Saturday, October 01, 2005
Straight Talk About Race and Racism
"Now I'm black but black people trip 'cause white people like me; white people like me I but don't like them. . . . I don't hate whites, I just gotta death wish for motherfuckers that ain't right"
--"Race War"; Ice-T, Album: Home Invasion
"This will all be over in '99, so, niggas, give devils the crime; gonna be more devils dying"
--"No Surrender"; Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Album: Creepin on ah Come Up
"Like my niggas from South Central Los Angeles they found that they couldn't handle us; Bloods, CRIPS, on the same squad, with the Essays up, and nigga, it's time to rob and mob and break the white man off something lovely"
--"The Day the Niggaz Took Over"; DrDre, Album: The Chronic
"Bust a Glock; devils get shot. . . . when God give the word me herd like the buffalo through the neighborhood; watch me blast. . . . I'm killing more crackers than Bosnia-Herzegovina, each and everyday. . . . don't bust until you see the whites of his eyes, the whites of his skin. . . . Louis Farrakhan . . . Bloods and CRIPS, and little old me, and we all getting ready for the enemy"
--"Enemy"; Ice Cube, Album: Lethal Injection
"Rhymes is rugged like burnt buildings in Harlem; the Ol Dirty Bastard. . . . I'm also militant. . . . snatching devils up bythe hair, then cut his head off"
--"Cuttin Headz"; Ol Dirty Bastard, Album: Return of the 36 Chambers: the Dirty Version
"I come with the wicked style. . . . I got everybody jumping to the voodoo. . . . I got a gat and I'm looking out the window like Malcolm. . . . April 29 was power to the people, and we just might see a sequel"
--"Wicked"; Ice Cube, Album: The Predator
(editor's note--April 29 was the start of the post-Rodney King trial riots in L.A.)
"Deal with the devil with my motherfucking steel. . . .white man is something I tried to study, but I got my hands bloody, yeah. . . . I met Farrakhan and had dinner"
--"When Will They Shoot"; Ice Cube, Album: The Predator
"My own kind blind, brain-trained on the devil-level. . . . chasing down loot, Dole or Newt, who do you shoot. . . . rough stuff to the babies, spread like rabies"
--"Niggativity . . . Do I Dare Disturb the Universe"; Chuck D, Album: Autobiography of MistaChuck
“I may die in the scuffle but I’m taking forty devils”
-- “The City”; Wu-Tang Clan, Album: Wu-Tang Forever
"And death to you devils from the Old South"
--"Waitin' Ta Hate"; Ice Cube, Album: War & Peace, Vol 2 (The Peace Album)
This is a sampling of what has been recorded in the name of entertainment. Not by a couple fringe groups, but by "mainstream" rap artists (I use "artists" very loosely here). There's no doubt from context that the "devils" oft-threatened in these lyrics represent the "white devils" spoken of by Louis Farrakhan and Khalid Abdul Muhammed. Was there an outpouring of condemnation for this hate-speech from the black community or the music industry? Hardly. Ice Cube, a former Grammy winner was reviewed in Rolling Stone:
War and Peace Vol. 2, an improvement on 1998's scattershot Vol. 1, makes an argument for Cube's longevity. Few other MCs feature madly recontextualized Shakespearean verse, as Cube does on "Pimp Homeo." Cube also shows his flair for drama on the cinematic, post-apocalyptic rant of "Mental Warfare," an intro to the unrepentantly pro-gangsta "24 Mo' Hours." There are fresh departures here, too: On the single "Until We Rich" (which features Krayzie Bone), Cube imbues his old-school rhyming with a contemporary R&B flavor and a defiant optimism: "Don't talk about death/I got too much life to live." In a line like that, we see the badass spiritual resiliency that made Cube so worth imitating in the first place.
Not exactly a scathing indictment of hate-filled lyrics.
I could speculate what would happen if a white recording artist said anything derogatory about blacks, but I don't have to. When Guns 'N' Roses released their sophomore wide-release album, Lies, it contained a track titled "One In A Million" that included the line, "Police and niggers, get out of my way. Don't want to buy none of your gold chains today." Backlash was immediate. Even a fairly recent retrospective biographical of Axl Rose in Salon (subtitled "American Hellhound) read thus:
"Lies," for example, Guns n' Roses' second album, which came out in 1988, contains several songs that twist contradictory emotions into a rough, intriguing thread. "I Used to Love Her" tells the story of what sounds like a murder, yet it's widely considered a song about Rose's dog -- which he loved but had to euthanize and bury in his backyard. "Patience" preaches virtue in ballad form, but Rose breaks down in the end; and then there's "One in a Million."
The hateful, six-minute rant filled with lines like "immigrants and faggots don't mean much to me" brought hailstorms of criticism. Yet it sounds a lot like a parody of the late-'80s political mood. Once you overlook the sheer offense of what Rose screams, which is no easy task, the song looks more and more like a documentary of discontent, the preface to the white male backlash that we now acknowledge exists thanks in large part to Susan Faludi's book "Stiffed."
Rose's later career seems to support the theory that he's not so much ignorance incarnate as he is perpetually immature. Writing last year in Rolling Stone, critic Peter Wilkinson may have said it best when he noted that Rose is "a complicated man who can be sensitive and funny but who is also controlling and obsessive and troubled."
Hmm, Ice Cube rants about killing the white devils, and he's "worth imitating," while Axl's sole departure into the taboo renders him "perpetually immature" and "obsessive and troubled."
There's a profound disconnect here. Dr. King spoke of a "symphony of brotherhood," but the current state of affairs is much more reminiscent of the "jangling discords" he sought to eradicate. There is more dissent between races now, I dare say, than existed thirty years ago, the fires of racial tension being fanned by hatemongers like Jackson, Sharpton, Mfume, and Farrakhan. There have been no efforts whatsoever from the NAACP to leave the ugliness of the past behind in a quest for harmony. Instead that group (and others) seek out as many points of contention as they can find or invent. Part of healing is a cessation of picking at the wound. Dredging up "past injustices" and holding tightly onto a presupposition of oppression ensures that the wound will never heal, but will keep growing, festering, and seething with all manner of vile matter. The other tendency is to neglect the fresher wounds, those problems that currently face the black community, letting them get more and more gravely infected, when proper care would heal them in short order. My fear is that the infections will eventually grow systemic, threatening the entire body that is our great nation.
That outcome can come in many forms, but I think the most likely is an escalating amount of tension between the races that will culminate in an outbreak in violence between the races. The reason behind the ugliness of the South during the Civil Rights movement wasn't some deep-seated hatred of blacks--they were simply the focus of the action. The impetus behind those actions was a perceived threat to American culture. Through the years of slavery, blacks had been bought, sold, worked, and generally treated like animals, and it was the observation of many people that they acted the part. The freed slaves were seen as uncivilized and brutish, a menace to "higher society." Because they had been deprived of many of the influences of western civilization, and removed from the tribal structures that existed in Africa, the freed blacks were in a similar situation as a college-school graduate seeking employment. They can't be employed without experience, and they can't gain experience without being employed. There arose a set of leaders who taught blacks that the road to freedom was paved with education. Through the early part of the 20th century, blacks became educated in much larger numbers, and with that education came civilization. From that generation came Evers, Meredith, Parks, and others, who effectively prepared themselves to succeed and excel, in spite of still-rampant oppression. The indirect effect of that oppression was that blacks recognized that they would have to do even better than whites for recognition. This led to some of the sharpest and best educated professionals the nation has ever seen, in all fields.
Now the situation has changed horribly. In the dark days of racial oppression, blacks knew the challenges they faced, and struggled against it, ultimately becoming better, as strength built against resistance. Today, however, there is more of a trend towards citing past oppressions as excusing a lack of effort towards excellence. A mentality has arisen that in order to "right the historical wrongs" Americans should accept lower standards for blacks, and that blacks should have an easier time than whites to achieve the same goals. This is the entitlement culture at its most destructive, and the Civil Rights leaders of the 60s would be appalled at what their dream has become. Their quests for achievement have been ditched in favor of complacency in poverty. Their demands for equality have been burned at the stake, in favor of race-based set-asides and preferential treatment. Their hopes of a society that over time would become legally, morally, and perhaps socially "color blind" has been dashed against the rocks, hurled over a cliff called "empowerment."
The great voices of the Civil Rights movement knew that equality demanded a two-pronged approach. They had to fight the injustices imposed by whites, but they also had to prepare blacks for their roles in the brave new world they struggled to create. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Medgar Evers also killed that two-tiered message, relegating it to a message of victimhood preached by their successors. Black America currently has precious few leaders even willing to admit that internal problems even exist amongst blacks (much less propse solutions), choosing instead to lay the blame for every woe of black communities on the injustices of the past and perceived prejudices of the present.
The end result of this mindset will be more and more self-destruction by the black community and continually increasing tension between the races. I was in hopes that the conversations that arose after Hurricane Katrina would lead to an honest and open discourse about race, poverty, and what needs to be done from both sides, but instead I'm seeing more dissent and blame, sprinkled with a generous helping of racist accusations.
What is the solution? Quite simply put, black people in America must realize that the trends that have guided them over the past couple of decades must stop. They must also acknowledge that a lot of blood was shed for them to have the opportunities they are currently squandering. They need to stop support and participation for "black-only" events and groups, and drop a whole lot of the "black pride" movement. While there is nothing wrong with being proud of your heritage, by maintaining separation you are creating a heritage of which future generations can only be ashamed. White Americans must also have a change of attitude. First and foremost, we must stop giving in anytime Jesse Jackson (or any one of several others) squeals "racism," and force him to prove his allegations, instead of extorting his way into another headline. If the allegation is true, own the error and fix it. Otherwise, force the accuser to put up or shut up. Whites absolutely must not give in to meeting wrong with wrong, or we will descend into the same type of conflict as we lived through in the 50s and 60s, and the burden of maintaining order falls squarely on the shoulders of us, the majority. We must acknowledge sins of the past, but refuse to be forced to wallow in them, recognizing that the past is out of our control, while the future is in our hands. We must also try very hard to put to rest any notion that blacks are in any way predisposed to certain behaviours because of race. What we see in the thugs that roam the inner city is learned, not inborn, behaviour.
On that note, parents of every race must be careful that their children aren't learning such through the rap and hiphop culture that has made a huge industry through peddling sex, violence, drugs, and hate. There are far greater problems that need to be addressed than what Ice Cube or Wu-Tang says on an album, but we've got to start somewhere.