THE BLOG

Dirty Hip Hop and Whether Blacks Need to Teach Whites Better

05/25/2011 12:05 pm ET

"You can't make a ho a housewife." - Dr. Dre;

"Money, Cash, Hoes!" - Jay Z;

"This is why I'm hot/Catch me on the block/ Every other day/Another bitch another drop" - Mims

In the aftermath of the term "nappy headed hoes" a popular refrain has been that Imus merely echoed the misogynist vocabulary popularized by black men in hip hop, so that he should either be exonerated, or at the least, forgiven since he apologized.

My argument is that Imus, as a grown up man, has to be held accountable on his own right, and blame cannot be shifted upon Dr. Dre or Jay-Z. Blacks are not responsible for acts of white racism. Blacks are not tasked with the job of teaching white people the limits of acceptable vernacular. Black preachers do not have to "forgive" Imus (as Matt Lauer asked of Al Sharpton) . Black academics do not need to do a "better" job of educating white America. There is no such thing as exoneration by or forgiveness from the Big Black Collective Brain. Imus can apologize (he has). Some people will forgive him (I do); some will not. Those that do not forgive Imus, are not morally or ethically beholden to forgive him. In short, blacks don't need to teach whites better; whites need to teach whites better.

However, as soon as Imus the individual has been dealt with, something must be done - by the promoters of hip hop culture - about hip hop misogyny. Mind you, this is not because white people get sucked into thinking that hip hop is the authoritative way of discussing black culture. No, no, no! Black culture need do nothing simply because white people do stupid, racist things. If black people start thinking like that, they end up conforming that the racial discourse is (still) anglo-centric. It isn't. White people don't come first.

However, black culture must deal with hip hop misogyny for the sake of black (as well as increasing number of Latina and Asian) women. When confronted by critics of hip hop culture, its defenders suggest that they do not need to reform because don't owe anything to white people; or, as Snoop Dogg put it, "we ain't no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on black girls." Yet, what these defenders do not realize is that when they defend themselves like this, by appealing to the existence of white racism, they are buying into the primary premise of anglo-centrism; namely, that when it comes to American racism, white people come first.

What the civil rights movement did, beyond giving political rights to a subjugated minority, was to say that in the white/minority discussion, minorities speak for themselves, and to themselves. The civil rights movement destroyed anglo-centrism. Before it, minorities spoke about themselves, to whites; minorities had to speak about themselves as whites spoke about them. This was why, before the civil rights movement, blacks called themselves "negroes" and "colored" in the manner of whites but afterwards started calling themselves "black" or "African American." The destruction of anglo-centrism is the most important spiritual legacy of the civil rights movement. Blacks and other ethnic minorities cannot now let a group of entertainers and producers of pornography re-assert this anglo-centrism simply because it profits them (i.e. Snoop Dogg gets a nice cut from Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild). Yet, with the rise of degradation in hip hop, that is precisely what is happening, and misogyny is simply the most egregious example.

Mainstream hip hop is replete with misogyny far worse than anything Imus expressed. In fact, mainstream hip hop is actually a toned down version of the truly predatory examples of hip hop patriarchy. Those that want to see such examples should watch BET's "uncut" videos, specifically "Tip Drill" by Nelly (warning, nudity and explicit sexual content) which goes something like this: "It must be yo ass cuz it aint yo face" while hundreds of faceless backsides shake towards the camera. In other words, hip hop misogyny today is so bad that the first step will not be to affirm women's minds; it will be to affirm that a woman's face comes before her backside!

In addressing its misogyny problem, hip hop will have to question one overlooked but unavoidable fact fact. Hip hop is owned by whites. The most powerful man in hip hop is not Puff Daddy; it is David Geffen of Sony Records. Contrary to popular belief, Russell Simmons is not the brains behind Def Jam Records; Rick Rubin is (there goes my chance to be invited to HBO's Def Poetry Jam). A fed up black blogger recently discussed the whites who control what is arguably the most important hip hop record label: "And no no no. Russell Simmons did not co-found Def Jam. Nor did he ever run Def Jam. Rick Rubin ran Def Jam. Later Lyor Cohen ran Def Jam. Nor did Russell ever sign Def Jam's big acts. LL Cool J? Rick Rubin. The Beastie Boys? Rick Rubin. Public Enemy? Rick Rubin. Oran "Juice" Jones? Lyor Cohen."

The problem, thus, is very simple. If today's minorities want to revive hip hop to the art form it once was, and the art form it can be, they have to take stock of their complicity in its misogyny, not in order to make white people less racist, but for the sake of their own dignity. Meanwhile, if white people feel that hip hop is putting them in a position where they aren't sure what is racist and what is misogynist, then maybe people like Imus need to speak out against the white people that run hip hop and get some clarity. Hip hop can still become entertainment and deliver from violence; today it will take all races to do so.

"Its time for some mind sex, we aint got to take our clothes off yet/We can burn the incense, and just chat/Relax, I got the good vibrations/Before we make love lets have a good conversation" - Dead Prez