Hip-hop started in the streets of New York City in the 1970s. It was originally seen as something only popular in the black communities of America. The musical genre grew and expanded. Hip-Hop has became a global business, and images of young African-American men in trademark baggy pants and with bad attitudes spread like a cancer. So did their poison prose.
As retailers put warning labels on hip-hop CDs, TV stations and radio shows bleeped out the most offensive words, if they aired the music at all. Yet the movement built steam.
"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public."
H. L. Mencken
Hip-hop long ago burst out from the seams of the African-American audience. In 2000, figures from the hip-hop magazine The Source suggested that more than 70% of rap music buyers are White. Hip-Hop music sells in Europe, Australia and South America.
As many reaped the riches that come with international audiences, they failed to calculate the effect their art form would have on fans who had few real-life references to the black experience and descendants of African slaves. Racially-charged lyrics and symbols have a different connotation depending on who is using them. That nuance has been sorely neglected.
Adding fuel to the fire, socially unconscious hip-hop jackasses have bent over backwards to push the N-word to the mainstream. In 2010, Jay-Z and Kanye West played "N*ggas in Paris" ad nauseum in Europe. Recently, Kanye West used the U.S. Confederate flag to promote his Yeezus album.
The "Southern Cross" was adopted by the slave-owning Southern states as their symbol during the U.S. Civil War and has been used as an emblem by white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton said "The Confederate flag symbolizes dehumanization, injustice and pain. It is a stark reminder of an era in our history that was defined by the abhorrent practice of slavery. And it is representative of a mentality that looked upon blacks as inferiors who needed to remain in the shackles of subservience."
As Kanye, Jay-Z , L.L. Cool J. and other hip-hop stars have succumbed to historical amnesia and outlandish ignorance, the repercussions of their N-word normalization are emerging.
Madonna, who adopted two Black children, posted a photo online with an N-word hashtag. In a familiar script, the Material Girl refuted the protests. "I am not a racist," Madonna's apology statement reads. The word "was used as a term of endearment."
In what alternate universe does a 55-year-old white American believe the N-word to be a "term of endearment"? Would it be acceptable for a Chinese-baby adoptive parent to use chink as a loving nickname? How about "tar baby"?
Last week, a young man yelled a racist slur at Kanye West's wife, calling her a "n*gger lover." Yeezus did not turn the other cheek. As racist and disrespectful as this incident was, it serves as a reality check for Kanye and his ilk.
The chickens have come home to roost.
The man who made the N-word rhyme with "Gold Digger" for a hit song now laments having to "raise my daughter around ignorance and flat-out blatant racism."
Cry me a river, Kanye!
They must stop trivializing the N-word. Stop making light of the Confederate flag. Show some respect for those who fought and died for the civil rights they take for granted, for the gender equality they expect for their daughters, and for racial justice still elusive for some fans.
Hip-hop should stop fueling the flames of racial hate.
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