It was with great sadness and, unfortunately, very little surprise that I read the editorial diatribe of John Schwade in this week's Independent (First Person, "Hip-Hop Cop," June 26). As a young white man, I feel both blessed and proud to be a member of the hip-hop generation. Schwade's opinions, while well-intentioned and poignant, represent just another in a long line of root-free arguments that have been used to discredit hip hop since its inception.
Hip-hop culture (which involves much more than the "rapping" that Schwade so vehemently critiques) originated in the economically underdeveloped but creatively resistant cultures of South Bronx black and Latino youth as a peaceful alternative to gang violence and other frustrated manifestations of oppression. For many of us who came up in the highly individualized, woman hating, worker exploiting, hyper-violent white supremacy of the Reagan era, hip hop proved to be a powerful alternative. We listened to KRS-One, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Public Enemy then. And we listen to dead prez, The Coup, Spearhead, Bahamadia, and Black Star now. These artists, and countless others, provide(d) many of us with the tools to understand and resist the violence, misogyny, racism, and money-hungry madness we saw in the world around us. For many white kids, it was our only source of this knowledge. I only hope that Schwade's daughter has the same access to a hip-hop education's analysis of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (to borrow a term from the black feminist, bell hooks) that we got. As a black woman in a world that hates her, she just might find it useful.
Schwade points out that it is now teenage white boys who buy "60-75 percent of rap," (a stat difficult, if not impossible, to prove) who will associate blackness with violence and misogyny. While his statement that these same boys will one day "climb the ladder of success" is poignant and important, his analysis remains shallow.
First, he ought to be asking who financially controls (and profits heavily upon) the images, words, and sounds that pervade much of modern pop-black-culture, and what interest they may have in assaulting us with violent caricatures of black people. Yes, "those who purchase rap are financially supporting a criminal enterprise," one where white male executives make millions off of financially exploiting black artists and promoting racist and sexist ideas. These are the same white men with money that began the traditions of hating and over-sexualizing black women back when they held them as property; challenge them. Secondly, his argument blames black people for the racism that these white boys will grow into. This is akin to blaming rape survivors for wearing a short skirt. Young white boys already associate blackness with violence and misogyny (among other things) because of parents, politicians, teachers, textbooks, friends, and media influences. challenge these institutions if you want to end these phenomena. Encourage white boys to inform themselves about cultures of people of color in a variety of anti-racist ways, but don't blame hip hop for racism.
Far from an apologist, I understand fully that hip hop has problems. But I blame the greed, racism, and sexism of the ruling powers of this country for generating these problems. Critiques and actions from those within hip hop are frequent, and gaining ground. But when a critique such as Schwade's comes from the outside, it serves the same purpose of "desensitizing" that he wishes to prevent. The more violent and base white America believes black men are (which his column, and The Independent's choice of typical "scary" photographs of Biggie Smalls and Petey Pablo, contributes to), the more likely we are to continue the racist prison-building/police brutalizing binge we're on now. I commend Schwade for his obvious compassion, but I encourage him to challenge existing power structures that created this problem, and let hip hop continue to challenge itself. Hip hop was born of resistance, and it will continue to resist.
--BRYAN PROFFITT, RALEIGH
Got something to say about an Independent article? Send no more than 300 words to firstname.lastname@example.org; to P.O. Box 2690, Durham 27715; or fax 286-4274. Include your name, phone number and mailing address for verification; we cannot publish a letter without confirmation from the writer. We reserve the right to edit letters for length, style and clarity.