Kendrick Lamar has come under fire lately for his comments relating to Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, MO and Eric Garner’s killing in Staten Island, NY. In an interview with Billboard, Lamar stated that:
“I wish somebody would look in our neighborhood knowing that it’s already a situation, mentally, where it’s f—ked up. What happened to [Michael Brown] should’ve never happened. Never. But when we don’t have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us? It starts from within. Don’t start with just a rally, don’t start from looting — it starts from within.”
While Lamar’s comments seem to elaborate upon his thoughts immediately after the Ferguson Grand Jury decision, Lamar caught fire from several rappers, including Azealia Banks, who took to Twitter to air her grievances:
“When we don’t respect ourselves how can we expect them to respect us” dumbest sh*t I’ve ever heard a black man say."
Kid Cudi also voiced his disapproval via twitter, adding:
"Dear black artists, dont talk down on the black community like you are Gods gift to n***** everywhere."
The criticism seemed aimed at Lamar’s perceived lack of empathy and historical know-how.
Let me be clear:
I do not know Kendrick Lamar personally and don’t claim to know what he meant by his comments; all we have is the excerpt from the interview. I do not subscribe to politics of respectability or victim shaming. No amount of increased self respect, pulling up of the pants, or decrease of black-on-black violence could have prevented the recent and long history of tragedies that have befallen unarmed black men, women and children at the hands of white policemen and civilians. Nothing justifies the unequal treatment of these black folks and they are not to blame for what has happened.
And -- because “however” signals that what is to come is in direct contrast or opposition --when thinking about how to recover from these tragedies, what to do, and how to change our society, Lamar is right when he says “it starts from within.”
Change, for the good or bad, starts on an individual level. Freedom, and therefore power, derives from choosing our behavior. Although we cannot control our circumstances, we can certainly control our response.
Austrian psychologist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl sums it up succinctly: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Frankl’s quote, taken from Man’s Search for Meaning, reflects his plight during the Holocaust and his approach to psychological healing from it.
Despite losing his medical practice, being interned at Auschwitz, and the death of his entire family (save his sister) at the hands of the Nazis, Frankl realized that they could never take away his ability to choose his attitude. According to Frankl, “[e]verything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Even the freedom that didn’t seem like it belonged him, i.e. the freedom to run away or to try to reunite with his family, was truly his; yet, the freedom to choose didn’t come without consequences.
Because the freedom to choose holds such power and inevitably has consequences (good or bad), the first step for anyone looking do something about Ferguson should be to educate themselves. Learn about the history of police brutality. Read about or listen to the “other side.” Ask. Seek out alternative media narratives. Educate yourself on the historical significance of the choice you’d like to make.
You’ll know where you stand and why–not to say that the education process ever stops. You may come upon more information later, and decide to change your course of action; but by learning, you are equipping yourself for the immense power you hold–to choose for yourself. You have the power to change the communities in which you live, work and play and in turn, affect the way others view their power to choose.
So make a choice and exercise your power. After all, “it starts from within.”