Monday, June 16, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in race relations

The Good: Barack Obama took up Bill Cosby's fight for black families in this Father's Day speech at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, calling for more involvement by young black fathers in their children's lives. This is not a new issue for him: "Obama often speaks about the importance of parental involvement. In Washington, he sponsored legislation to get more child support money to children by offering a tax credit for fathers who pay support, more efficient collection and penalties for fathers who don't meet their obligations."

The Bad: In this interview with Alicia Keys at, she explains that "Gangsta rap" is a government conspiracy:
"“‘Gangsta rap’ was a ploy to convince black people to kill each other,” she says, putting down the sandwich. “‘Gangsta rap’ didn’t exist.”

Come again? A ploy by whom?

She looks at us like it’s the dumbest question in the world. “The government.”"

Perhaps she listens to too many of Rev. Wright's sermons.

The Ugly: A company in Utah is selling- I'm not making this up - sock monkeys dressed as Barack Obama. *sigh* I suppose I should say that they claim no offense was intended, that they were just naive... hmm... as naive as we would have to be to believe that?


Chalicechick said...

Yeah, that's weird, particularly since what we call "Gangsta Rap" has roots deep in African-American musical tradition.

Songs that say, essentially "We might as well commit crimes, because society will keep us down no matter what we do" date back to at least the civil war.

who learned this from a really badass historical book about John Henry sometime ago.

Robin Edgar said...

And then of course there is the Jeremy Searle "Black Dog" controversy from a few years back. Besides being a (former) Montreal city councillor, Jeremy Searle is a long time member of the Unitarian Church of Montreal. He is well known for his foot-in-mouth disease and not just insensitive comments directed at People of Color. You may download an mp3 audio recording of an interview with Jeremy Searle about this incident here -

The interview starts 13 minutes into the show and goes on for some time. I might add that I was recently informed of case of apparent racism involving members of the Unitarian Church of Montreal. U*Us can read about it here.

Robin Edgar said...

Oops! Looks like Blogger cut the URL.

Seek and U*Us shall find. . .

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I understand your point correctly. Are you saying that Gangsta Rap and by extention the African American mindset is rooted in a criminal pathology.

I want to make sure I understand. I mean Rap, first of all started out as a poetic expression of Urban dispair: "Grand Master Flash and the Fuious 5: the message", or Chuck D. It was not until post Run DMC that NWA, Ice-T, Biggie and Tupoc, with the help of Sean Combs brought "Thugg Life" into Rap. Before that it was "this is my life" style lyrics.

Jazz, however, and rythm and blues had not more of a criminal element within the lyrics than any other ethnic music.

Chuck B.

Chalicechick said...

I was thinking in a thematic sense rather than a musical one.

At least to my ear, what differentiates "gangsta rap" from regular old "rap" is the sense of, not violent pathology, but learned helplessness as far as success by mainstream measures go. The songs as I understand them aren't saying "violence is a great thing" they are saying "this is the only life I know, and it sucks, but well, I'm poor and this is how poor people have to live."

The book I read, admittedly some time ago, drew this thematic connection back to the songs around civil war times that also expressed this helplessness and expressed crime, not as a pathologically violent thing at all, but as a sort of collective "up yours" to a society determined to screw the singer over anywyay.

Of course, in Bamboozled, Spike Lee offers another explanation...

who really doens't know much about this stuff, but the connection made sense to her when she read it.

Chalicechick said...

Or, to answer your question more directly, no, I don't think there is anything inherently violent in African American music just because there is a stream of African American music with violent themes.

After all, there is a strong tradition of Romantic Comedy moviemaking, but not all movies are romantic comedies or even particularly influenced by them.