by Solomon Comissiong
Black America has a genius for creating cultural forms, but quickly loses control of its own inventions. African American Hip Hop enthusiasts have failed to resist “the infestation of fraudulent white liberals who have co-opted large areas of Hip Hop in the same way white developers ethically cleanse/gentrify communities of color.”
Everything But the Struggle: White Liberals, Exploitation & Hip Hop Music
by Solomon Comissiong
“Vast areas of Hip Hop have been co-opted by white people.”
Hip Hop culture has a long history of bringing people together from myriad walks of life and cultural backgrounds. Rap music, an element of Hip Hop culture, has a legacy of being brutally honest when it comes to discussing issues dominant hegemonies methodically attempt to suppress. Whether it is white supremacy, institutional racism, or imperialism, Hip Hop artists have used their cultural medium to speak truth to so-called ‘power.’ However for those who primarily consume large doses of corporate media junk food, these facts may be a shock. Whether they are fans of Hip Hop or not, their idea of Hip Hop revolves around the racist, misogynistic and hyper violent images of people of color that the corporate media relishes in promulgating. However, while the corporate media only promotes Hip Hop music that reinforces racist stereotypes there exist large swaths of revolutionary and politically progressive truth tellers throughout Hip Hop’s ‘underground.’ They showcase commentary no matter how painful the truth may be for some.
In the spirit of revolutionary Rap music truth telling, this author, who is not a Hip Hop emcee, will attempt to shed light on a seldom-addressed issue: the abundance of white liberals Hip Hop ‘fans’ posing as friends of African/black communities. What’s more, they really don’t give a damn about the cultural integrity of Hip Hop!
In 1963, in a speech entitled “God’s Judgment of White America,” Malcolm X stated: “The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor; and by winning the friendship, allegiance, and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool in this political “football game” that is constantly raging between the white liberals and white conservatives.”
“There exist large swaths of revolutionary and politically progressive truth tellers throughout Hip Hop’s ‘underground.’”
Disingenuous white liberals have long invaded Hip Hop culture, pretending they are sincerely concerned with the plight of people of color, just as white Democrats have done within Africa/black communities. Malcolm X’s analysis was spot on in 1963 just as it is today regarding the United States’ political landscape. However, his aforementioned statement can also be applied to Hip Hop music in 2014.
White liberals masquerade throughout the Hip Hop world adorned in their outfits as rap music fans, radio DJs (programmers), record executives and, sometimes, even as rappers. This is not to say that there are no exceptions to the ‘rule’ – there are some truly politically progressive white people involved in Hip Hop culture in various capacities. However, this article is not about them, it is about the infestation of fraudulent white liberals who have co-opted large areas of Hip Hop in the same way white developers ethically cleanse/gentrify communities of color.
White liberals (and white conservatives) love to listen to rap music and even attempt to recite, out loud, the lyrics to their favorite songs within the genre. I mentioned conservatives, but this essay is not so much about them as it is their white liberal counterparts. You see, white conservatives don’t put much effort in pretending to give a damn about African/black people or their plight within this white settler colony, otherwise known as the United States. They exploit Hip Hop culture (where they can) just as white liberals but, in general, they don’t pretend to be allies of African/black people. As former head coach of the Arizona Cardinals football team Denny Green once said, after his team got trounced by the Chicago Bears, said: “They are what we thought they were, and we let them off the hook!” We, too, have let certain folks off the hook by allowing them to control and exploit Hip Hop culture.
Unfortunately for many African/black people when it comes to white liberals we simply have no idea what they are or how they function in relationship to communities of color. Despite being admonished by the likes of Malcolm X, regarding the machinations of white liberals, we seem to have done a poor job (collectively) in heeding that message. Politically we continue to be exploited by white liberals (and black liberals) within the Democratic Party. White liberals could care less about eviscerating institutional racism and white supremacy. However, they do care about collecting our votes. This assists in the continuation of their stranglehold on power and white privilege. White liberals understand that they need healthy doses of white supremacy floating around in order to maintain their white privilege. Just like the political arena, the Hip Hop world harbors similar structural issues.
“Disingenuous white liberals have long invaded Hip Hop culture, pretending they are sincerely concerned with the plight of people of color.”
Despite being created by African/black people (and enhanced by various other people of color), vast areas of Hip Hop have been co-opted by white people. This is quite a travesty in and of itself. Something that was completely created, and cultivated, by people of color is now largely controlled by white people who could give a damn about upholding the overall integrity of this cultural art form. They have usurped this African/black derived cultural medium in a similar manner to the land that was plundered from Native Americans. White colonizers stole the land then herded the indigenous into reservations. Those who resisted were massacred. They placed many Native American youth into “Indian Schools” in an effort to change their names, culture and force them into assimilation. Throughout Euro-American history white people have tried to force people of color to assimilate into their “value” systems – systems that were based on barbarity, land theft, mass murder and slavery.
Within the realm of corporate backed rap music white people have created cookie cutter molds for African/black rappers to squeeze into. These cookie cutter molds are predicated on the most racist stereotypes white people have long created for Africans/blacks. Just as there were no stereotypes of uncivilized Africans or Native Americans until Europeans needed further justification to maim, pillage and massacre, they have done the same with the now popularized images commonly found throughout corporate Hip Hop. Misguided African/black rappers have accepted and bought into these stereotypes simply to obtain the shiny trinkets corporate Hip Hop’s slave masters readily throw their way.
Once in a while the white liberals, who play an active role in the exploitation of Hip Hop Culture, will show their ‘true colors’ – pun not intended. They let the world know exactly what they think of Hip Hop, and in some cases, what they think about its African/black pioneers.
Take the curious case of Peter Rosenberg, Hot 97 radio personality (New York). Rosenberg took umbrage at comments made by legendary Hip Hop emcee and front man for Public Enemy, Chuck D. Chuck D has, rightfully, been highly critical of the kind of music that is predominately played on corporate “Hip Hop” stations like Hot 97. Chuck D is critical of the racist and stereotypical images that spew from the airwaves of stations like Hot 97. These stations routinely play rap music that is riddled with misogyny, stereotypes of people of color and senselessly violent themes. They do this while suppressing Hip Hop artists whose music is rich with cultural edification and progressive social justice narratives. Peter Rosenberg knows this is true, however he will never admit it publically. His job’s existence is based on the exploitation of the art form and depends on people not being exposed to this fact. Keeping Hot 97’s ‘followers’ as dumbed down and non-critically engaged as possible, is…the name of the game.
“Misguided African/black rappers have accepted and bought into these stereotypes.”
Peter Rosenberg clearly took offense to the fact that Chuck D called out the truth, much like that of a griot. Rosenberg responded to Chuck D saying, “Chuck D, no one elected you president of Hip Hop. We love you. You’re a forefather of this game, you contributed, but we did not elect you president of this culture. No one owns Hip Hop.” Rosenberg then ended his baseless diatribe by asking Chuck D what was he doing to aid Hip Hop. Chuck D was not in Rosenberg’s presence, which is why he most likely decided to ask that query. He didn’t want a legitimate response to the things he was saying.
Chuck D is doing much more for Hip Hop Culture than Peter “the Hip Hop exploiter” Rosenberg is doing. Chuck D is defending the cultural art form that his community created over 40 years ago. Chuck D was defending the integrity of Hip Hop and calling out those who continue to selectively expose racially stereotypical imagery on corporate airwaves. Chuck D was speaking truth and should be commended for his actions, which contribute to conscious building and awareness of this issue.
Peter Rosenberg is a classic white liberal exploiting an African/black cultural medium he did nothing to build or develop. He does all this while reaping financial gain. Rosenberg is not unlike other white people, such as Pat Boone and Allan Freed, who stole Rhythm and Blues and renamed it Rock n Roll. Perhaps Boone and Freed are Rosenberg’s inspirations.
Hip Hop has no shortage of white fans who attend concerts, only to leave at the end of the evening without any of the burden of what it means to be African/black within the stolen borders of the United States. At the end of the evening, regardless of what show they attend, many of these white fans will go home to communities that are NOT submerged within the murky waters of a rogue police state and quagmires of oppression. Even those who attend the shows of the most politically revolutionary artists will leave the concerts without any of the burden associated with the social justice themes mentioned throughout the rap songs they just heard. They leave without any sense of obligation to get involved and work to help right the wrongs caused by white supremacy and institutional racism. If you are attending a Hip Hop show by artists who use their music to speak out against injustices, and you are not inspired to get on the frontlines of that struggle, then you are not truly connected to that music, or the people that created it.
“Chuck D was speaking truth and should be commended for his actions.”
White liberal Hip Hop ‘fans’ are akin to white liberals/Democrats who will attend an annual tributes to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. simply to go home with a smile and no desire to help fight the myriad injustices MLK fought (e.g., military industrial complex, institutional racism, capitalism, imperialism). Those are not burdens or concerns of theirs; after all the Democrats (like the Republicans) are ultimately supporters of these injustices. They are not fighting imperialism; they support it with the money they provide to finance these wars. They are hypocrites, through and through. And the sooner communities of color realize this, the better.
It is time we, first, reclaim our collective consciousness as people of color, then build networks of solidarity from one oppressed community to the next. Hip Hop has a long, rich history of educating masses about social justice issues, cultural edification and community politics. This history can never be erased, however the continuation of that legacy is under threat by people who are hell bent on ensuring that revolutionary rap music does not reach the masses. These are the white record executives and white media personalities who continue to see Hip Hop as yet another African/black cultural art form that they can exploit, all the while creating racist images for rappers to conform to. They are the modern day orchestrators and producers of this era’s minstrel shows.
Hip Hop must be reclaimed and redirected in a manner that utilizes this cultural medium to inspire and empower its fans (especially those from oppressed communities) to resist oppression and injustice. It must also cultural edify and educate those same fans, in ways that the dominant hegemony won’t. When Hip Hop is used to degrade, dumb down and psychologically destroy the minds of countless youth then it is no longer truly Hip Hop. It is a Frankenstein-like monster that has been created to do just that – destroy minds. Hip Hop is undeniably an African/black derived cultural art form. This must never be forgotten.
Only those (of all backgrounds) sincere about utilizing Hip Hop, in a manner to inspire resistance to oppression, should be permitted to participate in the culture. All others should rename the monstrosity they promote and cease from calling it Hip Hop. It is not Hip Hop. It is a tool of oppression recreated to eviscerate cultural consciousness. It is nothing short of psychological warfare! We must collectively discontinue our support, financial or otherwise, of “Corporate Hip Hop.” We can do this – however, the time is now!
Solomon Comissiong (www.solomoncomissiong.com) is an educator, community activist, author, and Founder of the Your World News Media Collective (www.yourworldnews.org). Mr. Comissiong is also a founding member of the Pan-African collective for Advocacy & Action. Solomon is the author of A Hip Hop Activist Speaks Out on Social Issues. Solomon is also the writer and producer of the documentary, Hip Hop, White Supremacy & Capitalism: Why Corporations Infiltrated RAP Music. He can be reached at: [email protected]