Lohan. Hilton. Bynes.
Macklemore. Eminem. Lady Gaga.
Honey Boo Boo. Sarah Palin. The Robertson Clan.
Subcultures exist amongst any collection or categorization of peoples. Subcultures are the hyperbolic personification of imbalance within a particular society. Today’s media thrives on promoting the amplified absurdity conveyed within these subcultures. This is not only dangerous to society overall, but particularly damning to African Americans.
When a culture hasn’t had time to introduce itself the popularizing of subculture becomes a knowledge bank for the public to withdrawal assumption. No culture is so incessantly defined by its subculture than that of African Americans; most potently, African American males. The caricature of “black” has been sketched by African American subcultures and presented as the expectation.
When the separation of black and white became illegal Civil Rights leaders rejoiced but weren’t satisfied. The ultimate goal was equality. They knew this started with the ability to have an equal say in the election of public officials. There is no bigger step toward equality within a democracy than the ability to cast an equally weighted vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was that final piece of legislature which erased all legal right to discriminate against fellow citizens based on race per the Constitution of the United States.
That was less than 50 years ago. Think about that. Think about how long that isn’t.
Certainly discrimination, tension, and angst still festered amongst a recently integrated society. In spite of this, the late 60’s to mid/late 70’s saw content created which was purposed to be enjoyed by all. Jackson 5, Jimi Hendrix, Earth, Wind, & Fire. Good Times, The Jeffersons, Sanford & Sons. Measures of black culture permeated entertainment but were not harnessed, promoted, and protected as proprietary enjoyment for African Americans. A subculture of militancy and Black Power grew within this era as well. However, it’s not as wholly remembered because it was not elevated to the same popularity level of societal consciousness. African American culture was shared via the arts.
It didn’t take long for those still threatened by people of color to birth an idea in the midst of this explosion of media popularity. The ability to project and define a culture, still infant in the public eye, through mediums of art and entertainment became strikingly evident; as was the subculture to highlight.
The worst part is that African American males aided in the development of their own false categorization. I refer to it as Inverse Segregation. A platform was given to the subculture of anger, ignorance, and violence through the uplifting of rap, gang, and drug culture. The appeal of rebellion helped popularize these mediums amongst youth, particularly black male youths. The face of aggression was prosaically sketched by gangster rap and broadcast across the country; nullifying the fight for equality and birthing the fight for acceptance of a very dangerous and very angry subculture.
The primary weapon of Inverse Segregation is the desensitization and widespread use of the n-word. It is an egregiously perverse thought that the meaning of a word can be altered by who is and isn’t “allowed” to speak it. The adoption and futile redefining of the n-word has re-segregated black & white. Only difference is, African Americans now do the segregating.
Is that what prior generations fought for?
The pervasive use of the n-word throughout all forms of media and entertainment has been cast as the example of what “black” looks and sounds like. A result of Inverse Segregation is the subculture of angry, loud, and brash African Americans becoming the expectation for all African Americans. Most modern African American artists are far less concerned with the continued pursuit of equality and more concerned with gaud and popularity. Ignoring, or ignorant to, the fact that the message conveyed through their words and “success” reinforces the subcultural view of African American life as less meaningful.
Making these people popular sets a poor example of what it means to “make it.” It devalues the birth of a young African American male worse than a new car leaving the lot. Most poignant illustration of this is the exoneration of those who murder based on a skewed equation of color and threat.
Amadou Diallo. Jonathan Ferrell. Trayvon Martin. (*Jonathan Ferrell’s case has not gone to trial yet, but precedent is set thanks to North Carolina’s 2011 adoption of the Stand Your Ground law)
This is the ultimate consequence of Inverse Segregation. Each case highlights the celebration of African American subculture which portrays young black men as angry, aggressive, and violent. So not only can their murderers use this as a defense, but the supposed fear of an unarmed African American male becomes transferrable; ultimately leading to exoneration.
That’s terrifying. That’s sad. That’s the byproduct of Inverse Segregation.
These males weren’t judged by the content of their character. Not by their murderers nor the jurors charged at random to extoll justice on their behalf. Senseless murder becomes “understandable” because it’s shown and promoted so heavily within African American TV, movies, and music. This persistently reinforces the misnomer of African American males as threatening and expendable.
You teach people how to treat you. The Civil Rights movement of yester-generation was based upon this simplistic ideal.
As Jay Z stood behind the President of the United States as he was inaugurated, the summit of Inverse Segregation was reached. But what impact was made? What message was sent? What was accomplished? The elevation of a leader in the rap music subculture in that iconic moment only served as notice that the degrees of separation aren’t vast enough to warrant an alteration in the perception of African American males.
Do not dismiss this as the point of view of an Uncle Tom without understanding that I’m merely asking for accountability. Equality is a responsibility equally shared. Have we done our part? Would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. be proud of the progress we’ve made? How many minutes of BET would he be able to tolerate? How many rappers would he praise as positive leaders and role models? How many Tyler Perry movies would he enjoy?
It starts from within. It always does. In order to teach someone how to treat you, you must first treat yourself as worthy of the respect you wish to command. If Jay Z can be touted and praised for rapping about selling crack and killing other young black men, then given this lauded example of the expendability of African American life, what chance for justice did Trayvon Martin really have? It was left to 9 jurors to place more value on Trayvon’s life than the subculture the defense tied him to.
One of my favorite sayings is: stop making stupid people famous. As African Americans we need to stop making dangerous people famous. We should be far more wary and concerned about who we promote and elect to speak on our behalf. African American culture hasn’t had the necessary uninhibited time to progress, which would buffer the promotion of subculture from becoming the expectation of the majority.
As did the fight to end slavery, cease segregation, and vote – societal change is always inside out.