The ‘No Angel’ Negro
The New York Times has deliberately stepped in another steaming pile of ugly with a piece today declaring Michael Brown to be ‘No Angel’:
Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.
Now, before y’all go and jump on the outrage train, I think it’s important to acknowledge the New York Times has a point: rapping can make negro men unpredictable. Usually cash money and big asses can satiate the primal urges of the negro, allowing for the profitable commodification of their urban sound for the privileged white suburban demographic. But not always.
Two recent examples of off-leash rappers highlight this stark racial reality. First up, Talib Kweli went off on CNN’s Don Lemon for interrupting his critique of CNN’s reporting. Kweli expounded on his frustration and regret for joining the spectacle in a post that really should be read in full. Here’s an excerpt:
I was asked to do an interview with Anderson Cooper. However, when I got there it was Don Lemon on set instead. Apparently, he was filling in for Cooper who had another interview somewhere. Lemon, who I had never met, is a polarizing figure in the black community, you either love him or you hate him. Although I’ve never paid enough attention to him to form an opinion either way, I was impressed that he was on a skateboard. It made him seem down to earth, and I looked forward to the exchange.
I’ve been interviewed on the news many times. Each time the interviewer made sure to say hi, greet me and thank me for coming down. Lemon did none of these things, and I found that odd. Still, I didn’t take it personal. I am not a big mainstream artist, I don’t expect everyone to know or even care about who I am.
Many people were happy at how this interview went. They agreed with my point and my stance. There were also many who were incredibly disappointed with me and felt the interview was a wasted opportunity that became a competition of egos instead. I am disappointed in myself for allowing the interview to become a spectacle which further distracts from the execution style killing of unarmed teenager Mike Brown. Even though I went in with the best intentions, I became a part of the spectacle.
I can’t imagine why a conscious hip-hop artist would get frustrated with a good, upstanding negro news anchor like Don Lemon who, just last summer, offered a simple 5-step fix for struggling black communities. And here they are:
“Here’s number five. Pull up your pants. If you’re sagging, I mean — I think it’s your self-esteem that is sagging and who you are as a person it’s sagging. Young people need to be taught respect and there are rules. […]
Number four now is the n-word. I understand poetic license, but consider this: I hosted a special on the n-word, suggesting that black people stop using it and that entertainers stop deluding yourselves or themselves and others that you’re somehow taking the word back. […]
Now number three. Respect where you live. Start small by not dropping trash, littering in your own communities. I’ve lived in several predominantly white neighborhoods in my life, I rarely, if ever, witnessed people littering. I live in Harlem now, it’s an historically black neighborhood, every single day I see adults and children dropping their trash on the ground when a garbage can is just feet away. Just being honest here. […]
Number two, finish school. You want to break the cycle of poverty? Stop telling kids they’re acting white because they go to school or they speak proper English. […]
And number one, and probably the most important, just because you can have a baby, it doesn’t mean you should. Especially without planning for one or getting married first. More than 72 percent of children in the African-American community are born out of wedlock. That means absent fathers. And the studies show that lack of a male role model is an express train right to prison and the cycle continues. So, please, black folks, as I said if this doesn’t apply to you, I’m not talking to you. Pay attention to and think about what has been presented in recent history as acceptable behavior. Pay close attention to the hip-hop and rap culture that many of you embrace. A culture that glorifies everything I just mentioned, thug and reprehensible behavior, a culture that is making a lot of people rich, just not you. And it’s not going to.”
(full transcript and video here)
The other rapper (one of my favorites) fronting a genre-busting lyrical overthrow of the capitalist system with his crew, The Coup, had the pleasure of being interviewed by a local Fox affiliate. As Spin reports, it didn’t go as planned:
The Coup’s frontman and occasional Tom Morello collaborator Boots Riley is known for being something of a political firebrand, but, as Cleveland Scene points out, a local Fox affiliate seems to have been blissfully unaware of that fact. The Oakland outfit was set to appear at LKWD Festival in the city on Saturday and festival organizer Kelly Flamos brought him along for an interview during one of the station’s daytime shows. Things did not go quite as Fox planned.
When asked to describe the Coup, Riley outlined his long-running musical project as “a punk-funk Communist revolution band,” which drew a puzzled response from the reporter on hand. That alone might have been enough to upset the Fox honchos, but he continued saying that his goals are to “make everyone dance while we’re telling them about how we need to get rid of the system” and that “exploitation is the primary contradiction in capitalism.”
It all seems like relatively innocent stuff, delivered in an exceedingly calm and matter-of-fact manner, but Flamos later posted an email she received from the station saying that Riley’s “rant” (a loaded word and bald-faced exaggeration) had “not only hurt our station’s credibility, but also the festival’s.
Here is the full email:
I wanted to talk to you about this morning. We set the interview times because have to (sic) hit specific times with live television. I had to get rid of the interview when you guys did not show on time, and now I regret putting it back in.
FOX 8 was not the time or opportunity for Boots to go on his political rant. With his statements he not only hurt our station’s credibility, but also the festival’s. I was looking to do a fun interview and it turned into something entirely different. We will not be reaching out for any interviews in the future.”
Boots Riley went to Twitter earlier today to further describe his understanding of the intentional marginalization of his perspective in a series of tweets you have to read:
The problem the FoxNews vid exposes is that it was a mistake4me2b on. MOST media outlets- music&news- dont have me on because of my ideas.
The letter from FoxNews producers exposes that the media forces ppl2edit the voicing of their opinion. “If u say XYZ, ur career will fail.”
If people dont get the message by reading between the lines, the gatekeepers will sometimes say it explicitly.
Some well-known friends of mine were told by music execs during Afghanistan bombing: if they spoke out against war- album wont come out.
The rationale was: speaking out against war would diminish record sales, &that media outlets wouldnt support, so the label couldnt risk it.
So if you wonder why more people don’t know about The Coup, that email gives you a glimpse as to why.
I mean, if ur a promoter, a media outlet threatening to blacklist you for facilitating The Coup is a damn good reason to not book The Coup.
There are MILLIONS of ppl in the US that think the way I do. U won’t hear them on media, so we have a distorted view of what ppl in US think
The reason that views like mine are kept from mainstream media is specifically so we don’t know how radical our own neighbors are.
The New York Times No Angeling Michael Brown is disgusting. Meanwhile, Darren Wilson, the cop who shot Brown, is presumably still out of state, not indicted. Maybe, with reports that Wilson was previously employed in a police department that was DISBANDED because of racial tensions, the focus will shift to the dude who isn’t an unarmed black man shot six times and left to bleed on the street for hours before someone got a sheet to cover him. From the link:
The small city of Jennings, Mo., had a police department so troubled, and with so much tension between white officers and black residents, that the city council finally decided to disband it. Everyone in the Jennings police department was fired. New officers were brought in to create a credible department from scratch.
That was three years ago. One of the officers who worked in that department, and lost his job along with everyone else, was a young man named Darren Wilson.
This won’t go away because there will be more Michael Browns. More importantly this won’t go away because there is a tremendous accumulation of lesser indignities stemming from institutional racism that builds and builds and builds until something breaks.