By H. Lewis Smith
Hip-Hop music is an art form all unto itself. Its unique rhythmic beat and craftily-packaged rhymes can be very catchy, entertaining and stimulating. Because listeners are often caught up by the beat and impressed with the artist’s literary creativity, and, perhaps are just happy to see one of their own finally make it, they tend to overlook and/or downplay the real message(s) being conveyed; this may help to explain why some rap records with self-destructive, violent, demeaning and insensitive lyrics in nature can be so popular. Rappers feel that they are just entertaining, storytellers, saying what “sounds good”, but the truth of the matter is that their messages do carry clout, are influential, and can evoke action; as such, they must be mindful of what they say, and the artists and their sponsors must be held accountable for the artists’ actions and words.
Self-respecting people are tired of being sold out by heartless, money-hungry rappers. They are becoming less passive and apathetic about the images and messages being conveyed, and are now gaining the gumption to speak up and out against the undignified portrayals rappers promote. Rap artist Lil Wayne came under fire in February for lyrics comparing the 1955 heinous, murderous beating of teenager Emmett Till to his sexual prowess when interacting with female genitalia; in May, he lost a multi-million dollar endorsement deal with PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew as a result. In April, in the face of PepsiCo’s situation, Reebok also decided to proactively sever ties with hip-hop artist Rick Ross because of his own offensive lyrics related to date raping women.
Ultimately, media giants and corporations are in business to make money. Any activity that supports that objective will be played up, promoted and sold like hot cakes to keep making their pockets fatter. On the other hand, any activity that negatively effects or even looks to threaten their wallet will be severed immediately. Emmett Till’s family did not sit back, pass and allow Lil Wayne to have carte blanche to trample over and dishonor the death of their family member. By their speaking out and protesting the beverage company, events were placed into motion, which ultimately led to the loss of Lil Wayne’s endorsement deal. Others found the fortitude to speak up against Rick Ross, and Reebok smartly elected to forgo any negative publicity and resolved their potential issue before it could even become one.
Overall, these situations serve as testimony that when the Black community DEMANDS responsibility and accountability from one of their very own, people do listen and the results can be immediate, profoundly impacting, and have a huge domino effect. This card of power has always been available to the Black community to play, but in its refusal to hold their own accountable and responsible for anything, the group has always passed on using it.
An old adage, slightly modified for relevance and greater impact, says that he who forgets the past—or even worse, is ignorant to his past—is doomed to REPEAT it. Gangsta rap promoting street violence, crime, misogyny and use of the n-word are replicas of messages that were browbeaten into the hearts, minds and souls of African-American enslaved ancestors for more than 300 years.
A strong need was and still is felt to emasculate the manhood of the black male and a relentless campaign was undertaken to do just that. This dehumanization process and psychological onslaught of the human mind, implanting a whole new personality in heads, hearts, minds and souls, created an unwarranted image of a subjugated people categorized as n**gers. Since n**gers were looked upon as sub-human and 3/5 of a person and not considered as human beings, they were, as a result, subjected to the worst form of inhumane treatment—mentally and physically—ever known to humankind.
Enslaved Africans were not willing participants of enslavement and their will to resist had to be broken, therefore, they were programmed and conditioned into assimilating a newly-created inferior status of themselves. Minds of black men were unbelievably mentally abused and broken. They were forced to believe they possessed moral, intellectual, social and physical characteristics of a bestial savage beast, and a lazy, stupid, dirty, worthless parasite; forced to accept a lesser image of themselves as lethargic, intellectually childlike and ignorant, and obsessively self-indulgent angry animals prone to wanton violence. The enslaved were browbeaten to believe that their dark hue of skin was to be looked upon as physically unattractive, which explains the unhealthy color awareness consciousness in the Black community today.
Any sort of brutal act perpetrated upon the enslaved was always fueled with the rallying cry of the word n**ger as if this would make any unconscionable acts executed upon a so-called “non-human” n**ger acceptable in the eyesight of their Christian God. While the hanged, beaten and maimed drew their final breath, the last words the victimized would always hear were the chants of n**ger, n**ger, n**ger ringing in their ears. Ironically, contemporary African Americans embrace the pejorative term FAILING to understand why they do, that this is not what they are and more importantly that there is NO such thing as a n**ger/n**ga. During Hitler’s mistreatment of the Jewish community and experimentation in Eugenics, President Roosevelt admonished him for such conduct, to which Hitler replied, “Everything we do to Jewish people was learned from your treatment of the America Black people.”
Gangsta rap speaks of struggle, strife, and the negative experiences endured in a tone of self-loathe and hate. Because African Americans refuse to learn and fully accept their past as well as see the seriousness in continually giving life to remnants that should have all been left in the past, the feelings of inadequacy and frustration laced in every line of rap music are internalized and treated as legacies that are passed down from generation to generation. The unrelenting 400 year old daily assault on the Black psyche was and is designed to corrupt African Americans’ sense of racial unity and cohesion, mold the character of self-hatred, engender self-doubt and distrust among the group, thus, pulverizing Black unity and halting Black upward mobility.
In this 21st century history is repeating itself through the self-destructive lyrics of rap music. The impressionable young minds of our Black youth are treated as garbage disposals, dumping anything and everything into it that’s debasing—ALL for the almighty dollar—simultaneously promoting criminal behavior; and it’s happening with the blessing of the Black community since the group collectively refuses to put its foot down and say enough is enough. Control of the precious minds of Black youth have been handed over to money-hungry rappers and indifferent comedians, actors and actresses, while the intelligentsia, ministers, community leaders sit back and do ABSOLUTELY nothing to stop it, this habitual practice of self-inflicted cultural genocide is totally foreign to other groups around the world.
This 400-year-old on-going indoctrination process needs to be stopped, just as Lil Wayne was stopped by the Till family. Black America must either stand up to these entertainers and the industry that have made billions stomping on the dignity of Black/African-Americans and no longer allow them to do it, or continue to be willing participants in the cultural genocide of black people. Just as slavery and the African-American Holocaust was no joke, cultural genocide is no laughing matter either. African Americans must somehow learn to separate itself from the minstrel syndrome stop taking themselves and the n-word as a joke.
Today, the n-word is still alive and well because contemporary Black Americans have yet to demonstrate the ability and mental fortitude to let go of an 18th century slave mentality. Promoting, marketing, and commercializing the n-word globally contribute to keeping it alive and, in the process, are keeping its wicked and abhorrent history alive.
Black/African-Americans must, on the whole, adopt the attitude of the Till family, by standing up and speaking out against the mental abuse of our youth via gangsta rap music with its promotion and encouragement of criminal behavior, use of drugs, glorification of violence and the promotion of the n-word. No one is an exception; EVERYONE is required to use their voice, stand united, and hold to the fire anyone that attempts to continue to tear down the Black community. Sacrificing the minds of our youth, glorifying and applauding the status of those who are now financial tycoons as a result of their predatory ways speaks volumes about the over-all unhealthy mentality of the Black/African-American community, our youth deserves more, infinitely more.
H. Lewis Smith is the founder and president of UVCC, the United Voices for a Common Cause, Inc. (www.theunitedvoices.com), and author of “Bury that Sucka: A Scandalous Love Affair with the N-Word”. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thescoop1