Guest Editorial: “YOU DON’T HEAR ME, YO!” by Charles F. Robinson, III

(BALTIMORE – June 23, 2020) – “You don’t hear me, Yo!” The term is in your face; poetic in its simplicity, profane in its character, and at its core, prophetic. It is a colloquialism used in Baltimore by a generation far removed from my own (You may have heard it where you live, but it is authentic Baltimore.)

“YOU DON’T HEAR ME, YO!”

A young Black man trying to clean your windows as you drive through the streets of Bmore may yell this as you wave him off from cleaning your window; or from the guy “slinging” on the streets to pay rent for his momma and score some Nikes; or the woman who leaves three children at home as she dances on a pole at a strip club.  It is their uncompromised vernacular in a world that literally sees them, but doesn’t want to see them.

“YOU DON’T HEAR ME, YO!”

In this moment, it is expressed as “Defund the Police.” Like our colloquial term it is uncompromised and makes people squeamish.

So-called progressives (read White people), “Well, we just can’t have a society without police, who’s going to solve the murders and protect us?”

Black intellectuals/Black people who’ve made it may say, “I get what you’re saying, but ‘Defund the Police,’ seems extreme. Maybe ‘Reform the Police’ would be a better way of saying it.”

MAGA types/conservatives are baffled by all these people who are in the streets, and to them its just a “liberal cabal that has run amok.”

It’s none of this. They are laughing, while you’re thinking, “How do I know?” Some of them tell me and I have sifted through the empirical data. On the ground, there are chants. These are mere slogans created on social media. It’s where they live. They have literally emerged “from their pupa as a fully formed butterfly.” Those who taught them told them, “you can be anything you want.”

We gave them Maya Angelo’s book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” to inspire them. We told them about Martin and Malcom X (and made them watch the movie). We told them to be like the Panthers, Angela Davis, and Nelson Mandela.

Their world was already turned upside down by a pandemic. You may wonder, “Why are they in the streets?” Their prospects for employment was going to be limited because of their uncompromised behavior. Some created their own businesses, but learned they would need the “majority community” to fund or embrace their “wokeness” or “outsiderness.” (Yea, I made that one up). They never forgot what we told them, “You can be anything you want.”

They want to live in New York, L.A., Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, and DC. This group of post-millennials are shocked by the cost of rent in these cities and what it gets you. They love rap and hip-hop and their icons are Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Rhianna, Lebron James, Ta Nehisi Coats, Kendrick Lamar, Billy Porter, School Boy Q, the Amigos, Cardi B and Lizzo, just to name a few.

Shhh! These icons haven’t been “broke and woke” for a long time. “But we keep in it real, Yo!” In today’s terms, they are living “champagne dreams and caviar wishes.” When in L.A. they still drop in at Roscoe’s Restaurant for Chicken and Waffles; or have someone grab take out from their favorite Black eatery.  Pandemic, what pandemic? “We’re all good at the crib.” “Tell George Floyd’s family, Ima gonna pay for the funeral expenses and make sure his daughter can go to college for free.”

“YOU DON’T KNOW ME, YO!”

C2: I don’t get why White kids are joining protests in Harford County? (A predominately White area North of Bmore – 10% of its population is African-American).

C3: Well, part of it is, they don’t believe in the same things their parents do – similar to previous generations. They have been globalized by the internet, and they see this as their time.

C2: I still don’t get it! You’re talking around the issue.

B1: You need to listen!

C2: He’s not answering the question! He’s going around the issue.

C3: (In a calm voice) I have talked to some of these individuals and they see it as their time. (I continue to explain; that’s when the shouting starts.)

C2: He’s not answering the question. This is a bunch of BS, and I don’t get it! That’s your opinion but it ain’t mine.

C3: Let me give it to you in their vernacular, “You Don’t Know Me, Yo?”

C2: What the hell does that mean?

C3: “You Don’t Know Me, Yo?”

C2: Know what?

C3: “You Don’t Know Me Yo?”

This goes on for 2 mins. B1 is not happy.

C3: There is a deep disdain by individuals who use this term against progressives and yes, Black intellectuals, who have made it. They see you as the problem.

C2: What hell does that mean?

C3: I’m done with arguing. We are going to have to agree to disagree.

I leave knowing I have created a deep hurt. I return home pondering, “What have I done?” Thirty minutes later the phone rings.

C2: I am sorry, and I want to apologize. You’re a good person.

C3: You never have to apologize. I love you unconditionally. Just to let you know, you’re not the first person I’ve argued with and you won’t be the last. (C1 Laughs)

And that is how this idea began.

“YOU DON’T KNOW ME, YO!”

“If you’re gonna be teachin folks’ things, you be sure you know what you sayin…If you’re gonna speak on behalf of a whole generation and you know enough to handle their education, be sure you know the deal about past situations. And you ain’t you just repeatin sumptin what you heard on a TV Station.” – Gil Scott Heron, Message to the Messengers.

Wrapping my head around this idea of “You don’t hear me, Yo!” reminds me of a conversation I had with Dr. Lester Spence about his book Stare In the Darkness in 2011. It is a generational coming of age book based on the thesis of Black Politics and Hip Hop. Following one of his talks, we talked about the word “Nigga.”

The conversation began as he asked his very young daughter to put her hands over her ears. “Nigga…that word has a number of different meanings. From someone who can be your deepest- deepest friend to somebody who is your worst enemy. There are very few words that can convey that wide range of emotions in that little word.”

“You don’t hear me, Yo!” may not be on the same level, but it has the same effect. It can be said in anger, it can be said in jest, and it can be poetic as I mentioned before. The effect of hearing it will make people sit up straight (hope you’re doing it now). How you respond, is even more telling.

When the “Black Lives Matter” movement began, those repeating the refrain knew its power. It made some uncomfortable. The retort was, “All Lives Matter,” according to Senator Bernie Saunders, then a candidate for President. (Remember he was removed from a stage on the west coast after saying this to an audience). Police tried to co-op the slogan and the movement using, “Blue Lives Matter.”

When Colin Kaepernick took up the slogan and began to kneel during the National Anthem, he was vilified by “the majority community” as being unpatriotic (read ‘Uppity’). That seems tame at this time where communities across the globe are taking a stance. Underserved communities knew they were “catching hell” from the police, and now the world knows we are “catching hell.”

“YOU DON’T KNOW ME, YO!”

“A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of White society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By the time Dr. King spoke these words he was being marginalized because of his stance on the Viet Nam War. He was also being pillared by a younger generation. The 25 and under group decide they needed new slogans such as Black Power, Black Liberation, and Power to the People (Black Panther slogan). For a majority of Americans and some Black Americans at the time it was seen as radical. Radicalization is a tool to confront the comfortable, and that is the case in this moment.

Let me suggest, if you are feeling uncomfortable looking at those who are marching, protesting, and clamoring for change, they see you as the problem. I’m not agreeing, but you need to know. I expect to hear their voices loud and clear at the ballot box, good, bad, or indifferent. Each generation has its moment. This moment will not only define a generation, but will create a lasting historical legacy. Scholars and others will point to this time; when America shifted from what it was, to what it is going to be.

“YOU DON’T HEAR ME, YO!”

Charles F. Robinson, III

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