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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Hypocrisy at its finest

I often hear political types - not just in public office, but those who like to talk about it, like radio chat hosts - ranting and raving about personal responsibility and how people need to own up to their behavior and their own shortcomings and take more active roles in forging their own path.

And to that theory I say bravo. I like it. I love it even. It's so much better to try hard to improve things for yourself, than to wait for someone else to hook you up. That's an ideal world. But let's not be naive. We don't live in an ideal world. So I also know that as much as we'd like to deny it there are institutional hurdles in place in that make it tougher for the poorest of the poor to simply work hard and do well without a little bit of help. So even if you are a person who suspects that most poverty stricken adults did it to themselves, don't forget that for every one of those adults there's a kid out there who can't be blamed for the situation he was born into and who really needs a helping hand to break the cycle.

Enough cryptic talk though.

I was driving home yesterday afternoon and I tuned into a radio talk show on which the host was preaching personal responsibility on the one hand, but on the other hand blaming hip-hop culture and rap music for bad behavior. Can't have it both ways. This is one of the same hosts I'll bet who spouts the theory that guns don't kill, people do. Fine. My mother owns a legal, registered handgun (this is true, not a made up example). And I'm not at all worried that she'll shoot me. Somewhere out there though is a schmuck who also has a handgun. And under the right circumstances, I'm sure I'd have reason to fear him shooting me. But if you're gonna blame the shooter and not the weapon, use the same standard when the weapon is supplanted by a form of entertainment. Hold the person responsible, not the music they listen to.

This talk show host ranted about how hip-hop culture and rap music has caused major damage to young people in general and black people in particular. He went on and on about how hip-hop - he later narrowed his target to "gangsta rap" - was essentially responsible for a large portion of children born out of wedlock, violent crime, and general immoral behavior.

It's pure hypocrisy.

I can guarantee you that most teenagers - black, white, Asian, Latino, or other - who have unprotected sex and get pregnant don't do it 'cause some rapper suggested it. Most kids who shoot other people over a pair of tennis shoes don't do it 'cause a rapper suggested it. Most kids who generally thumb their noses at convention don't do it 'cause a rapper suggests they should. If a kid's actin' up like that, he's doing it 'cause he either hasn't gotten any good home training, or (if he's old enough, say over 15) he has chosen to behave badly and doesn't care about the consequences...Or maybe he's one of the reallllllly impressionable kids who believes song lyrics are instructions. And I know those kids do exist.

When I was covering crime, I once met a mom and dad who busted their humps for their kids, and kept them clean and clothed and fed, and made sure they kept up on their studies. They had a young son - 5-years-old, if I remember right - who was hit by a car while playing in the street near his yard. When the ambulance crew arrived and began to tend to the boy, they were shocked to find little baggies in his socks with white powdery chunks inside. They immediately - and reasonably - thought the boy was being used as a coke mule for some neighborhood drug dealer.

Upon further testing the substance turned out to be baking soda. When the kid was well enough to talk, he sheepishly admitted to cops and family that he had put the stuff in a bag himself and tucked it into his socks 'cause he had seen older boys do it on a nearby playground, and assumed it was cool. It was a sad situation. This was an exception. His mother did her job. His father did his job. Kids see a lot of things parents don't realize. And no doubt there are impressionable kids. But this situation is wholly different from a talk show host suggesting that a type of music and the culture surrounding that music is a cause for bad behavior across an entire community.

If a nearly grown kid - someone in his mid to late teens - is a morally weak, violent person he's gonna be that way whether he's listening to Bach's Brandenburg Concertos or "Stranded on Death Row."

That's my word. You don't have to agree, but don't bother commenting unless you can articulate your opinion. Remember I'm not a social scientist. I just play one on this blog.


  • How far do I go on this one? Well, for starters, let's agree that the themes that are covered in arts and entertainment are a reflection of what is happening in people's lives, not the cause of it. The turmoil caused by the lack of political, economic, and social equality in the "greatest country in the world" is at the root of behavior that talking heads, pundits, radio mouths, and politicians like to blame on hip-hop.
    Blaming the messenger is not a new concept. The same type of hypocrites have existed in every era of this world. Unfortunately, the "new" world is mostly populated with jagoff descendants of the "old" one. I'll keep it within the last 150 years, but in that time, each new "ethnic group" or "race" that sought social, economic, and political freedom in the "new" world was demonized by the descendants of whichever white europeans that happened to arrive before them. It is the closest thing that America has ever had to a ritualized culture and is the social equivalent of male fraternity hazing. First it was Germans, then Scots, then Irish, then Italians, then Blacks (until emancipation, we didn't count), then Chinese, then Cubans, and now Middle Easterners, Indians and Asian Muslims (except for Israelis--the Germans got them).
    Black American people hold a unique place in this world because unlike these other groups I've mentioned, we have no place to go home to. All our family ties were severed involuntarily in the move and this is our only home. All the other groups (even Indian "untouchables") have another place in this world they can call home and the means to trace their journey back. We do not.
    As a result, we always been the most convenient scapegoat for every problem since June 14, 1865, especially when we entertain. I don't know exactly what it is that scare white people about Black people so much, but every time we put our troubles into a coded message set to song, white people what to come along and destroy whatever dignity the expression gives to us. When Blacks sang Blue Tail Fly ("Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care/the master's gone away) is was the era's social equivalent of "Big Pimpin'/spendin' gees". For some reason, white people got a real problem with ugly truth, especially when their face is on it looking them back in the mirror. It's obvious that their motto is don't change your face (or, god forbid, grow to love it)--break the mirror so you won't have to look at your ugly self.
    So the Limbaughs of the world need to attack hip-hoppers as if to say " You Black basta*d!! What have I told you about making me reflect on my mistreatment of you for an extra dollar that I burned to light my cigar? Don't you know that it makes me beat you liberally about the head and shoulders when you make me think about how good I've gotten it at your expense? Do you think I want my children to find out that they could have easily shared crumbs from their loaf to give you everything you would need for 500 generations? Geez, you sure know how to make a guy remember that he has no conscience that he professes to pray to God about. I wish you would stop it. You're making me feel uneasy and that makes me crazy."

    No, cat daddy--you're already there.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 3:01 PM  

  • As a parent of two boys, both in college, both "good" boys, both irresponsible with enough common sense between the both of them to fit into a peanut shell, I agree with you totally.
    Oh and they both have listened to hip/hop/rap/gangsta whatever it is for years. They also have played violent video games and have seen inappropriate movies.
    While they need to get their rears in gear to become functioning adults, they AREN'T axe murderers, burglars, rapists or worse. I don't know what might be worse...

    Anyway, the point was blaming the results on peripheral things, rather than on the personality or bringing up responsible. It's just goofy.
    I'm in my 50's and of course remember my parents' generation and previous generations blaming the degeneration of society on rock and roll. Or wearing slacks. Or no bras.

    Just wait til you have kids...
    If only we could blame stuff on the music! (rather than on ourselves or the little brats)

    The Frothmistress

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:23 PM  

  • Big Daddy we are so in disagreement, but I am also in PARTIAL disagreement with our dear host on this one so let me start there.

    I think people are influenced by entertainment as much as anything. The more you are disenfranchised and/or poor the more you are liable (especialy teens) to look for something that repesents another avenue for lifestyle and self image outside of the home.

    People of color often have such a limited representation of themselves, especially those that reflect accurately upon widspread social realities.

    A problem with Rap now(and there are actally many problems) is the truth behind a very false myth of Black wealth and (deeply twisted) empowerment being generated by Rap (a myth which is THE most important part of rap marketing). We have music that is being deliberately formed/designed and marketed to middle class White teens with African American and Latinos as a secondary market. I will go further to state, gasp, that there is even designs to use Rap music as a destructive force in the Black community that goes beyond profit. (I will hapily back that up at some other time but anyone with a passing awareness of American history should not even raise a brow).

    Now Big Daddy, I have a whole overview that says much of what you have about America- specifically its history being largely determined by group power and the group ethic with American political history being created by successive waves of immigrants. Where I take issue is your description.

    Your "No place to go home to" argument seems to voluntarily ignore that the homes of many people who live in the US were destroyed by the same colonial realities that brought Blacks to this country. Ironically it was often the US that was the purveyor, supporter and beneficiary of these colonial realities. I find it wonderous that you choose to use Israel, a nation, mattering on how it is interpreted, that consists of Europeans with a dubious claim of being autochthanous to Palestine, who are (perhaps) exceptional in that they may be one of a few European groups to be treated in a way that colonial/neocolonial Europe and America had been treating people of color for centuries. I don't think it is an accident that Israel and the U.S. have so quickly assumed a partnering role in Middle East colonialism but careful Miamista readers already may be aware of my thoughts there.

    Also Big Dadddy do not forget that many of the "immigrants" that you speak of are actually Native Americans who, no fault of America's best efforts, continue to exist. Without going much further in what I know was a breif summary, I believe that you both misinterpret or at least muddy the nature of Germanic/northern European notions of shared identity and race and you fail to present how core Anglo American values (which surely not all bad) formed a backbone to America's racial, expansionary, imperialistic and neocolonial ethos.

    I have a serious problem with the notion that African Americans are so powerless, so incapable of self resurrection that it is a group that is condemned to live with a culture that is a mere distorted reflection of it's opporessor, appropriately living in the shadows. I have problems with the idea that an African identity and involvement of African Americans in sub Saharan Africa is somehow impossible. (And please don't mention Black "leaders" blabbing on about Sudan and Zimbabwe, echoing imperialistic propaganda on shit they unfortnately don't know jackshit about.)

    I could go on with my problems with this "lost people" theory but it is just too much for right now.

    Let me return to the argument in the original post, about Hip Hop and Rap. The music (which is a most distant relative of what can TRULY termed as Hip Hop), as it is now constituted is largely destructive. (Old Hip Hop heads have a point of comparison and the difference is stark). It is destructive like so much of media and what passes as education and what passes as history and what passes at news... It is meant to maintain certain environment and realities that typify American life that are not in Black kids best interest. I have no problem with saying that, because that shit that is played on radios, distributed by five mega corportions, sold at less than a dozen mega outlets, manufactured in giant factories and promoted through media that people of color do not own is THE LAST THING that should be labeled as a Black product. It is modern minstrelism (like "jimmy cracked corn").

    Note: At some point in the near future I will probably removing this comment. ;)

    By Blogger Miamista, at 10:08 PM  

  • PS, I didn't intend to insinuate that circmstances of REAL people and information and choices are still not the collectively most important factors in decisions. Music, media, entertainment, exposure to ideas, etc, IS a potent PART of conditioning

    By Blogger Miamista, at 10:21 PM  

  • Thank you for your comments Miamista. I realize this is a short forum to air these discussions, but this one touches upon two things I care deeply about--hip-hop culture and empowerment of Blacks in economic, social and political realms that is equal to anyone else in this country. Our status can be made to be better than that of whites, but at the very least it must be equal, which it has never been. Inluded within that equality is the ability to fail and try again.

    First, I am not making an excuse for Blacks with my comments. To the contrary, I would like for my comments to be empowering. They are intended to get Black people to stop concerning themselves with getting something back which may or may have not existed and using the denial of a payback as an excuse to not get to a point of being even. I do not believe in any "powerlessness against the oppressor" type shite or making excuses for not getting something done. The comment should be "stop looking back to a place that you've never known or had a connection with to avoid facing the here and now."

    While it is true that Israelis were imported into their country in the same way as Blacks were here, their importation was one of liberation from slavery in Germany. They got to make themselves an army and fight for their new home amongst the disunited tribes of mostly nomadic people. There was no servitude of Jews involved and their collective religious rituals placed that location on the earth's surface as their spiritual home. America has never been such a place for Africans. Jewish repatriation was very different than a Middle Passage or the creation of Liberia.

    And while it's true that many people who come to America have no home to go to, it isn't because they lacked an opportunity to fight and die for their homes while they were there. People wanted to preserve their lives and families and America has made that possible for them. We appear to have a giving culture. That I have no problem with. I do have a problem with a system of government run by people who seemingly favor a new emigre whose family has contributed nothing to this country (save for purchase of exported items) over the descendants of bond servants whose families helped build the backbone of infrastructure upon which the nation's wealth rests for no pay. I'm not saying don't help the emigre, just don't push me aside to do it.

    Getting back to hip-hop, the culture does not promote violence against Blacks, just like horror movies don't promote violence against single women, drug users, people who have casual sex, or like Greek tragedies don't promote interfamilial homocide and rape. The promoters of the culture whose most important interest is their bottom line promote what people like. People like blood 'n' guts. Always have. People are fascinated by the gory visceral evidence of life. Which, unfortunately, is pain and death. Life is only appreciable in the existence of those things.

    Does hip-hop cause people to jump off of a cliff with a parachute for an adrenalin thrill? No. Do videos and movies of people doing that make people do that? No. What makes people do that is their own mind. Is hip-hop an influence? Possibly, but is it a bigger influence than the billboards advertising the Aventura Mall or the window with the spicy kicks that you can't afford?

    Kids think $0.50 is "kewl" but is that because he's a talentless performer? Is it only because his lyrics revolve around hustling, bangin' and slangin'? I think marketers target our kids with this "garbage", but is it any more or less garbage than that shoveled out by Walt Disney? By Apple Computers? By T-Mobile? By Lucky Charms? By Dick Cheney?
    At least $0.50 told you straight-up he was a hustler and an outlaw.

    BTW, most people don't know that $0.50 first minor hit was a tongue in cheek ditty called "How to Rob" wherein he laid out his plans to get rich by ripping off other hip-hop artists. A very funny cut and an imaginative way to get recognition. And the first adage of show business is no news is bad news. "I don't care why my name is in the paper, as long as they spell it right"

    Anyway, on to the next rambling tirade.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 2:39 PM  

  • James, I don't know what you're talking about. I regularly gack people with my nine and have unprotected sex, which is why I have 7 kids out of wedlock, and it's all because I listen to hip-hop.

    Seriously - this is what they think. That's so flat-out dumb it's hard to comprehend. Influence - yes. Sure, teenagers are influenced by lots of things. Total, entire, 100% cause of urban crime? C'mon now.

    People who are weak minded are influenced by things all the time. I can guarantee you the guy who murdered my friend last year didn't do it because Fifty Cent told him to.

    By Blogger Melissa, at 3:57 PM  

  • Rappers and Oprah aren't getting along these days ... do a news search.

    By Blogger Manola Blablablanik, at 4:52 PM  

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    By Anonymous video games dont cause violence, at 1:06 PM  

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