Part II of reflections on the response by blacks to Imus. Part I is here.
I have been thinking about this post I'm about to write at various points over the weekend. A few questions have occurred to me to make you think about:
In the first part of this post, I included portions of e-mails I received about the Imus situation. Some people asked why we don't hold blacks accountable and demand that they be fired when they make racially offensive and/or derogatory comments, when they refer to other blacks as "bitch," "ho" and "nigga." What about rappers? What about radio hosts and BET? Now, I haven't been hiding under a rock (completely). I know other blacks do use racially offensive and derogatory language. But I just want to know, you know--if you're so against it, as black people, then how do you even know about some of these things? I mean, because the way I operate is that if I feel someone or something is derogatory, that person or that thing simply won't receive any of my attention, let alone support.
Let me be more clear via example. My oldest sister and her daughter are among those people in the world with their priorities all screwed up. I remember this kid knowing just about every song and video on TV and the radio but failing the first grade. She would see a video come on TV and go, "Mama, your song!" This is someone who, at age 12 & 1/2, still can barely read or write well and still has difficulty with basic math concepts. Her mother was much the same way growing up, only not because of values passed down to her by our parents. But she was another person who did not perform well in, nor value, school. She still values school so little that she essentially refuses to help her daughter with homework. It actually annoys her.
But these two people, every time I come back "home," have list after list of trashy songs that they would like for me to compile and burn onto CDs for them. No, my niece cannot read well or write a decent essay, but she can look up her favorite artists on Rhapsody (an online music subscription program) on my mother's computer, find the songs she likes by them and write them all on a piece of paper for me. She can remember who sang what song and what the lyrics are, but she cannot bring home a report card full of 'A's and 'B's, and this is not a problem to my sister.
Now, I look at these lists and don't even know who half the artists are, let alone what kinds of offensive or derogatory things they say in their songs. This is coming from someone who just three short years ago worked in the music industry and who grew up living and breathing music. I can now say that I don't know who a musical artist is or that I've never heard XYZ song, and when I finally do hear it (usually against my will) it's like, "what the hell is this?!" You know why? It's not just because I'm in law school, because I still listen to music a lot. I just don't listen to most of the music that is on the radio, MTV or BET today, because most of that stuff, regardless of genre, is despicable. I don't listen to radio stations, save a jazz station sometimes. This is on purpose, people. You know why? Because for the past few years, I have felt that the state of music has completely crumbled. Something I used to love has become something that now makes me very angry, and I think this is one reason why I don't even think about practicing entertainment law anymore and have instead started focusing on something I feel is way more useful to the world and important--civil rights.
And it's not just rap and R&B music. My favorite genres for the past 10-15 years have been top 40/pop and rock (particularly alternative rock and pop/rock), but I won't even entertain those radio stations anymore. Anytime someone like Paris Hilton can receive a record deal, and anytime someone like Britney Spears is more popular for the crazy things she does than for the music she makes and vocals. Anytime someone who can sing her ass off is still undiscovered and pretty much never has a chance of being signed to a major record label. Anytime you can grab a mic and say absolutely nothing in your lyrical content on top of monotonous music production and have a number one hit. I've been done. I don't know who most rappers are nowadays, and I've never listened to Wendy Williams. And I don't have the desire to. So I have no idea what these people say and do anymore, even though I suspect rappers are up to the same ole same ole. But even before, clearly, rap and R&B weren't at the top of my list. The last time it was, I was in elementary school (i.e. approximately 20 years ago) and rap was basically a completely different genre than it is today.
The interesting thing to me is these same black people who criticize rappers and ask us why we don't do the same...hmmm, they seem to be familiar with these people's music. So, they're whining and making generalizations about black people, about how we support these people who degrade us, about how this is all all of our faults, about how we don't hold rappers and black media accountable and how our leaders don't speak out against rap music and how we don't push them to. They're saying we need to look at ourselves. No, kid--I think you, knowing the lyrics, who these people are and everything--need to look at yourself. If you really don't like the music, then don't listen to it. Don't support it. And then that would send the right message to these record labels and white media, whom I have already said I view as the real culprit in all this.
You can urge black leaders to speak out all you want to, and you can write in your blogs and get mad and point the finger at blacks, particularly black rappers. The fact of the matter is rappers are still getting rich, and white media execs are still getting even richer than that. If you're even patronizing the stuff, though, by still tuning in, still buying the CDs or the online downloads, still going to the concerts, etc, then guess what? You are still part of the problem. Because, I tell you, every time I turn around, a rapper or an exec is justifying their part in the derogation of women and blacks by saying 1) women like it because they are some of these artists' biggest fans and/or because they agree to be the video girls, and 2) everybody else likes it because these songs and videos keep surging to the top of the charts. So, obviously, there's some complaining going on, but there are also some hypocrits complaining. It's time to stop legitimizing these arguments by cutting these industries that degrade us off.
We have another problem, though--more and more fans of urban music and stereotypical black TV are non-blacks. My honest take on this is these fans are no different than the execs who put that stuff out there, i.e. they like to see black people make fools of themselves and confirm negative images of blacks. I know so many white people who love rap music and probably consider it among their favorite genres, but they have absolutely no black friends, don't speak to black people, don't respect black people, don't hire black people, would never date a black person. Eminem is a win for them because he has come and taken black stuff, done it better than blacks, been more successful at it than blacks. He is their human equivalent to white people saying "nigger," i.e. he has done something that is off limits to whites and that white people would die to do all because it's off limits. White people get this rush they probably don't even know about or can't explain when they do something they aren't "allowed" to do at the expense of black people, and that is part of the reason why Eminem ever exploded in the first place or why white people like to just throw "nigga" out.
Most white people now know more about rappers and rap music than I do. I have commented to friends before on the irony of this, how I'm probably the only one in the dorm blasting country music or adult contemporary while everyone else is blasting rap and R&B. I've had white people talk to me about artists I don't care for as if I do and about songs I've never heard of as if I have, not in law school but definitely in undergraduate school. So, the problem, the demand for and the continuation of rap music definitely is not and will not just be on black people. "Black culture" is some huge entertaining joke to white people, as well as other non-blacks. Even if all the black rappers went away, white people would send offensive white artists out to "imitate" us like they do with their offensive little "ghetto parties" and the much-denounced Shirley Q among black gays. As much as blacks support the derogation of blacks and women, everyone else supports it a lot more.
I want to end by discussing a wound that the Imus situation has opened up for me. As a black person who is probably considered among the more privileged blacks for various reasons, I must say certain privileges are painful to face. I understand where white people are coming from there. It's hard not to get defensive when black people talk about colorism/racism based on skin color among blacks, hair texture and social class. I feel like sayings such as "black is beautiful" and "I prefer natural hair"/"I like women with natural hair" are not just an attack on whites and other non-blacks; it's an attack on black people who don't conform to this script-flipping.
One of those privileges that I just one day decided to flatly admit is that upperclass blacks think they are better than other blacks. I'm not saying all of us. More than enough are, though. Blacks "make it" or are born with more of the resources and tools that it takes to "make it" and they completely lose touch or never had it to begin with. I've had to admit that I don't really know anything about, what is considered among blacks, what the "average" black person goes through, and I'm glad I don't. I feel like it's an attack on people like me when people talk about growing up poor or with a lot of adversity and how that makes them strong(er), as if the rest of us are all weak.
What bothers me about black responses to the Imus situation is I feel the response is showing that "I'm better" mentality. And, yet, I must ask again--why do you know these songs, these artists, what Wendy Williams discusses on her show, etc. There's this divide between "oh, those rappers" and "oh, I'm a law student." Nobody thinks about how college is not a given for everybody, especially not for every black person. People only think about their vantage point. You're not going to turn down a record label offering millions of dollars to degrade people or to let white men control your black body by entertaining white America every Saturday/Sunday with how fast you can run or throw a football when you feel as if you have no other options or that you can work as hard as you want at going towards a "real" profession and you're still not going to receive the respect/pay/advancements that non-blacks on your level will. On some level, I really can't blame black entertainers for the route they choose.
To be completely honest, I view so many of my black classmates in law school as incredibly naive. They have no clue what is going to be in store for them when they rush off to these rich white law firms. They're just sitting in class, feeling better than other blacks and wondering why there aren't more blacks right here with us in law school. After all, we're doing it, so it can be done, right? I can tell you why not--the entire process of making it to law school is incredibly expensive and requires knowing things that the "average" black person has no real way of knowing. And by that, I don't mean academic knowledge. I mean, if they want to know how to gain acceptance to law school, especially top law schools, they have no real way of finding this out.
After all, most blacks who "make it" don't seem terribly interested in helping other blacks out. I find more white people willing to help me than black people. I can't even get most black lawyers to write me back when all it takes is a simple e-mail. These people don't completely realize the time, the expense, the hard work it takes to make it this far. I feel like every time I turn around, I have to dish out more money for something law-related, and this has been going on since I first decided I wanted to apply to law school. You'd have to be a bourgie black person to begin with to make it this far, essentially!
And most "how to get into law school" resources are more helpful to whites than blacks, not to mention costly. It's not as if most blacks have lawyers around that they can talk to about the process and receive accurate information. I had never known any lawyers. And when my mother gave me the names of some black lawyers she vaguely knew, as I said, these people would barely write me back or would offer only the most generic information. Now, as someone who is upper-middle class, I found the whole process trying and mysterious. Imagine what it'd be like for a black person who did not even have what I had--two parents (i.e. two salaries to help me apply, buy books and study guides, etc) and a good high school which led to a good college which led to a good law school, which are the result of being upperclass to begin with.
What made me angry about the Imus response from blacks was it seemed like the typical upperclass black strategy of blaming everything on "other" black people, i.e. black people who are not like them. Now, this time, no one said anything about being "lower socioeconomic" and certain people not holding up their end of the bargain. But that's what it reminded me of because, as I mentioned before, I have only heard these trite arguments coming from whites and blacks who are bourgie, at least on the surface. I actually didn't care about the Imus situation at all until I heard black people respond, and then I started getting irritated--not with Imus, because white people being racist? Big whoop--what's new?? I suppose upperclass blacks acting like blacks are always the problem and ignoring the role of white supremacy is nothing new, either, though.
I want to emphasize again that I don't think what rappers or anyone else who degrades blacks/women do is right. I am not on anyone's side. I don't think rappers should get off the hook, and I don't think blacks shouldn't try to make it in whatever profession they wish simply because of racism and disparate treatment. I am not arguing that because white men degrade people, degradation should continue or blacks should be excused. I'm bringing issues and points to the table that no one, except Ann, has remotely touched, as far as I've seen. The truth of the matter is the Imus situation was not about black rappers. It was about white racists. The discussion has shifted--blacks have allowed it to and have helped whites in shifting the focus off the accountability they need to take. If anything, a discussion about how to stop degradation in the media, period--not just what is considered black media--is what should have resulted from Imus' comments.