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I wonder if Heaven Got A Ghetto

heavengheto4African-Americans living under  secular capitalism largely live in ghettos deprived of genuine opportunities for social mobility, facing police brutality, enduring  the hard conditions produced by the drug economy, which is all too often the only employment opportunity for disenfranchised black youth. In the midst of such horrific social conditions, many youth long for a better life – free of the despair, misery, and structural violence that they have been forced to live with in America. In these marginalized areas of American society, many black youth do not know if they will live to 21 without facing lengthy prison sentences or dying from street violence.  Questioning the economic system of America, Tupac states:

“There’s no way that Michael Jackson or whoever Jackson should have a million thousand droople billion dollars heavenghetto1and then there’s people starving. There’s no way! There’s no way that these people should own planes and there people don’t have houses. Apartments. Shacks. Drawers. Pants! I know you’re rich. I know you got 40 billion dollars, but can you just keep it to one house? You only need ONE house. And if you only got two kids, can you just keep it to two rooms? I mean why have 52 rooms and you know there’s somebody with no room?! It just don’t make sense to me. It don’t.”

thegameTupac Shakur embodied what Gramsci referred to as the ‘organic intellectual’ as he emerged from one of the most disenfranchised areas of America and produced poetry carrying political messages which articulated the  struggles of inner-city black youth. Enunciating the inner city struggle, Tupac states, ”My homies dying before they get to see they birthdays. These is the worst days. Sometimes it hurts to pray and even God turned his back on the ghetto youth. I know that ain’t the truth, sometimes I look for proof. I wonder if heaven got a ghetto.” In the midst of these appalling conditions in which peers die from bullet holes at an early age, Tupac conceives of an afterlife in which such social circumstances are no more  and ghetto youth are able to  live in peace. In ‘Thugs Mansion,’ a collaboration by Nas and Tupac, Tupac begins by stating that he’s, ”tired of getting shot at,”  and “tired of getting chased by the police” and then envisions a different utopian atmosphere.

Subsequently, Nas provides an ethnography of the streets, telling the story of a kid who was a master at robbing, annasbridge activity he was forced into through economic necessity. At 16 years old, he finished his jail sentences and, with no room for social mobility, he finds himself participating in the drug sector – in which he is pursued by the police, leading to his “asthma flaring.” Nas envisions that he can take this black youth out of his misery and bring him to the “thug’s mansion.” In the song, Tupac imagines sitting and dialoging with Malcolm X and Latasha, a black girl whose life was taken after a Korean store clerk mistakenly believed she was stealing. Miles Davis and Billie Holiday also join in on the conversation and Tupac calls upon us to ”think of all the people that you knew in the past that passed on, they in heaven, found peace at last.”

In a very introspective song made while his mother was in the hospital dying, the artist Nas asks:

 

“If heaven was a mile away, and you could ride by the gates

Would you try to run inside when it opens, would you try to die today?

Would you pray louder, finally believe in his power

Even if you couldn’t see him, but you could feel him, would you still doubt him?

How would you start acting? would you try to put the keys down?

Thinking every drug sale that you make in the streets, he can see now

Would a fiend even want to get high? would he stop smoking?

If he knew on his own two feet, he could just stroll in

To get away and escape from the craziness.”

aljahizIn this song, Nas raises a series of interesting questions; if heaven was a mile away and we were sure of its existence, would one try to do away with their bad habits and reform themselves, or would they carry on? Many black youth long to get away from the ‘craziness’ of ghetto life and the tumultuous lifestyle it leads to. The 9th century scholar Al-Jahiz raises a similar question as Nas; he writes:

“One of the things concealed from human beings is the duration of their lives. If someone knew his lifespan was short, he would never enjoy life while anticipating death. He would be like someone whose fortune is nearing exhaustion, fearfully awaiting poverty. The anxiety that afflicts a person losing his life is worse than that of losing his money since, if he loses his money he may regain some of it, but when he is certain that his life is ending, despair will seize him. If, on the other hand, a person were certain of leading a long life, he would indulge in pleasure and wrongdoing, calculating he could do this for as long as he liked, and then repent at the end of his life. God will not accept such an attitude.”

Nas contemplates the notion of how human behavior would be altered if they understood God was watching them – would they leave the drug trade? While a hustler can evade the police, they cannot evade god – and for Al-Jahiz, he reflects upon how human beings’ behavior would be altered if they knew what the duration of their lives was.  The socialist activist group Dead Prez once stated:

“What a nigga gonna eat when the refrigerator empty? Work all week let the bossman pimp me? Can’t pay no rent tupacmalcolmxtill the 15th. Landlord call the police to evict me.” These trials  and tribulations in the black community lead to Dead Prez stating, ”So much shit goes on it makes me doubt about a God — you know, makes me ask well if there is a God then why am I in the situation that I’m in?

” ”

 

 

The 9th century scholar Al-Jahiz answers:“Someone might object to the idea of Divine planning on another ground, namely: ‘How can there be planning, when we see both the mighty and weak in this world, the strong oppressing others and causing resentment, while the weak are oppressed and suffer in poor conditions?’  We find the righteous poor and afflicted and the wicked healthy and affluent, and people indulging in improper and unlawful behavior without being swiftly being punished. If there were design in this world one would expect that the righteous would thrive and the wicked be deprived; the strong would be prevented from oppressing the weak, and those who behave despicably would be punished soon. In answer to this we say, “if this were the case there would be no place for the trails of life by which people distinguish themselves, nor would they make the effort to do good and righteous deeds, seeking and trusting in God’s promised reward. They would sink to the status of beasts, ruled by the stick and the carrot alternately, to make them behave.”

Similarly, Tupac states, ”They didn’t make sense that God would put us in the ghetto. That means he wants us to lupefiasciowork hard to get up out of here. That means he’s testing us even more.“ Thinking about a “thugz mansion” or if heaven contains a ghetto really reveals the deep seated faith of disenfranchised youth have and their longing for a better society – which they don’t think can exist in this world. But as Lupe Fiascio pointed out, ”Just listening to Pac ain’t gon’ make it stop.” We must work to actively change and improve the condition of our society within this life.

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Al-Jahiz: Chance or creation