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The Miseducation of Black Women: What Lauryn Hill Means To Women Of Color

Culture & Entertainment

In 1998, a 23-year-old lyricist from South Orange, New Jersey released a project that would influence and inspire women of color for years to come. 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of Lauryn Hill's record-breaking solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and the Queen of Soul herself is giving us a chance to experience the magic all over again.


She announced this week that she would be embarking in a multi-city tour where she would perform the critically acclaimed album in its entirety, and we're sure she'll snatch a few wigs in the process. The tour kicks off July 5 and will include stops in New Orleans, Atlanta, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

The relevance of her first and only solo studio album is undeniable, and is especially relevant to the narrative of women of color. The album takes us on an authentic and raw journey through what it means to be a black women. In commemoration of the album's anniversary and recently announced tour, we've taken the time to give you an analytical track-by-track review on what Lauryn Hill's album meant and still means to women of color.

"Intro"

This 47-second track sets the scene for Lauryn's narrative, where a teacher, played by politician and poet Ras Baraka, takes attendance in a classroom setting. At the end of the role, Baraka calls Lauryn's name as the audio fades out. Her absence implies the overall theme of her "miseducation" in the project. Genius.com implies that this could be analogy to her, like all of us, missing some of life's most important lessons by not staying present.

"Lost Ones"

"Lost Ones" is the audience's first time hearing Lauryn's signature Caribbean influence on the album and also serves as one of the greatest diss tracks of all time. The subtle innuendos throughout the track elude to her messy break-up from a former lover, as well as her split with her longtime group members after leaving the Fugees. "Lost Ones" is a bold f*ck you and a testament to women's increasingly progressive emancipation from their oppressors.

"Ex-Factor"

The definition of insanity is continuing to do something over and over again and expect a different result. I guess we're all pretty f*cking crazy because I don't know one person who can't relate to the eerily familiar lyrics to "Ex-Factor."

"I keep letting you back in/ How can I explain myself?/ As painful as this thing has been/ I just can't be with no one else"

The song has been frequently sampled in popular songs, including recent hits like Drake's "Nice For What" and Cardi B.'s "Be Careful," frankly because it's so damn relevant. We are all guilty of being swindled of our hearts from someone who said they would die for us, leaving us to wonder: But would you live for me tho?

"To Zion"

"To Zion" answers a question that has been relevant to women since the dawn of time. Can we have both? Women are so often told that once we make the decision to have a child, our professional and personal lives are no longer worth fulfillment. In the song, Lauryn candidly discusses the decision she made to keep her baby, Zion, in spite of her dreams and in return, Zion has given her the greatest joy in her life.

Lauryn really lets all of her femininity hang out on this track. She refutes critics who told her to use her head, and did what women do best: used her heart. In this track, she depicts the love between mother and child and proves that this connection is the truest reflection of God's grace.

"Doo Wop (That Thing)"

This track is the quintessential 'check yourself, before you wreck yourself' anthem for people of color. "Doo Wop (That Thing)" is a requiem of protest for exploited black bodies, and the lyrics still ring true today; especially in the age of social media, where women are so often caught up in mainstream media's depiction of who we are supposed to be that we forget who we are.

"Superstar"

Now this side of Lauryn, I love. Yes, we know her as the ultimate soul songstress of many generations, but she also spits heat on this album, yo. She checks the mainstream music industry for transforming hip-hop into an inauthentic commodity that encourages mark ass tricks that aren't true to the game to get a foot in the industry.

"Final Hour"

We get to see a more theoretical Lauryn on this track, as she discusses the juxtaposition between spirituality and materialism. She continues to relay biblical references on this track and warns that we should be careful what we value. She mentions Psalms 73, which says that in the end, living a life close to God is imperative because the prosperity, if evil, is temporary, and will receive their judgement in the "final hour."

"When It Hurts So Bad"

So often, we are told to trust our gut. But everything that feels good, ain't good for you, sis. Lauryn touches on the vulnerability of a woman and her emotions, and how the combination will lead us to seek out things that aren't good for us. Lauryn loved a man, like we all did. But how often are we caught up chasing what we want so much that we miss out on what we truly needed.

"I Used to Love Him" (featuring Mary J. Blige)

This duet between the songstresses, who were both super hot and going through very public break-ups at the time of the album's release, was straight flames. Lauryn and Mary were faced with the conclusion that we all eventually have to realize: true love shouldn't hurt. The vocalists sung a tune of pain and redemption that is all too relevant to the realities of black women.

We dim our light for the sake of our lovers and over time we forget that we can shine without them.

By the end of the song, Mary and Lauryn find healing and strength in knowing that their life was more than being the lover of a foolish man and that their creator was in full control.

"Forgive Them Father"

This song depicts a story about the the forgiving hearts of women. Although she has been oppressed and betrayed by those she loved, this song is a prayer that those who hurt her seek blessings despite. This is another nod to biblical context as she references Cain and Abel, as well as Jesus and Judas.

"Every City, Every Ghetto"

We dive into Lauryn's nostalgia and get a peek at her adolescence in this track. She reminisces about the challenges she encountered and the memories she garnered after growing up in what she calls "New Jerusalem."

Nothing Even Matters (featuring D'Angelo)

This song encompasses her overall theme that love conquers all. She and D'Angelo's soulful melody creates an image of intimacy that is relatable to anyone that's ever been in love.

"Everything Is Everything"

Lauryn hasn't shied away from getting political on 'em, and this track is no exception. The track discusses social injustice and the challenges that inner city youth encounter on a daily basis. The song is host to a comforting message that even though things are f*cked up now, change will come eventually.

The track also features a young John Legend, who was virtually unknown at the time on the keys.

"The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill"

This song is about the progressively feminist idea that women should be able to choose their own destiny. She, like many of us, went out in the world to find herself and found out that the answer she was seeking was inside of her the whole time.

"Can't Take My Eyes Off You"

This Frankie Vallie and The 4 Seasons remake is a tribute to pure infatuation. "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" is not only a love song, but a piece of hardcore gentrification in the name of black love. What more can you ask for?

"Tell Him"

This is probably my favorite song on the album, as it relates to my own personal relationship with God and the man I plan to spend the rest of my life. To me, God is love. Love is patient, love is kind, and love is forgiving: the same qualities that I seek and hope to exhibit in my every relationship that I encounter. Lauryn compares the love that we share with others to the love that was shown when Jesus spared his life for us. That's pretty deep.

I grew into womanhood listening to this album, but only now can I understand why each song resonates so deeply with me. She was telling my story. I, too, have loved and been loved by a man, scorned and betrayed, and found my own piece and joy within myself.

I cannot wait to see what she has in tour for the summer, who's coming with me?

For a full list of tour dates, visit The Fader.

Featured image by Giphy

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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