Do non-blacks in hiphop owe the Black community anything?
by Hadji Williams, DaveyD.com
Like hiphop, I came from the hood. What two or three non-blacks that lived in our community only lived there because they couldn't afford to be anywhere else"”and they were quick to remind you of that every chance they got. And with the exception of a black-owned car wash/restaurant all the businesses"”stores, gas stations, cleaners, fast food, car shops, currency exchanges, etc. were all owned by Middle Easterners, Asians, or Whites. (Even the black storefront churches were in spaces rented to us by outsiders.) Day in and day out, they overcharged us, condescended to us, underserved us, underrepresented us, disrespected us and profited off of us. Then at the end of the day, when they were done with us they went back to wherever they called home, back to the people they really loved and respected and saw as equals.
Today, not much has changed.
In 2005, hiphop remains a global juggernaut generating an estimated $11 billion a year from music, movies, clothing, cross-marketing and merchandising revenues, etc. And by now, it's common knowledge that 80% of Black music (i.e. Rap, R&B, Soul, Blues, Jazz, House, Gospel) is consumed by Whites and Non-Blacks domestically and globally. It's also common knowledge that despite the presence of big names like Russell Simmons, Cash Money, Diddy, Hov, LA Reid (CEO IDJ), Kedar Massenburg (President of Motown), et al, virtually 100% the major and mid-major record labels (Interscope, Sony BMG, Atlantic, Virgin, EMI, etc.) along with 100% of the distributors (Koch, Studio, Polygram, etc.) and major retail outlets are white-owned. And of course, 100% of the video channels, over 98% of the radio stations (sans Cathy Hughes' Radio One) and over 95% of the significant print outlets (Village Voice, SPIN, RollingStone, Details, URB, etc.) are white-owned. Meanwhile, the black artists, historians, innovators and community as a whole that birthed this and other artforms remains marginalized and at the mercy of outsiders.
Is it right that everyone outside our community continues to control and profit off of what we do and what we are more than us, all while doing nothing to help us overcome the negative conditions that they helped create and perpetuate? Is it right that hundreds of millions of whites and non-blacks co-opt whatever comes out of black communities and give nothing back besides condescending lip-service every February? Can you consume, commoditize and profit off of a people's culture as we've done with black folks for generations and have no responsibility to that community at all?
Consider Hot 97's Tsunami Song fiasco, in which America's Asian and non-black communities and Hot 97's corporate sponsors banded together to bring down a black morning show for insulting Tsunami victims and Asians. Yet these same individuals and entities who've co-opted and profited off of hiphop and black culture for years, including Minya Oh aka Miss Info, rapper Jin, along with others in the various Asian, White, and non-black communities at large have openly cosigned, ignored, or excused similar antics when the targets were black men and women. (Think: Hot 97's "Slapfest," in which young black women were brought in to slap each other as hard as possible with the winner getting $500, the countless degrading slurs and jokes made at the expense of black folks by on-air talents such as Wendy Williams, and those at other stations such as Star and BucWild, Howard Stern, Opie & Anthony, etc.)
Furthermore, when Eminem's "black women are bitches/niggers" song was unearthed in 2004, white and non-black hiphoppers and black culture consumers either ignored the black community's outrage or defended Em outright. (Russell Simmons, was among his most vocal defenders, as I recall.) No. And when Justin ripped Janet's top off during the ˜04 Super Bowl then pulled his "I'm just an innocent white boy who got suckered by the mean black lady" act, the white and non-black communities defended and forgave him. And as BET (lead by its UNCUT show) along with MTV and MTV2 continue to take the misogyny and degradation of black women to new lows in videos and new heights in ratings and profitability the white and non-black communities, most of who watch and support this stuff in disproportionately high numbers, continue to remain sheepishly quiet.
Contrast this reaction with Eminem's other music, which draws consistent fire from GLAAD, NOW and others mainstreamers boycotted due to the popularity of his lyrics among white teens. Consider the scrutiny and criticism that rap artists have come under ever since hiphop became popular among whites youth. There's the underlying notion that as long as black artists degrade black women and black men, they'll be left alone to "do what niggers do," but the moment they begin influencing white teens"”or god forbid"”disrespect a white female, out come the feminists and culture critics.
It should also be noted that for all the hell folks (myself included) give Stanley Crouch, Dionne Warwick, C. Delores Tucker for their slightly-misguided anti-rap crusades, at least they stand up to the music industry forces that profit off the portrayal of black men as pimps, niggers, and thugs and black women as little more than bitches, strippers, babymammas, etc. And save for Essence Magazine, Chuck D., Davey D., and a few other people of color, everyone else, especially those in non-black communities who profit most off this mental poison have stood silent and supportive. Speaking of which...
And as much as I despise Bill O'Reilly and the conservative biased media cabal that is FoxNews Channel, I'm hard-pressed to name a single non-black person of any stature other than O'Reilly who even pretends to question the stereotypical and mysognistic crap most of these white-run record labels churn out at the expense of many equally deserving black artists whose music is about uplifting black folks and making quality music. But then again, why should they? Why should white America and non-black America make a big deal about the mental poison the industry churns out? After all, it's not their women or children being put out there in such negative light.
Today 80% of America's prison system is made up of black and brown men and women including over 1 million black men locked down right now; yet even according to Department of Justice studies, whites are more likely to commit crimes such as drug use and trafficking, rape, murder, etc. Yet when it comes to fighting these injustices, our 80% white and non-black consumer base that claims to love black folks so much is consistently nowhere to be found. When missing black girls and boys are consistently ignored to focus on missing white girls, white men and white women, all those too-hip-for-the-suburbs white and non-black females who brag about their love of Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, etc. are deafeningly silent. (Once again, it's called the "'Amber' Alert" and "'Megan's' Law" for a reason.) As more and more inner-city schools continue to be closed, under-funded and mismanaged at the expense of black and brown youth, all the white kids who love black music and slang so much remain quiet. (After all, their schools are doing just fine.) And when our nation's leaders ignore genocide, AIDS epidemics, catastrophic natural disasters and geopolitical unrest in Haiti, the Congo, El Salvador, the Sudan and other places and nations of color in the name of building alliances with and supporting Anglo-western nations, black culture's 80% white culture vultures cosign that hypocrisy, too. When mainstreamers like Ken Burns, VH-1, PBS, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese and others shackle black history and events by their narrow-minded and often-biased perspectives, that 80% white and non-black consumer base embraces their vision while simultaneously ignoring and marginalizing voices of Black Documentarians and those who would expose the truth. And when Hollywood, Madison Ave. and Corporate America at large continues to enforce standards of beauty, humor, style, femininity that elevate whites above all others or cater to white sensibilities at the expense of people of color, hiphop and black culture's 80% white/non-black culture vultures do nothing to challenge this. But why should they? They're just following the traditions of their parents, grandparents and ancestors, all whom did the same thing in generations past.
America has always believed that no matter what creation is borne of black folks' souls the highest validation blacks can ever achieve is to have it defined, co-opted and commoditized by whites and non-blacks. Before Benny Goodman and the Dorsey Brothers and Bing Crosby, the Andrew Sisters, etc. bogarded their way into Jazz and made it "America's classical music," Jazz was widely degraded as worthless "race music." Rock & Roll and Rhythm and Blues had little value or acceptance until Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn and others cosigned, co-opted and consumed ˜em. Even Hiphop was marginalized as non-music and "niggers talking" until Rick Rubin, the Beastie Boys, Vanilla Ice, MTV, 3rd Bass (and of course, Em) showed up and made it "viable". (In fact, older heads can still remember most white Americans including Jay Leno and Joan Rivers regularly noting, "You can't spell ˜crap' without ˜r-a-p'.") And keep in mind, while all of this cultural co-option was going on Blacks were still suffering thru lynchings, Jim Crow, redlining, segregation and institutionalized racism and injustice in every aspect of society.
But maybe this is how it's supposed to be. After all, once a culture or artform becomes a product, is anyone obligated to do anything more than define it and consume it as they see fit? Isn't that the purpose of a product? People are not product. Heritage and culture is not product. You don't connect with product. You don't empathize with product. You don't respect product. You consume product and throw it away once you're done with it. And maybe all we're doing with hiphop and black culture is just being good consumers. And at the end of the day haven't black people always been America's favorite cultural product anyway?