There’s a reason nature despises vacuums. Periods of nothing reflect inactivity, and inactivity insinuates laziness. Writers know this, and therefore record events. Many events, big, small, astronomical. Writers are human and humans have biases, which means that writers have bias. That is what schools and certification programs are for: to separate the professionals from the Joe who just picks up a pen and write.
One such professional position is the journalist. Here is one prevalent bias of a journalist about an issue:
“You’re damn straight I blame hip-hop for playing a role in the genocide of American black men. When your leading causes of death and dysfunction are murder, ignorance and incarceration, there’s no reason to give a free pass to a culture that celebrates murder, ignorance and incarceration.”
-March 2, 2008
Jason Whitlock, a well-known sports columnist, wrote this passage shortly after the homicide of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor. In the interest of full disclosure, he has also appeared on Oprah and many other shows, taking the time to stand by column and blame hip-hop for the woes of the black community. He also “thanked” Imus, in a previous column for his incendiary statements on the hairdo of the 2007 Rutgers’ basketball team, because it forced black people to confront a truth about left unfettered: that Imus was not to blame for his statements. Hip-hop is.
The most dangerous component of the featured quote is the fact that it came from a prominent black writer who many white readers go to for the gauge on race relations. His word is gold to them, because after all, he is black. Many would call this Uncle Tom-ing. The writer of this article will not partake in that debate, because ad hominem attacks does nothing to aid sensible discussion.
Whitlock shares the views of many who do not know the culture, who feel that gratuitous potshots will do anything to solve the problem, who feel that they – the Robert Eberts of the hip-hop generation – are somehow more dignified because of their detachment from said culture. In essence, Whitlock is not alone.
He has an army.
Don’t confuse this writing with a passage defending all of hip-hop. Construe this as a passage injecting some skill in navigating discussion about hip-hop, a commentary against lazy reporting, if you will. There are some screwed up black people, but no one should dare say that the black race is screwed when there are a plethora who are doing well for themselves and society. There are talent deprived, loose canons as rappers but the number of talented, intelligible artists are aplenty.
For every 2 Live Crew, Master P (mid-1990’s) and Soulja Boy, there’s a Public Enemy, Lauryn Hill, and Lupe Fiasco. Who would be foolish enough to seriously blame the entire black race for the actions of some black person on the news who raped and killed a nine-year-old girl? The same logic applies when analyzing anything else, namely hip-hop.
Is hip-hop mostly destructive? That’s debatable. Hip-hop is a genre that is perceived by many as limiting and monolithic. But there are myriad artists who espouse positive messages, harp on constructive concepts, and eschew immorality. This fact is not esoteric. All one has to do is look and research. It’s just that the negligent gatekeepers of society, i.e. bad reporters, check things at face value. Digging for the truth is considered to be superfluous, which in turn renders errant comments such as Whitlock’s to be fact.
After all, it came from a black man himself. He has to know.
Anybody would agree that to constructively critique something, you have to understand it. The hip-hop movement is a sub-culture. It is no different than the Black Power movement, the Hippies and the Bohemians, the Democrats and the Republicans. All have their own drawbacks. All are reflective of the society of which they reside in.
But this writer isn’t naÃ¯ve. Hip-hop in particular, isn’t just a reflection of reality. For some, it also creates reality. If all some kids see is a glorification of materialism and casual sex and kids are never seeing themselves reflected as hitting the books and being responsible and delaying gratification, then they are getting an unrealistic picture of what the world is like.
There is no denying that. But as a person who grew up with the culture – as I am sure many of you can attest – I was exposed to many different forms of lyrical expression. I understood where the artists were coming from, and if I didn’t agree with them, I simply found another artist who shared my views and was audibly pleasing. This was the environment where I grew up, a hip-hop embracing environment, of which I had no control. This is what I, and many people were raised on. Hip-hop.
My upbringing is more common than the masses realize, but it gets ignored amidst the flurry of unfavorable coverage. Professionals should know better. They are the ones trained in the art of nuance, educated with context and fairness at the forefront of their work. Yet, the promulgations of ignorant generalizations about the hip-hop culture persist because of the lack of in depth coverage. The lens through which something is viewed is as important, if not more, than the object being viewed.
It’s not as simple as tuning into the radio and listening to the top 10 countdown, and gauging the status of music from there. The Mos Defs and the Commons and the Roots of the world aren’t apt to get the radio airplay that, say, Young Jeezy gets. Negativity sells in music, just as it does in the newspapers, politics, television, and movies. I challenge any hip-hop critic to purchase The Cool by Lupe Fiasco or Ear Drum by Talib Kweli. Chances are, this critic will come out with a different attitude towards rap.
That’s if he/she can understand it. Accurate information is everything in intelligent discourse. It’s just unfortunate that many of the educated chose to turn its back to this basic fact.