Monday, March 19, 2012

It's Not What You Do, It's Who You Are

Remember the hoopla when rapper Common visited the White House? Conservatives were aghast, complaining that Common (and the rap community in general) glorified guns and violence, bragging about the weight of his Uzi and how "I hold up a peace sign but I carry a gun." These violent rap lyrics were responsible for violence and bloodshed in the inner cities, as a generation of Black youths grew up thinking that the way to be cool and authentic was to pack heat. Ever keen on blame-throwing, conservatives asked why prominent Black leaders weren't speaking out against this poison.

And while certainly this isn't a consistent tradition, and we can be rightly suspicious of whether it's being offered up in good faith, in the abstract there's nothing wrong with forwarding the position that Black leaders should more aggressively try to work against cultural glorification of guns and violence. Right or wrong, it's certainly within the realm of argument, and there's no intrinsic problem with favoring those leaders who adopt that standpoint and chastising those who do not.

So what happens when a Black leader does take it upon himself to aggressively oppose the cultural glorification of packing heat among our youth? The answer, of course, is that he's extremist, un-American, hostile to the Constitution and seeking an agenda of radical left-wing "reform".

Fresh off hug-gate, where Barack Obama stood accused of embracing a civil rights hero (horrors), Breitbart is now training its sights on Attorney General Eric Holder for this precise sin. Specifically, they've got him on tape arguing that we need to break the belief amongst young people that it's "hip" to carry guns -- in other words, precisely the standpoint conservatives claimed they wanted folks like Holder to take in response to the purportedly pro-gun, pro-violence lyrics of folks like Common. Only it turns out that this position is equally objectionable as standing in opposition to our fundamental right to cradle snuggle bear arms.

I'm hardly the first one to notice the overlap between conservative gun politics and contemporary hip-hop -- The Boondocks had Riley announce that "I'm down with the NRA!" after realizing that the right-wing group was far better at living out his gun fantasies than any of his rap idols ("You know how NWA brags about looking for trouble, packing everywhere they go, and killing for fun? Well, the NRA actually does that."). But it does hit home, once more, the catch-22 racial minorities face whenever they try to appease conservatives -- no matter what they do to demonstrate themselves as good public citizens, it will not only be insufficient, it will be proof of the opposite.

Defending cultural expressions glorifying guns makes you a harbinger of cultural decay, responsible for violence and crime and God knows what else. Opposing these expressions makes you a latte-sipping liberal elitist who wants to take away our God-given right to bear arms (probably using jack-booted governmental thugs). If Blacks pursue integration and aggressive inclusion in America's social fabric, they're pushy and demanding special rights; but if they decide to forgo those demands and instead focus on developing their own, separatist institution, they're radical racists. If you're poor and don't do well in school, you're a mooch with a welfare mentality; if you succeed and make something of yourself, you're a fraud who only got as far as you did through cheating and special preferences (a message Latinos also received loud and clear during the ugly Sotomayor nomination fight).

It is an article of faith amongst the right that any bad thing that happens to racial minorities is their own fault, and that if they just did this or that thing, they'd have every opportunity and be treated just as well as anybody else. The problem is "this thing" and "that thing" are often mutually exclusive, because the objectionable quality isn't the substance of the behavior, it's the fact that a racial minority is doing it. The attack on Holder for opposing gun glorification -- so often exactly what conservatives have demanded of people like Holder -- is just another data point for the sobering conclusion: The problem isn't what you do, the problem is who you are.


PG said...

But were the Breitbart outlets among those conservatives saying that Black leaders should discourage the glorification of bearing arms?

David Schraub said...

Hard to say -- Breitbart's archives seem to be down -- but he did apparently join in the criticism of the Common invite (this is off google searches, but again, the links are all dead).

PG said...

The only cached link I could view from Breitbart was a guy saying that his problem was not with the violent characters in Common's music, but with Common's support for cop-killers (presumably Assata Shakur and Mumia, though he doesn't specify) and Common's opposition to interracial relationships.

Of course, Common's supposed "opposition" to interracial relationships is around the level of a Indian guy's saying "I prefer JDate and disapprove of Jewish men who *only* go for Gentile chicks." To summarize: "I don’t think there’s anything the matter with somebody loving somebody from another race... But our race has been damaged. Sometimes to get back up to the level of respect and love, you’ve gotta stick with your own for a minute and build a certain amount of strength and community within yours so that other people can respect and honour your traditions."