Dine, Young Cannibals - Pop cultural influence & African-American accountability face off

By Anthony Beal
January 4, 2006

"3 Stabbed at Notorious B.I.G. Record Party", read one of several news headlines found on the Internet last week. The story referenced told of a violent assault on three unidentified men that took place during a rap album release party at a New York City nightclub.

And faster than you could say "More money, more problems," Internet message boards the world over exploded with discussions of the incident. Not surprisingly, more than three of every five postings I spent the better half of that morning reading appeared to have been posted by cowards spouting the sort of undeniably racist propaganda that they would never exhibit courage enough to utter aloud in the presence of any black male their size. While opinion posts bearing the word "niggers" in their titles as well as ones inviting the African-American race to die or otherwise collectively immolate itself deviate considerably from this writer's idea of pleasurable reading, I understand well the importance of keeping my friends close, but my enemies closer, and so, forced myself to peruse as many of them as possible.

On its face, the record party incident is but the latest act in a seemingly unending stream of black-on-black violence in a hip-hop community so saturated with glamorized aggression that many feel it barely rates as news at all. Viewed through the racist eye, events of this nature serves only to lend credence to the notion that blacks deserve none of the rights and freedoms that our ancestors struggled and died to earn for us, because our race is inherently incapable of civility. Examined in broader context, they speak to the current state of the African-American psyche in a culture unmatched at pandering to its lowest common denominator.

Known to far too few Americans is that during America's age of slavery, slavemasters gathered routinely to discuss how best to control their resident barge-toters and bale-lifters recently acquired from the African continent. Because contriving an effective pre-emptive means of quashing mutinous tendencies among blacks of the day stood paramount in the minds of their masters, it went without saying that whatever measure was employed should have to be as surreptitious as it was autonomous. Of all known subjugation techniques they experimented with, the most subliminal and self-sustaining has always involved attacking the collective élan vital of one's target demographic; planting seeds of socially and intellectually injurious behavior, then allowing those self-loathing, self-defeating habits to neutralize them more effectively than any whip or shackle ever could. As a black American, I read headlines the likes of the above cited and consider far more deplorable than the fact that this tactic of keeping a given demographic at odds with itself has endured ably into modern times, the fact that we African-Americans continue to fall for it.

Consider that self-destruction is mass-marketed to the African-American youth community more than to any other demographic. Those reading this whose first impulse is to disagree are invited to revisit the malt liquor advertising wars of the early 1990's, a time when it seemed that getting a "forty" (a forty-ounce bottle of cheaply-produced beer of a higher than usual alcohol content) into the hand of every African-American male in our country was imperative. Popularized by hiphop artists through advertising and rap lyrics, its consumption was aggressively marketed to impressionable black youth as an indication of masculine virility. Long-term social impact and health detriments notwithstanding, there was money to be made, and our sons and brothers were there for the fleecing.

Consider also that in any civilized social climate, both ignoble and ignominious is the very idea of being arrested for criminal activity including but certainly not limited to weapon or illegal drug possession. It's nothing to take pride in, unless you're a young black entertainer seeking to gain a little "street cred" in a big hurry. Then it mimics a twisted kind of rite of passage in an entertainment domain rife with ridiculous artificially-engineered feuds; one wherein an artist who's never been to prison for outlawry or had an attempt made on his life is rarely considered "hardcore" or worthy of being taken seriously. I don't suggest that the fact that the same cannot be said for artists of other races is a problem. The true crime is that we as black people continue to dignify such happenstances with our enamored attention.

And all the more laughable grows the notion of Bob Dylan and Neil Young popping caps at one another over who “dissed” who, or of the members of Green Day and Maroon 5 brawling backstage before a performance. Would anyone dare ever suggest that John Mayer’s never having been jailed leaves his body of work lacking a certain “cred”? Given that the alleged feuds between young black artists frequently amount to mere subterfuges designed to sell more albums, who is truly the butt of the joke? Is it the black consumer, continuing to financially support enterprises that cast a spotlight on the worst of human values and allegiances under the guise of projecting our race's most genuine attributes? Or is it the artists themselves, expendable as fowl in a cockfight because these highly publicized conflicts frequently forfeit the lives of the artists involved, a thing of negligible consequence to recording companies since they profit no matter who lives or who dies? These industrial giants merely look down from their boardrooms and smile as blacks continue to gun each other down at award shows and wrap galas and think to themselves "Dance, puppets, dance."

And dance we do, unfortunately. Too many of us. We dance smiling.

Meanwhile, America's entertainment industry would never dream of telling young Caucasian men that it is not only acceptable, but an affirmation of machismo to address their pubescent female Caucasian counterparts as "bitches" or "hoes". It would never dream of allowing adolescent Caucasian males to publicly idolize and emulate pimps and thugs. And while I acknowledge that there are bound to be young men of all races who will find something appreciable in the raw, testosterone-fueled ruggedness of being a roughneck, black males are continually portrayed as the originators of such trends. America's media has reduced us as a demographic to archetypal caricatures of what they feel an African-American person is supposed to be, and made pariahs of any non-conformists. That blacks who favor proper English over ghetto vernacular are ridiculed by their own people seems evidence enough of this. And the reason for this is that the seeds of self-destructive tendency planted a long time ago by the enemies of black Americans everywhere are now bearing fruit.

This is not to say that I don’t hold my racial brothers and sisters accountable for any of it. Nothing could be more untrue for the simple reason that only a hypocrite would seek to lay the entirety of the blame for incidents the likes of last week's rap party shooting at society's feet. No. Marketing and pretty packaging be damned, we continue to follow commercial America's breadcrumbs, stale and rancid though they may be, and we shouldn’t ever want to take our cues from the likes of those who first conceived to celebrate our most odious character references as social gospel to which any "real" black person should aspire. But we continue to do so, and there is no one to blame for that except ourselves.

And so young black men and women with loads of potential to enact positive measures in the world continue to address one another as "bitches" and "niggas". And everyone involved ignores the lie in claims that increased usage of such terms steals them away from racists by nullifying their ability to harm. They continue to purchase music by artists whose lyrics indoctrinate them with the ideas that their respect-worthy African-American females are nothing but scheming mercenaries who are after their money, and therefore deserve to be treated with all the respect one affords a prostitute, or that interested African-American males are incapable of fidelity and thus never to be trusted. And everyone involved ignores that such undertakings divides us as a race by assassinating gender relations between black men and women, contaminating our family values. They continue to carry firearms to functions celebratory in nature and initiate unnecessary conflicts with strangers because "keepin' it real" is paramount. And everyone involved ignores that this reflects to the world at large that we as blacks care nothing for human life. These things our young people do because the vulgarians they seek to emulate tell them it's cool, and frankly, because no one talks about it or appears invested in stopping them.

But I have faith in my people. At least, I want to have faith.

There will always be those among us who continue to fall sucker to what society is laying down, climbing over one another to layer our principles and self-respect on the chopping block. But I believe there are a great many more hard-working blacks that decry the sort of behavior that made headlines last week and probably will again in the not-so-distant future. I have known precious few African-Americans who look favorably upon the notion of devaluing all that our grandparents fought for by way of civil rights and personal freedoms. Sadly, this is exactly what we do anytime we celebrate those among us whose conduct would hurt our cause, which ultimately is to be regarded as people.

The bottom line is simple. Poverty was not born in black people. Crudeness was not born in black people. Arrogance was not born in black people. Infidelity was not born in black people. Laziness was not born in black people. Criminality was not born in black people. And just because pop culture has set its declarations to the contrary to a funky backbeat is no reason for us as a people to keep dancing to it.

Anthony Beal is a 31-year-old New Mexico transplant, a New York native whose passions include aged tequila, cajun food done right, and writing dark horror poetry and short stories as well as regularly contributing non-fiction articles to such publications as Haunted Times Magazine. A passionate fan of Edgar Allen Poe, Poppy Z. Brite, Lovecraft, Piers Anthony, John Skipp and Craig Spector, he feels that Brite, Poe, and Lovecraft have had the greatest influence on his writing style. Anthony enjoys pressing his sweaty body against liquor lounge wallflowers and is believed to exist in more than one universe. It is said that he possesses the uncanny ability to distinguish between people closest to him sheerly by the taste of their sweat. When he isn't baptizing nude convent students with flavored oils, Anthony enjoys collecting skulls, grilling dead animal flesh, and achieving states of spiritual transcendence through inebriation.


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