Asher Roth, Race & the Politics of Whiteness

“Then I heard dogs yelping, yowling, barking

through this landscape, looking for my ancestors, looking for my grandfather,

my grandmother, looking for me. I heard the men breathing, heard their boots,

heard the click of the gun, the rifle: looking for me. And there was no cover.”

—Baldwin,

James. Just Above My

Head. New York: Dell Publishing, 1979, p. 386.

“The

fact many people argue… that these triumphs show us to be ‘moving past’ race,

is in fact part of the proof that we’re not; that, like the passenger who sees

the train next to him moving and thinks that he is, we, also, are actually

sitting still.”

—Allen,

Harry (Hip-Hop Activist & Media Assassin). “The Unbearable Whiteness

of Emceeing: What the Eminence of Eminem says about Race.” The Source,

February 2003.

For anyone under the

impression that Hip-Hop is a racial melting pot, think again. For those who

argued, in the wake of Obama’s presidency, that the younger generation has

significantly altered the nation’s racial consciousness, think again. For those

successful Black entertainers, who lent credence to the concept of a

“post-racial” reality, think again. [On

second thought: screw yourselves.] And for those submitted to the illusion

that, in the Rap community, color-lines are blurred, cultural differences: erased,

and racial tensions: negated, Asher Roth has just proved you wrong.

Two days after the release

of his debut album, the White, Jewish rapper found himself embroiled in a

controversy, for comments made before a scheduled performance at Rutgers’

University.

On his Twitter page, he

wrote: “Been a day of rest and relaxation, sorry twitter – hanging out with

nappy headed hoes.” Yup! You read it right: “nappy headed hoes.” The same

choice of words that catapulted shock-jock Don Imus to the center of

controversy two years ago.

Most would recall the

horrendously defamatory remarks Imus made about Rutgers University’s female

basketball team—one with a predominant African-American line-up. Imus launched his

tirade by describing them as “rough girls,” but, in true ‘bad boy’ fashion, had

to press further to pinch the right nerves: “That’s some nappy headed hoes. I’m

gonna tell you that now, man, that’s some—whew. And the girls from Tennessee,

they all look cute, you know, so, like—kinda like—I don’t know.” Those words sufficed

in stinging the souls of millions (mission accomplished), and Imus himself

knew, that this time, he had gone too far.

Facing pressure from Civil

Rights organizations, he initially dismissed the attention payed to “some idiot

comment meant to be amusing.” Shortly after, however, he was willing to “apologize

for an insensitive and ill- conceived remark we made the other morning

regarding the Rutgers women’s basketball team.” Get that: We; not I. In his words, the remarks were “completely

inappropriate, and we can understand why people were offended. Our

characterization was thoughtless and stupid, so, and we’re sorry.”

Unfortunately for Imus, few

were buying his artificial empathy. The message that he should be boycotted and

fired soon rose above the smokes and mirrors. I dutifully take this walk down

memory lane, because the series of events that trailed Imus’ comments are now

unfolding in the aftermath of Asher Roth’s. The same sequence has been

reincarnated.

Not until complaints poured

in from some of his Twitter followers, did Asher Roth begin making amends. To hear

him tell it, he was “totally just making fun of Don Imus.”

Blacks who took—and are taking—offense might be stretching their emotions,

because he was “not trying to be offensive.” But make no

mistake; he is “extremely apologetic to anyone who took offense to my immature,

bad joke.” This “immature, bad joke” that brought pain and sorrow to the

Rutgers female basketball team in 2007, is what Mr. Roth felt pretty pleased in

invoking.

The plot thickens: The

“Tweet” itself, from his Twitter page, has been deleted. Recorded history: erased—or

so he thought. Thankfully, scanned images have cropped up on the web, making

valid William Cullen Bryant’s adage that “truth crushed to earth shall rise

again.”

The importance of this document

lies in the reality that Don Imus’ comments were, as well, never intended to

leak into public domain. It was reserved for the brain-dead, conscience-frozen

listeners who pay obeisance to his every word. Those who had been desensitized,

following years of Imus’ incendiary and barbaric anecdotes, never protested his

denigration of the Rutgers women. They were accustomed to such drivel—his shtick—that

made him a power player in national politics. But once it escaped the

smoke-filled room, network executives knew the battle had been lost.

Death-row prisoner and

award-winning journalist, Mumia Abu Jamal, explained the turn of events in a

column titled, “Imus Amongst

Us.” He wrote: “The videotape of Imus

went from an almost unseen perch on MSNBC to the net, where it spread like a

virus. Nonetheless, bloggers picked it up and passed it on, and the more folks

saw it, the more it spread. It became a living thing, nastier and nastier each

time it was replayed.”

Once replayed, it took

newer meanings, and ripped asunder all barriers of comfort in the viewer’s

mind. The same can easily be said about Asher Roth’s micro-blog.

Canibus once rapped,

“Learn from the past or the future will punish you,” but his quip might have

fallen on deaf ears.

Asher Roth is not a child,

and should not be treated as such. In “As I Em,” a song featured on his latest

album, Roth seeks to distance himself from any comparisons with Eminem; at the

same time, paying as much respect he contends is due. He complains that “Every interview, feel like I’m sayin’ the

same thang/ Like Em was great, ya he paved the way for me/ He was inspiration

for everybody from a to z/ But they keep relatin’ me, I can’t get away.” Roth

also hopes to be identified in a context independent from the Wigger-prism most

white rappers are seen through, at the start of their careers: “And now the masses think that Asher wants to be a marshall mathers/ They say, his not a rapper/ Nah his ass is just

an actor/ Cuz we have the same complexion/ And similar voice inflection/ It’s

easy to see the pieces/ And reach for that connection.” Understandable as

his objections are, he might be getting ahead of himself.

Asher Roth is not as

different from Eminem as he would rather insist. In addition to similar rhyme

schemes, they both now share a common bond unnoticed by many.

It was in 2003, during a

highly publicized feud with The Source

magazine, when Eminem’s 1993 freestyle “Foolish Pride,” was released to the

public. Though explained as “something I made out of anger, stupidity and

frustration when I was a teenager,” the

dagger-sharp blade of his verse cut deep for many Black female listeners:

…Blacks and whites they sometimes

mix/ But Black girls only want your money cause they’re dumb chicks/ So I’ma

say like this/ Don’t date a Black girl, take it as a diss/ If you want, but if

you don’t/ I’ma tell you like this, I surely won’t/ Never date a Black girl

because Blacks only want your money/ … And that’s why I’m here now telling

you this rhyme/ ‘Cause Black girls, I really don’t like/ We don’t mix, it’s

like riding a bike/ … I’ll get straight to the point/ Black girls are

b***hes, that’s why I’ma tell ya you better pull up your britches/ … Date a

White girl, ‘cuz they got the raw hide/

Eminem blamed the

re-surfacing of his freestyle on a “vendetta” the source had “against” him, but

this excuse failed to quell the accusations, lobbed by Black female empowerment

groups, accusing

him of “slanderous statements and

sweeping generalizations against Black women.” Matters became worse when a

second tape was leaked, featuring equally vitriolic antipathy aimed at Black

women: “All the girls I like to bone have

big butts/ No they don’t, ‘cause I don’t like that ni**er sh**/ I’m just here

to make a bigger hit.”

So, here we have two white

rappers with their hands caught in the proverbial cookie jar, but without any exculpatory

explanation for statements many have called racist. Some Hip-Hop fans are at a

loss for words, but I’m not.

The “age of Obama” has led

many to the conclusion that the younger generation can be counted on to transform

racial discourse in the 21st century. Older folks have resolved

themselves to the myth that time, as

a factor, can capably blot out the racial transgressions of the past. They

field this theory in the multi-racial coalition of support President Obama

accumulated, in his victorious run against Republican rival, Sen. John McCain.

This example encouraged the notion that the “Hip-Hop generation” is more

mature, in racial terms, than that which came before it.

Lie.

Lie. Lie.

Others have taken it upon

themselves to offer up Hip-Hop as a prescription for the cure of racism. Jay-z,

Brooklyn’s native son, is one of them.

In an

interview last month, he confirmed this assertion. Hip-Hop, he said, “has changed America immensely… Hip-hop has

done more than any leader, politician, or anyone to improve race relations.”

Lie. To support this thesis, Mr.

Carter provides a hypothetical that smacks more of racial infantilism than

clear thinking: “Racism is taught in the

home… and it’s very hard to teach racism to a teenager who idolizes, say, Snoop

Dogg. It’s hard to say, ‘That guy is less than you.’ The kid is like, ‘I like

that guy, he’s cool. How is he less than me’?” Like every worthy scientific

experiment, the conclusion comes next: “That’s

why this generation is the least racist generation ever. You see it all the

time. Go to any club. People are intermingling, hanging out, enjoying the same

music.”

“This generation” Jay-z

speaks of, is no different than the last. This is my contention. Yes, changes

have been made, bridges: crossed, and dogmas: corrected, but the past isn’t

quite past, yet. The searing legacy of White Supremacy still blazes supreme in

our daily experiences.

Blues giant, Big Bill

Broonzy’s 1957 hit “Black, Brown and White,” (His Story), still accounts for the code of conduct under which

institutional racism operates: “This

little song that I’m singin’ about/ People you know it’s true/ If you’re black

and gotta work for a living/ This is what they will say to you/They says, ‘if

you was white, should be all right/ If you was brown, stick around/ But as

you’s black, hmm brother, get back, get back, get back’.”

Those who convinced

themselves that Race plays no factor in Hip-Hop because Hip-Hop fans spread

across all racial layers are fiddling with a dangerous lie. Asher Roth’s

comments are a definitive reminder of how far the younger generation has to go,

before the promise of equality becomes a reality.

Tolu

Olorunda is a Columnist for BlackCommentator.com.

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