Pathologizing Black Culture

There’s an obsession in this country with singling out and pathologizing black culture. Trends that can readily be seen in any community — black, white, hispanic, asian or otherwise — become abnormal or unhealthy when looked at only in the black community.

For instance, we oftentimes hear political and community leaders bemoan the hopes and aspirations of young black kids who dream about becoming rappers or professional athletes. We’re told these kid should instead strive to be doctors, astronauts or mathematicians — and that these low-brow expectations are at the root of underachievement in the black community. Nevermind the fact that when you ask little boys of all races what they want to be when the grow up, the number one answer is professional athlete.

A good friend of mine forwarded along this buzzfeed article earlier in the week. It features images of rappers and hip-hop artists accompanied by ‘translated’ versions of rap lyrics transformed to be ‘respectful.’ I admit, I laughed to myself a little as I read through the list, but at the same time; I felt a growing agitation at the realization that this was the pathology at work. The central premise of this whole project was that Black folks and the music we’ve created needed some kind of correcting.

At any time, rap music may be destructive, violent and/or misogynistic — among a million other things. But it is no more destructive, no more violent and no more misogynistic than rock & roll, grunge, or country music. The only difference here, of course, is black folks are the one’s behind the microphone.

Also important, when people talk of fixing black culture, when people want to make it “respectful” the correction becomes more of an effort to make it ‘white’. As I’m currently writing this article there are 23 images on the ‘respectful rappers’ tumblr. Of the 23, only one features a translation that’s identical to the original song lyrics — meaning the song is already respectful. Who does it feature? Talib Kweli? Dead Prez? Lupe Fiasco? Nope. Macklemore — a white rapper from Seattle.

I could show you countless examples of hip-hop and rap music that aims to empower, uplift and educate, but those examples wouldn’t fit the pathology. This is meant to be a joke, I understand that. But I’m finding it harder and harder to laugh.

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