September 18, 2007

white and/or middle/upper class people - why do you pay for racism and sexism?

Earlier this month, a white writer named Justin Ross wrote an editorial in The Washington Post calling out white people who buy CDs and basically invest in rap music that is both sexist and racist, and often particularly demeaning toward black women. His argument is not new but it is well-articulated. Here's the beginning of the piece:

When it comes to sexism and racism in hip-hop, I'm part of the problem.

Let me explain. I love hip-hop -- have ever since it first came on the scene when I was in elementary school. Over the years, I've bought hundreds of tapes, CDs and downloads, gone to countless rap concerts, even worn my favorite artists' clothing lines. We used to think of hip-hop as just a black thing, but it's not. The largest share of rap music sales in America goes to white listeners. That would be me.

So I'm not just sounding off when I say this: It's time for a boycott of all rap music that stereotypes African Americans or insults and degrades women. And in particular, the people who need to be doing the boycotting are white fans like myself.

In the current debate over whether hip-hop has become degrading to women and harmful to race relations, I've heard quite a bit from black activists, some of whom have fought for years against the sort of lyrics I'm writing about, and I've gotten several earfuls from black rap artists. But I haven't heard a peep from the white fans who essentially underwrite the industry by purchasing more than 70 percent of the rap music in this country, according to Mediamark Research Inc. I don't presume to tell any artist, studio executive or record label what to record or not record. But I will presume to ask young white customers: Why are we buying this stuff?

Ross notes that the white audience is comfortable listening to stories about "crime against black people, drugs being sold in black neighborhoods, black people being killed."

I also wonder what would happen if rap artists started talking about selling dope in the suburbs, or shooting white people or beating down white men. Would rap's comfortable white fans continue to consume it? I suspect the record companies wouldn't even sell it. Like the majority of people who buy rap music, the majority of people who get rich off it are white. That sort of thing might hit a little too close to home for hip-hop's fans and profiteers.

Much of this argument also extends to middle and upper class people of color in addition to white people. Together, we are all funding degrading music. Are you buying the big new CDs that came out this month? Why or why not? What influenced your decision? If not, what are you listening to right now? If you are listening to the new Kanye or 50 CD, what do you think of it?

Get the whole editorial here. Of course, if you don't want to log in, you can always go to Bugmenot and put in Thanks to Racialicious for bringing the editorial to my attention. Stop by there to read some thoughtful comments.


emily2 said...

uh, fyi, kanye west grew up upper middle class.

wannatakethisoutside said...

That's definitely a related issue - I couldn't really go everywhere in one post but here's another question I had.

How do you think West's class background fits into the mix of issues that come up from his music?

emily2 said...

one example: when others are singing about "bling", he angsting about whether wearing "bling" is right because some of them might be blood diamonds.

Good Morning, this ain't Vietnam still
People lose hands, legs, arms for real
Little was known of Sierra Leone
And how it connect to the diamonds we own
When I speak of Diamonds in this song
I ain't talkin bout the ones that be glown
I'm talkin bout Rocafella, my home, my chain
These ain't conflict diamonds,is they Jacob? don't lie to me mayne
See, a part of me sayin' keep shinin',
How? when I know of the blood diamonds
Though it's thousands of miles away
Sierra Leone connect to what we go through today
Over here, its a drug trade, we die from drugs
Over there, they die from what we buy from drugs
The diamonds, the chains, the bracelets, the charmses
I thought my Jesus Piece was so harmless
'til I seen a picture of a shorty armless
And here's the conflict
It's in a black person's soul to rock that gold
Spend ya whole life tryna get that ice
On a polar rugby it look so nice
How could somethin' so wrong make me feel so right, right?
'fore I beat myself up like Ike
You could still throw ya Rocafella diamond tonight

i guess if you grew up in a comfortable environment, you may not be as enamored with the trappings of wealth and may also be more self-aware and conflicted about things like "bling". i dunno... this is just one example. can't comment anymore today, sadly. suddenly got a pile of work. boo.

also, note this:

"Everybody in hip-hop discriminates against gay people," [West] told MTV in an interview that aired last August. "And I want to just come on TV and just tell my rappers, just tell my friends, yo, stop it fam."

i could go into issues of class, power, masculinity and homophobia in hip-hop, but i'll let someone else pontificate for once. :)

emily2 said...

can i just veer off the topic for a bit?

read this post by pam spaulding.

she has a point. why are progressive blogs (like quench) ignoring such a momentous civil rights issue and instead focusing on arguably theoretical harm like un-p.c. hop hop lyrics?

i'm just putting it out there. don't flame me. it's just something to think about.