by Dr. Boyce Watkins
(YourBlackWorld.com)–When a rapper says he’s gonna “pop a pill” then “beat that p*ssy like Emmett Till,” that’s when we know that he might have gone just a little bit too far. But that’s just what happened this week, and the Till family isn’t happy.
Lil Wayne and Future, two very talented hip-hop artists, have decided to push the envelope of disrespect by releasing a song called “Karate Chop.” In the song, Lil Wayne takes the liberty of turning the mutilated face of Emmett Till into a weary s*x organ, ridiculing the agony experienced by this young man many years ago. The matter is made is even sadder by the fact that Till’s legacy was trampled by Lil Wayne, Future and Universal Records right in the middle of Black History Month.
I spoke this week with Airickca Gordon Taylor, spokesperson for the Till family and as you can imagine, the family is outraged.
“I just couldn’t understand how he could compare the gateway to life to the brutality and punishment of death,” said Gordon Taylor.
For those of us who aren’t familiar with the legacy of Emmett Till (apparently, Lil Wayne already is), Till was a 15-year old boy who was beaten beyond recognition and murdered for whistling at a white woman. Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, made the courageous decision to insist that her son be buried with an open casket so that the country could see how ugly the brutality of racial violence can become. Mamie’s sacrifice sparked international outrage and served as part of the fuel which created the foundation for the civil rights movement.
Over 50 years later, we now have black rappers who think it’s OK to compare this 15-year old boy’s face to a v@gina. I doubt that Dr. King would consider this to be progress.
Rev. Jesse Jackson and his associate, Bishop Tavis Grant of the Rainbow/Push Coalition have spoken up on the matter, and I’ve promised to give them my support. Hip-hop music is one of the most powerful and persuasive art forms in the history of the world, and it is now being used to enslave the minds of young Black people so that they might become food for the prison industrial complex. Lil Wayne’s reference to Till is just the latest effort to dumb down Black America and to produce messages that are nothing short of disgustingly toxic.
Many potential Black male father figures have been extracted from our community and sent to the concentration camps of the prison industrial complex, given dozens of years for sometimes minor offenses. All the while, their sons grow up without fathers, and are taught on the radio how to get high and drunk every day, to kill other Black men, and to disrespect the Black women who raised them. Lil Wayne’s music is a reflection of this reality, as a man who is as brilliant as the great Malcolm X has been convinced to use his powers for evil rather than good.
The cultural norms that continue to undermine who we are as a people are deliberately designed to keep us in a psychological prison from which many of us choose not to escape. And for those of us who rise above the madness, we often find ourselves and our loved ones brutalized or killed by those who’ve been turned into psychological zombies. A perfect case-in-point is the late Hadiya Pendleton, the young honor student who was murdered just a block away from the home of President Barack Obama.
Bishop Grant, Rev Jesse Jackson and the Till family aren’t just taking the fight to the artists themselves, they are taking it to the streets and the boardrooms. Universal Records, the company that finances and sponsors the language being used in much of this music, should be held accountable. I guarantee that if I were releasing music which said that “I’m going to beat that woman’s v*gina as if she were in a concentration camp,” I might not be able to get millions of dollars in financing to spread my message around the world. Destructive hip-hop music is the kind of disrespect that is designed uniquely for Black people only.
Some would say that the consumers are to blame for this madness on the airwaves. They say that if people stop demanding this kind of music, it will simply go away. The problem is two-fold: 1) Many of the people who purchase hip-hop music are White people who care nothing about how the music might affect the psyches of Black youth, and 2) If you force a product down the throat of consumers long enough, they will eventually crave it in the same way that an alcoholic comes to desire poison in his body.
White people buy hip-hop, but are not as readily influenced by its messages. They don’t see the artists as reflections of themselves, but as reflections the “authentic” Black urban “gangsta” experience. Black children, on the other hand, don’t have nearly as many media role models to choose from, and are often led to believe that music is their way out of the ghetto. Bad parenting is not the only reason that many of our kids are led astray, since many good parents see their words drowned out by a world that teaches black children to kill themselves.
I’m not angry at Lil Wayne for making this music. Lil Wayne is brilliant, creative and powerful, like Malcolm Little was before he met the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Also like Malcolm, Wayne was poisoned by a racist society, and his music is merely a symptom of the mental illness that America has built within him over the last 30 years. Since he never met his own version of Elijah Muhammad, Wayne has become convinced to use his power to kill his community rather than lift it up. This is unfortunate.
But no matter how we view the actions of Lil Wayne himself, the bottom line is that we must love our kids more than we love this music. We can support the value of artistic freedom while simultaneously demanding that our hip-hop artists and their corporate bosses show some degree of responsibility. We can’t assume that anything goes, especially when the music so blatantly spits on the legacy of someone like Emmett Till.
In other words, some things are just sacred.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and author of the lecture series, “Greatness is not an option: Why we must teach our children to fly.”