Straight Outta Compton: A Reflection
Straight Outta Compton is a quintessential story of the American dream. It’s an ironic dream because that is isn’t always the narrative of young African American men in America. The film traces the real-life story of a rap group who succeeded in the music industry and life.
My hope and prayer is that many see the film Straight Outta of Compton, keeping in mind the harsh language in the film is part of the reality of the young African American men including Easy E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube. Their language reflects their circumstances living in an impoverished violent place, and is in part a response to a long history of racism here in the U.S. Rapping is a form of protest literature in the African American community going back to the 18th and 19th centuries including Phyllis Wheatley, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper; and Frederick Douglass.
The film tells us much about the on-going violence towards African American men, the historical context, and the contemporary parallels. The story begins in 1988.
The film reflects our reality whether 1788, 1988, 1998, 2008, or 2015. When I was living in Los Angeles during the early 21st Century, not much had changed for African Americans living in segregated and impoverished neighborhoods like Watts, Compton, and Inglewood. I arrived in Los Angeles, post-Rodney King and post-Los Angeles riots. Tensions still existed between the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and local African Americans and Latinos, particularly the boys and young men. I witnessed numerous incidences in which police targeted, stopped and harassed young men of color. Though I no longer live in Los Angeles, I would guess little has changed for young Latinos and African American men being racially profiled. I can still visualize hands laced behind heads . . . a line of boys forcibly seated on the curb.
The filmmakers highlighted some historical context. White police officers were videotaped beating Rodney King; the officers were acquitted. African Americans responded with violence, what is known as the Los Angeles Riots, a direct response to the acquittal and a long history of problematic relationships between the LAPD and black communities.
I would argue much has not changed in the last 15 years as we live out the terrible racial divide manifested in the violence and protest in Ferguson, Baltimore and other cities in the last few years.
As an African American woman who has experienced racism, and, worse, heard stories from African American men in my life who have experienced racism at work and the streets, Straight Outta Compton spoke to me personally. I hope if you see the film, it will speak to you. I hope open dialogue will go a small way towards healing the racial divide in our churches, workplace, and the nation.
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