By Ashley Carr
I am a Black individual and concerned resident of Lane County, and I recently learned that the North Eugene High administrator and the 4J District administration elected to remove an important part of Black identity from high school curriculum: Kendrick Lamar’s songs and lyrics.
Pulitzer Prize winning lyricist Kendrick Lamar Duckworth was born in Compton, California, and grew up around gang members, some of whom were his own family. He grew up surrounded by gang violence, drugs and police brutality.
In 1991, Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old Black child from South Central Los Angeles, was murdered after being accused of stealing a bottle of juice. Just 13 days prior, an unarmed Black man named Rodney King was the victim of horrific police brutality, nearly losing his life due to the color of his skin. Lamar was 4 years old when the Rodney King riots took place, and it was then that he learned police stood for violence against Black people.
By age 8, Lamar had already witnessed two murders. The family survived on Section 8 and food stamps. He was successful in school despite a stutter, low income and food and housing insecurity. When Lamar had nothing, he had poetry and music.
Horrified and angered by the murder of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Black kid who was shot to death, Lamar wrote “Blacker the Berry” with these lyrics:
You hate me, don’t you?
You hate my people; your plan is to
terminate my culture
In “Swimming Pools (Drank),” Lamar narrates the corrosion of his mind by alcoholism.
The song “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” details the horrors of watching his family and friends’ lives stolen by gang violence, addiction and prostitution.
You ran outside when you heard my
brother cry for help
Held him like a newborn baby and made him feel
Like everything was alright and a fight he
tried to put up
But the type of bullet that stuck had
went against his will
“Alright” demonstrates the desperation to survive and his depression in accepting what will be his future.
Wouldn’t you know?
We been hurt, been down before
N****, when our pride was low
Lookin’ at the world like where do we go?
N****, and we hate po-po
Wanna kill us dead in the street fo’ sho’, n****’
The reality of these lyrics is that they describe with blunt honesty the experiences of many Black people in this country.
The Supreme Court ruled to abolish school segregation in 1954, citing it as unconstitutional. In the north, however, segregation continued until 1998. North Eugene High School opened in 1957, just three years after the ruling, and yet it was not until 1965 that actual efforts to desegregate schools in Oregon began.
This reality is painful and shameful. The story of one young Black man who is surviving in the U.S. helps us remember how relevant and rampant racism is today.
By removing Lamar from the curriculum, you are doing a great disservice to your students. I implore you to reconsider your removal of his music from the high school curriculum. Black and Brown students need to be seen and white students need to see them.
Removing a Black artist from your curriculum not only erases part of the Black experience and identity, but also takes away the opportunity for youth to witness Black joy and Black success. Lamar is incredibly successful, having won many awards for his poetry and music; he should be celebrated for overcoming adversity, not erased from the curriculum.
Please allow your students to see the beauty in Black resiliency, Black survival, Black pain, Black joy, Black overcoming and Black success.
A Black millennial who has hope for Gen Z to break the cycle of racism.
Ashley Carr is a mother, activist and a mental health therapist.