Juan Williams is a certified liberal, but he's not a certifiable liberal. And so he's looked at the numbers -- 70 per cent of black children are born out of wedlock, a higher proportion of black men are in prison than of any other racial group (two statistics that are not unrelated) -- and concluded that the post-civil rights black leadership and its policies are a total bust. For having the impertinence to wander off the Democrat victim-culture plantation, he's been damned as merely this season's "black conservative"; a black man who's no longer authentically black, in the way that Colin Powell and Condi Rice's success within the Republican party in effect negates their race; or, if you like, the latest "Oreo" -- a black man who's white on the inside, like the famous cookies, which were supposedly hurled at Michael Steele, a black Republican candidate in this year's Senate race in Maryland.
The concept of "authenticity" -- that one's skin colour mandates particular behaviours, such as voting Democrat and supporting "affirmative action" -- is, of course, racist. But the peculiar touchiness of the black community on this question recurs again and again in Williams's book. "The defence of gangster rap, with its pride in guns and murder, was that it was all about 'keepin' it real,' " he writes. "In that stunning perversion of black culture, anyone who spoke against the self-destructive core of gangster rap was put down as acting white."
This is a fascinating theme whose significance extends far beyond music -- or, in this case, "music." We're encouraged these days to disdain ethnic stereotypes -- the Scots are stingy, the Germans humourless, etc. -- but, if one were to ascribe certain characteristics to particular ethnic groups, you'd be hard put to burden African-Americans with as many disabling pathologies as are currently touted under the justification of "keepin' it real." "Violence, murder, and self-hatred were marketed as true blackness -- authentic black identity," says Williams. "Keepin' it real" means the rapper Nelly making a video in which he swipes a credit card through his ho's butt. "Keepin' it real" means men are violent and nihilistic, women are "sluts, bobbing chicken heads, and of course bitches." "Keepin' it real," noted the writer Nick Crowe, equates, in effect, to "disempowerment." Because if being black means being a self-destructive self-gratifying criminal rutting machine, and building a career, settling down, getting a nice house in the suburbs, raising a family is acting white, that would seem to hand whitey an awful lot of advantages.
Sounds like a good book. I'm fascinated by the "keepin' it real" thing, I can't think of another culture in the world that tolerates the glorification of ignorance (and I'm talking about American culture, not African-American - see Paris Hilton for an example) and it just seems odd. I think there is an overall trend in Western Culture away from self-criticism and shame, which I think is tied to the disastrous self-esteem-above-all-things movement in education. And believe me, there's nothing worse than someone who has self esteem but hasn't earned it. Jerry Springer would be nothing without them.
I love rap. I love the beats, the melodies (when present) and especially a good rapper, someone who can surprise and excite with both their words and their delivery, like Snoop or Mos Def. But I can't stand how sad and small is the worldview expressed in so many rap lyrics. I find glorifying lawlessness, promiscuity, violence and disrespect toward women just plain juvenile, and it's a wonder to me why the rest of the African-American community doesn't get pissy and change the game. I know why Whitey doesn't try, they wouldn't have the "right" in most eyes, regardless of the race. But I just don't get why only Bill Cosby, and a few black politicians and pundits, is willing to talk about this stuff. Even Cosby hasn't said much since the furor over these two sets of public comments, which are entirely true and defensible in my view. I don't confine Cosby's definition of "dirty laundry" to any race, either, and I doubt he does. But I think he's right in admitting it's a larger problem for the African-American community because there is an even lesser drive than usual to come down on rap culture for fear of being thought disloyal.
There's little worse in my world than not saying what should be said, regardless of feelings being hurt or trouble being stirred up, when people screw up to the level that it affects others negatively. It's moral cowardice to do anything else, but almost nobody is willing to endure the disapproval of others, even strangers, to stand up for what is right and fair. That's a real shame; I think we're going to need that power more and more as time passes.