Friday, April 27, 2007

Stop Snitching: 60 Minutes’ Assassination of Hip Hop Culture

Hip Hop in the Crosshairs

“This is what I mean an anti-nigger machine!” -Chuck D. (Public Enemy)

OK. I’ve finally been moved to respond to the “Stop Snitching” segment that appeared on 60 minutes recently. I was avoiding it until now because this would make the third post in a row that I’ve had to defend hip-hop to one degree or another. But, after five full days, the story continues to stick in my craw.

If you saw the segment, you might be moved to believe that an entire generation of young, black inner-city inhabitants is being led down the path of self-destruction, Pied piper-style, by rappers like Busta Rhymes and Cam’ron. Apparently, the programmers at 60 Minutes would like you to buy into the idea that fans of hip hop are being encouraged to not cooperate with the police if they witness a crime being committed. Regarding this particular illusion, allow me to employ a recently resurrected reference to the infamous 1978 mass murder/suicide in Jonestown, Guyana: “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” I won’t bore you with detailing the numerous problems with the piece. I would, however, like to make a few quick points.

“Justice,” as it were, is metered out quite differently on rough the urban streets of this country than it is in the state-sponsored criminal justice system. Quite a few of the young men who refuse to cooperate with police with regard to crimes like assault and homicide, even if they or their loved ones have been victimized, do so because they intend to directly exact revenge. Actually, I’m surprised that media darling Anderson Cooper didn’t take this salacious little detail into account. Imagine what kind of legs this story would have had if he’d introduced the idea that vigilantism is the law of the land in the ghettoes of the US.

Of all the cultural observers, sociologists, community advocates or thoughtful MCs 60 Minutes could have interviewed about this “phenomenon” they chose Cam’ron. Consider that for a moment. They chose Cam’ron, an inventor of ridiculous self-celebratory nursery rhymes, to explain the somewhat complicated issue of black distrust of the law enforcement machine. Next week I’m fully expecting to turn on 60 minutes and see an interview with Lil’ Kim about her thoughts on the disintegration of the black family.

Black folks and other minorities have been taught, by experience, to be wary of police. How much investigative journalism would it have taken to uncover this elusive detail? This should have been the predominant issue of the segment but it wasn’t even given a cursory examination.

Thankfully, I have access to a brother in the know, Dr. Lorenzo Boyd, a criminal justice professor at the University of Texas and an expert on community policing. He was gracious enough to arm me with a number of important facts regarding the relationship between those who police the nation’s inner cities and those who live in them. Here’s a few:

  1. Although Blacks comprise roughly 14% of America’s population, Blacks constitute over 60% of all police arrests.
  2. Race is one of the strongest predictors of attitudes towards the police
  3. Black citizens in general tend to have less confidence in the police than Whites and are often skeptical of the police’s willingness or ability to protect them
  4. In a 1998 Department of Justice Report, 67% of White respondents reported that they felt that the police treated all races fairly, while only 30% of Blacks felt that way
  5. Public opinion polls have shown that overall Blacks tend to have a more negative view of the police than Whites, and Whites were more likely to support the use of deadly force by police than were Blacks.
  6. Police brutality is a major source of dissatisfaction with police among both urban residents and racial minorities
  7. Fatal shootings by police are more frequent in areas that have a large number of racial or economic underclass.
  8. The 1992 St. Clair Commission report (examining Boston's police department) showed that race still plays a central role in the use of excessive force. The report found that during the period studied, 50 percent of complainants in the sample group were Black, while 26 percent of Boston's population was Black.
  9. The Christopher Commission: “Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers frequently treat minorities differently from Whites, more often using disrespectful and abusive language, employing unnecessarily intrusive practices such as the `prone-out,' and engaging in use of excessive force when dealing with minorities" (1991).
  10. According to the 1991 Christopher Commission Report on the Los Angeles Police Department, racial bias within the LAPD is not confined to the officer’s treatment of minority citizens, but it is also reflected in the conduct of officers towards their minority colleagues.
  11. Minority officers are still too often subjected to racial slurs, discrimination within the police department. More than 80% of the minority officers in the Los Angeles Police Department are concentrated in “entry-level police officer ranks.”
  12. The Christopher Commission cites a survey of which 650 officers responded. It states that approximately one-quarter of the officers responding agreed that “racial bias” (prejudice) on the part of officers towards minority citizens contributes to negative relations with the public (Christopher 1991).
  13. The police are more likely to use full law enforcement authority (i.e., arrest) in communities that have higher percentages of minorities (Jackson and Boyd 2005).
  14. African Americans 3x more likely than whites to experience threatened or actual force and are Hispanics more likely than whites, but less likely than African Americans, to experience either.
  15. Police seen as unresponsive to complaints against them.
  16. Racial & ethnic minorities often accuse police of failing to investigate, “covering up.”
  17. Most people who believe they are a victim of police misconduct do not report it.

Lest you accuse me of being a complete pessimist, I end this with a glimmer of hope. I hope that maybe, one day, the powers that be at 60 Minutes will decide that, instead of attempts at broad cultural character assassination, they’ll dig just a little deeper into the roots of issues having to deal with black America. But until then, I’ll light a candle for Ed Bradley, continue to curse the day that Andy Rooney was born and resign myself to watching America’s Funniest Home Videos.

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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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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Whitlock The Enabler

Time to wake up, Jason.

Jason Whitlock is wrong. Again.

In an article published Wednesday, April 11, Jason Whitlock, columnist for the Kansas City Star and former talking head for ESPN, uses the recent Don Imus uproar as an excuse to launch a scorched Earth attack against hip hop, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and gangsterism run amock. Whitlock offers his thanks to Don Imus who, unwittingly, "..extended Black History Month to April, and we can once again wallow in victimhood, protest like it’s 1965 and delude ourselves into believing that fixing your hatred is more necessary than eradicating our self-hatred."

Where to begin?

First, Whitlock erroniously dismisses Don Imus as "irrelevant". This is a man who has been in radio (and more recently, television) for over 30 years, has been named one of the 25 greatest talk radio hosts of all time, regularly invites nationally recognized politicians to his show, and has a daily listening audience of tens of millions of Americans. If Imus is irrelevant what is Whitlock?

Second, he cynically accuses Vivian Stringer and Rutgers of holding a press conference in order to recruit players. Never mind the fact that every major news provider in the country has been requesting comments/responses/interviews from and with the Rutgers team since Imus' comments became a national story. Never mind that ANY organization in the country would have scheduled a news conference to deal with the furor (e.g. Duke rape case). Also, never mind the fact that if Rutgers wants to reverse this situation and use it to their advantage it's their prerogative. They didn't bring this attention to themselves.

Third, what does hip hop have to do with Don Imus? Tell me something. Did hip hop precede the slave trade, chattel slavery in the US, the purposeful, systemic destruction of the black family, the complete obliteration of our former culture, the three-fifths of a man decision, lynching, race wars, Jim Crow, Plessy v. Ferguson, economic lockout, poll taxes, literacy tests, The Little Rock Nine, the KKK, Emmit Till, Medgar Evers, the assassinations of King and X, white flight, the myth of the "welfare queen", underfunded public schools, predatory lending, land rent schemes, rent-to-own stores, etc., etc., etc.? As usual, Whitlock latches on to anything having to do with race and uses it to bludgeon hip hop. Hip hop is and has always been a genre fueled by poverty and inequality. Does Whitlock know how hip hop began? Hip hop (think beatboxing, mcing, djing, etc.) started during the late '70s and exploded during the Reagan era (not coincidentally when Reagan began to cypher money from inner city school music programs). Prior to that, young black kids were learning to play i-n-s-t-r-u-m-e-n-t-s in school. If you can recall, Jazz used to be our rebel music - and the blues prior to that. Black kids rap because that's the only form of musical expression we were left with. And guess what? Many (NOT MOST, NOT ALL!) people who grew up in poverty tend to act ignorantly and to say ignorant things. The same is true of poor whites, Latinos, etc. Believe me, there are tons of black folks, including myself, who have a problem with the direction mainstream hip hop has taken over the course of the last decade or so. Nas, the MCs MC, even went so far as to title his latest album, "Hip Hop Is Dead". But to me, to loathe hip hop as much as Whitlock does is to loathe poor blacks. Or, as Whitlock's ideological twin, Bill Cosby, put it, "the lower economic people."

Fourth, Whitlock is wrong about Dave Chappelle. Dave Chappelle TURNED DOWN fifty million dollars because of misgivings he had about the racial direction his show was taking. I've favorably compared Chappelle's change of heart to Richard Pryor's, when Pryor visited Africa and decided to jettison the term 'nigger' from his public vocabulary. For Whitlock to actually compare politically insignificant black comedians to an influential white pundit with a history of prominent, public race-baiting is just misguided and regrettable.

Fifth, Imus only offered a public apology because of the uproar and his fear of losing corporate sponsorship - not out of any sense of genuine remorse. Imus has a track record of ugly racialized comments. This is the same guy who admitted to hiring staff specifically to make "nigger jokes." Plus, his apology was hollow. It was basically one of those, "I'm sorry for what happened" apologies. Not, "I'm sorry for the ignorant shit that I said." Who can be blamed for not accepting that?

Don't get me wrong. I agree that we have bigger fish to fry than Don Imus. Certainly drug usage, pre-marital pregnancy, single motherhood, lack of education, AIDS and other STDs, self-hatred, glorification of gansterism, misogyny, coonery, et cetera are greater issues. But these things are - like it or not - problems that have arisen and grown worse as a result of lack (or perceived lack) of economic opportunity and the brain drain that was created when our "talented tenth" integrated into the dominant culture and left the black working and lower classes behind. The black upper to middle class certainly has a lot more responsibility for this than the likes of Tupac Shakur.

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