First it was fallen rap mogul Suge Knight's arrest for murder. Second the alleged murder took place in Compton. And third, it was rap. This is the perfect dysfunctional storm to get the tongues clucking again that Knight, rappers, and by extension young black males are hopelessly ensnared in the thug life. At first glance, it looks bad. Knight and his Death Row Records have been in or near the center of a lot of mayhem over the past few years. There have been murders, and their murderers in almost all cases were other rappers, or their friends, or the associates of rival rappers. There have been well-publicized brawls at parties, at nightclubs, in recording studios, or while sitting in their cars. There are the celebrated killings of rap big wigs Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG.
Now there's Knight who's accused of running down two men in a parking lot altercation. This tossed the ugly glare on a problem that has bedeviled the rap business, and a bigger problem that chronically plagues young black males. The personal feuds, jealousies rivalries, and unvarnished gangsterism that is rife among some in the rap industry has deeply planted the sordid image in the minds of many that the rap industry is synonymous with gangs, crime and violence. The murder accusation against Knight is a rerun of an all too familiar rerun of mob brawls that have been the prelude to the murders of the other rappers.
The murders of the rappers have done more than batter an image of an industry branded and universally reviled as violent, self-destructive and self-indulgent. It has also reinforced the stereotypes of young black males as inherently gang attracted and violence prone. Though it is a vicious and unfair stereotype since the overwhelming majority of young black males do not engage in the gratuitous violence of some in the rap world. They have gotten the emblematic rap as being a part of that world because the gun toting rappers and their violence prone hangers ons feed off the bad actor lifestyle and play hard on the us versus them volcanic rage of some young blacks.
But black-on-black violence though exploited, glorified, and even hailed, especially if there's a payoff in it, is hardly an invention of rappers. The biggest buyers of and copy-cat attraction of rap music and even the rapper lifestyle has been non-blacks. They are the ones who jingle the cash registers for the rap industry. But the bitter truth is that they aren't the face of the violence in the rap world, and they aren't the ones that much of the public would never dare finger as the ones responsible for violence and murder among young persons.
Young blacks are the ones who are fingered. And tragically in the last two decades, murder has been at or near the top of the list of the leading causes of death of black males under age 25 years. Their assailants were not white racist cops or Klan nightriders but other black males. Their death tolled has soared because far too many Americans still don't get too excited about black violence as long as it doesn't spill over the borders of the ghettos into their suburbs.
Pent-up anger and frustration, though, among some black males is only one cause of the dangerous cycle of black-on-black violence. Some black males are engaged in a seemingly eternal desperate search for self-identity and esteem. Their tough talk, swagger, and mannerisms are defense mechanisms they use to boost their esteem. They measure their status or boost their self-worth by demonstrating their proficiency in physical fights, assaults and, yes murder.
Some blacks even make a litany of excuses, such as poverty, broken homes, and abuse, to excuse the violence. These explanations for the mindless violence that thug acting rap entrepreneurs engage in are phony and self-serving. Many of them of the rappers who have landed hard in a court docket are anything but hard-core, dysfunctional poverty cases. Yet the internal rage that propels them to commit thuggish acts still lay dangerously close to the surface.
The widespread perception of young black males as criminals, deviants and social menaces has deadly implications in police encounters. Before the choke death of Eric Garner, and the shooting of Michael Brown and Ezell Ford, countless studies affirmed that many police officers perceive black males to be inherently criminal and dangerous. It's the shortest of short steps from perceiving someone as a threat to using deadly force against him in an encounter even when he has done nothing to provoke an encounter and poses no threat to an officer.
This is a hard and terrible price that many black males must pay for the thuggish image that rap exploiters such as a Knight have capitalized on. It's even worse when some go the extra step and become killers themselves. That may or may not be the case with Knight. But the death of one man and the maiming of another man in Compton allegedly by Knight again reinforce the thug image of young black males.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.