Can I Live?!

A couple of days ago I needed a break from filling out Ph.D. applications so I took a drive and popped in my Reasonable Doubt CD by Jay-Z; it took me back to 2007.

I was listening to the song “Can I Live” and I don’t ever think I paid close attention to the lyrics until the other day. I guess I was so focused on my music because I had been living in an academic bubble for the past few weeks filling out applications and my mind needed a break from focusing on applications. The lyrics had an enormous impact on me and caused me to think about my past and where I come from. When I say, where I come from I mean where I grew up (Watts, California). In the intro to the song, “Can I Live” Jay-Z says:

We invite you to, somethin’ epic y’all know?
Well we hustle out of a sense of, hopelessness
Sort of a desperation
Through that desperation we ‘come addicted
Sorta like the fiends we accustomed to servin’
But we feel we have nothin’ to lose
So we offer you, well we offer our lives right
What do you bring to the table? (2-9)

The first few lyrics are mind blowing! The song made me think about the true reality of poverty- stricken urban communities. We live in a society that judges poor people, more specifically people of color. America would like us to believe that we’ve progressed as a society and that the playing field is equal. All you have to do is work hard enough and you can make it; but everybody isn’t living the American Dream.

As a child I remember watching videos of Salt N Pepa wearing bamboo earrings and rockin’ Gucci and I wanted to dress like them and be “rich” when I grew up. But, in my world there wasn’t anyone telling me or modeling for me the “right” way to become “rich”. Nobody was saying go to college to get your Ph.D. so you can be financially set. Instead I saw drug dealers and their girlfriends or wives riding in fancy cars and wearing all the clothes that I saw in music videos. So, as a child it was very confusing and easy to slip into the mindset of equating success to being a hustler, someone that always has money and has respect from everyone on the block.

I relate and understand these lyrics. Who doesn’t want fame and fortune? If you live in a community where nobody goes to college or has a successful career what are your other options? How do you live the life you see on T.V? Jay-Z says, “We hustle out of a sense of, hopelessness / Sort of desperation” (2-3).

It’s time to seriously think about the education disparities between of poverty-stricken urban communities and their white counterparts. Stop complaining about “drug dealers” and start having conversations about why urban youth feel as though that’s the only way they can be somebody.


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