The Politics of Rap

22May08

While I don’t agree with everything in it, there is a fascinating article posted on the Root today about the politics of rap music. In the article, which is actually an excerpt from his new book All About the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can’t Save Black America, John McWhorter takes on primarily “underground” rap (you know, the kind that white people listen to in order to seem intellectual?),  concentrating on the Roots (how ironic) and Ice Cube. The article presents a more conservative black view, and I couldn’t help be reminded of Amy Holmes while reading it.

(By the way, in that Wikipedia article, it says she has been romantically linked to Mickey Kaus, who while he writes a decent enough conservative blog [as decent as conservative blogs can be], is one of the grosser looking men in the business, a business that includes James Carville)

I don’t think the writer is as politically conservative as Holmes, but he does bring up different talking points in regards to what is considered the traditional liberal grievances when it comes to de facto segregation and the achievement gap. Some seem to carry weight, some are a bit of a stretch.

Where McWhorter’s views intersect with that of the Underground rap scene is that they both have a self-deterministic view of black culture. In fact, both are calling for Revolution through black empowerment, which is a common ground positive step. The question becomes how to spread that theme to encompass the greater black community. And it is certainly a tough question.

During this primary, we have seen what happens when white people feel they are the victims of hate speech. The truth in the vast majority of Jeremiah Wright’s comments did not deter many white people from choosing to act like they were actually the victims of the post-civil rights movement. Just yesterday, Jim Webb gave what seemed to be the “white” answer to Obama’s historic speech on race in America. Webb basically says that affirmative action was “justifiable for African Americans,” but then “spread to every other ethnic group except the Scots-Irish,” which is why the Appalachians have been voting against Obama. With much due respect for Sen. Webb (who probably should be the VP), uhhh….yeah right.

While affirmative action is certainly some of the beef white people voting against Obama on race have, there is a more sinister racism beneath it all. West Virginia is the home of Sen. Robert Byrd, whom, while he has since become very repentant, once advocated for the KKK and got elected. The South still flies the Confederate flag, which is like flying the Nazi flag in Germany. Except the Germans don’t put up with it.

The fact is, institutional racism still exists in this country, and it will continue to be a challenge to the hope of black equality–to ignore or rationalize what the exit polls say in Appalachia and to constantly cover and replay the Jeremiah Wright controversy is an example of that institutionalized racism.

There is a concept in psychology called “locus of control.” People are asked to fill out a questionnaire, with point values for each question. At the end of the exam, points are calculated based the questions, and the locus of control is found to be either “exterior” or “interior.” People with an external locus of control (and it is important to remember, that there are varying degrees of each because of the point value) feel that the world outside them controls most what goes on in their life. People with an interior locus of control feel that they have more personal control over their life.

The American Dream is a concept that espouses the interior locus of control, the individualistic determinist. It is easy to have such a dream if the world around you doesn’t provide you with as many “world controlling” circumstances as it does for the majority of black people and some other minorities in this country. Among other reasons, it contributes to why minorities and women tend to be liberal-leaning politically.

One of the fundamental problems with this country (the world for that matter) is a greater lack of perspective in viewing the world. McWhorter mentions in his article that young blacks cannot expect the drug trade to provide them with a career, and in fact will eventually lead to their imprisonment. Fair enough. He suggests, like many have before, that there needs to be a focus on getting young blacks “respectable” jobs; the example he brings up is as a cable repairman. But why is it that young whites like myself are told from the time they are a child, that they can be “whatever they want to be” if they work hard? Is the American Dream really “you can be whatever you want to be” for whites and “you can be a cable repairman” for blacks? So black people are literally again serving the white people who are having their cable installed? Is it any wonder why someone would take their chances on dealing drugs, getting a record deal, or in professional sports if that is true?

The article goes further in depth than I probably should, but what is interesting, is that it doesn’t really give a solution. I can’t fault McWhorter too much for this; if there was a clear solution, wouldn’t we have found it by now? (but what if there is and we are refusing implement it?)

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3 Responses to “The Politics of Rap”

  1. 1 kev swalsh

    John Mcwhorter
    After merely watching John Mcwhorter’s guest appearance and “book bump,” on the Colbert Report, I felt that immediately this was a unique man. First off he was delightfully genuine, and he appeared to be thouroughly at ease with the wacky flow that always ensues when Mr. Steven Colbert’s running an interview!
    (By no means am I a scholar, and this is a blog and not a dissertation so please keep this rant in perspective!)
    I personally feel that men like John Mcwhorter – distinguished, credible black men- have one of the most difficult positions in politics. Somewhere along the paths of their lives -once again let me stress that I’m being overly general just to get a point across please don’t read into this any more than it’s intended – black men who make it into politics and or anything it encompasses politics just does not feel like they can truly connect with the general masses of their own race. Unfortunately that happens a tremendous amount with all races, but alas the truly stereotypic black culture is basically non-existant within these established individuals.
    I’m sure I’m about to piss a lot of people off but personally I can’t possibly see how Obama can be the link between cultures like the media has hyped him up to be. He is not going to find the Rosetta Stone of the early 21st century, and magically make everything better, or for that matter anything. (for the record I’m still voting Obama if that gives you a better perspective of me). What we need are more men such as John Mcwhorter that is attempting to debunk a lot of the cultural identities that have plagued not only the black culture of America but minorities alltogether.
    In particular what has really irked me for the majority of my life is the influence of hip-hop on ALL of America, which is not adressedfor the truly detrimantal impact it has on impressionable people. The majority of it is degenerate garbage at a lyrical standpoint, and the visual aspects that leak into the impressionable minds of the “identityless” children that worship MTV and etc. from garbage videos featuring big-booty-ho’s and dogfights grow up . (Children training to be media panic-whores haha!)
    I believe what the black culture needs is more black role models that are truly mediocre. People like Obama and Oprah aren’t good role models for an impoverished child from a poor urban environment. While many professional athletes try very hard to be stand-up men , I don’t think sports are the answer either, since statystically professional athletes make up such a meager percent of our population.
    Whatever this doesn’t make sense cause I’m dam tired and have obligations in the morning. Ill finish this tomorrow, if u have any resonses that don’t involve bashing me or calling me racist u can contact me at lostontheclouds@yahoo.com. I love hearing others opinions but please if u just wanna talk garbage, don’t bother. Immediately when I see a hate response I delete the mail and also periodically change my entire email. (I need an hour of research before I finish with my original point regarding John Mcwhorter, particularly pertaining to his new book. Unfortunately the more I research about this particular man the more I tend to see the gap between him and the general black populous. sorry this will all make sense with my summation – which will beanother rant- haha!

  2. 2 rap

    no bad…

  3. hey kev swalsh–i wanna read that summation, man. ’cause you were on a role with your “rant.”

    Anyway, regarding the second to last paragraph where McWhorter uses the cable repairman as an example of a “respectable job” for young blacks, I’d like to note that I agree with you–what the hell is wrong with this dude? I mean, sure a cable repairman has a more legit job than a crack dealer, but why pick out a specific career to exemplify at all? Unless, of course, he wants to sound racist without, well, sounding racist. And he failed miserably because we’re all a lot smarter than that.


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