Friday, June 02, 2006

Wash Post series on being a Black man in America

Culture: Michael Fletcher series sorta dances around the connection between the image of black men and Hip-Hop.

Once they leave school, nearly three-quarters of black men in their twenties are jobless or incarcerated, an unemployment rate much higher than that of similarly situated white and Hispanic youth, according to a report from the Urban Institute. "There has been a big change in what is thought of as normal in poor black communities," says John H. McWhorter, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, which is hosting a conference on black men this month. "Back in the old days, there were always black men who were not interested in working. They were called corner men. But years ago, if you were a black man and you didn't work, it was a shame. Now, the shame is gone." A black man is more than six times as likely as a white man to be slain. The trend is most stark among black men 14 to 24 years old: They were implicated in a quarter of the nation's homicides and accounted for 15 percent of the homicide victims in 2002, although they were just 1.2 percent of the population, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Also, black men are nine times as likely as white men to die from AIDS, and life expectancy for black men is 69.2 years -- more than six years shorter than that of white men.
The plight of poor, young black men has fueled some attitudes and practices that affect all black men. In a 2001 article defending racial profiling as a rational police tactic, journalist John Derbyshire wrote in the National Review Online: "A policeman who concentrates a disproportionate amount of his limited time and resources on young black men is going to uncover far more crimes -- and therefore be far more successful in his career than one who biases his attention to, say, middle-aged Asian women." These images not only shape how others see black men but also can affect how black men see themselves. Warren Simmons, 55, executive director of Brown University's Annenberg Institute for School Reform, recalls waiting in his car at a stoplight in downtown Washington and locking his doors when he spotted a black man approaching. Incredulous, the man began yelling at Simmons. "For a moment, I found myself caught in a cultural quandary," Simmons says. "I'm a black man, and I know what it is like to have people respond to me with fear. Yet I did this. He assumed my response was to him as an individual, but it was directed to him as part of a larger group." If these images distort the rich complexity of the lives of black men, they also have been embraced by some of the nation's most prominent icons of popular culture. A long, lucrative stream of music videos and movies extol the "thug life" fantasy of fast money, fast women and fast living. Rapper 50 Cent has built his chart-busting, multimedia career on his being shot nine times and left for dead during his days as a drug dealer in Queens. Similarly, rapper, actor and pitchman Snoop Dogg has ridden music referring to his gang-life past, and his playful public persona as a would-be pimp, to fame. In some ways, black men have always stood on the leading of edge of popular culture, often through the very imagery that offstage or off-screen inspires fear and contempt. Minstrel shows, widely regarded as the nation's first form of mass entertainment, burst on the scene in the decades after the American Revolution. The shows most often featured white performers in blackface mocking aspects of black life. While the wide-eyed parodies are widely condemned as racist, in their heyday they helped shape society's perception of African Americans. Similarly, some scholars say, popular music -- including hip-hop -- and sports play an outsized role in forming contemporary notions of black men. "When you look at American popular culture, it is really driven by hip-hop, and young, African American men are the face of hip-hop," says S. Craig Watkins, a University of Texas researcher. "It speaks to the fear-fascination relationship the nation has with black men."
If it was just sports, the image of black men wouldn't be so low on the image ladder. Hip-Hop is the new version of a minstrel show that affects the image of black people in general as women are shown for the most part to be oversexed whores shaking their asses all the time. The Oscars with Three Six Mafia set back black people about 20 years. If only some scholars are saying it plays the part, then the rest of the scholars need to look harder at the connections. Its a vicious circle that needs to be stopped.

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