In the song, “Why” (Remix), Nas has a verse where he poses the question, “Why do schools care about your son’s braids more than they care for his grades?” I often analyze this song when I’m doing Hip-Hop workshops to see if students can relate, or if they think Nas is just exaggerating. Without fail, young brothers and sisters always explain stories of being discriminated against, racially profiled or insulted because of the way they wear their hair, or because of their language, clothing or culture. Even beyond the realm of academia, descriptions of similar treatment at restaurants, hotels and job interviews are commonplace. So when I read this article about a young brother applying for a position at the Ontario government’s cabinet office, I was not at all surprised:
Evon Reid couldn’t believe his eyes yesterday morning when he opened an email from the Ontario government’s cabinet office where he’d applied for a position. “This is the ghetto dude that I spoke to before,” said the email to the University of Toronto honours student from the very person handling his job application. That was it. One stark sentence. “Ghetto dude? It means I’m black. It’s very insulting,” Reid told the Star yesterday. “It’s still pretty shocking to me.”
Needless to say, “Ghetto Dude” is not the endorsement you want from your prospective employer. So Nas’ question remains relevant: why do schools, (or in this case jobs, and other mainstream institutions) care more about your braids (or in this case locks, Black skin, etc.) more than they care about your credentials? Why is this brother’s most defining characteristic, “ghetto?” Why not well-rounded student or honors graduate? This is the “affirmative action” that privilege affords white people in western society, when having black hair/featutures/language/skin is a liability inside mainstream institutions. And who said there’s no such thing as Canadian Racism?