“I dumb down for my audience/ double my dollars…” – “Moment of Clarity”, Jay-Z
Recently, students at Garvey University sponsored a debate between noted historian Dr. T. Asante Shakur and Professor Darwin J. Watson, author of the best selling book, Blacks Are Dumb…Get Over It! While Dr. Shakur feverishly went through an hour long, high powered PowerPoint presentation, highlighting indisputable evidence of Black contributions to civilization over the last 5,000 years, Watson just listened quietly with a confident grin on his face. When it was his turn to speak, he just walked over to the podium, told the sound man to pump up the local Hip-Hop station, and yelled “Booyah!!!” before leaving the stage, confident that he had proven his point…
Since this country was founded, the myth of Black intellectual inferiority has been a controversial topic. However, in 2012, it is imperative that we ask the question, “does the commercial Hip-Hop that is constantly pumped on the radio refute the myth or help to perpetuate it?”
According to John S. Haller, in his book, Outcasts from Evolution, the “scientific” basis for the Black intellectual inferiority myth was started around 1735 by Carl Von Linnaeus, who used skin color to describe , “racial character, personality traits, behavior, intelligence” etc. Linnaeus’s work set the stage for the theories of scientists such as Charles Darwin, William Shockley, Nobel Prize winner James Watson, and many others.
What is most disturbing about the myth is that it does not match up with historical facts.
As an example, George GM James wrote in his classic book, Stolen Legacy, that “the true authors of Greek philosophy were not the Greeks but the people of North Africa, commonly known as the Egyptians.” Also, although many people are familiar with Dr. WEB Du Bois’s book, Souls of Black Folk, relatively few are hip to his essay “Souls of White Folk,” where he wrote “Europe has never produced and never will in our day, bring forth a single human soul who cannot be matched and over matched in every human endeavor by Asia and Africa.”
Unfortunately, these facts have been rarely taught in history classes. Historically, the American educational system (as well as religious and political institutions) has been used to advance the idea that African Americans are less intelligent than Whites. Hip-Hop is not exempt.
Back in the day, groups like Poor Righteous Teachers and Boogie Down Productions used “edutainment” to inspire a whole generation to read books like The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and They Came Before Columbus by Dr. Ivan Van Sertima.” However, this was skillfully replaced by the mythological “street knowledge” popularized by NWA on their song “Straight Outta Compton” in 1988.
In his essay, “The Black Child,” Dr. Bobby Wright defined the “street mentality” as the myth that “Whites do not control the streets in the Black community nor the behavior of Blacks on those streets.” He argued that “Whites have more control, or at least as much control over brothers and sisters in the streets than over those in universities.”
Gradually, dumb became the new smart and reading became something for suckers.
Also, during this period Hollywood became “Holly’hood,” as the intellectual Spike Lee movies were replaced by gangsta flicks. Perhaps the biggest turning point is a result of what Enisoto Adika Ekunsirinde coined the “O Dog Theory.” He argues that before the 1993 ‘hood classic, Menace II Society, the audience would identify with the “positive brother” in a movie, but after “Menace” they began to celebrate the thugged-out, “O Dog” characters rather than the “smart brothers” like “Sharif.”
Things have not changed much in almost 20 years.
Unfortunately, there are still Black men trying to live up to the stereotype of being “real n*ggas” by perpetuating ignorance through Hip-Hop. No matter how you feel about the use of the N-word, it’s origin is rooted in racial inferiority. Strangely, the concept of taking “ownership of the word” and changing the perception did not originate in Hip-Hop. According to Dr. Randall Kennedy in his book, nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, it was a White comedian, Lenny Bruce, who in 1963, popularized the erroneous concept that overusing the word would take the sting out of it.
As we get ready for another Black History Month, I suggest that instead of discussing the “plantation work songs” and “Negro spirituals” like we usually do, we focus on an issue that this generation is facing today.
How do we take our music and our minds back?
While it may be true that the proverbial “they” control the air waves, that doesn’t mean that “they” should control our brain waves. So much so that we don’t even question the “menticide” that is being waged against the youth. When the radio DJ says that he is just “playing what the people want to hear,” we just accept it as fact and keep it movin’. We have bought into the stereotype that the only music we want to hear is about Maybachs, murder and misogyny.
Where is it written in the Hip-Hop rule book that we can’t hear a classic Rakim or Intelligent Hoodlum joint on the radio? Not to mention the work of underground artists in ‘hoods across the country who are hungry to speak Truth to power.
We need a Black History Month Radio Rebellion to demand change, and there is no better time than right now! We need to use our cells, Twitter, e-mail, etc. to tell radio station programmers that we want to hear something other than what they are currently force feeding us.
Sadly, like the Jim Brown character told Ving Rhames in the underground movie, Animal, “being stupid is a choice, too.” Some people actually like sitting in the back of the short school bus and will entirely miss the point.
But as A Tribe Called Quest said on “Jazz:”
“I don’t really mind if it’s over your head/ ‘Cuz the job of resurrectors is to wake up the dead.”
TRUTH Minista Paul Scott’s weekly column is “This Ain’t Hip Hop,” a column for intelligent Hip Hop headz. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on his website at www.nowarningshotsfired.com, or on Twitter (@truthminista).