Saturday, April 15, 2006

rap, cont'd

NYT letter cont'd

I was appalled---but, alas, not entirely surprised. For in all the debate over constitutional issues surrounding the arrest of Luther Campbell, virtually all commentators, white and black, have glibly embraced Mr. Campbell's claim that his music is part of "black culture." Those who genuinely value black culture, and the welfare of black people in America, need to take a look at this claim.

What does it mean to say that 2 Live Crew's lyrics are "quintessentially black"? Does Mr. Wicker believe that his black male colleagues sit at their desks harboring secret desires to break into chants about slapping black "bitches" who won't gratify their sexual desires? Does he think that his black female colleagues are pleased at being presented, as they are in 2 Live Crew's lyrics, as subhuman creatures who exist solely to gratify the violent sexual fantasies of men? Are the black people who do not sanction the sentiments expressed in 2 Live Crew songs inauthentic, not genuinely black?

What Mr. Campbell is retailing---and what even good white liberals like Mr. Wicker are endorsing---is the vicious myth that black people are the embodiment of irresponsible and unrestrained sexuality. Mr. Campbell is making a fortune exploiting the very myth that has been used for four centuries to underwrite slavery, the lynching of black men and the sexual abuse of black women.

To treat this myth as an affirmation of black culture is horrific. Money---not black culture---is what 2 Live Crew is about. The group uses graphic depictions of sex and violence against women to sell records. If this activity embodies any culture at all, it is American culture in the broadest sense, and it is American culture at its worst.

But the self-proclaimed guardians of black consciousness---and the white lawyers making money from black performers---try to convince us that every song or stage act performed by a black person is a representation of some one monolithic thing called black culture. They can then play on black people's legitimate fears of white racism to protect a right that has nothing to do with race.

This is not only dismaying but also dangerous, because it indulges the crippling belief that even the most morally repugnant behavior by a black person must be embraced as part of black culture. This means that no black person can ever criticize any other black person's conduct without being called in Mr. Campbell's phrase, an "Uncle Tom." Such an attitude, sad to say, is as oppressive as the racism it purports to fight.

Mr. Campbell may have a constitutionally protected right to profit from his abusive songs. But let him and his apologists spare black people---particularly black woman---the further degradation of identifying our culture with his lyrics. A culture sustains and supports constructive and self-affirming visions of a people. The songs of 2 Live Crew fail to do this.

As a black woman, I urge black and white people of good will---those people who are genuinely concerned about black culture---to have the courage to speak out and challenge Mr. Campbell and Mr. Wicker in their claims that violence and irresponsible sex are "quintessentially black."

Michelle Moody-Adams
Rochester, June 15, 1990

The writer is (or at least was in 1990) a University of Rochester assistant professor of philosophy. back to main blog