by Carmen Van Kerckhove
Back in March, I interviewed hip hop journalist Harry Allen and Jason Tanz, author of Other People’s Property: A Shadow History of Hip-Hop in White America on Addicted to Race. We had a long, fascinating conversation about the relationship between white people and hip hop. Check it out if you get a chance.
Justin Ross, a candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates, just wrote an interesting opinion piece for the Washington Post about why he believes he’s part of hip hop’s problem. (Thanks Liam!)
I was struck by this column because it’s so different from the myriad other opinion pieces I’ve read on the topic, many of which seem to dwell on the fact that there’s some kind of inherent pathology that makes African-Americans enjoy the negative aspects of hip hop.
Here are some excerpts, but I would definitely encourage you to go read the whole thing.
But I haven’t heard a peep from the white fans who essentially underwrite the industry by purchasing more than 70 percent of the rap music in this country, according to Mediamark Research Inc. I don’t presume to tell any artist, studio executive or record label what to record or not record. But I will presume to ask young white customers: Why are we buying this stuff?…
Let’s be clear about what we — rap’s huge white audience — are becoming insensitive to: crime against black people, drugs being sold in black neighborhoods, black people being killed. I think this desensitization is partly responsible for the absence of discussion about the cruel fact that, according to a 2001 study by the Department of Health and Human Services, the leading killer of African Americans ages 15 to 34 is homicide. It may also help explain why you’ll seldom hear politicians talking about another awful statistic: According to the same study, African Americans are five times more likely than whites to be victims of homicide.
So who are the rappers really aiming at? Many rap songs use the “N-word” a dozen times or more. But I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve heard the words “whitey” or “cracker” in rap music. I wonder: If the Grand Wizard himself owned a record label, how much different would the music sound?
I also wonder what would happen if rap artists started talking about selling dope in the suburbs, or shooting white people or beating down white men. Would rap’s comfortable white fans continue to consume it? I suspect the record companies wouldn’t even sell it. Like the majority of people who buy rap music, the majority of people who get rich off it are white. That sort of thing might hit a little too close to home for hip-hop’s fans and profiteers.
Racialicious readers, what do you think about Ross’s column? What responsibility, if any, do you think white listeners have for eradicating the racism and sexism in hip hop?