Completely overshadowed by the current hip-hop bling and ice jewelry craze, exists seemingly lost, but historically reverent and available pieces of Malcolm x inspired hip hop jewelry. In this particular article, I plan to highlight Malcolm x inspired jewelry by taking a firsthand, historical look at its cultural significance to hip-hop music, myself and the still ever pursuit of changing of the status quo.
By the summer of 1987, there had emerged many politically charged and controversial rap artists and groups, such as Public Enemy and KRS-One, intent on changing the status quo by emphasizing the social inequalities and injustices committed against the African American community by media and government in their lyrics. One example of this social inequality was the State of Arizona’s inability to recognize Martin Luther King Day as a state holiday.
Likewise, what also emerged at this time was the creation of Malcolm X inspired jewelry. Why? It was a symbolic attempt to give the racial problems and issues of today a past civil rights movement meaning. It represented the desperate need of African Americans to unite and shed themselves of gang violence and drug-related crimes affluent in their communities and negative perceptions attributed to them.
So what is Malcolm X inspired jewelry exactly? They are jewelry pieces (i.e. bracelets, necklaces, rings, earrings, brooches, cuff links, tie clips, etc.) comprised of either single or multiple images with the likenesses of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and other civil rights activists or engraved words, phrases and symbols indicative of the civil rights movement. Characteristically, they can be highly ornate, decorated pieces or plain, simple ones. They were available then and still can be purchased today. Current rap artists, like Nipsey Hustle, adorn Malcolm x inspired hip hop jewelry and regalia on a regular basis.
Born and raised in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, my father was a brazen, compassionate, proud African-American man with a matter of fact and witty personality. Though educated, he chose a career of shining shoes because it encompassed his passion for people. He spent a lifetime in this pursuit and succeeded. He was also an outstanding actor who frequently appeared in local theater productions, like “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Of Mice and Men“. And also had a bit role in the movie, “Home Of the Brave“, partially filmed in Spokane, WA.
As a teenager in the summer of 1987, I remember sitting at my father’s shine stand, clad in my Malcolm x inspired regalia (a Malcolm X hat, shirt, shorts and handmade leather African medallion necklace) and listening to the many conversations with customers concerning civil rights. He would exclaim, “I am happy for Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Because if it were not for them, Negroes would have gone completely crazy.”
Now, this was a profound statement coming from a man who not only witnessed the rampant, blatant racism and hatred encompassed by the civil rights era and the south but fell victim to it as well. You see his eventual migration and relocation to Spokane, WA was an intensely brutal one. Just a teenager himself, my father had all of his fingers and toes broken by local KKK members and while unconscious, placed in a train car that finally ended up in Colfax, WA. It was in Colfax, WA. where a family discovered him and cared for his injuries. They sent for my grandmother, who along with her new husband, came and eventually settled in Spokane. He made a miraculous recovery and went on to graduate from Lewis and Clark High School with a varsity letter in wrestling and academics in 1961.
The rest is history. But this statement I will openly and boldly offer: Not ever! did he let what happened, either discourage him or propel him to racial hatred! Not once! Thus, I am proud to say he was my father and I miss him dearly, for he passed away on May 30, 2012.
The overall impact the criminal justice system, spurred by past and present racial bias and discrimination, has had on the lives of African Americans and African American community as a whole is well-established and documented. Blacks make up 13 percent of the population but represent 50 percent of the nation’s prison population. In Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., more than 50 percent of the Black male population is under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system. Black men are 6 percent of the population but are more than 40 percent of those on death row (1).
Black youngsters are dealt with no more sympathetically. A report compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice showed that Black and Latino youth are treated much more harshly in the juvenile justice system than their white peers. Among first-time youth offenders, African Americans are six times more likely than whites to be sentenced to prison by juvenile courts. For drug offenses, Black youth are 48 times more likely than whites to be sent to prison (2). Currently, while there are 603,000 Blacks enrolled in institutions of higher education, there are 757,000 who are locked up in federal and state prisons. Moreover, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics projects that 30 percent of Black boys who turn 12 this year will spend time in jail in their lifetime if current incarceration rates stay constant (3).
To deny that racism and the degradation of the African-American community do not still exist would be complete heresy. Although the perception of African-Americans is slowly changing, ongoing police brutality and systematic, bureaucratic racial prejudice against African-Americans still remains a staple in the United States. And so, Malcolm x inspired hip hop jewelry continues to be a symbolic proponent in the fight against racial hatred and prejudice.