As an African American observing our current climate- destructive images, language and sounds have excacerbated a lifecycle of hatred, rudeness, and social discourse in all of our daily lives. This meticulous “infection” (2) has evolved so subtle within the past the twenty years, one has to wonder, how far has this country gone down the slippery slope, due to “blind” acceptance of popular culture gone astray.
There is no doubt, that American society as a whole, according to the literature (3); that there has been a deep ambivalence towards censorship. Censorship is the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. As the society weighs in on the relevancy of censorship, how much further as a society will we allow this moral decline? Which brings us to the discussion of Don Imus and how this may implicate the rap community, Black radio and the music industry with no regard to the 1996 Communications Decency Act.
Since 1971, Don Imus has been saying some outrageous things on the air. His commentary has comprised themes of racism, homophobia, drugs and alcohol, just to name a few. It is no secret that Don Imus has enjoyed a huge following in the U.S. But how does his past and future acceptance of his commentary translate for American society as a whole? In addition, what increases the complexity of the Imus story, are the number of government officials who have made numerous appearances on his talk show sans trepidation (regardless of initial motivations of appearing). Moreover, how does the 1996 Communications Decency Act enforced by the Federal authorities interplay with this particular event? In essence, has CBS and MSNBC been playing by the rules since 1996? History seems to suggest that these national broadcasters may be guilty.
The Imus Parallel to the Rap Community
Cornel West, Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University, has the talent to tie modern ideas to historical concepts. As a result, many young people (including African Americans) look to Dr. West as an authority on racism in America. In particular, how capitalism and the framework of Marxism may interplay in the complexity of not just racism in America; but the parallel to the rap community (4-6).
It is no secret, that Dr. West has been embraced by the hip hop community, due to his acknowledgment that the culture (at present) is dominant and also reocognizes the importance of “truth telling.” To discount that fact, will add to the detoriation of understanding and bridging the gaps of the generations as it relates to the complexity of observing the boundaries of descency. With that being said, African Americans (as a cohort) have to take a harder look within. Perhaps, the comments made by Bill Cosby concerning the state of affairs for Black youth in the U.S., stirred a great deal of controversy. But, in my opinion, this is the type of “honest” dialogue is what the African American community desperately needs to embrace and address. The complacency to confront our own musical artists(who seem to drift beyond the “descency” parameters), Black radio, and music industry: before the Imus story, signifies our hypocrisy and the need for innovative strategies. So as disheartnening as it is, African Americans, have become victims of their own complacency and hypocrisy. As evidenced by the sales of 50cent, Jay Z, Eminem, among many others. Even though there appears to be contrasting views (8) about the emperical evidence of hip hop sales, the buying cohort appears to be those below the age 18, is significant. According to the Rap Coalition (7) “sales of rap albums jumped 20% during 2000 — the biggest increase for any musical genre, according to SoundScan’s year-end music industry report. Total music sales for the year were up 4% over 1999.” What this precludes is that artists share the burden is being responsible to their fans. Particularly, minors.
Many believe that a national dialogue on race has been long overdue. Perhaps, the insensitive comments made by Imus and an increased attention to the vulgarity that appears to plague hip hop music, may propel an honest dialogue going forward among key stakeholders. Which includes everyone.
1. Pragmatism. [Online]. Cornel West. Retrieved from http://www.pragmatism.org/library/west/ on April 17, 2007.
2. Herbert, B. (April 16, 2007). The Sign of Infection. New York Times.
3. American Civil Liberties Union. [Online]. Free Speech. Retrieved from http://aclu.org/freespeech/ on April 17, 2007.
4. West, C. (2004). Democracy Matters. New York: Penguin, 2004.
5. West, C. (1998). The Future of American Progressivism, with Roberto Unger. Boston: Beacon, 1998.
6. West, C. (1998). Restoring Hope: Conversations on the Future of Black America, edited by Kelvin Sealey. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998.
7. Rap Coalition. [Online]. Rap Sales. Retrieved from http://rapcoalition.org/rap_sales_stats_2000.htm on April 17, 2007.
8. Fox News Corporation. Sales of Rap Albums Take Stunning Nosedive. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,255606,00.html on April 17, 2007.