I wrote this on February 26th, but I expect it to segue into another post I’ll make here adding a little context to the origins of “snitchin’ culture.” So bear with me! I’ll also include a couple of the comments from that post. It hurts my heart more when I notice well-to-do black intellectuals blaming problems with the African-American community on hip-hop than when I see white commentators do it. Perhaps I’m alone in feeling this way, or the sentiment isn’t warranted, but it bothers me to death. I tagged this R/WS among other things, which I take to mean “racism/white supremacy,” so if it secretly means something else, let me know. :-p
This morning on my local hip-hop station, the DJs interviewed Michael Eric Dyson, who attempted to infuse some wonder and poetry into interpreting rap lyricism. He invoked Tupac, Biggie, and Jay-Z — speaking about how Tupac was the hope, Biggie was the muse, and Jay-Z criticized the hustler as he eased through the rap game. Dyson also challenged this prevalence of misogyny’s unfair link to rap music and rap music only (he cited religion as one of the original culprits, and he emphasized how he wanted to redistribute the blame for the attitudes, not deny its existence), and he laughed at the idea of homophobia in hip-hop culture (with the baggy pants and the “bros before hos” mantras and the homoerotic nature of sports — yes, he cracked a little on Hardaway — how could homophobia have such a chokehold? That remark was obviously very tongue-in-cheek).
We have to be careful with blanket assumptions that black people live in a minstrel bitch culture. I can’t think of any way to describe it better, but the soundbyting of our experiences through corporatized rap that caters to an entirely different market — young white Americans — needs to slow the hell on down a little. Black-on-black crime is a problem, but is this culture informing the motive or the motive informing this culture? I’d say the former after reading this article on AlterNet by Earl Ofari Hutchinson:
The violence stems from a combustible blend of cultural and racial baggage many blacks carry. In the past crimes committed by blacks against other blacks were often ignored or lightly punished. The implicit message is that black lives were expendable. Many studies confirm that the punishment blacks receive when the victim is white is far more severe than if the victim is black.
The perceived devaluation of black lives by discrimination encourages disrespect for the law and drives many blacks to internalize anger and displace aggression onto others that, of course, look like them. They have become especially adept at acting out their frustrations at white society’s denial of their “manhood” by adopting an exaggerated “tough guy” role. They swagger, boast, curse, fight and commit violent self-destructive acts.
The accessibility of drugs, and guns, and the influence of misogynist, violent-laced rap songs also reinforce the deep feeling among many youth that life is cheap and easy to take, and there will be minimal consequences for their action as long as their victims are other young blacks. And as long as the attackers regard their victims as weak, vulnerable, and easy pickings they will continue to kill and maim with impunity.
Something bothers me about this assessment that I cannot place my finger on. Black homicides reduced to “black male” homicides; this catering to the idea that black males shift aimlessly, without real motive or even a clue, killing each other — personal responsibility is not a factor, nor is there any real attention paid to the nature of the alleged lifestyle these black “killers” are living. When people start arguing hip-hop reflects reality, that means that the glamor blinders of gangsta rap and culture should be taken off for a few minutes. We look for correlations, but we don’t make hip-hop the cause or take its lyrics as the gospel truth for the streets; otherwise, the dialogue shuts down and we can’t get to the core of what the people committing these crimes are protecting when they go after someone. Corporate culture has filled the hip-hop genre with a bunch of crap — the substance has stopped, but the rims keep spinning — and the underlying problems causing this upswing in black violence still aren’t touched here. By the end of the article, we see a familiar trope of bootstrapping solving the black community’s problems, a conclusion that contradicts this theory of misplaced aggression. (Saying it’s misplaced means that it would be redirected somewhere else, right, like the racist power structure?)
Black parents, churches and organizations such as the NAACP that are quick to storm the barricades against civil rights abuses must make stopping black violence a priority. They can do much more to provide positive and wholesome mentoring and role models for at risk young blacks. And that doesn’t mean cheerleading them when they buy $250 sneakers they don’t have the money for, or turning a blind eye when they skip school.
In other words, they have to show by word and deed that the lives of at risk young blacks count for something.
If we want to show that black youth counts for something, we have to give them some kind of agency and actually speak to them instead of plugging in the new Rich Boy lyrics and saying, “Now, stop it y’all; get to school.” Am I off base on this request? I’d appreciate hearing some feedback.
Comment from Malik:
I don’t know about black males displacing their anger onto each other, but I do know that the country displaces its feelings of alienation, fear and meaninglessness onto our people, which is the chief reason why corporate hip-hop is so wildly popular. Ofari’s analysis problematizes our existence, and uncritically embraces hip-hop’s narrative of endemic black nihilism. It’s a tactic as old as the proclamation of racial sin that facilitated the church’s involvement in the enslavement of our people. In Hutchinson’s view, it’s not just that horrible things have happened to us. We embody horror. And WE have to be healed, cleansed, exorcised, BEFORE those horrible things will stop. We’re not people with problems, like anyone else. We’re a problem people.
This is why I detest and fear progressive paternalism far more than I will ever detest and fear outright supremacism. I can handle myself in a straight up fight against lies and oppression. But paternalism tries to narcotize our souls and seduce us into embracing our own oblivion, by gratuitously memorializing our pain to the extent that we come to represent nothing but pain, in our own eyes and the eyes of the world. There’s more to us than that.
My response to Malik’s comment:
I was speaking to Black Amazon earlier about how people have projected fear onto the hood and how we always receive the label of lost children. Our lives are always half-formed; our habits are always foreign because of a brown skin. You’re right about the sentiment not being new; it’s repeated in history books, court opinions, soundbytes, articles, songs, and everything else this progressive paternalistic machine can channel. For example, listen to this case opinion that ruled state laws creating all-white juries for trials unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment:
[The fourteenth amendment] is one of a series of constitutional provisions having a common purpose; namely, securing to a race recently emancipated, a race that through many generations had been held in slavery, all the civil rights that the superior race enjoy. [At] the time when they were incorporated into the Constitution, it required little knowledge of human nature to anticipated that those who had long been regarded as an inferior and subject race would, when suddenly raised to the rank of citizenship, be looked upon with jealousy and positive dislike, and that State laws might be enacted or enforced to perpetuate the distinctions that had before existed. [The] colored race, as a race, was abject and ignorant, and in that condition was unfitted to command the respect of those who had superior intelligence. Their training had left them mere children, and as such they needed the protection which a wise government extends to those who are unable to protect themselves.
Strauder v. West Virginia (1880).
That was in 1880. How much has changed in recognizing people as people? As you’ve pointed out, this article uses the same trope of somehow embodying a stunted growth, a violent spirit, a shiftless anger with no source and no resolve except for the purging powers of churches and schools. And I never understand why they don’t just speak to us. Why our words are always manipulated, ignored, or denied even the most basic reasonable analysis. I don’t understand how we let other people do this to us, and I definitely don’t understand when we start doing it to each other.
Any comments about this? I felt like this entry would be good cannon fodder for our think tank…