Gangster Rap and What Matters

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I often express sympathy with the plight of people of color in modern American society. Though I am white, a man and live in the suburbs, I have defended the right of Colin Kaepernick to protest, though I don’t find his protest to be very effective. I have urged my fellow Caucasians to try to see through the eyes of other people and not be so quick to dismiss them. I have written that we should try to understand what “black lives matter” really means.

I am not the person who should be writing about these things, perhaps. But, we are all people, right? If I can’t write about these things, what does it say about the ideal that we espouse as a society that longs for equality and justice for all and treats all people, no matter what race, nationality, gender or orientation, as human beings worthy of respect?

So I write about these things.

I specifically feel self-conscious about writing on this subject. It is not the world I know, but, I don’t hear people talking about it much. They used to talk about it, but not anymore. I’m talking about the influence of things like gangster rap on our society.

That influence is not just felt “in the hood”. A large segment of white America has grown up influenced very directly and markedly by things like gangster rap and the attitudes, morals and way of seeing life that it portrays. You might think that I am going to launch right into a diatribe about the negative influence of these things on society. I will. But before that, I have a different observation.

My children grew up in a largely white, middle class neighborhood, but they attended school in a large school district that had an urban feel and all the problems that go with urbanism. My white children were minorities in the high school they attended. Their friends, and some of their best friends, were and are minorities.

The gangster rap culture created a generation of white, middle class America that idolized the plight of black men in the hood. It’s a weird phenomenon to be sure. Just watch the Jamie Kennedy parody of  a white rapper in Malibu’s Most Wanted.

Some young white, suburban boys grew up emulating their black idols and adopting their attitudes. This really isn’t so funny. More thoughtful (hipster perhaps) young white men, and women, have grown up with a sensitivity to the plight of black America.

I am not willing to go so far as to say that this empathy is the result of gangster rap, but there may be some connection. In a weird, twisted way, the gangster rap that was idolized by white suburbanites might have helped create a generation of people more sensitive to racial prejudice than previous generations.

Maybe. But that is all the good I can say about gangster rap and the gangster rap attitude toward society, women and cops, and life itself.

Likely many other things have helped produce that empathy.

The thing I am going to say is going to get a rise out of people. I know that it will, but it needs to be said.

Unfortunately, it needs to be said by people other than me. I am well aware of that. But I don’t hear people talking. (Hopefully, it is being said, but I am just not hearing it.)

5635649554_0ba5e515ca_mGangster rap comes out of the experience of black men in America, it reflects that experience and it perpetuates a way of looking at the world. Although it’s easy to understand where the attitude comes from, perpetuating the gangster rap attitude for generations (now) of young men and women has consequences that are playing out nightly on national TV.

In 1999, Anthony M. Giovacchini wrote about The Negative Influence of Gangster Rap And What Can Be Done About It in the Stanford publication on media and race.  He observed then that “the underlying messages in their work depicted acts of violence, discrimination, and sex in a way that made them appear commonplace and acceptable, when in fact they are not. The nature of gangster rap influenced society in a negative fashion….”

Giovacchini credits N.W.A.’s 1988 production of “Fuck The Police” as the beginning of this new genre that was called gangster rap and has spawned all sorts of spin off genres. He notes that the expression of hatred and violence toward police officers, implying that they are all racist, became acceptable and began to be seen as normal with this song. Along with the theme of hatred toward the police came the attitude of seeing women as “dirty sex toys”. The images and lyrics of gangster rap generally promoted violence, sex and a “gangster lifestyle” and “society was taking it in like it had value and created happiness”.

And therein lies the problem.

Giovacchini merely stated the obvious when he said, “When actions like the ones portrayed in the music and in the videos are carried out, there are huge consequences…. When negative actions are advertised and condoned by role models such as gangster rappers, these actions seem acceptable….”

Giovacchini recounts in his article a number of examples of the influence of gangster rap that promoted and glorified the shooting of cops, and that was in 1999. He also notes it isn’t just gangster rap; books, television, movies and video games, to name a few things, carry the same themes and perpetuate the same influence.

While all of these things have proven negative consequences for society, they are all protected by the First Amendment. The same First Amendment that protects the right of people to promote cop killing and the sexual exploitation of women also protects my right to write about them. And, so I do, and I will.

I have written about the fact, and I think it is a fact, that a subtle tendency toward racial bias in our society results in police officers acting with disproportionate dispatch toward black men who are stopped for suspected criminal activity. Police have proven to be quicker on the trigger with black men than with white men.

But that isn’t the whole story! We need to be honest here (if we really want a change). Black men have been fed, and have fed on, gangster rap attitudes from childhood.

Over twenty five years have passed since “Fuck The Police” debuted. A generation has grown up hating the police even before having any personal reason to hate them. A generation has grown up thinking that all police are racist even before having a first encounter with police.  They age into their teen years with these attitudes already ingrained from the musical artists they idolize, and these attitudes are reinforced in television shows, movies, video games and other ways.

When these young men encounter a police officer for the first time, they assume the officer is crooked, racist and out to get them for no good reason. Their attitudes reflect the hatred they have already developed and the “gangster lifestyle” that tells them to resist, fight back and don’t die easy.

If there was ever any proof of the influence of Satan on a society, this is it. A devil could not have concocted a more potent brew of perpetual societal unrest. The attitudes these young men display reinforce any prejudicial tendency a cop might already have.

I have already acknowledged that those prejudicial tendencies exist. I think the evidence is clear. The gangster attitude plays on those tendencies that are already there and magnifies them. Police officers expect trouble when they encounter a young black man for no reason other than he is black. And, they have reason to think that way!

It’s a vicious cycle, as the saying goes.

How do we break out of that cycle? I don’t have the magic formula. There aren’t any easy answers, but I suggest the solution needs to start with honesty. We need to be honest about the prejudicial tendencies we have. We need to be honest about the influences on black culture that reinforce those prejudicial tendencies.

We also need to see each other as human beings, fellow men and women, who want to do unto others as we want others to do unto us.

6002357100_5a659e134a_mWe need to be aggressive (proactive) in breaking down barriers. We need to talk with each other, honestly, face to face, person to person. We need to recognize the problems in ourselves, first, and then work together to help each other exorcize those demons that plague us.

Just as gangster rap has created and perpetuated a false normalcy that cop killing is acceptable, we need to fight back to destroy that idea. Just as subtle prejudicial tendencies cause us to see young black men differently than young white men, we need to expose that lie, fight back and resist the temptation. We need to identify the wrong attitudes everywhere they exist, expose them and reject them.

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