Monday, August 18, 2014

Malcolm and Me

Two rather coincidental things happened yesterday.  One, I finally finished reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley, and two, I got suspended from a forum for posting a picture I drew that was arguably racist for cruelly mocking rapper dialogue.  I originally drew the picture (it's the fourth panel) in a Drawception game (note that despite the warning, there's no nudity or porn in that link, only language and racial humor), and if you don't know what Drawception is, the front page should give you a good idea. (Edit: It has now occurred to me that you need to log into the site to see NSFW games; fortunately simple Facebook or Google accounts work.)

I'm not going to say I did nothing wrong, when clearly this offended people.  Insofar as that game goes, I was just following the prompt, and in fact, my panel affected a change from a game that started as racist to one mocking wiggers, but it was, indeed, stupid of me to post that image on a forum thread devoid of context that explained it.  Nevertheless, I feel obligated to provide the context I conceived of it in, to explain why I don't believe this is truly racist at all.

The most immediately racist implication comes from the notion that I'm making fun of how black people talk.  Well, that would be a valid criticism, except absolutely no black person I've ever known actually talked like that.  In college, I had a good friend who was not only black, but from South Central Los Angeles, and he talked like an intellectual addressing other intellectuals; quite ahead of some white people I've heard.  The actual people I've heard spewing the sort of thing depicted in that drawing are of other races, trying to imitate a commodified version of black culture in order to be "cool".

This is how some High School students actually addressed me/the teacher, and none of us were black.
This is, in the words of someone who actually used such lingo (and wasn't black), all part of "the hip-hop subculture".  The image I drew isn't meant to be a stereotypical black man, but (as the prompt called for) a stereotypical rapper; the common perception of a rapper being both black, and using that sort of jargon.

Now, I want to pause and say I like rap music.  It varies in quality like every music variety, but it has am appeal to me musically that it doesn't for many people. (Though it is becoming increasingly more accepted, which, as I will note later, is a problem.)  Yet I've heard enough of it to deduce that something stinks, too.  I'm not getting fed up with people using bad grammar and a slang terms just in and of themselves.  I'm getting fed up with them for doing so because it's showing contempt for education in the most banal way popular, and because the slang terms are very often, something negative turned into a positive, and they aren't used facetiously, either.  I made certain to include in that drawing a lot of the terms for things I find particularly troublesome.  I do not like living in an era where "gangster", "pimp", and "dope" denote high quality and/or charisma, and furthermore, some relation to black people; had we only the latter connotation, everyone would see this association as blatantly racist, but somewhere along the line, hip-hop made vice look cool.  Which does not mean it isn't a huge problem for the race it's supposed to represent.

Usually, when people consume period literature, they remark on how different popular culture was back then.  Upon reading Malcolm X's autobiography, one of the most shocking things I discovered was that black popular culture actually wasn't very different.  Already in the World War II era, the ghettos were filled with black people using bad grammar and slang to be cool, and dealing in gambling, drugs, and prostitution to make themselves wealthy; many of them falling victim to the same temptations, or to rival gangsters, or the cops.  Malcolm X fell to all three, and during a long stint in prison, when he had a chance to meditate on all of it, came to the exact same conclusion I would decades later: The "gangsta" culture is degenerating the black race, and now it hasn't stopped at them, either.

In Malcolm's opinion, and especially that of the Nation of Islam, who were his mentors at the time, these things were largely set in motion by devious white members of society with the specific goal of keeping blacks down, and this could be true, as America was still quite a racist nation at the time. (Which is not to be taken as a wholesale endorsement of the NOI's beliefs, but sometimes it doesn't take a weatherman to see which way the wind's blowing.)  It could also be Nietzschean resentiment; that is, people who find their lives in the low levels of society inescapable, identify aspects of their life in the low levels of society, and reinterpret them as positive parts of their identity that, in fact, make them above others; sinking into nihilism and becoming their own worst enemy.  It could be both.  What caused it, though, is not important.  The fact is that was the state of black popular culture then, and that it still is now proves that something in the Civil Rights movement didn't go quite right.

I've certainly had people suspect me of being a racist for my myriad attacks on what hip-hop values, and I actually wondered about my own negative views when I first started listening to such music, but now that I've found respected black sources that share my criticism, I feel no more reservations in stating it.  Listen to what these men (and now, women, too) are spouting and ask yourself what it says to listeners about their race.  What does it say when black people revel in subverting grammar standards taught in school?  What does that say about intelligence?  What does it say when black people brag about killing other black people (whom they frequently call by the N word) for being competing criminals?  Whom does that really help?  What does it say when they brag about their diamonds, which were quite possibly mined in Africa by other black people enslaved by terrorists?  What does it say when they brag about their price-gouged designer clothes, made by companies run by white people?  What does it say when they boast about subjugating women to be their "bitches" and "hoes", and their hatred of homosexuals, when the trod-upon members of society should be helping each other out?  Who's the racist here; us people who criticize this shit, or the people who endorse it and actually buy it as a quintessential part of being black?

If a white person drew this picture, how would your reaction change?  Should it matter?
Now, some will say things are improving.  That we don't have many lyrics about killing other black people anymore (though it took two hugely influential and respected rappers dying in a feud to stop it), or about violent crime in general.  Now, it's just people bragging about their obscene wealth; partially squandered on status symbols that are only worth so much because people are stupid enough to pay that much for them, and their virtual sex slaves, and their drugs.  So whereas before, hip-hop sold an image of black people as tough and immoral, now it just makes them look immoral.  Is that an improvement?  It certainly isn't a fix to the damage that this culture has done.

Things aren't looking to stop, either.  Nietzsche said something else about resentiment; he said that, while it's born among those at the low end of society who have the most impetus to make it the most hypnotic, it can spread upward, as the forced valuation of the trappings of being at the low end of society sweeps people higher up in its spell.  That's what's happening now, when non-black people imitate what they mistakenly believe is black culture and think is cool.  It's happening in the casual, positive use of "gangsta" and "pimp" and "dope", it's happening in the Far East Movement's ridiculously pretentious claims of being awesome for getting high off cough syrup, it's happening in myriad young people, of every race, who view success as doing immoral things for money, all so they can buy Gucci and Louis and ice and dope and SUVs with decorated hubcaps.  If this cancer ever spreads to the point that society breaks down from being too immoral and stupid to function, whom do you think they're going to turn around and blame?  The black people, whom hip-hop convinced them started this all.

This is why I feel absolutely justified in mocking the stupidity and one-dimensionality of many rappers, because they don't represent their race or what's good for their race; they represent a lifestyle that gives hollow, short-term gain to a few people while being worse in the long run for them, and worse immediately for many others.  Now if you enjoy this music, as I do, go on back and enjoy it some more; the same as you might enjoy hearing Scarr sing about how he plans to kill Mufasa and crush the remaining opposition.  But think about how things could be better; how rap could be turned into something that retains its appeal and edge without being stupid and immoral, and consider drawing the line more thickly sometime in the very near future.

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