Sunday, April 22, 2007

speaks for itself



in this space, i posted a video that i received from a poet friend. it's on her myspace page, and it's being passed around seemingly because it was banned from y.outube. it's by some dude out of new york, rapping about "y'all should all get lynched," (that was the hook) - which message was addressed to people he accused of being fake gangsters, liars, bitches, hos, nasty broads, etc. the video had images of the targets of his words, mixed in with images of black people actually getting lynched, mixed in with images of sambos and blacks with exaggerated nappy hair, dark skin, and big lips, not unlike the images in the closing scenes of spike lee's bamboozled. after talking with my beloved, who pointed out that spreading the video full of offensive images was tantamount to spreading the offensive and reprehensible ideas and images i hate to see on bet, i took the video down.

i hesitated to take it down.

i liked the juxtaposition of "cooning" images and images of the people i think of as modern day coons. i liked the hostility with which the guy talked about how shameful it is for people to glorify cooning in this day and age, especially in light of all that our ancestors have gone through to give us the freedoms we enjoy today. but that wasn't all. his tirade was littered with nigga this, nigga that. he showed images of young women shaking their ass for attention. he repeatedly said that the perpetrators, the (dare i say it) infidels, should get lynched.

my argument was that i would trust the reader and the viewer to know what i do and do not condone. his (good) point was that perhaps that trust would be misplaced on certain viewers - that posting it is akin to stabbing yourself in the leg (hurting the integrity of a people i strive to honor) just to get attention. so, if i err, let it be on the side of caution - i took the video down. the original post remains as i originally drafted it.

i won't say i agree with every single thing said, for example - that anyone needs to by lynched or that many of those images didn't make me cringe (in fact, they perpetuate the problem addressed in the video)... but this discussion needs to be had and it needs to be honest. and not because defenders of that radio "personality" blame our culture for what he said. we have to do it because the brother has a point. i dare anyone reading this to watch a full afternoon of bet and tell me that you want your kids watching it day in and day out. i dare anyone to watch this video and tell me if you want your children to idolize the images you see. it's one thing when adult entertainment is marketed to and shown to adults. it's another when it's marketed to children. it's even yet another disturbing thing when the line between adult entertainment and mainstream entertainment becomes so blurred that many parents are not disturbed by the content of the entertainment that comes into their home. i know i sound older than my years saying this, but - i fear that our values are being eroded, that we tolerate too much, that our children are becoming prematurely knowledgable beyond their years about adult matters, and that we are failing in our duty to make them appreciate our long hard past.

when i first saw the chick.en nood.le soup, i saw minstrel show shuffling. a kid 15 years my junior probably doesn't know what a minstrel show is.

i'm juuuust old enough to remember when calling another black person (or anyone else) a nigger or a bitch or a ho was something that could get you cut. you BETTA had been joking with the right one when you said it. it wasn't speech for mixed company. it wasn't something grown folks said around children. or at least, it wasn't something you could repeat. it wasn't something that even friends said to each other without consciously thinking about its potency. i remember when those words weren't said on television or on the radio. i knew of those words, and i'd heard them before, but i also knew because of their limited usage that they were not things you SHOULD say. i can't help but wonder if today's kids can make the same distinction.

these words and images are thrown around and in and of themselves, that's not a harmful thing. they're just words. they're just images. but when these words and images become pervasive, they can damage our psyche - our esteem for ourselves and each other. the elders tried to warn us. but they seemed so out-of-touch, so reactionary, so judgmental of an energetic and keenly intelligent youth. besides, every generation has admonished its children for a culture it doesn't understand. history has forgiven each successive generation - the hip cats with the zoot suits, the jazz junkies, the doo-wop street corner idlers, the soul brothers in platforms...

but this beef elders have with hip hop will not go away. and now many of its pioneers and its first flock of fans have grandchildren. hip hop has in many ways matured. innovation is still happening in that vein. creative expression is still in the works. the oldheads, the innovators -- they have a legitimate beef with the "artists" in the spotlight and the appetite for their wares. many parents, who grew up with boomboxes playing rhymes off the same radio stations their kids now listen to, understand this legitimate beef.

it's not so much that the pants are exposing these boys' boxer shorts, or even the language they use, as it is that folks worry about their understanding and respect for what their grandfathers have been through. the emptiness in the music these boys listen to stokes the fires of their fear. they worry about the future of the culture. folks, from c. delores tucker, to oprah, to the poets, to the preachers, to the old folks on the bus react by taking the current music and its videos and images to task.

of course there's much more to it than this. but i can't blog forever, can i? i maintain: this discussion needs to be had. and it needs to be honest.

what do you think?