Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hip Hop Vs. America Part 1 - Hip Hop is not the cause of America's Social Ills

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

I get a kick out of hearing conservatives describe hip hop as the bane of their existence. Rap music is nothing but a scum-of-the-earth product that lies in the center of everything that’s wrong with Black America. It’s the reason crime happens in black communities, why girls get pregnant, why brothers get shot, and why black men are in prison.

They explain to me, using $50 dollar words earned in some graduate school class, that hip hop is to blame for all of society’s ills. Rap music is Exhibit A in an open-and-shut case proving that all young black people are sh*t heads headed to hell in a hand basket.

How creative of us.

One of the oldest traditions in the world is for old people to look at young people and believe that they’ve lost their damn minds. When Jazz was the hot new form of expression, there were parents everywhere screaming that their kids were possessed by the devil. When Elvis swiveled his hips, parents had aneurysms everywhere. Rather than respecting the energy and creativity that young people bring to the world, we would rather knock them upside the head and tell them they are worthless. This goes double for the hip hop generation, who has the misfortune of being part of a community that has a 400 year old list of problems that they conveniently blame on a 30-year old social movement.

Rappers are not the reason so many black men are in prison. Our prisons are full because there are corporations that now have a direct financial incentive to incarcerate people and use their cheap labor as a modernized form of slavery. There is study after study proving that black men are given longer sentences for the same crimes, more likely to be incarcerated for those crimes, and consistently disenfranchised from society after paying the price for those crimes.
Yes, personal responsibility plays a role, but we must first have the personal responsibility to stop pushing all of our problems onto the rappers. Hip Hop didn’t create our broken justice system, and when NWA said “F*ck the Police” in 1988, the LA riots proved that they had a good point.

Rappers are not the reason that our school systems are underfunded: the lack of funds results from the fact that schools are supported from the tax base of the communities around them, and black people don’t have any money. Perhaps better school systems would not give rappers so many bad educational experiences to rap about.

Rappers are not the reason black people are poor. We are poor because there is a 400 year tradition of excluding African-Americans from the ability to pass wealth down to our children. Why don't we write a rap lyric or two about the poverty in America.....Oh, many hip hop artists already do. Addressing socioeconomic inequality might provide hip hop artists with positive inspiration, rather than the despair that so readily fuels their creative talents.

Rappers are not the reason there is so much crime. To blame hip hop, a form of entertainment on urban crime is like blaming Hollywood for the crime that takes place in America. If music has a hypnotic effect on the mind, leading to violence, then one must certainly argue that the image of violence in film has a much stronger impact. There were violent films long before there was ever a violent rap song. Additionally, the annual budget our country spends making violent movies far outweighs the money spent recording violent rap lyrics.

Racism and oppression are evil diseases that lie within the very fabric of America’s social infrastructure. The notion that these 400 year old demons are the result of 30 years of hip hop is nothing more than the standard scapegoating used against oppressed people in many societies. To blame hip hop for the state of black America is like bulldozing down a man’s house and then blaming the destruction on the fact that he spills milk at breakfast.

Hip hop teaches us to keep it real. Common sense will teach us how to keep it REALISTIC. We must do a little bit of both to get to the root of our problems and come up with effective solutions.

Hip is not to blame.

Dr.Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of “What if George Bush were a Black Man?” He makes regular appearances in national media, including CNN, ESPN, BET, CBS and Good Morning America. For more information, please visit

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, I never thought about it like that before. I'm glad we have professors who are able to understand how this works. Most professors are such big nerds that they don't even listen to hiphop.