Don’t blame Hip Hop for Imus’s racism

Published Apr 19, 2007 12:21 AM

Since MSNBC decided to cancel Don Imus’s radio program and was followed by CBS firing the “shock jock,’ ” the capitalist media and the pundits that are its face have launched an assault against Black culture in the form of Hip Hop.

Larry Hales

Larry Hales

WW photo

This is in the aftermath of the furor that arose over the racist and sexist remarks Don Imus made on his April 4 morning radio show regarding the Rutgers women’s basketball team.

It would seem, from the articles now circling in major newspapers and news outlets nationwide, that Imus and the like are victims of Hip Hop music. That all this country’s ills are to be blamed on a culture that grew from conditions imposed on oppressed nationalities, specifically Blacks and Puerto Ricans. These conditions, which arose from a system that uses racism like a carpenter uses a hammer, are nothing more than an illustration of the racism endemic to capitalist society.

The opaqueness of the “blame Hip Hop” argument should be obvious; however, the ruling class in this country, for whom Don Imus is a mouthpiece, is extremely effective.

Surely, this incident was not an isolated incident, but more of the same from a man who built his radio career espousing racist, anti-women and homophobic sentiments.

While it is a victory that MSNBC and CBS had to bow to the will of the people and fire Imus, he is only one of many and his firing came after he had spewed his rancid speak for 15 years on radio. Many in the Black community and other oppressed communities stood up to call for Imus’s firing and so did certain ranks within the media, especially Black women.

Imus’s sidekick, Sid Rosenberg and producer Bernard McGuirk, who was hired by Imus to do “N-word jokes,” have gotten away with catering to one of the founding doctrines of U.S. society—white supremacy.

Racism is a tool of the bosses used to create a privileged layer in society, to obfuscate and pit workers against other workers instead of fighting together against the owners and protectors of the capitalist mode of production.

For example, Lou Dobbs continues his racist, fascistic-like assault on immigrant workers in order to whip up the white middle-class and white workers into a frenzy against people of color. This is nothing more than dangerous demagogy that must be challenged.

Bill O’Reilly still figures prominently on right-wing Fox News, a channel that proudly trumpets its right-wing bent. Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are only a few more of the far-right pundits. A campaign should be waged to remove them all from the public eye. When the ruling class uses the First Amendment, it is wielded as a weapon. It is the workers that pay for their vile speech.

There is ample evidence to point to the rancid mind of Imus; remarks that belie his supporters, who claimed his firing constitutes a violation of free speech or that his comment was in jest. Some can be found at Behind the jest of a racist is the desire of the bosses.

Using Hip Hop as a diversion

The desire of the bosses in this particular instance has taken the form of a continued assault against Black culture.

Some in the Black community and other working-class communities have unfortunately bought into the claim of the capitalist media, that ultimately Imus only reiterated what is prevalent in Hip Hop music.

Mainstream Hip Hop can at times be replete with misogynistic imagery and lyrics, as well as being homophobic and self-destructive as well. However, that this has become mainstream, though not representative of the majority of Hip Hop, is the doing of the corporate takeover and co-opting of hip hop culture.

M-1, one half of the rap group, dead prez, said of these attacks, “Hip Hop is taking the blame for what they turned it into. The Hip Hop they are talking about is not the majority. The Hip Hop that is political is highly censured,” and “Media is hypocritical, and these attacks create the ground work for continued exploitation of our artists by relegating Hip Hop to being shallow.”

Lil Wayne, a musician from New Orleans, has made his career appealing to the popular tendency in Hip Hop music. Recently, however, he recorded a scathing indictment against the Bush administration in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy and the callous disregard shown by the U.S. puppets of capital.

The song, called “Georgia Bush,” starts with the rapper labeling his city, the “Lost City of New Orleans,” and includes the lyrics “Hurricane Katrina / we shoulda called it hurricane, Georgia, Bush / Then they telling yall lies on the news / the white people smiling like everythangs cool / but I know people that died in that pool / I know people that died in them schools / now what is a survivor to do / got no trailer / you gotta move … they tell what they want / show you what they want you to see / but don’t let you know what’s really going on / make it look like a lot of stealing going on / all them cop killings in my home …”

Culture is the product of a current reality, the work and thought of human beings and is the expression of a class or element of a particular class and is reflective of a certain period. It cannot exist above and beyond the human world, no matter how fantastic. Trotsky wrote in the “Social Roots and Social Function of Literature,” “Marxism alone can explain why and how a given tendency in art has originated in a given period of history; in other words, who it was who made a demand for such an artistic form and not for another, and why.”

The point is, Hip Hop music, whether it started with Kool Herc, Afika Bambatta, the Watts Poets, Last Poets, Lee Scratch Perry, Gil Scott Heron, with the style of James Brown or Langston Hughes reading his poems to musical accompaniment courtesy of Charlie Mingus’ band, or “Ali rap” from the period when Muhammad Ali was the greatest boxer, emanated from the Black experience in North America.

Hip Hop reflects reality and resistance

Perhaps it would be more correct to say that Hip Hop began when the first captives from Africa were brought across the Atlantic and sold into bondage in North America.

This cultural/musical explosion came out of a period that began during the decline of powerful social movements. There was a recession which settled heavily upon the most oppressed and an outgrowth of that recession was desperateness and coupled with that, the explosive social movements were ending, and though gains were made, the masses of the oppressed were still underfoot and suffering.

Hip Hop music reflected the conditions, though it was celebrative as well. To correctly highlight what happened to Hip Hop music, one need only look at a 7-year period, from 1987-1994.

In the late 1980s there was a lot of positive Hip Hop. Public Enemy released “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back” in 1988 and it resounded like a bomb. The album was hardcore and an indictment of racism and the system. That same year NWA made the anti-cop anthem “Fuck Tha Police.”

One year before that, many East Coast rappers decided to release a rallying cry to end Black on Black violence. The song begins with a speech by Malcolm X and KRS One leads off and his lyrics include the call, “We got together so that you can unite and fight for what’s right.”

Following Public Enemy’s release came Queen Latifah and her anthem for women, “Ladies First.” Intelligent Hoodlum made his first collection of music in 1990, as well as did Poor Righteous Teachers, X-Clan and other positive Hip Hop music.

Tupac Shakur burst into the scene in 1991 with his first release that included many tales of the realities of life for Black people and songs calling for unity and calling attention to state repression in the form of police brutality. Ice Cube released “Death Certificate” the same year.

The music was a reflection of the conditions of the oppressed under capitalism, especially after Reaganomics and in the midst of the so-called War on Drugs, which was really a war on the poor and people of color.

When Chuck-D called rap music the “CNN of the ghetto,” he was basically saying that it not only spoke of the conditions but was a barometer of the willingness of the people to openly struggle. On April 29, 1992, after the acquittal of the racist cops that beat Rodney King, the rebellion in Los Angeles started.

It wasn’t just the brutal beating of Rodney King and the subsequent acquittal, but those things were merely added weight heaped upon the history of slavery, oppression and repression of Black people—after this Hip Hop began to change.

The music was co-opted; musicians were signed to contracts, drawn in by money and were set upon with debt as they were made to pay record labels back for producers, equipment, video production and the only way out is to make more records, incur more debt and hope to sell enough music to be set free.

It must be made clear that misogyny, homophobia, racism and the like are tools of the oppressing class, the ruling class, and that these tools permeate all of society and filter from the top down, so to heap the blame on Hip Hop music is an attack to silence a culture that is rooted in social commentary and the desire for freedom.

These attacks must be fought, and progressive, revolutionary underground Hip Hop supported.

Nas said in an interview with Jet Magazine of April 9, 2007, “No one who knows rap, protects rap and loves it has the power to help. We don’t have direct control at radio or video channels. Those people who are in charge have always destroyed music. … The whole industry needs to be destroyed. Shut down. Labels and everything. It needs to start from the ground up!”

There is no better way to protect culture than the destruction of the profit system. Then culture will be free to flourish, the human mind set free to create without the worry of trying to financially maintain in a system that seeks to exploit the majority for a small minority.


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