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The trickle down effect of this perpetually defiant mindset on young blacks, and especially on young black males, is evidenced in at least two ways. The more dramatic, and occasionally tragic, is their surly recalcitrance when dealing with police officers. Such confrontations are already fraught with deadly tensions: the police know that dark-skinned males pose a grotesquely disproportionate threat to their safety — at the time of the infamous Diallo shooting in New York City in 1998, 16 of the city’s previous 19 cop killers had been dark-skinned males — and dark-skinned males know the police are edgier around them than around any other demographic. Meeting the cops half way seems, to an outside observer, an obvious, self-preserving response. But in a situation that might be diffused with something as simple as a smile, smiling is the ultimate taboo; suggesting to a young black man that he smile at a cop is equivalent to suggesting that he tap dance and then shuffle off down the street.
The less dramatic, but more pathetic, effect of this mindset is the contempt for intellectual achievement rampant among today’s black students. The thinking runs along these lines: The stuff you’re taught in school is white knowledge; the stuff you learn from hip hop is black knowledge; thus, if you’re doing well in school, you’re learning to be white. Several years ago, a teacher in the South Bronx told New York Times columnist Bob Herbert that many of her male students would rather be marched in handcuffs before television cameras than discovered reading a book. Herbert himself, who’s far from a conservative on most matters, has poignantly described the phenomenon:
“Academic achievement, according to this mind-bogglingly destructive way of thinking, [is] a white thing, and thus in some sense contemptible. The tragic result has been that in many schools across the country black kids who apply themselves to their studies are often ridiculed and at times ostracized.”
Even Al Sharpton has been weighing in on the subject lately, and in a personal way: “I have two daughters, 15 and 16. Who are they going to marry? Guys who think it’s okay to call them a ‘ho’? Here’s the real problem. The drive, the ambition, the desire to reach higher goals seem to have been lost in this new generation, particularly of black men. This whole glorification of decadence, of acting like this is black culture. Black culture is striving, it’s achieving.” Whether this only proves the old adage about a broken clock being right twice day is debatable. But Sharpton at least sounds sincere when he tells the story of a young black woman, the first in her family to go to college, who earns straight A’s … and then returns home to the ‘hood and is accused by her friends of acting white.
Yet in a final irony, even the anti-intellectual bias of the hip hop generation, which many black activists are beginning to decry, is often attributed to the malignant, conspiratorial influences of white America. According to Chuck D., the “connotation that hip hop means stupidity, or that hip hop culture means gun culture, and jail culture, or non-intellectual culture [has] been forced on us.” Minister Paul Scott, founder of the North Carolina-based New Righteous Movement ends a harangue about the negative images promoted by hip hop by urging parents to “teach our children about the mind games that are being played on Afrikan people every time they ask for a CD.” Nelson George, author of Hip Hop America, cautions his readers: “It is also essential to understand that the values that underpin so much hip hop — materialism, brand consciousness, gun iconography, anti-intellectualism — are very much by-products of the larger American culture.” In other words, the evils of free-market capitalism and anti-black racism, which are actually two sides of the same coin, are working together against blacks. Profit-driven decisions to reward gold-plated gangsters like Puffy Combs, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre with multi-million dollar contracts prove that white corporations are conspiring to dumb down black culture; if this were not the case, if the big money boys were not hell bent on keeping black people in chains, then they’d surely be sponsoring more politically-charged, socially-conscious acts like Public Enemy or Paris or the Coup who promote true black knowledge … which, again, consists of Marxist cant, Afrocentric bombast and apocalyptic visions of race war.
The cycle of ignorance is thus complete.
This is an ongoing cultural catastrophe in the black community — one which the Newark School Board’s decision to honor Baraka simultaneously feeds upon and fuels. More ominously, since outside pressures of any kind will only be viewed as further oppression, the black community will have to solve this one entirely on its own.
Mark Goldblatt’s novel Africa Speaks, a satire of black hip hop culture, has just been released in paperback. He can be reached at MGold57@aol.com.
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