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Bakari Kitwana Headshot

A Hip-Hop Response To Chris Brown & Rihanna

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For
nearly an entire week, the
Chris Brown/Rihanna alleged abuse incident
has dominated major news media
headlines. Unfortunately, these sensationalized reports did less to elucidate
the national epidemic of violence
against women
and more to cement into our national psyche the idea that the
new face of domestic abuse is young, Black and hip-hop. Instead of accepting
sole responsibility for one of America's
most neglected pathologies, young Americans should turn this tragedy into an
opportunity.

Inthe last two election cycles, hip-hop led the way in making involvement in
national elections fashionable among youth. Hip-hop political organizers could
do the same in extending that influence into the arena of public policy with
the goal of establishing an innovative solution to abuse that shifts the way
the nation thinks about its treatment of women.

The
election of President Barack Obama, with young people across race supporting
him long before even the African American community's vote was
solidified, marked the first political victory for this generation. Two-thirds
of the 23 million young Americans 18-29 who voted in the 2008 presidential
election voted for Barack Obama. These same young people taking the lead on a
public policy solution to end dating violence would be an important second act.

Contrary
to public opinion the hip-hop community has a long history of resisting the
status quo of domestic abuse, misogyny and gender inequity. From books like Tracy
Sharpley-Whiting's Pimps Up, Hos
Down
and films like Aishah Simmons' No! The Rape Documentary
to organizations like the Center for Young Women's development and Industry Ears, Inc., there is an
emerging hip-hop generation leadership that has its finger on the pulse of a
change agenda for women.

Such
an agenda is reflected in the nearly 5000 comments posted on Blackplanet.com
responding to Chris Brown and Rihanna newsone.com
updates. The overwhelming mood of these comments was that the Black community
needed to separate itself from stereotypes of domestic violence.
Blackplanet.com members even spontaneously created online discussion groups to
address the issue.

The
media's obsession with the Chris Brown/Rihanna incident, alongside a new
administration that seems to take the debt it owes young voters seriously
offers young political organizers a rare opportunity for this generation to
take the lead on dating and domestic abuse.

Although
hip-hop didn't create America's
gender problem, it's mainstream dominant representations certainly helped
reinforce it. Today's young Americans--especially those in the Chris
Brown and Rihanna age group and the legions of even younger fans who idolize
them--have come of age consuming a steady diet of these images. Few would
argue that they are healthier or wiser as a result.

At
the same time, there are very few places in our culture where we require young
men to learn appropriate behavior for engaging their female counterparts,
especially when relationships turn sour. (Rhode Island
and Virginia
law for high school instruction on dating are rare exceptions.) This advancing
the status quo, alongside our failure as a society to entrench a workable
solution into the fabric of our culture, is a deadly combination.

A
recent report from the Bureau of Justice found that 1 in 3 girls in the US is
a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. 13
percent of teen girls say they were physically hurt or hit and 40 percent of
teenage girls 14-17 year olds say they know someone their age that has been hit
by a boyfriend. And a 2003 nationwide survey from the Center for Disease
control of 15,000 9-12 grade high school students found that nearly 9 percent
experienced physical dating violence, with rates among Black females (14
percent) nearly twice their white counterparts (7 percent). The rate for Latino
females was 9.3 percent.

Now
is not the time for young people inspired during the last election cycle to
fall back into complacency. Instead this energy should be channeled into the
creation of a concrete national agenda committed to ending domestic violence.

This
certainly will require an institutional approach. In the same way that sex
education worked it's way into our schools, we need a similar curriculum
from the earliest grades upward to change the ways Americans think about dating
violence, domestic abuse and gender equity. At a bare minimum, this curriculum
must teach boys that physical and emotional violence toward their girlfriends
or any boys or men toward woman is never an option.

Such
a move would have several benefits: it would help create the major societal
shift needed to curtail violence against women; it would allow hip-hop to
reveal to the world that it has a moral center; and it would solidify a new
movement for a new generation. All are important steps on the road to
transforming America
into a county that reflects, more accurately than our media representations,
the generation currently preparing to inherit it.

This post originally appeared on newsone.blackplanet.com.

Bakari Kitwana is the co-author of the
forthcoming Hip-Hop Activism in the Obama Era (Third World Press, 2009) and a
visiting scholar at Columbia College's Institute for the Study of Women
and Gender in the Arts and Media.