Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Getting THERE

The man single-handedly responsible for the loss of 337 steps...

In 2000, comedian Chris Rock performed an extremely amusing, memorable skit called “Progress Report” on his brilliant, now-defunct 30 minute HBO variety program, The Chris Rock Show. In it, Rock tracked the social progress of black America through a series of highly publicized African-American triumphs and blunders. Rock mentions that we always hear black people lament the idea that “so-and-so set us two steps back” while other, more optimistic black folks claim that, “we’re almost THERE.” Fortunately, Rock has access to a chart provided by the fictitious American Black Progress Association so viewers can see for themselves just how far we have to go to get “THERE.” For example, according to Rock, “General Colin Powell speaking at the Republican Convention marched us twelve steps ahead.” But we can’t celebrate just yet because, “Mike Tyson speaking in public set us twenty-four steps back!”

Funny stuff. Comedy like this, as well as his infamous Bring The Pain riff on Black Folks versus “Niggers,” tapped into black middle class anxiety about how we are viewed by white America. It also skillfully reflects how much African-Americans obsess and fret over perceived black misbehavior. Unfortunately, Chris Rock’s humor regarding this issue rings true. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a black person say of the ill-considered actions of another black person, ‘They make me ashamed to be black,’ or ‘They’re setting us back,’ I’d be ri…well, I’d have a few hundred dollars.

Try as I might, I just can’t seem to convince some of my people just how absurd a sentiment this is. Apart from being divorced from history (after all, how much do we have to accomplish before we’re “accepted”) it’s also an overblown reaction to our own self-consciousness. Try to imagine a scenario in which white Americans as a collective murmur under their breaths that David Koresh, John Wayne Gacy, Steve Bartman or Anna Nicole Smith have set them back. Or imagine a world in which whites still feel a sense of communal guilt over what their ancestors did to Native Americans. You can’t, can you? Yet, here we stand, seven years into the new millennium, willing to condemn our entire race because of a few, relatively insignificant, yet widely and regularly reported black guffaws.

This is not just wrong. It is symptomatic of the divisive self-disdain that permeates the entire culture of middle and upper-middle class black America. When columnist Jason Whitlock suggested moving the NBA All-Star Game overseas, “David Stern seriously needs to consider moving the event out of the country for the next couple of years in hopes that young, hip-hop hoodlums would find another event to terrorize. Taking the game to Canada won't do it. The game needs to be moved overseas, someplace where the Bloods and Crips and hookers and hoes can't get to it without a passport and plane ticket,” he explained, in no uncertain terms, that he, and people of his ilk, have no use for poor blacks (I guess Jason hasn’t been to any European football games in which black players are subjected to “monkey calls” and bananas being thrown at them by racist – though decidedly non-hip-hop – whites). Unfortunately, this sentiment seems to be at the center of the current push to sanitize hip-hop lyrics.

Honestly, part of me wants this new Delores Tucker-inspired movement to succeed. After that, when the social, behavioral ills that are borne out of poverty continue to plague black communities, hip-hop can’t be used as a convenient scapegoat. Maybe then, at long last, those of us black folks who dream of getting THERE will realize that we all have to do our part to bring the rest of those “niggers” with us.

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At 12:46 AM , Blogger Clifton said...

The whole issue with the movement is what are we trying to accomplish. If it's just for a public image boost that's useless.

Whenever I see something like the Flav show or even Snoop's comments that enraged me, I never care how we look to white people. I have already accepted the fact that our image to mainstream America will forever be built on stereotypes in some form. However, I honestly believe we are the only people in the country that take images of ourselves from the media and own them. I know the music isn't the blame for the social ills of the race but until we can figure out how to fix things we might need to slow some of these brothers down from giving out the blueprint to destruction. It might make some of them actually have to come up with a concept for a song instead of 15 tracks full of the same lyrics said in a different cadence. I don't know what the Diplomats are going to do.


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