then turned around and said to the young lady that he hoped he left a legacy behind in his work. So in answer to the question, he said, well, young lady, you ask where I'm going to go when I die, I don't think I'll go anywhere. I think I'll just stay around.
So love him or hate him, or alternately both, Tupac is more alive now than he ever was when he was working on the Earth. So in that regard, he has obtained some level of immortality, at least either as a pop culture icon or at the most an example of unrealized potential.
Prof. SHIPP: But Tupac is not really - based upon what we just heard - Tupac is not being remembered for what he actually was. He was kind of a fake. He talked about his street cred' and all of that, but he had a pretty solid growing up background. He was not a thug that he tried to portray himself as and that he wanted his fans to believe that he was.
You had someone saying he meant what he said and it was real, and his mom said he's remembered for his honesty. I think that's kind of a crock. Ten years later he's being repurposed. His image is being repurposed to serve other needs that people may have. Even the land they've built this monument to him on is repurpose.
Stone Mountain is where the Ku Klux Klan reorganized itself after the civil war.
CHIDEYA: Well, isn't that a good thing?
Prof. SHIPP: Well, it's repurposing. It's like okay, you're moving on to something else, but let's be real, keep it real, about who Tupac was and what he stood for. He hadn't done anything, so it's an insult to even use his name in even the same breath as Martin and Malcolm. They had done something. Tupac had not.
CHIDEYA: Well, it's interesting, E.R. Let me...
Mr. MARTIN: (Unintelligible) live long enough to.
Mr. MEYERS: It's my turn.
CHIDEYA: Well, let me just make a quick comment on, you know, the real/fake thing. First of all, you know, rappers have been constant masters of self-reinvention. And just on a personal level, I grew up in Baltimore and my best friend from high school sister once lived in a house with Tupac during high school. He was bootstrapping it. He was an independent minor going to the school for the arts. He didn't stay there. But he's not someone who did have a silver spoon. I have to say that's just not - he may not have been a hardcore thug, but he didn't have...
Prof. SHIPP: I'm not saying a silver spoon, but I'm saying not a thug.
CHIDEYA: Okay. I'm not a, I don't have my thug credentials. But, Michael, what do you think about all of this?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, talk about keeping it real. I just am amazed. Who are these people, these young people in particular, who idolize, you know, depending on what side of this you take, either real or fake thuggery. It's no wonder that these young people are not getting into Harvard. This is shameful.
Look, I met Martin Luther King Jr. I was a child, but I met him. I idolized him and the people who walked with him in the civil rights movement. I regarded Martin Luther King Jr. as a friend of mine. Tupac Shakur is no Martin Luther King Jr. on any terms; I don't care who's making the argument.
Now as much as I know about Tupac besides his music - I saw him in Tupac the movie. I think it was called Resurrection or something.
Mr. MEYERS: You know, he was in and out of prison, he was - I would not call him a lyrical genius but I would call him a lyrical artist. There was a certain flair about him that I liked. And the man is dead, and what I am concerned about is that ten years out that his case, the case of his murder, is a cold case.
And so, you know, if we going to do justice for Tupac, at least find his murderer. But I just don't agree with this cultural identification with either real or fake thuggery. I just don't go with it.
Mr. CARR: Can I add something, Farai?
CHIDEYA: Yeah. Go ahead, Jeff.
Mr. CARR: Because a valuable question has been raised her, and Mikey raised a question who are these young people who value Tupac?
Mr. MEYERS: Who claimed to speak for young people, yes.
Mr. CARR: Who claimed to speak for young people. You know, they are young people who have no leaders. They are young people who don't have people who are addressing their concerns. Now whether or not he was primarily a studio gangster or not, there was something - you know a tree by the fruit it bears -there was something that resonated and continues to resonate with young people all over the world about something that he was saying.
So we sometimes get caught up in the contradictions. And, you know, I'm a person - I love some Tupac and I hate some Tupac sometimes, too. So I'm part of that contradictory kind of love/hate relationship with Tupac. But by and large, people are drawn to the fact that he would speak out. Contradiction or not, he would speak out to the pain.
Mr. MEYERS: Jeff, people are drawn...
Mr. CARR: We don't have leaders doing that, though, Mike.
Mr. MEYERS: Come on, that's a lot of nonsense.
CHIDEYA: No, but...
Mr. CARR: We don't. We're missing (unintelligible) of masculinity and we find that when people like Malcolm X spoke out. One of the things that people relate about Malcolm is that Malcolm was very strong...
Mr. MEYERS: Well, let's not go into Malcolm X anymore. We're deal with that on his anniversary...
Mr. CARR: Okay. Let's call him Detroit Red. When we compare Detroit Red to Tupac...
Mr. MEYERS: We'll do that on Malcolm's anniversary.
CHIDEYA: We can't talk over each other, guys. So, Jeff, you finish up your point and then Michael.
Mr. CARR: Yeah. And I'll finish quick. Let's not compare Tupac to Malcolm X. Let's compare Tupac to Detroit Red. Now if we can compare to Detroit Red, then we're saying that he was in the same stage that perhaps Malcolm was in in his young days...
CHIDEYA: The hustler that Malcolm X became.
Mr. CARR: Right. He was a hustler selling women, pimping on the street, doing arguably more real ugly things that Tupac ever talked about. He just died before he had an opportunity to realize the grown Tupac who is being realized in death.
Mr. MEYERS: This is just more sugary stuff. Look, I just don't buy the argument that there are “no leaders.” There are leaders. There's all kinds of leaders -institutional leaders, corporate leaders. There are all kinds of leaders. Civil rights leaders, religious leaders.
You know, there are a lot of young people of all colors who say they don't have leaders. I mean the whole fascination for Britney Spears and Justin - whatever his last name - Timberlake and all those other people. These are people are celebrities. They just sing music.
CHIDEYA: Before we wrap this up, Michael, I want to go to you and then E.R. with the same question. There have been cultural figures who've taken over the youth leadership role from preachers and politicians and businesspeople. And don't you think in some ways that is part of the legacy of Tupac? That there was somehow with hip-hop this generational shift where people stopped relying on what we considered traditional leaders and started looking to rappers and other people. Michael and then E.R., and then we're going to move on.
Mr. MEYERS: It's a mistake - if that's true, it's a mistake to look to rappers as leaders. If that's true, as things seem to me, that even they, the non-traditional leaders, have failed miserably and utterly failed to get young people mobilized in terms of civic discourse, in terms of civic participation, in terms of voting, in terms of making things happen in American society, in terms of going to school and staying in school and overcoming social distress.
We are now identified with social distress. This is just an inversion of the rhetoric.
Prof. SHIPP: Well, now that Michael has closed his mouth for a minute, I can say...
CHIDEYA: (Unintelligible) nice, people.
Prof. SHIPP: Tupac was a cultural figure who happened upon the scene at the right time for maximum exposure. I don't even buy that he was in a Detroit Red phase. He did not indicate any desire or any skill at going beyond his fake thuggery music. What I will say though is that we should not hang the rap world's involvement in civic life on Tupac.
I just write him off. But you can see that there are others who are trying to use their appeal to the masses of hip-hop fans in any case - are using that well. Russell Simmons comes to mind. He has the Hip-Hop Summit. They talk about getting out the vote, rocking the vote, all of that. Whether it's effective, I don't know. But I would hold him up, or the likes of Russell Simmons up, as someone to be admired more than Tupac. Tupac was just, you know, fly-by-night, and doesn't really mean much in the future.
CHIDEYA: Now, E.R., you're trying to get us some letters here. I can tell that.
Prof. SHIPP: Go for it!
Mr. MEYERS: And I would not go with Russell Simmons as a leader either, the guy who identifies with Luis Farrakhan.
CHIDEYA: Okay, well, guys, we've got to move on to another topic. E.R., I'm actually going to start with you. And I think that, in some ways, this plays into the Tupac conversation.
There was a new study that showed that Asian American women in Bergen County, New Jersey, typically reached their 91st birthdays, and that some of the lowest, you know, average age of death were among Native American men, also African American men. And, you know, there's this whole, you know, get rich or die trying mentality that, you know, 50 Cent epitomizes, but a lot of folks getting shot in the rap game. What should we do about the health disparities, the socioeconomic disparities, that seem to lead to these differences in mortality?
Because, you know, more years on the planet means more time to raise your families. More time to, you know, get your social security money, all of those things. I mean, it really strikes me that a study like this exemplifies some of the great differences we have here in the U.S.
Prof. SHIPP: Well, more time on the planet also means more opportunities to become ill, because I don't think we were meant to be on the planet as long as we are. Having said that, I want to give a shout out to my grandmamma, Big Mama Moore is 103, and she's in Conyers, Georgia, a poor, black community. So, yes, where you live can affect how long you live. We know that. But it's how you live that affects how long you live. But I think…
CHIDEYA: Tell Big Mama to send me a, you know, a guide, because I want to get where she is.
Mr. MEYERS: Tell her to send me a sweet potato pie.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. SHIPP: But the thing is we have to take care of ourselves in various ways. We have to take care of ourselves personally, our health and all of that. We have to educate ourselves. We have to be part of community. I have seen people growing old who were very vibrant in their middle years, and then they became isolated from a real community. And as they became more isolated from that community, they lost it.
So there are a lot of things. It's not just about white and black, and old and young, and Bergen County versus Conyers, Georgia. I think there's a lot more to this issue.
CHIDEYA: Well, you know, depression is actually one of the leading diseases effecting older Americans. And the black community traditionally has been very close and people were not put in homes as they aged, but now things are changing all around. Do you think, Jeff, that there has been kind of a sea change in the way that African Americans live that might actually be hurting us now?
Mr. CARR: I think so. Let's look at the lifestyles, and something that E.R. said brought this to mind. My former grandmother-in-law, ya'll can figure that one out, Martha McShepherd(ph) lived to be at least 101, but reports say that she was 103. They couldn't necessarily find the year. But she lived in DeKalb, Mississippi. She was a schoolteacher, saved all her money, and left all her grandchildren with a substantial sum of money she never even spent.
I would go and visit her, and it would take her quite a while to get up - at about 100 back then - get that wood stove going, feed those chickens, hoe the weeds from around the greens in the garden next to the house that she and her husband built over half a century ago. But do you get that activity? I'm looking at that woman and I ask how she is, and she says, well I done got to where I can't do what I like, but the Lord is blessing.
She did more in terms of activity before noon than most people I know, including pencil pushers like myself who have to make time to go to the gym. She left the money because she never had to spend it on food. She grew everything: steroid free, growth hormone free, pesticide free. This isn't a big mystery to elders like Grandma McShepherd, Big Mama, who recognized the value of a simple lifestyle with activity in it. We are, many of us, part of a generation that instead of taking the time out for a lifestyle change and going back to simplicity, we'd rather keep living crazy and dope ourselves up for the consequences.
CHIDEYA: Well, Michael, what about the policy implications of studies like this? Should there be a greater emphasis from the government, state, federal, local, or non-profits, on really dealing with health disparities, and how, who's going to push this?
Mr. MEYERS: Well, good question, Farai. But, you know, going to the, going back to that study, you know, in my next life I'm going to be in Asian American woman living in Bergen County, New Jersey.
Prof. SHIPP: No, you're going to be a worm.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: My goodness!
Mr. MEYERS: And, I mean, the study…
Mr. CARR: He's going to be a rapper.
Mr. MEYERS: …the study, the study suggests that where you live, combined with race and income, plays a huge role in your longevity. So what else is new? This is nothing new. In fact, I think one of the reasons why - one of the reasons why I'm into integration, is that I think you have to get out of these undesirable areas, these ghettos.
CHIDEYA: So you don't want to live, you don't want to live in the ghetto?
Mr. MEYERS: These racial and economic ghettos.
CHIDEYA: You don't want to live with your folks?
Mr. MEYERS: Absolutely not. I don't, I don't - no! I do not want to live in Newark. If I'm going to have a choice between Bergen County, New Jersey, which is affluent, I will go to Bergen County, New Jersey, and not poor Newark, New Jersey. Because Newark, New Jersey…
CHIDEYA: But how many people have the option of moving out?
Mr. MEYERS: Well that's - you asked the question about policy. That's my answer to your policy question. I think the government and the private sector combined must work so that people get out of racial and economic ghettos and that we, and the areas in which people, poor people are confined and consigned, they are unhealthy because of crime, because of stress, because of economic environmental racism.
And we have to address those policy issues and get people into more affluent, middleclass areas as well as improve lifestyle issues.
CHIDEYA: All right, well we have to…
Prof. SHIPP: You start with the government.
CHIDEYA: …we have to end right there, because I've got to give out the numbers for people to call us. Because I know people have some comments about the Tupac situation, et cetera, et cetera - 202-408-3330, 202-408-3330. Or you can send us an e-mail. Just log on to npr.org and click on Contact Us, and tell us exactly who on the Roundtable made you happy or sad.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MEYERS: Michael Meyers!
CHIDEYA: Thanks again to Freestyle radio show host Jeff Carr in Nashville. And in our New York studio, Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, and E.R. Shipp, professor in journalism at Hofstra.
Spicy as usual. We like it that way. Thank you.
(Soundbite of music)
CHIDEYA: Next on NEWS AND NOTES, the heroine of a new mystery novel delves into black high society to solve a murder. And nutritionist Rovenia Brock tells me how to avoid the stress eating that's keeping me from losing the weight I want to.