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Stain of Mass Incarceration: Exposing the Wound of My Father’s Life Sentence

One woman shares her experience, struggle and thoughts as the child of an incarcerated father.

27 years ago on my 14th birthday my father took my sister, Miko, and I out for lunch. We decided to dine at the newly opened Hard Rock Cafe. The music was blaring from the sound system. The walls were filled with an assortment of music memorabilia. I sat for a good 15 minutes in awe and amazement. While Miko and I glanced over the menu, my father left the table for a brief moment. He came back to the table with 2 members from the hip-hop group Whodini & R&B singer, Bobby Brown. I was in complete shock! They all sang an impromptu rendition of Happy Birthday to me. OMG - I was floating. This was one of my best birthdays yet. I looked over at my father and he just smiled. Little did I know that in the months ahead our lives would be changed forever.

Nine months later, on December 6, 1988, my father, William Underwood, was arrested. Shocked and completely numbed by the news of his arrest, it took Miko and I six months to actually visit our Dad. While sitting in a tiny visiting room waiting for his arrival, he finally appears. He was wearing an orange jumpsuit and his hands and feet were shackled. All I can remember is him hobbling over to sit down next to us. Miko and I burst into sobbing tears. We were completely devastated and traumatized by the appearance of our Dad chained up like a slave. By the time he finished consoling us, our time was up. The visit was over and he was gone – again.

After that my life became a blur. From what I remember, my thoughts were: Why was Daddy there? What did he do? When is he coming home? None of it made sense. Two years later, he was sentenced to a mandatory minimum 20-years plus LIFE without parole. In disbelief, my range of emotions were: "What? Life? Nooooo... you mean, Forever? He's never coming back? Ever?" The news of his sentence punctured a wound so deep in my heart I could hardly breathe.

SEE ALSO: Hillary Clinton Wants To ‘End The Era Of Mass Incarceration’

Feeling completely abandoned, my hurt turned into anger. I rebelled against school, my Mom and life. How could my father be locked away forever? He was a music enthusiast. He ate, slept, and breathed music. My father was a prominent music promoter from the late 70s up until his arrest in 1988. He promoted top acts such as Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kenny Loggins, Wham, New Edition and Guy. He managed the R&B funk band, Slave and lead singer Steve Arrington. He later went on to discover and manage R&B singer, Johnny Gill, ultimately aligning Johnny with the boy band, New Edition. All I ever saw my father do was talk about music, listen to music and hold meetings with music industry artists, executives and up-and-coming celebrities. Some of these people even testified on behalf of my Dad in court, including recording artist Keith Sweat and an Atlantic Records executive who willingly flew over from London to give testimony to support my Dad during his trial.

I remember being on the phone with my Dad after his sentencing. He said, “Ebony, this sentence means no matter how long I live, no matter how much my life has changed, no matter what steps I take to better myself, no matter how many laws have changed – I can never, ever, leave prison alive. I am going to fight this injustice." I listened intently to each devastating word. Yet, I still didn’t understand. How could anyone be sentenced to die in prison? My Dad was incredible. My Dad defied the odds and made it out of poverty. He raised my sister and I in the suburbs. My Dad was fun, not evil. He was full of life. My Dad was educated. He was an Ivy Leaguer, having studied at Columbia University. My Dad was successful. My Dad was influential and had many influential friends in the world of entertainment. In my heart-of-hearts I knew something was wrong. But, what could I do? I was 16 years old. In retrospect, there was no way I would ever understand the magnitude or severity of his sentence.

Visiting a correctional facility is no cakewalk. We have always had to travel at least 3 hours or more to visit my father. Over the years, Dad was relocated to different maximum-security federal prisons in several states including Indiana, Georgia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, upstate New York and a medium-security in New Jersey. I've seen grandmothers get turned away for wearing open-toed shoes, girlfriends and wives having to take down beautifully-styled hair that was pinned up because bobbie pins are not allowed in the visiting room, baby bags filled with diapers not allowed, women gathering in the bathroom to cut the wire out of their bras because you must get past the metal detectors without anything beeping, including the wire in your bra. The worst experience was a special trip my younger brother, Justin, made to visit Dad. At 5 years old, he was the only one of my 3 siblings present during my father’s arrest – a traumatizing experience to witness at such a young age. After years of not seeing my Dad, Justin flew 3000 miles from California to NY and we drove 18 hours down to the correctional facility in West Virginia that was nestled in the mountains. We arrive ready to visit and Justin gets denied visitation because he was wearing khaki pants. The prison guards tell us there was a Wal-Mart 20 miles away. There was no GPS at that time. We weren't familiar with the area. Plus, it was already Noon and visitation at the prison ended at 3pm. So, Justin waited in the car while we visited with Dad. I was gutted. After so many years of watching people being turned away, I have a standard outfit for visitation - jeans, sneakers and a long-sleeved sweater or shirt, no jewelry, no belt.

SEE ALSO: John Legend Launches FREE AMERICA Campaign To End Mass Incarceration

Nonetheless, there is a brighter side to all of this. The beauty of seeing family connection. Once in the visiting room, the prisoners have to immediately check-in with the guards and only then are they able to sit down across from their families. At this moment is when you see ALL the LOVE emerge. You see the surge of excitement arise as a child runs up to their Daddy. You see fathers hug their sons. You see fathers kiss their daughters. You see parents grab and squeeze their incarcerated sons’ faces with joy. You see wives and girlfriends embrace their men. And for a few hours, that correctional facility is filled with an abundance of real LOVE brought about by human connection. The importance of connection cannot be understated.

The connection we’ve maintained still bewilders me. Especially when I think about the quarter of century we have spent on this journey. My father has always remained Daddy and my Mom understood and respected that. My parents are my two greatest teachers on this planet. Both inspire me with their resilience, persistence and determination. My Dad has not allowed prison to change him for the worse. He maintains and strengthens ties with all four of his children. Although he did not have the ability to attend any of our school graduations, visit us in our own homes or witness the births of our children, he remains a committed father. For example: I was unable to visit him during my pregnancy, but the day after I delivered my son, my Dad had a big, beautiful bouquet of flowers sent to my hospital room with a special note. I cried. He sends birthday cards, Valentine's Day cards, Mother's Day cards and Christmas Cards and he calls us almost everyday. He has even developed and maintained a solid connection with his grandchildren despite never once meeting them outside prison walls. He empowers us all to continue to educate ourselves. At times, he even informs us about the latest current events and technology. For instance, he is really fascinated with Nano technology. He has been talking to us about this scientific study since 2000.

The injustice that Dad promised to fight has finally reared its ugly head and it’s called Mass Incarceration. His conviction was one of the first under siege of Mass Incarceration. Thereafter, it propagated itself and STAINED the entire nation, making the U.S. the most incarcerated nation in the world. Today, there are over 2 million people incarcerated in the United States and the rippling effects are the 2.7 million children impacted by the loss of their incarcerated parents. The effects of Mass Incarceration are so severe that The Obama administration and frmr. Attorney General Eric Holder forged a sea-change of reform in the criminal justice system. President Obama even began a White House Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents, which my eldest brother, Anthony, and I had the pleasure of attending on more than one occasion. The issue is so pressing that the political parties have come together and Mass Incarceration has become one of the primary issues that there is Bipartisan support for. The racial disparity against black males is so prevalent that entertainer John Legend noted in his Oscar winning speech that “There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.” In addition, the New York Times recently published an article “1.5 Million Missing Black Men” http://nyti.ms/1P5Gpa7 identifying the rise of missing black men with the increased prison populations. I believe, however, the biggest weapon against Mass Incarceration has been the monumental power of the worldwide web and social media. It has given my siblings and I a place to create awareness, advocate for our father’s release and share our story. We created a website, a petition, 2 hashtags: #HopeForFathersDay and #UnderwoodShouldBeHomeByNOW and we are working on a documentary, “Hope For Father’s Day.” You can view the trailer to the documentary and sign the petition on our website: www.INPRISON.net.

SEE ALSO: John Legend Wants President Obama To Get More Involved In Criminal Justice Reform

My father’s ability to maintain some semblance of normalcy and still laugh, baffles me. Especially when, for years, no opportunity for relief availed him. Interestingly enough, my father's favorite quote is from Paulo Coelho's book The Alchemist which reads, “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” As he promised me, my father fought against the injustice of Mass Incarceration and never gave up, even when nobody believed him. Yes, he made mistakes at a young age, should he be forever condemned to die in prison due to Mass Incarceration? I think not. Chiefly because my father, at the age of 61 years old sits in a prison cell with a clean institutional record and an out-dated prison sentence. President Obama is the ONLY one who can grant my father relief through clemency. I pray that Mr.Obama will help heal my family’s wound. Justice must be served!


To learn more and support Ebony Underwood's aim to improve America's criminal justice system, visit INPRISON.net.

Photo Credit: Ebony Underwood

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Jay Z at the Roc Nation and NFL Partnership Announcement at Roc Nation on August 14, 2019 in New York City.
Kevin Mazur

‘Inspire Change?’ NFL's Super Bowl PSAs Only Inspire More Skepticism

It’s been a few months into the NFL’s controversial “Inspire Change” initiative, a promotion by the league to highlight the Player’s Coalition and its work to address social issues. “Inspire Change” officially launched last year, (to “nurture and strengthen community through football and music,” said official statements) with the league’s partnership with Roc Nation expected to guide much of the outreach and voice.

"With its global reach, the National Football League has the platform and opportunity to inspire change across the country," Jay-Z said via press release back in August. "Roc Nation has shown that entertainment and enacting change are not mutually exclusive ideas -- instead, we unify them. This partnership is an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of communities across America."

The first “Inspire Change” ad featured the Botham Jean Foundation, and focused on the Jean family and their reaction to Botham’s 2018 death at the hands of Dallas police officer Amber Guyger. Jean’s murder, in which Guyger shot the 26-year-old as he sat in his apartment after saying she’d believed it was her own, drew international attention. The subsequent trial and conviction of Guyger drew derision and criticism after the former officer was sentenced to ten years (with parole eligibility in five) amidst hugs from the prosecuting judge and official statements from the family that focused on forgiveness.

“He just loved people and he was very particular about the company he kept. So I felt he was not in harm’s way,” his mother, Allison Jean, says during the video.

The NFL debuted the Jean ad online in late January to a mixed reception, and a new ad was shown during Super Bowl LIV. In the new ad, former 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin is heard speaking about what happened to his cousin, Corey Jones, on the night of October 18, 2015. That night, Jones was shot and killed in Florida by a plainclothes police officer as Jones was stuck on the side of the road with car trouble.

“I was still playing with the 49ers and my wife walks up after the game and told me that my cousin Corey had been killed. Corey broke down on the side of the road and a plain clothed police officer pulled up. Then this guy starts screaming. All you hear from there is three shots.”

Both ads focus on family and loss: the first clip features footage of Botham Jean’s brother hugging his convicted murderer in court as Jean’s mother and father talk about forgiveness. In the second ad, Jones’ father tearily asks “Why? Why’s my son gone today? Why?” The human toll of these crimes is front-and-center, but as far as the institutions that have created this reality for so many non-white people in America, they’re comparatively peripheral in these clips. The word “police” is never uttered, and while the tagline is “We’re all in this together,” there is nothing on screen to suggest racism is the common enemy. It’s cozy to posit that “we” are the solution, but what’s the point if I don’t have the fortitude to declare that you are the problem?

When Jay-Z’s partnership with the NFL was announced just before the start of the 2018-2019 NFL season, many saw it was a mogul putting business before social justice. After all, the league had kept Colin Kaepernick on the sidelines for three years, and Jay supposedly supported Kaep and his protest—so why get in bed with the league that had effectively blackballed the quarterback? There didn’t seem to be any benefit in Roc Nation partnering with the NFL—outside of the NFL being able to save some face after losing some fans because of the treatment of Kaepernick. Working with a mogul who, in recent years, has become a symbol of Woke™ Celebritydom, could go a long way towards softening the league’s image as one that defers to good ol’ boyism. The most skeptical saw the initiative as a chance for the NFL to score cool points while using Jay-Z’s brand to do it. And with these new ads, those cynics have been proven right.

The hope behind these ads is that they will inspire the more ambivalent or right-leaning members of the NFL’s viewing audience to take up the cause that the league itself effectively punished Colin Kaepernick for protesting. That side of the NFL’s audience has made it clear that it does not commiserate with Kaepernick or his cause, but these ads are supposed to be what sways them. These ads are supposed to start a conversation. Roc Nation also pressed NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to commit $100 million to social justice outreach, and Jay-Z has emphasized that he did not do this deal for anything other than a chance to use the platform to raise awareness on the issues.

It’s a stance that Jay has been voicing since that first announcement in August. “As long as real people are being hurt and marginalized and losing family members, then yes, I can take a couple rounds of negative press,” Jay said this week in an interview with The New York Times. He also said that he feels for what’s happened with Kaepernick (a workout this fall turned into a debacle for all parties involved), but he feels that what Roc Nation is doing is pushing things forward.

“No one is saying he hasn’t been done wrong. He was done wrong. I would understand if it was three months ago. But it was three years ago and someone needs to say, ‘What do we do now — because people are still dying?’

“We didn’t say, ‘Let’s go make some money off the N.F.L.’”

Nonetheless, the NFL’s “Inspire Change” campaign feels more like a big-budget facelift for a league that still struggles with who it is and who it wants to sell itself to; as opposed to a lucrative corporation finding its conscience. In 2016, famed director Spike Lee was hired as a “consultant” for the NYPD when the department wanted to create initiatives to “build trust with minority communities.” Roc Nation’s cosign amidst the “Inspire Change” campaign feels like a similar maneuver from the NFL. These ads stoke emotion without indictment, evoking the murders of Botham Jean and Corey Jones at the hands of police officers, but focusing on sentimentality and not how and where reformation is needed. Jay has become someone who wears his “activist celebrity” tag on his sleeve, but how do moguls truly benefit causes? From his role in Barclays Center and the gentrification that accompanied its opening, to his deal with Barneys--can he truly occupy both worlds? Jay-Z wants Roc Nation's work with the NFL to push people to act, for everyone to see themselves in these victims. But the NFL can’t soft soap this and expect anyone to take any of this seriously. You can’t truly “inspire change” with post-woke pandering—or by helping conglomerates save face.

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Shakira performs onstage during the Pepsi Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020 in Miami, Florida.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Shakira's Cultural Homages During The Super Bowl Halftime Show Deserve A Standing Ovation

Now that the glitter and fireworks have settled in Miami after Jennifer Lopez and Shakira's Super Bowl Halftime performances, the ladies are getting their just due props for incorporating Latinx, Arabic, and black/African culture into their sets.

Shakira's homages were the most prominent Sunday (Feb. 2) with many mocking her "tongue-wagging" which was a nod to her Lebanese roots. Known as zaghrouta, the act is one of celebration and joy often done to express gleeful emotions at weddings and graduations. The 43-year-old (Sunday was her birthday) was born and raised in Barranquilla, Colombia, by her Lebanese father and Spanish/Italian mother. The singer, whose name is Arabic for "grateful," has talked about her mixed heritage and how it played a big role in her music and performances (think her iconic Bellydancing or her punk-rock era).

“I am a fusion. That’s my persona. I'm a fusion between black and white, between pop and rock, between cultures — between my Lebanese father and my mother’s Spanish blood, the Colombian folklore and Arab dance I love and American music," she told Faze Magazine in the early aughts. "I was born and raised in Colombia, but I listened to bands like Led Zeppelin, the Cure, the Police, The Beatles, and Nirvana. I was so in love with that rock sound but at the same time because my father is of 100 percent Lebanese descent, I am devoted to Arabic tastes and sounds."

 Zaghrouta was heard loud and clear during her performance of the 1998 classic “Ojos Así," which is also one of the few songs in her catalog to feature Arabic on it. She also tapped Afro-Colombian dancer Liz Dany Campo Diaz to help incorporate champeta into her performance. A dance from her hometown, the moves are traced back to African ancestors. It also has a similar groove to South African pantsula dance routines which some may remember from Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)" music video.

Btw this dance is called Champeta and it is originated in Shakira’s hometown of Branquilla Colombia! It’s respected for its footwork and it’s an important part of Colombian culture 💃🏼 pic.twitter.com/JtcLsl9sm9

— SHAKIRABOWL2020 (@Exmotions) February 3, 2020

The singer also danced to another Afro-Colombian routine called mapalé, importantly at the start of her performance. The moves (including the beautiful sea of Afro-Latinx dancers) was a sight to see at one of the most-watched shows all over the world.

The initial eyebrow raises of a Colombian pop singer at the Super Bowl Halftime Show made sense but the singer was thoughtful in the songs she picked (her 2008 World Cup hit "Waka Waka" (This Time For Africa)" is a remake of the 1986 song "Zamina Mina" by Cameroonian makossa group Zangaléwa) and even more mindful in her riffs (she repeated with passion the "no fighting" lyric during her performance of "Hips Don't Lie"). In all, Shakira's set will be one hell of a cultural study in years to come.

Jennifer Lopez also made subtle political statements during her performance. Her set was a pleasant blend of her Vegas and "It's My Party" tour sprinkled with some of her newfound pole skills from her performance in Hustlers. Swing Latino, a competitive world-champion salsa group from Colombia returned to the stage with the singer as they previously were special guests during her "Party" tour dates. It took her On The 6 single "Let's Get Loud" to new heights as the group brought together swing dancing, a very Americana dance, and salsa on the stage.


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A post shared by SwingLatino | official account (@swinglatino_cali) on Feb 2, 2020 at 7:56pm PST

A treat for pop culture fanatics, J. Lo's five outfits were customed made by Versace which we can give a smirk to. There's also the undeniable presence of Parris Goebel, who choreographed Lopez's entire Super Bowl performance. The two met back in 2012 when Goebel worked on her world tour and the American Idol season 11 finale where Lopez sang her 2012 hit, "Dance Again."

But it was the presence of her daughter Emme Maribel Muñoz singing with her that captured the audience. What many did miss was how the 11-year-old along with other children, appeared in silver cages, pointing towards the immigration and family separation policies the country has enforced at the southern border. "Let's Get Loud" then collided with a cover of "Born In The USA" with Lopez touting a feathered American flag with the Puerto Rican flag on the other side.


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Emme Daddy is so proud of you. You are my ❤ and I am forever yours.

A post shared by Marc Anthony (@marcanthony) on Feb 2, 2020 at 6:19pm PST

You can't please everyone, but their performances were one of precision. The two living legends who don't need validation from anyone were in control and commanded the attention of everyone, including those who make it difficult for Latinx families to live their version of the American dream. We like to imagine that the two singers also learned from each other, especially J. Lo since some cultural stances go over her head. "Let’s show the world what two little Latin girls can do," Lopez said on Instagram before their takeover. And that's exactly what they did.

Rewatch their performances below.

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Terry Crews speaks onstage during Steven Tyler's Third Annual GRAMMY Awards Viewing Party to benefit Janie’s Fund presented by Live Nation at Raleigh Studios on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Anna Webber/Getty Images for Janie's Fund

Terry Crews, 'America's Got Talent' And The Conditional Solidarity Of Celebrity

Terry Crews is doing quite a spectacular job of torching any goodwill the public had toward him. The actor moved from tertiary to central figure in the ongoing controversy surrounding NBC’s popular talent show America’s Got Talent and its November firing of former co-host Gabrielle Union.

Union has stated that there was a toxic environment on set, citing the behavior of producer Simon Cowell, and an incident involving a racist joke she says was made by guest host Jay Leno and other instances where she felt AGT and NBC had not addressed racist or sexist behavior and policies on the show.

Terry Crews offered mild support for Union upon her initial firing but has drawn the ire of fans this week after he offered a less empathetic take about the situation during an interview with the Today show.

“First of all, I can’t speak for sexism because I’m not a woman, but I can speak on behalf of any racism comments. That was never my experience on America’s Got Talent,” the AGT host said. “In fact, it was the most diverse place I have ever been in my 20 years of entertainment.”

When asked if he’d spoken to Union, Crews offered, “I have reached out, but I have not heard anything.”

The online reaction was critical, with fans and pundits pointing out that Union had been one of Crews’ most vocal supporters in 2017 when the actor revealed and then testified that he’d been a victim of sexual assault by a Hollywood studio executive. With the flurry of criticism, Crews scoffed at his detractors, tweeting that there’s only one woman in his life who he works to please—his wife.

“There is only one woman on earth I have to please. Her name is Rebecca,” the 52-year-old tweeted. “Not my mother, my sister, my daughters or co-workers. I will let their husbands/ boyfriends/ partners take care of them. Rebecca gives me WINGS.”

Crews’ statements—and his nonsensical Twitter reaction to his critics—were disappointing for anyone who’d hoped Union wouldn’t be left out to dry in her fight against a very powerful corporate entity. When there was an opportunity to support a person who’d been vocal in her support of him, Crews chose to lean on his own experiences in a way that would obviously pave the way for America’s Got Talent to cast hers into dispersion. This entire debacle has been reminiscent of other high-profile instances where Black celebs offered criticism in the wake of solidarity—either focused on the comforts of celebrity or preoccupied with the trajectory of their careers.

Mo’Nique famously engaged in a feud with streaming service Netflix, after she felt the giant lowballed her in regards to a proposed stand-up special. The star had been branded “difficult” for years and she’d felt blackballed by Hollywood notables like Oprah Winfrey and Lee Daniels, whom she worked with in 2009's Precious. It was her performance in that film that landed her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2010.

When Mo’Nique appeared on Steve to discuss her proposed boycott of Netflix and the blackballing, her longtime friend Harvey chastised the Oscar-winner. “We’re fighting two wars here,” Harvey said. “There’s two wars, it’s what your issue is and is what the perception of the issue is.”

Mo’Nique’s stance was that she was fighting for equality—for women and for Black comics—in her battle with Netflix. In regards to her stance on Winfrey and Daniels, she was fighting to be paid for extensive travel and promotion. To her, this was a fight for the right to say “no” in Hollywood.

“Now, I said ‘no’ to some very powerful people...the difficulty came in when people that looked like me, like Oprah, Tyler [Perry], Lee Daniels—and I got to put my brother Steve on the list. Y’all knew that I was not wrong. Each one of you said to me, ‘Mo’Nique, you’re not wrong.’ And when I heard you go on the air and say, ‘My sister burned too many bridges, and it’s nothing I can do for her now,’ Steve, do you know how hurt I was?”

“I would have appreciated it, had my brother called me up and said, ‘let’s talk,’” she also said.

But Harvey was adamant that Mo’Nique’s wounds were self-inflicted, dismissing any notion of solidarity for what she was fighting for. Instead, he scolded her.

“This problem that you had at Netflix are rich people problems,” Harvey told her. “Because they’re looking at us saying, ‘you’re talking about millions, well, you got this, so you oughta be cool.'”

“I felt you had done yourself a disservice by the way you chose to go about it. When you tell the truth, you have to deal with the repercussions of the truth. We black out here. We can’t come out here and do it any kind of way we want to.”

“Black people can’t do that” was always poor logic for not standing up for oneself, and Harvey’s take on Mo’Nique may have been more egregiously condescending than Crews and Union but it also reveals how “my career” can trump “you were right” when it’s time to show solidarity. It’s also important to understand that you can’t only see “the problem” via your own “experiences”—what you’ve experienced isn’t the sum total of what goes on. And waiting until the wackness affects you will have you dismissing the oppression of those who may not be in your position.

Five years ago, rapper A$AP Rocky was at the center of a firestorm after he dismissed the idea of rapping about the 2014 killing of 17-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Md., at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson. The incident sparked weeks of unrest, as citizens gathered to protest police violence against Black communities, with artists like J. Cole and Talib Kweli offering support.

“Why would I feel compelled to rap about Ferguson?” Rocky said at the time during an interview with TimeOut New York. “I’m not about to say that I was down there throwing rocks at motherfuckers, getting pepper-sprayed. I’d be lying…I live in fucking Soho and Beverly Hills. I can’t relate.”

When Rocky found himself imprisoned in Sweden in 2019 for assault, the rapper’s old interview came back to haunt him. Many of his peers called for his release and railed against what they felt was a racist overreaction as Rocky faced up to six years in prison for what was essentially a fight. As his supporters pleaded his case, many online called back to Rocky’s dismissiveness when he was asked to offer support for the protests in Ferguson.

In an early January sitdown with Kerwin Frost, Rocky offered an explanation for his words in 2015. “In those old interviews, I used to say ‘I think it’s inappropriate for me to rap about things I didn’t help with… I felt like when it came to Ferguson, J. Cole went down there and he actually was on the news and he helped. I felt like he deserved to rap about it. So when someone [asked] me that in 2015 I’m like: ‘I just feel, personally, if I’m in SoHo or I’m here I can’t even talk on that’… That’s appropriating.

“It’s not sincere. It’s pretentious.”

Black voices can often be scorned when they’re facing off against powerful gatekeepers; that those in positions to amplify those voices can so often decide to take the more “practical” route of undermining or outright dismissing those voices in the most public forums is just evidence of how much the upward mobility of the individual can blind them to the bigger picture. When Rocky had to deal with what it meant to face law enforcement while young and Black, when Terry Crews had to stare down a powerful Hollywood entity who’d wronged him—they fully understood what oppression can feel like. When Steve Harvey finger-wagged Mo’Nique on a high-profile platform, he did so acknowledging the sliding scale that Black people face. Supporting each other when “that’s not my experience” means not undermining the fight against powers-that-be. Because being able to retreat “my experiences” is the greatest privilege. Hopefully, someone will remind Terry Crews.

Editor's Note: Terry Crews has tweeted an apology to Gabrielle Union saying, "I want you to know it was never my intention to invalidate your experience— but that is what I did. I apologize."

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