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The Civil Rights Movement is dead and the Hip-Hop Gen X'ers, need a reason.

I found this on another site, and thought it spoke volumes. Nayo
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What It Iz: Paper Tigers

The civil rights generation left us behind "” they only wake up and pay attention to hip hop when they want to criticize us for our taste in music.




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By jimi izrael

Black history and black historians have failed the hip hop generation.
I know this is a provocative statement. But before you get all bent out of shape, here's what I mean: by perpetuating iconography and pageantry over the substantive lessons of the past, our elders have left us with colorful T-shirts but little else. Without downplaying their contribution, I say unequivocally that in the rush to use the urinal in the "whites only" bathroom, our parents somehow forgot what was important. They forgot the dog's bite and the ring of the police baton upside their heads. And they forgot to pass along much beyond documentary films and sloganeering to a generation that needs the tenets of black empowerment now more than ever.

No one takes a grown man with a perm very seriously. Not in the '70s, not now. Not ever.
Old folks wag their fingers at the young'uns, but they must know that the hip hop generation can't take black history month seriously. Because they don't take us seriously. Oh sure, occasionally one of these civil rights relics will wake up to chastise hip hop and nod back to sleep. Sometimes they stay awake long enough to run for office, like Al Sharpton.

The Rev. Al fancies himself a friend of the hip-hop community, but just like all his friends, he only embraces us when the cameras are rolling. Fifteen years after Tawana Brawley and the Sharpton/Ennis talk-show brawl, he wants to run for president and expects to be taken seriously. But he brings a name built as the face of the race card, tainting and diluting issues to the point that whatever injustice may have actually been done gets discounted the moment he speaks into a microphone. Sharpton is a camera slut too horny for the soundbite and not horny enough for any foreplay that would really get some change jumping off. I dug his hunger strike for Vieques, but even that was engineered for maximum media coverage.

Al Sharpton once held a hip hop summit to discuss politics, inviting Salt, Play and Right On! Magazine's Cynthia Horner. Get outta here wit dat. Anyone who ever thought that Play was politically relevant or had any voice in the hip hop community is detached. Along with Maxine Waters, Ben Chavis, Russell Simmons and Louis Farrakhan, Sharpton is all talk, trying to encourage hip-hoppers to turn their numbers into political clout, while failing to educate them about the political process. Sharpton is hoping his civil right stripes will convince a hip-hop generation to vote. But nobody is checking for any brother with a conk laying down any political-hype in 2004. I've said it once and I'll say it again: no one takes a grown man with a perm very seriously. Not in the '70s, not now. Not ever. Whatever clout Sharpton has as a kitschy quasi-political knick-knack won't be enough. You have to bring skills to the table to even rate "” every MC knows that. If I voted for him and he won, with no relevant political experience, what the hell would he do? Voting for someone just because they are the only black alternative is bananas. Might as well vote for Nader.

What about our other "leaders"? The NAACP can't be taken seriously by a youth movement sophisticated enough to recognize media hat-tricks and ignore the roars of paper tigers. The NAACP is a once-proud organization that has become less a force for change than a gang of bourgeois Negroes with just enough media sex appeal to harass the establishment about penny ante-ness. Forget about more blacks on must-see TV, because white people aren't that hard up to see us no how. And forget about reparations: you can throw away those Tommy Hilfiger catalogues and that stack of Cadillac brochures you've been collecting. T'hell with whether the word "nigger" stays in the dictionary: by the age of two, every American already knows what it means, so no one will be looking it up anyways. The NAACP could stay relevant by staying young and encouraging everyone to be a force for change in their own communities. But lately, they have the unmitigated gall to nominate R. Kelly for an Image Award.

I think vilifying Kelly would be a mistake, and I said as much in an earlier column. But he was out of pocket, and he's got some 'splainin' to do. Kelly misused us all as, minister by his side, as he rededicated his life to the Lord on BET "” remember that? Next thing you know, the Pied Piper of R&B (!) is talking about sticking his key in your little girl's ignition. And now we should give him an award? For his image? Not bloody likely. The NAACP may still be able to shake few guilty dollars out of whitey's corporate set-aside tree, but the streets are watching, and we don't see the kind of leadership fostered by black history champions of old. While the R. Kelly nomination is abhorrent, truth be told, the NAACP flushed its credibility some time ago.

Hip hop wasn't fooled by placards of Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman lining the borders of our first-grade classrooms. In an age when Malcolm X is just a movie, Rosa Parks is suing hip-hoppers, Bobby Seale is hocking a cookbook and Jesse Jackson has his own baby-mama drama the hip hop generation needs less history and more future. We can't relate to the whites-only bathroom, and asking us to is just silly. We can't relate to brother in black berets spouting off about Mao, because most of those brothers are dead, and the spirit of their revolt "” their quest to be free or die trying "” has died with them. All anyone wants these days is a job with benefits "” to get a corner office with a view by any means necessary. That's an important revolution, but there are still more battles to wage, certainly for the hip hop generation. We may be the most college educated, media-savvy, economically liquid group of blacks this country has ever seen, but we have little idea how to harness that energy, and doubt whether our history holds any clues.

The black revolutionaries of old are reborn as the new conservative class, quick to degrade hip hop music but slow to change the politics that incubate and contextualize hip hop's harsh scenarios. It's true: hip hop has become an endless thunder of drums, but once, hip hop was the thermometer of the inner city. It was its own black history lesson.

The historians have little notion of what it means to be young, gifted and black in America these days, and they have left us with little by way of usable, practical guidance. A whole generation of disaffected youth has come up of age virtually ignored until they were on the brink of crisis. Even then, the civil rights elders respond by pasting up more iconography, shouting down more young people merely for being young and printing up more T-shirts.

But black history, as glorious as it was, is the past. Our generation is the present. And as we fly into a tailspin of disorganization and confusion, there doesn't seem to be enough black history in the world to help us. The next generation got lost in the rush to middle-class status. The damage has been done.


First published: February 4, 2004

About the Author

jimi izrael is an opinion writer and journalist based in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He can be contacted at jimiizrael@hotmail.com.
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