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Letters to the Editor

Blaming the victim
The First Person piece "Hip-hop Cop" in the June 26 Indy by John Schwade, instead of being a sound critique of the misogyny and exploitive violence in popular rap music, turned out to be an imbalanced attack on hip hop as a whole. Dr. Schwade betrays an obvious ignorance of the progression and evolution of this vital American musical form, for he fails to distinguish between the corporate/capitalist rappers he profiles in his piece and the true hip hop artists who are dedicated to exploring social/historical truths through artistic expression. Plus, he engages in a blame-the-victim diatribe against commercial rappers for utilizing economic systems that make them wealthy.

First of all, hip hop as a genre doesn't need any "defenses," weak or not, any more than television, Impressionist art or the Internet do. Misogyny, violence, and racism are and were not created by hip hop; these social maladies are staples of New World capitalism and imperialism. Schwade seems to insist that the very existence of hip hop is somehow a crime. Using examples like the lyrics of Notorious B.I.G., Petey Pablo, and R. Kelly's recent sex scandal doesn't bolster his argument either, for he fails to critique or even mention the racist corporate marketing decisions that facilitate the production of these records in the first place. Without commercial green lighting, these records would never make it out of the boardroom doors. And guess who runs the record companies?---enormously wealthy, politically connected white male executives, as has been done since the very beginning of the modern entertainment industry.

Instead of worrying how his daughter will be treated by black men, Schwade would do better to ask how he and other African-American elders can sit idly by while corporate America continues to get rich off of the age-old white supremacist stereotypes against black folk, especially our youth. By not standing up for the youth, Schwade is no better than those racist misogynistic exploiters he carefully avoids criticizing. In effect, he is serving white supremacist aims: focus on the wrong actions of the victims rather than the destructive deeds of the perpetrator. He then cannot turn around and feign concern for how African-American women are treated while he defends and utilizes the very mechanisms that generate and sustain our oppression. The next time anyone at The Independent wants to criticize hip hop, please do us all a favor and make sure that your arguments are philosophically sound and socially relevant.
--YOLANDA M. CARRINGTON, RALEIGH

Hip-hop caricature
I read the article, "Hip-hop Cop" [June 26] and had mixed feelings about it. The photos initially struck me, the way Biggie and Petey Pablo where depicted with their inmate number like it was a nickname. The second thing that struck me (and made me realize that this was a white man talking) was the opening line, "I was glad to be out of prison for the day." I thought that was so metaphoric as I read on, how John Schwade is speaking of hip-hop culture as an outsider who has the choice to walk into and out of the culture as he chooses.

However, because I, as a member of hip-hop culture do not have that choice, I must recognize that some of the points he made are more than valid, they are right on time.

Although hip hop is larger than the scope of "artists" who choose to degrade and misogynize and abuse black women (and themselves in the process) hip-hop music as a mainstream tool that introduces many folks, even black youth, to hip-hop culture, is sick and growing more diseased by the day.

I was unaware of some of the specific quotes Schwade used because I rarely listen to the radio or purchase CDs by the artists he mentioned, but the fact that these lyrics are being spouted from the mouths of young black men like Beanie Siegel, Ja Rule, DMX, Fat Joe, Eminem and countless others (even black women like Li'l Kim and Trina), cannot be disputed, no matter if it is recognized by a white dude who is little associated with the culture beyond the days he spends offering salvation to them po' inmates.

Hip hop is lacking message. It's lacking focus. It's lacking accountability. By reducing itself to gimmickry, it is becoming a caricature of itself and the people it supposedly represents.

That is the unfortunate truth. The love and the message are being sacrificed and I am a black woman who, as a hip-hop offspring, is glad this article was written, inclusive of its holes. Hip hop is in a state of despair because of "mainstream" degradation.

We need to take responsibility for what's hot by being the ones, as lovers of the music, to say this bitch/thug-lie does not represent me. At the same time, we must embrace artists who are exploring the depths of expression by being more creative than oversampling and underverbalizing the conditions from which our community suffers. We must recognize that there are other forms of music we can make (because they are just as much our birthright) that will free us to revive the joy that black music has always conjured despite our predicament. We must stop aggrandizing a mentality that is oppressive and reinforces social "places" and old white paradigms that we are commercializing and selling to our own people.

The obvious can't be denied. Hip hop music needs to be accountable for the words it is sloppily tossing into our universe through all avenues of media, which means the artists must be responsible and honest about the fact that they are not maximizing their power because of a fear that is based on a sad truth: Most of these artists have no power because they sacrificed it when they became rapping advertisements. Hip hop got to get free from her own mind if she wishes to honor the tradition of black music.
--SHIRLETTE AMMONS, RALEIGH

No funding, no foreskins
I would like to commend your paper and Ms. Gathercole ["Making the Cut," June 12] for having the courage to openly and honestly confront the political agenda of the governor and legislators who chose to reinstate circumcision funding while cutting other services that are not only recommended (unlike infant male circumcision), but also necessary in some cases.

As a mother of two sons, I have spent many hours researching infant male circumcision in order to decide whether or not to circumcise my own sons. Very few people know that an estimated 227 little boys die from circumcision-related complications in the U.S. every year. I say "estimated" because there are no reliable statistics on this issue. Unlike every other surgical procedure, doctors are not required to obtain INFORMED consent and are not forced to report any complications. Death from heart failure, hemorrhaging, and anesthesia are known risks that are rarely mentioned to parents. And how many of us were told that our son's penis might be amputated during this procedure? If our doctors are withholding these crucial facts from us, how can we trust their advocacy for this lucrative procedure or the motives of those politicians receiving significant campaign funding from them? We cannot.

I believe we should not have to pay doctors to perform this procedure when they often turn around and sell the amputated foreskins to biomedical firms for use in manufacturing other products that are extremely profitable, such as dermagraft (a product used for skin replacement in burn victims), and high-priced cosmetics.

Congratulations to North Carolinians for realizing that funding this procedure is a waste of limited resources and for taking time to communicate this to their legislators. Now lets hope that ALL of the legislators and the governor will bother to honor the wishes of the people they were elected to represent instead of selling themselves to those in the medical community seeking to protect one of the most lucrative (and unnecessary) procedures in their practices.
--DIONNE DESCHENNE, BOULDER, CO.

Terminally white
The single worst thing about the roundtable ["Family Talk," July 10] was that the introductory paragraph, inviting readers to listen to this black conversation, was unattributed. WHO is extending these invitations--not only the invitation to listen, but far more importantly, the invitations to SPEAK? How could you miss the irony (if not the outright hypocrisy) of convening a discussion on legitimizing the next generation of black leadership, on grappling with the problems of "anointing"--by having so terminally WHITE an organization as The Independent "anoint" these very speakers?

The white people who orchestrated this project should've identified themselves by name and explained why they picked these particular speakers. Conspicuous by their absence from those picked were 1) any actual black elected official, 2) any openly gay or lesbian black activist, and 3) a leader from the black community's own media. These lacks led directly to several important points in the discussion going under-stressed.

On the elected official front: several discussants agreed, regarding Durham school superintendent Ann Denlinger, that "She got to go." But nobody presented any plans for achieving that goal. If any actual elected official had been present, the IMPORTANT point that THE ONLY way you are going to get rid of Ann Denlinger is by electing a white progressive to the school board (so that one of its four white members will vote with the three black ones to form a progressive majority) would've been made. As a white progressive organization itself, The Independent should've been a lot more concerned about getting this issue discussed. Indeed, with Republican courts attacking black voting rights in general, not only nationally in 2000 but right here right now with legislative redistricting, some strategizing about mobilizing the community in defense of its MOST basic civil right was clearly needed--and if you'd had an elected official, you'd have gotten it.

On the LGBT front: Octavia Rainey said she thought the biggest problems afflicting her community were alcohol and drugs, but if you look at what is ACTUALLY KILLING young black people, what's distressingly high on the list is HIV--that's not just an African thing. The community's response (or lack thereof) to this issue has been problematic to put it charitably, and its failure to get discussed at all in this roundtable was unfortunate, but again, IF the people determining the composition of the roundtable had done THEIR jobs right, and Mandy Carter or I had been invited, the issue WOULD have been raised.

On the black media front: I live in southeast Raleigh and I never see The Independent distributed there. Over there, issues of this type are being discussed mostly in The Carolinian, and Cash Michaels is certainly someone whom you should've felt obligated to include, not only for his perspective on the community, but just by way of mutual professional interaction and education.

I hope you will take all this criticism as constructive; they say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and to its credit, The Independent has now taken a step. But it still has a long way to go. From highlighting exploitative libertarian "co-operation" with victims of racism, to bashing Lavonia Allison, to publishing Dr. Schwade's recent diatribe against hip hop, The Independent has lately seemed far less sensitive and insightful about racial matters generally than its history and mission would lead one to expect.

Finally, since the panel did include campus activists from UNC-CH and NCCU, I can't fault it for neglecting that population generally, but just because a panelist found students "apathetic" at UNC-CH does not mean that that problem occurs at white universities throughout the area. At NCSU last year, a black student was told by a white one to "go back to Africa," and when a protest was subsequently organized, the administration badly bungled the issue, and a whole new group of campus leaders was born. Making sure you had a campus activist from the other corner of the Triangle would've helped. It's also not too late for you to do an actual story on how that incident affected student leadership at NCSU generally and whether the organization it spawned will thrive.
--GEORGE GREENE, RALEIGH

MAXimum variety?
I have been seeking the answer to the question, "Why does IMAX have so few movies per year?" ["Exploris Under Fire," July 3]. I have e-mailed the Web site and had no reply and while the issue was addressed in the article, there was no explanation given. Maybe those responsible SHOULD be required to answer these kinds of questions. It is our money funding IMAX and paying their salaries.
--DONNY SHATUCK, RALEIGH

Academic distance
Apparently James Morrison ["Lightly Veiled," June 19] read Duke professor Alice Kaplan's acclaimed book The Collaborator, and came away thinking she believes there is a link between homosexuality and fascism. Such a reading is as unjust to professor Kaplan as it is untrue. In Mr. Morrison's essay, subtitled an "Arts Review," Ms. Kaplan the historian was mistaken for the people and times about which she wrote.
--ALEX CHARNS, DURHAM

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