Monday, April 23, 2007

Random Thoughts

As I sat down to write this, I peered out of my window to find a man who could not have been more than 5 ft. 5in. “walking” his dog – an English Mastiff. It was a sight to behold! The dog stood at least 5 ft. tall at the shoulder and possessed a truly massive frame. It was comical watching this man attempt to control this enormous creature, and I was more than happy to remain inside…
  • Don Imus must be pissed. The week after CBS bowed down to public and corporate pressure and decided to fire him, Virginia Tech became home to the worst shooting massacre in U.S. history and a NASA employee who received a poor job review killed a hostage before taking his own life. Had CBS waited one more week, the media would have turned its attention to these shooting deaths, and Imus would have been able to quietly return to his job after a two-week vacation. I believe Don Imus should have been fired, and am pleased that CBS acted as quickly as they did. However I must admit: this surreal week in American history would have forced me forget all about that fight.
  • This gun debate has to rank as one of the most fruitful and controversial discussions going. Gun ownership opponents are using the carnage of the past week as an example of why access to guns should be drastically limited. Gun ownership proponents view the past week as all the more reason for our government to increase the availability of guns. There are few legal debates that, without the assistance of ever-present activists twisting the facts, can easily lead a thoughtful individual down either of the available opposing ideological paths. I do believe this is one of the few. I agree that it has become far too easy to buy a gun in the US, and this easy access has led to countless murders, accidental deaths, and horrifically mutilated individuals who have had there lives drastically changed. I also agree that if legal action is taken and access to guns is limited, only law abiding individuals will hand over their weaponry. Without a serious crackdown on the entire gun market (both legal and illegal), criminals will find ways to get their hands on guns, leaving innocent individuals at a distinct and dangerous disadvantage. My verdict: limiting gun ownership will limit gun crimes and murders (Japan, where citizens are not allowed to own guns, possesses a 1.1 murder per 100,000 population rate; the US sports a rate of 233.0 per 100,000), which, from a public policy standpoint, ought to be the goal. Also, I am strongly against a US/Soviet Union-style arms race (Reaganomics 101) within our communities that is sure to occur if the availability of guns increases. For these reasons, I am a proponent of limiting access to guns. However, this cannot be a knee-jerk response to the serious crises that occurred this past week. There has to be a thoughtful, well-planned approach, which aims a large portion of the attention given at both legal gun manufacturers and illegal arms dealers.
  • I have been a critic of Oprah Winfrey in the past (I am still bothered by her reasons for not addressing America’s urban education problems), but she deserves a large amount of credit for her town hall meeting concerning both Imus and rap music. I agree that almost everything said has been said and heard before, but I do not believe these issues have been spoken about on such a national stage led by intelligent black folks. Besides, Oprah has a history of not respecting rap music and the hip hop community at large. I am pleased that while she clearly doesn’t like the music or the people (I am talking about rappers, not black people), she has taken the opportunity to address the issues without being overly judgmental. Some brief thoughts concerning the episode:
    • Neither Russell Simmons, Kevin Lyles, nor Benjamin Chavis, former Executive Director and CEO of NAACP, could provide an articulate answer to the question of why rap artists have and should be able to continue to consistently produce music that has lyrics calling women bitches and hoes.
    • While all of their responses were awkward and uncomfortable, I was most disappointed with Mr. Simmons. Simmons had the opportunity to (at least publicly) lead the charge to clean up the music and image that he (in large part) created. Instead, he made a gazillion flagrant fouls during the debate, which left me wondering if the work he had done on those ostentatiously large porcelain teeth damaged any of his brain cells. In case there is question, understand this: Not all rappers are poets!! I was pleased that Simmons’ attempts to dress-up plain ole’ gangster rap in the clothing of a poet fell on deaf ears. In addition to this, his attempts to remove responsibility from rappers and the rap industry, and place all of the blame on poverty and that mysterious, all-inclusive space we call “society” was extremely problematic. And finally, there was this: “Rappers have done more for Civil Rights than any of these Civil Rights leaders.” That’s it; that’s the joke. I have no follow-up to that statement.
    • Common was the only rapper on the panel with the testicular fortitude (I’ve been waiting to write that) to come on the show and represent his fellow artists; the true artists. He wasn’t perfect in his explanations, but he was the only member of the “industry folks” who said that rap lyrics have gone overboard in many areas.
    • The term “minstrel” is often overused by black folks. Any time a black person performs in front of an audience, someone from the peanut gallery is ready and willing to call their performance a minstrel show (I recall, as a member of my college step team, having to defend our performances to other black students. It was ridiculous, and I never responded to such ill-founded criticisms again). When the term is misused, it exposes an inferiority complex that individual possesses. At first, I thought those who misused the term were simply haters, and I had choice words ready for them. Once I realized that these individuals lacked self and race confidence, I felt pity, as their very existence must have truly been sad. I say all of this to point to a true minstrel show: much of current rap music and videos. Working with the knowledge that a) between 75%-80% of rap music is bought by non-blacks, b) the majority of music sales and videos are of less-than-desirable black images, and c) outside of Mr. Simmons, S dot Carter and Diddy, there is very little black representation in the decision making process of what songs and videos are made (read: we have very little control of what actually makes it to MTV and BET), it is clear that negative black images are being peddled to and reinforced by individuals who care little about the people being exploited. Think about that the next time you watch Young Buck show off his grill or listen to Akon and his “exotic” African voice.

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