Facing the Music

I went to a dance performance with my little girl last night. There was great diversity in the dance styles presented. From flamenco to hip hop, the music evoked powerful emotions which were translated to the movements of each dancer. The new Joy of Motion dance facility on H street in Washington, D.C. is a sparkling example of urban renewal.

I was impressed by the skill in the execution of all the dances, but I was moved by the hip hop music and the accompanying performances. At 48, I can only dream of being able to ‘bust a move’ like they did on stage. However, the profound commentary made by the dancers was unmistakeable. 18 year old Erica Hart used thought provoking music by Citizen Cope, mixed with some old school Herman Kelly and her own beats to display her artistic vision. In a performance entitled ‘5 to 9’, choreographer Aysha Upchurch used the dancers as a paintbrush and made it clear that hip hop and rap music are expressive art forms that tell an American story as valid as that in the music of Irving Berlin or Rogers and Hammerstein.

Rap and hip hop have evolved from the days of The Sugar Hill Gang and Kurtis Blow. When Grandmaster Flash released “The Message” in 1982, it became clear that every ugly reality of life in the ‘hood’ could be set to a beat played over the airwaves. At that point, Black America’s pain became a musical vehicle and music became another tool to vent and inform the rest of the world. I actually cried the first time I heard it. Crime, hopelessness, economic hardship and all the social dysfunction that goes with them were exposed for the world to hear. It was at that point that the music should have created a new dialogue between political leaders, business and financial interests and the community. After all, in the wake of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the Black Nationalist movement and the anti-war movement, we were all ready to implement the ideals expressed by Dr. King and change the society, right?

What happened instead is that lucrative recording contracts, record sales and instant fame for the chosen few became the incentive for creating the music. Many artists continued to speak the truth of their own life experiences, but increasing numbers of posers simply channeled horrible thoughts and hateful words into their rhymes to feed into the gangster rap machine. Dr. Dre has admitted that he at one time tried to write rhymes without describing women as “Bitches and Hos”, but he just couldn’t find the inspiration. As he returned to the use of those terms, he influenced a generation of Black children to do the same. Black mothers, sisters, aunts and daughters all got branded and diminished in stature because of the American music industry’s profit motive. The words ‘virture’ and ‘Black female’ so infrequently occur in the same sentence that when Robert Sylvester (R. Kelly) is accused of abusing scores of underage females, it is often Black females themselves who vigorously defend him. I don’t believe that R. Kelly and Dr. Dre or their product are representative of all rap and hip hop music, it’s that the community embraced them and amplified their message without shutting down the hatred inherent in their words and behavior. We needed Don Imus to use those words before we examined what they really mean in popular culture.

Music has an influential relationship to the soul and the psyche of the listener. Just as listening to the blues can make us feel melancholy, listening to gangster rap can subliminally fill us with rage. The frequent ‘beefs’ between artists are proof of that. On the other hand, the music I heard last night and the dances that interpreted it made me feel uplifted. I was encouraged to see that hip hop and rap have not killed our children’s souls, but that young people are adaptive and able to make life-affirming choices about the complex challenges they face in the future.

Really Rush?

Rush, we know you’re appealing to the right wing fringe, and that you long ago opted out of the ranks of the objective and the credible, but your hysterical, desperate rant laying the mortagage and financial crisis at the feet of Barack Obama, Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers and ACORN is incendiary and irresponsible.

You seem to believe that the Black community focuses on hating this country. The Black community is diverse, and contains as many apologists, sellouts and appeasers as it has revolutionary militants. Barack Obama is no revolutionary militant. Having taught Constitutional Law at one of the nation’s most conservative universities, the University of Chicago, Barack Obama has trained legions of lawyers to uphold the law, not overthrow it. Additionally, Jeremiah Wright’s sermons, made from the sanctity of the pulpit, have been twisted to smear and distort. Why? The truth of America’s history and the reactions of people and nations around it are self-evident. The emotional outcroppings left from the enslavement of Africans are part of our heritage, and you will never know the burden of teaching a child to proceed through life with dignity in spite of that horrific legacy.

The Black community, and our children are a vibrant and unique part of the American collective. Our future is inextricably intertwined with America’s destiny. Perhaps your rhetoric is aimed at a final solution, Rush. Perhaps, like Adolph Hitler in the 1930’s, you would have America believe that the current financial crisis is the result of a vast Black conspiracy to reap what we have not worked for and take from “good, hard-working” Americans (thanks Hillary).

…And to think, all these years that Black mothers have been cooking, cleaning, helping children with homework, earning money, supporting their husbands, getting their own educations and careers off the ground…that we have all been party to the secret underground Black Hate Network. All of the social, scientific, military, intellectual and cultural contributions made to America by African-Americans were really just a cover. Our real purpose has been to promote, with Christopher Dodd, Barney Frank, and cadres of Black Liberation theologists, an anti-american, anti-capitalist movement. Really? Wow!

In spite of the hurtful legacy of slavery, people of African descent have stood firm and resolute on this continent. We have fought with valor, we live and raise families, and we educate and love our children, just like you. Consistent attacks on Black people based on their race are demeaning to all Americans, and they threaten to unravel any gains we make on the international stage. Does your hate run so deep that you seek to undermine the stature of the entire country rather than see an African American President? What makes you hate that deeply Rush?

The dysfunctional aspects of the Black community, like those of any other group, are reflective of social ills that affect everyone. It is true that the social engineering efforts of the 1960’s had a disastrous effect on the Black family. Poverty has a disastrous effect on the Black family. The lynchings of the period between 1870-1920 had a disastrous effect on the Black family; job displacement and illegal immigration have had a disastrous effect on the Black family. The point is, in spite of our history, no one has trained Black children to: “Hate, Hate, Hate this country”. Black kids play in little league, go to Halloween parties and proms, and have the same abilities, goals and dreams that White kids have. Its only when power hungry hatemongerers lie to misinform the public that people become alarmed. Charles Manson sought to incite a race war by the Sharon Tate/ LoBianco killings. You know good and well that corporate mismanagement is at the root of the current global financial crisis. Rush, would you really have your lie be the cause of anyone’s pain? Really?