Kunta Kinte Goes To Outer Space (Part I)

Everyone’s making a big deal about Romney pulling the plug on Big Bird. Mitt got Kunta Kinte all upset. My thing is: When has Obama ever made a big stance on supporting the arts? He certainly didn’t say anything on the first night of the debates about it. I did, however, hear the president make a platform for hiring more math and science teachers in the schools. That’s cool, but when you deal with the arts, you are automatically engaged in math and science. Sadly, the arts is always the first thing to get cut from schools.

There’s no way to be a student of music and not deal with math and science. In fact, music one ups the way math and science are traditionally taught in this country. When you study music, you deal with the practical application of both disciplines– numbers, the metric system, reading, time, sound, space, your body, your senses, your environment– all done through a social medium.

She Hate Me

As a kid in school, I always had a hard time with math courses. Not because I couldn’t comprehend it, but because I had an animus towards learning anything by rote without a fundamental understanding behind what made it work. I used to get “into it” with my math teachers. All. The. Time. I’m sure the fact that I was pretty smug about it didn’t help my relations with them. They hated me. I asked too many questions. I’ve come to understand over time, they disliked me because they themselves didn’t know the answers. They were taught by rote, too. If it wasn’t in the book, forget it.

I remember one classic occasion in my algebra class where we were discussing greater than/less than and the teacher was illustrating a number line. . . .

The problem was: 1 > -2

Her point (via the textbook) was that all numbers on the positive side are greater than all negative numbers. I told the teacher this didn’t make any sense to me. I didn’t get why we were showing favor to the positive numbers. I said if 0 is the origin, then the greatness of a number should be determined by its distance from the origin. If -2 is 2 units away from the origin and 1 is only 1 unit away, then -2 is greater than 1.  Nearly all of the students in class roared with excitement and sided with my argument. That teacher was done with me for the rest of the year. Needless to say, I failed the class. Ha!

Grits, Dummy!

Seems like simple logic, but we were not taught this in school. We were told that if a number is positive, it’s always greater than any negative number, but this undermines the whole principle behind 0 being the origin and a neutral number. Scientifically speaking, something being “positive” is not always good and “negative” is not always bad. For example, being HIV negative is commonly accepted as good news.

Kunta Learns To Read

LeVar Burton made the point in the above video that Romney killing “Big Bird” is an attack on disenfranchised kids. I would say it’s an attack on all children– and as a result– an assault on all Americans. I believe Romney’s thinking is that since the 47% is lazy and shiftless and ultimately doesn’t benefit from such programming, they don’t deserve to have access to it and the government shouldn’t deepen the deficit to bail them out. The poor minority are not the only ones who watch PBS. When I was growing up, all kids watched Sesame Street. I wasn’t a big fan of Reading Rainbow when it aired because I had aged a bit by then, but I loved the theme. . . .

47 Steps To Heaven

What elites like Romney don’t understand is that when you call yourself punishing middle and low-class kids by refusing to fund arts and culture, you hurt your own as well. Conversely, I don’t believe Obama is anti-arts, he’s just not pro-arts enough. Life has a way of balancing disadvantages out. Being privileged doesn’t mean that you get to ride through life completely unscathed by the problems that plague those who are less fortunate. What affects the disenfranchised citizens affects all citizens.

Shit that trickles-down, trickles-up!

It’s this capitalist idea that supports the notion that we must have low-wage workers to feed the system. To ensure this, we make sure that a faction of the people remain unenlightened and uneducated. We need a low-class, slave work force to fuel the economy, so keep those poor peons on the new plantation of the private prison matrix. This is what slavery looks like in 2012. Given Mitt’s politics, I suppose he would rather see the money go to building bigger jails, not building better jobs.

But Obama’s no better. He also believes we need to support The System. The difference is that– unlike Mitt who favors the upper-class– Barack feels emphatically about building and sustaining a strong middle-class. For someone who is actually a member of the Elite 1%, he’s suspiciously big on encouraging folks to be in the middle. I’m pretty sure President Obama and Michelle aren’t grooming Sasha and Malia to be a part of that “strong middle” he loves to champion.

Most people tend to judge these presidential candidates for where they differ, but I believe looking for similarities is far more telling.

I Hates Classism

There’s nothing wrong with being middle-class, but I don’t believe it’s anything to strive for. Of course, I’m sure that there are those who are happy with doing just enough in life. “Don’t be too good or too bad” is their edict. This is not to suggest mediocrity and being middle-class are synonymous with one another. If you select a profession like being a public school teacher and you decide that it’s more important to be of service to the community than be wealthy, then being middle-class is a by-product, not a life passion. As an artist, I don’t believe martyrdom legitimizes my craft, but I also have no aversion to being rich. As a middle-class American, I don’t strive to escalate to the upper-class any more than I’ve strived to be middle-class, but I definitely strive not to be broke.

Not that there’s anything wrong with washing dishes or mopping floors. If this is what you choose to do in life, so be it. But for most people who do it, it’s not a choice.

Who’s Johnny?

Before the humanists direct all their hate to Mitt Romney for his disbelief in the Public Broadcasting System, I don’t believe his lack of faith lies completely unfounded. Having grown up watching a variety of children’s programming on PBS, what I’ve seen today pales in comparison. I remember I used to love hearing the great pianist Johnny Costa, who was dubbed “The White Tatum” by his hero, Art Tatum himself. In fact, hearing Costa play celeste on the show is partly what inspired me to feature that instrument on my album Nick @ Night. I also used to dig the handyman who played the guitar, Joe Negri (I always got a kick out of a White dude having that last name). It is only recently that I learned all the performances were done live on the spot for every episode. Imagine the effect of hearing a live band while learning. . . . That was 30-years ago.

Given how far we’ve evolved technologically, why have we devolved culturally?

 . . . find out why in part II of Kunta Kinte Goes To Outer Space. *cue organ music*


– Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop

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