My opening statements are a thinly veiled metaphor of the awkwardly large ditch that continues to exist between African America- specifically Hip-Hop America- and contemporary society. Awkward, because we would like to believe and pretend that the ditch is a thing of the past. Awkward, because said pretense forces society to overcompensate for (portraying everything that happens as a racial injustice) or under-appreciate (throwing around the N-word because 'it has changed meaning", calling the US post-racial because Obama is president, etc.) the progress that still has to be made.
A few recent instances in pop culture speak to my point. The first one is the terrible (both musically and socially) song "Accidental Racist" by country superstar Brad Paisley and rap legend LL Cool J. As if the song was not already a train wreck from the moment we heard the title, Cool J chimes in with the absurdity of absurdities when he tells "White America" "If you forget the gold chains/I'll forget the iron chains".
Wait what? The great LL just told the world that the horrors of slavery can be remedied if everyone makes peace with black folk wearing gold chains? That's all it takes? People continue to die for that cause; and all folk want is to wear their gold chains in peace? Needless to say, that song has been ridiculed by many a smarter man than me, and I don't want to belabor the point of how bad it is.
The problem with this song's woeful message, for me, is it presented LL's- and thus rap's- and thus the African American community's- argument to an audience that one can safely assume does not usually hear them out. By being on a Paisley song, LL was essentially an emissary for an entire culture. Much like the Wilson boy earlier, he had a platform to speak to the glories of his people. Yet when he spoke to a crowd that may never pay attention to another rap song, he told them that the 'du-rag' was to African Americans what the Confederacy flag is to those who hold it highly.
LL was chosen to speak for the family, and when he did he made the family sound ludicrous. Hip-Hop has, time and again, been called to speak for the family; and time again the 'stars' fall short.
More recently, Pepsi enlisted California Rapper Tyler, the Creator to help them create an edgy commercial for Mountain Dew. What followed is a contender for the most racist commercial in years.
To be fair, Tyler does not command a fraction of the respect that LL does in Hip Hop circles. He is newer and set out to cause controversy, while LL features in debates about the greatest rapper of all time and has gone on to have a successful writing and acting career. That said, he, again, got the opportunity to sit in front of the entire country, and chose to make a mockery of African Americans. By playing on the idea of young black men as criminals and especially as a threat to White Women, he sets the entire culture back a hundred-plus years to the era of the Black Brute caricature. Why is this a joke? Why is this even edgy? The same can be asked of the now infamous Rick Ross rape lyric that subsequently led to him being dropped by Reebok as their spokesperson. How are individuals who represent multi-million dollar corporations (which, between music labels and drink-makers, everyone in these examples represents) allowed to let this happen? You mean, amid all the checks and balances of marketing executives, media people, music producers, managers etc, no one thought these may be a bad idea?