Oakland’s schools are feeling the pinch of the state budget deficit. Music and arts programs are being curtailed. However, tax money seems to be available to fund similar programs outside of the school structure, when directed toward “at-risk” youth: truants, drop-outs and the formerly incarcerated.
In order to attract such youth, such programs focus on aspects of “hyphy” culture, particularly dance and music. Instructors demonstrate “turf dancing” skills, while state-of-the-art equipment is provided for youth to work on their “beats” and rap music. The justification for directing tax money to these programs is the claim that they reduce crime by giving frustrated youth a positive outlet for negative energy. Supposedly, youth attracted to these activities somehow learn saleable skills, discover constructive links to society, and enrich our culture in a way that assimilates them into the community. Detractors claim that the programs glorify “thug life” and create an excitement around illegal and dangerous activities like sideshows, drug use and sales, prostitution etc.
Our society glorifies “thug life,” with video games that encourage the player to steal virtual cars, rob stores and shoot anyone who gets in the way. On “reality” TV contests, young women vie to be the one selected by a mock “pimp.” Popular music objectifies women, is permeated with racially and sexually derogatory language, promotes illegal drug use, and exalts “bling.” Oakland’s schools, in contrast, frequently promote dress codes, lean toward traditional symphony experiences in music programs, do not tolerate foul language or drug use, disallow wearing of flashy jewelry, and attempt to steer students away from “thug life.”
Several questions then emerge: Is scarce tax funding better directed toward the schools, where all children can benefit, or instead toward those youth who were unable to succeed in the academic environment? Do arts programs closely linked with hyphy culture reduce crime by giving criminals an avenue to express themselves and succeed in socially acceptable ways, or do they instead draw at-risk youth into a culture of illegal and dangerous behavior?
I do not know the answers to these questions, but I do know that the existing programs fail to address many aspects of “thug culture” where truants, drop-outs and the formerly incarcerated really need support. Some examples follow.
Drivers education: Seldom available in public schools nowadays, driving instruction provides a skill essential in our society. And for the at-risk youth, it is not that easy to cut a donut successfully. News articles routinely highlight this problem with sideshow drivers losing control and plowing into houses, businesses and/or pedestrians. Why isn’t there a city-funded program that teaches youth how to turn a perfect circle, leave an even, dark streak of rubber, and emit a high decibel squeal guaranteed to knock nearby residents out of their beds?
Gun safety: With bullets flying more and more frequently in many Oakland neighborhoods, accuracy is ever more crucial. Recently, a young boy was paralyzed by a stray gunshot while practicing piano in a music studio. The shooter was trying to hit a gas station attendant. Obviously, the shooter lacked skills. That child would be walking today if a program existed that instructed youth in marksmanship and gun maintenance.
Fashion design: Some people can wear something as simple as jeans and a T-shirt and look like a total thug. Couldn’t you just scratch their eyes out? Most youth have to struggle to pull off the hyphy look. Fashion awareness is a widespread need among at-risk youth. Proper “sagging” requires a total look – it’s not just wearing your pants at half-mast. Youth could be assisted with all aspects of appearance from the grill and baseball cap to the stunna shades to the hoodie to the neck chain to the white T to the striped shorts to the hi-tops. It’s all about improving self-image, folks.
Workforce management: Many of our thugs and wannabes have no idea how to properly manage a large staff, recruit employees, or handle volumes of cash. And the women who work for them don’t always understand the importance of getting to work on time, satisfying the customer, and wearing clothing appropriate to the job. Fortunately some programs are teaching business skills through marketing of rap music, but there is tremendous need for improvement.
Despite these challenges, we can be sure of one thing: the City Council will decide the best use of your tax dollars for crime reduction.