Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Pretty fly for a black guy

First of all, I really need to get something off of my chest.

Vanilla Ice was not the original white rapper.  Not by a long shot.  Now let's give Mike D and the boys some credit where credit is due.

Phew!  That feels better!  Don't you feel better now?

I was thinking about the false Claims talked about by Brummett and this caused me to reflect on my own experience with black people, limited as it may be.

When I was growing up in Blanding we had one black guy.  His name was Rodney and we all thought that Rodney was great!

 Rodney was BIG!  He towered over us 14 year olds at a solid 6'6".  At an easy 280 pounds Rodney cast an imposing figure.  

Rodney was nice! He happily hosted movie parties for us kids and treated us like friends.  

Rodney was kind.  Rodney had married my friend Jeremy's aunt Linda. They had three little girls and they lived with/took care of Linda's ailing mother.

Rodney was cool!  Rodney grew up in Las Vegas (basically a foreign country to a kid living in Blanding) and when he was a teenager he used to beat box for rappers on the strip.  He showed us how to do it too!  Just imagine a tiny town that for a couple of weeks was full of white adolescents beat boxing. Poorly.

Rodney was the first person to introduce me to rap music in a meaningful way. He loved the old school stuff from the 80's, guys like Run DMC, Sir Mixalot, sugarhill gang, LL Cool J. For a kid who had primarily listened to whatever was on the radio (hint: it was country or top 40.  Nothing else broadcast far enough to make it into town) these artists widened my gaze as to what was out there. I loved it!

You can imagine from the stereotypes cast against small towns that this would be the point where the crotchety but well meaning adults would begin grumbling about how Rodney was a bad influence and had to go and that we should also probably put a ban on dancing just for good measure just to show that uppity Kevin Bacon who was boss.

The face of 80's anti-authority rebellion.

But you know what?  None of that stuff ever happened.  Everybody loved Rodney. He belonged in Blanding just as much as anyone else and we loved having him.

Knowing Rodney shaped my perception of black culture more surely than anything else ever did.  This was the mid 90's so things like the L.A. riots, gangsta rap and everything else that went along with it was front and center in the media.  I don't think I ever really thought about it consciously, but at some level I just didn't believe that what I was being presented through the media was an accurate depiction of black culture in general.  After all, through all of these things, there was Rodney;  affable, intelligent, faithful, kind, thoughtful and considerate.  Perhaps I was simply lucky to have my first acquaintance with a black man be with someone I regard with so much admiration.

And that's not to say that Rodney is indicative of black people as a whole.  He isn't. My roommate Fasaluku taught me as much.  Unlike Rodney, Fas was 100% self centered, self absorbed, unclean, unkind and unapologetic.  He treated women as disposable and he used his friends to get what he wanted, whether that be money, food, popularity or, you guessed it, more women.

Fas was an ass.

But that's exactly the point.  We make a major mistake when we assume that the color of your skin binds you to a monolithic set of opinions, politics, media choices and life decisions.  Rodney developed the characteristics that made him admirable in the same way that Fas developed the characteristics that made him despicable. They both became who they were through their own choices and the consequences of those choices.

I think that goes along with the comment that Geoff made in class today, we should look for what isn't there when it comes to observing culture as represented through mass media.  I don't think either of these men are accurately portrayed through the lens of rap and hip hop culture.  I think that the more we understand this, the more we can appreciate the messages and energy that are presented in the music without falling prey to the mistake of assuming that the music is indicative of the black population at large.

Questions for discussion:

1. Do you think that rap and hip hop helps progress the interests of black individuals (as opposed to black culture) in our society? Why or why not?

2. In my experience growing up, most Navajo kids I knew were huge fans of hip hop and heavy metal (usually both, Metallica reigned supreme) and were not very interested in their own traditional musical forms.  I have my ideas and insights as to why this is, but I'd love to hear yours.

For your consideration:

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