Racism Pales in Comparison to Thug Culture
A black-oriented cable channel, BET, plans to air a new unscripted show celebrating Kimberly Jones — aka Lil' Kim — for her crimes. Promotional ads for the show, "Countdown to Lockdown," declare that Jones entered prison with her "mouth shut, head held high, as she refuses to snitch."
Jones, a rap star, recently began serving a year and a day for lying to a grand jury investigating a 2001 shootout between her entourage and a rival rap crew. BET is playing her lawlessness for all the money it can make.
One executive, Reginald Hudlin, declared that "Countdown" — six episodes filmed during Jones' final two weeks of freedom — will reveal the "consequences of [Jones'] choices." But Tracey Edmonds, executive producer of "Countdown," was less restrained in her enthusiasm for those choices, saying she would "have to support" Jones.
"Even though it was against the law, she was under a lot of pressure. . . . She was taught from Day One that you do not snitch," Edmonds said.
Is this why the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made the ultimate sacrifice? Is this why Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat? Did countless civil rights veterans put everything on the line so that, someday, a handful of black men and women could make a fortune encouraging young blacks to lawlessness?
The popularity of thug culture is among the most serious of modern-day threats to black America, far more dangerous than any lingering institutional racism. Its mores mimic prison culture: the ubiquitous droopy-pants look drew its inspiration from jail procedures, where men are stripped of their belts upon arrest. It romanticizes casual violence, helping to ensure that black fratricide will go on unabated.
According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, black men are the likely perpetrators in more than 40 percent of the homicides in which a suspect has been identified. That's staggering — given that black men account for only about 6 percent of the population. But black men are their own worst enemies: They also account for about 40 percent of the nation's homicide victims.
No drumbeat or rhyme ever put a gun in anyone's hand. But some rap lyrics do make violence seem an assurance of manliness. Not only does much rap music (and I use the word "music" advisedly) glorify men who carry guns and intimidate or kill their foes, but some rap artists have engaged in actual violence. Some have gone to prison. Some are dead. Apparently, their close association with criminal activity gives them "street cred," making them more popular.
Yet, few prominent black activists raise their voices against this insidious industry. You can count on the usual suspects to protest discrimination in housing or education or employment or even TV roles. But you cannot count on them to mount a vigorous assault on thug culture and the violence it perpetuates.
Now that a multibillion-dollar industry has grown up around thug culture, it will be very difficult to tamp down. Not only have a handful of black artists and producers become very wealthy but so have many whites. Indeed, raunchy rap music sells well in affluent white suburbs, where teens may enjoy the vicarious thrill but are insulated from the real-life risks.
So, for that matter, are affluent blacks such as Hudlin, a Harvard grad, or Edmonds, a successful Hollywood executive recently separated from wealthy music producer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. They can afford to live in high-walled seclusion, away from the casual violence they pimp to others. Even Lil' Kim is likely to survive her incarceration with her bank account intact. In fact, with her BET deal, Jones must have become more valuable the closer she got to prison.
The victims of thug culture are more likely to be young black men such as Lonniel Wade, 20, shot to death in November 2004 as he walked home from work in a run-down suburban Atlanta neighborhood. His killer, Alvin High, 18, told friends he shot Wade to test a gun he had stolen.
In their confession to police, High and his friends said they had been cruising the streets listening to music by a group called "Crime Mob." Its lyrics include the following:
Pop wit a glock and I stay wit a K [AK47]
If you come my way
I'm act a fool
•Cynthia Tucker is the editorial page editor. Her column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.