Listen to Understand, Not Respond

“This is why I say that hip hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years. This is the exactly wrong message.” This is the comment of a man that truly is out of touch with the reality of American racism, Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera. His statement is in response to the song “Alright” by American Hip Hop artist Kendrick Lamar, which is about recent and perpetual police violence toward young black men. The gist of this song is that black people are going to be alright in this unconscious America, as he works to empower his people and enlighten those that are unaware of the injustices African Americans face. In the words of Kendrick Lamar, “hip hop is not the problem, our reality is.” Lamar further attests this type of rhetoric is an attempt to delude the real problem, “the senseless acts of killing of these young boys out there.” Rivera argued in a post on April 14, 2017 that “rappers should work around racism rather than abolish it,” arguing that the problems that exist in the black community are more pressing than the fact that black men are targeted and stereotyped by the police. Ok, Mr. Rivera, pertaining to your perspective, racism is not the problem. The problems are due to internal conflict, crime, and violence against one another, occurrences that you feel are not tied to racism.

Let us just forget for a second that slavery was the introduction of racism into the conscience of African decedents brought over so many years ago (400), let us just fast forward to the failure of Reconstruction in 1865 and how the hopeful advancements in equality rapidly diminished, resulting in the assassination of Lincoln and racial wounds to remain open and fester. The internal problems of the African American community do not solely rest on their shoulders. But that was so long ago – a fair response, even though the systemic residue is all over the current society. It must be remembered that the perpetual reoccurrence of racist ideology is not coincidental, but innate and calculated to create a particular narrative. The narrative allows control over thinking via stereotypes and generalizations projected through the media, a platform Mr. Lamar and Rivera share. During slavery, the narrative was inferiority, followed by assumed resentment from former slaves, “separate but equal” during Jim Crow, the controversial war on drugs that has led to the mass incarceration of so many people of color, just to name a few. In all these instances, the oppressed never got their justice, most likely due to territorial instinct, with all the racial violence witnessed over the past 400 years. And for years, those oppressed have tried to work around or within the system, coining individuals such as MLK and Jon Lewis, individuals expressing their rights peacefully and still being met with violence. In the words of hip hop icon Tupac in “Fuck That,” “we been marching 100 years, all that shit that went on in the 60’s ain’t finna happen in this motherfucker.”

Stereotype – a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea, ex. “Thug.” In the 1990’s, this was the narrative when mentioning a black man, the same man that had just experienced Jim Crow segregation, the murder of most of their political and inspirational voices such as Dr. King and Malcolm X, and the sabotage and disbandment of the closest thing they had to cultural unity in the Black Panthers. The same man that continued to experience racial oppression also continued to be stereotyped by the people responsible for his situation, and was expected to work around it rather than go at it head on. Sounds like blasphemy, for that is not the American way. If it were, we would be still apart of the British Empire.

 A student of the Panthers’, Tupac understood this and sought to empower his people through his music. In the process, a Pygmalion effect took place, causing stereotypes to become realities, resulting in black men succumbing to self-fulfilled prophecies induced by a lack of social recognition. In his own words, Tupac expresses that “when I say Thug life, I mean that shit, cause these white folks see us as thugs. I don’t care if you think you a man, a lawyer, an African American, whatever the fuck you think you are, we thugs and niggas to these white folks, you can’t be a man in this world without owning something, and till we band together to change it we ain’t nothing but thugs and I’m gone own it.” The self-fulfilled prophecy that engulfed the mind and rationale of Tupac created a double entendre of the African American Experience. His experience with the Panthers allowed him to have a different perspective than most, but nevertheless the main goal was unity, as he passionately says in the 1993 Black Expo after talking about gang unity and misrepresentation form the NAACP: “We have to be united under whatever.” The perpetuated stereotypes that lead to Tupac’s rendition of what it meant to be a black man in America resulted in an entire generation of black empowerment. To the unconscious, Tupac is the example of a menace. But to his listeners, he was a prophet sent to bring recognition to their struggles.

“The hate u give little infants fucks everyone,” the acronym for thug life or diagnosis of a black man’s reality in America made by Tupac points to thug life being a condition induced by American society and a result of the unfair treatment of its African American citizens. As an individual, Tupac’s music is the perfect example. Going from “Keep Ya Head Up” to “Thug Life,” no doubt the outside world had some major influence on the psyche of this prolific young man under the age of 25. The double consciousness of viewing your life through the eyes of two different races is a reality that is sure to cause confusion, especially in an atmosphere where the offenders will not take accountability. This instance is not new and has perpetuated like some many other nuances of slavery. Tokened by W.E.B Du Bois in his outstanding autoethnographic work, The Souls of Black Folk, the term “double consciousness” points to how African Americans must always look at themselves through the eyes of a racist white society that is saturated with stereotypes and generalizations that African American must set their standards around, all the while experiencing oppression by those same people.

  This is where hip hop serves as a voice for the voiceless. It might have this double consciousness that Du Bois was talking about, and yet simultaneously disagree with the standard. Over the years, the passion of artists like Tupac and Kendrick Lamar made sure those voices were heard and had an input in the narrative pertaining to their people. Tupac attested that he said things in his music that the media wouldn’t, and that he wanted to be accountable for everything he said. Any time he made a song about what the real problems America faced he was met with resistance, coupled with the personal experience he had with the police; the narrative of “Tupac the menace” is created, after all, it goes against the popular and perpetual ideology. Rivera’s point of internal problems of the African Americans, or what he calls the “civil war in the ghetto,” has been addressed by hip hop music repeatedly over the years. Pointing to the hypocrisy of his own nature, Kendrick raps in “Blacker,” “How the fuck can I wept for Treyvon in the street when gang-banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me, hypocrite.” That self-fulfilled prophecy diagnosed by Tupac is on full display, and Kendrick’s recognition is not a detriment as the Fox reporter claims, but fuel to empower those who can relate to what he is saying. Tupac responses to Rivera’s comments before they were ever made, enlightening him on his ignorance as he raps in “Changes”: “Instead of war on poverty, they put a war on drugs so the police can bother me.” “Changes” ties the need to sell drugs to the reality of poverty and debunks Rivera’s claim that the problem should be handle indirectly instead of directly, for the indirect approach has not fostered any promising results – only retribution and exclusion, instead of restoration and equality.

Dominique Harris

Dominique A Harris
Atlanta, Ga

Previous Story

The Elevating Connection of Higher Education in Prison: An Incarcerated Student’s Perspective