Unless you live underneath a rock in some backwoods, middle-of-nowhere town, I’m sure you’ve heard the names Richard Sherman and Justin Bieber no less than 200 times in the last few days. You know how it goes. Some celebrity sneezes the wrong way and the media goes crazy with headlines like, “Hollywood star sneezes and nobody says ‘Bless you.’ Next on E!” Tis the life you live when you’re famous, so hearing about the recent “shocking” behavior from these two young men is expected.
What is a little less expected (haha) is the difference in reactions. Both received their share of “who cares” and “dumb arrogant celebrity” comments. However, there is also the contrast of “thug” vs “kid” comments. I’m sure you know which applies to each man.
I’m not here to compare what Bieber did to what Sherman said. It’s watermelons and grapes really. But the country’s response tells a story. One man, full of adrenaline after making the play that earned his team a spot in the Super Bowl, says something arrogant and he is branded loud, angry, ignorant, wild, gorilla, thug. The other man drinks, smokes weed, takes prescription drugs, goes drag racing and even resists arrest and he is defined as a young, confused, spoiled, mislead, fame-damaged, kid.
You see, often times the media (and the media’s audience) attach more negativity when a person of color messes up than when a white person messes up. So when Bieber’s DUI and arrest resistance gets a virtual slap on the wrist from media, it’s a little more frustrating to hear the negative outrage against Sherman’s cocky post-game interview. I’m not saying Bieber should be judged more harshly, but perhaps the “big scary Black guy” should be offered the same kind of understanding instead of folks throwing racially charged words like “gorilla” and “thug.” Dude is a Standford grad after all. How many of the people commenting could have even been accepted?
So what does any of this have to do with hip-hop? Well, the negative image given to Black men often carries over into what is often seen as Black culture. The irrational fear many have of Black men fuels a lot of the issues we have here in the Northwest especially with the hip-hop scene. The discriminatory harassment of hip-hop events by the police and other authoritative organizations goes unchecked by the public because they actually fear the type of crowd in attendance anyway. Who’s going to argue with shows being shut down if they assume its going to be filled by all these loud, ignorant and violent thugs that the media constantly shows us?
Not all of hip-hop is about being a gangster, but that’s what some make it out to be. Which is why when Macklemore started getting national attention as if he were the first rapper to ever talk about civil rights and things other than dope dealing, hoes, and guns, the Black community was outraged. As you hip-hop heads know, he’s not the first, the best, or the last. But why wouldn’t the world fall in love with a wholesome white rapper without the thug image?
When that happens, when their is a white man to focus on and make the face of hip-hop, Black artists suffer. Their art is appreciated less, they don’t receive the acknowledgement and praise deserved. Their excellence is overshadowed by the image that the media thrusts upon us. People soak up the ignorance and stereotypes are perpetuated. Hip-hop shows are canceled. Hip-hop DJs are banned. People don’t want to appreciate hip-hop because they are afraid of all the big scary Black men who speak too loud, have crazy hair, brag about their talent and talk about issues within their communities.
Take a look at how someone like Luck-One is received when he speaks his mind. The man is a conscious rapper. Well read and well spoken. Comes from a good home and works hard for everything he has. But when he addresses issues in the Portland hip-hop community people say he’s stressed, over compensated, and bitter. Can a young man just voice his opinion without all the negative attachment? I don’t know. Maybe if he were lighter and a little less “scary” looking.
They say words are just words, but as a writer, I understand the power of words. Words allow you to paint the picture you want the world to see, and sometimes those words create stereotypes that cause damage to the people they represent. It goes so much farther than giving hip-hop a bad name. The idea of Black men being thuggish leads to police harassment and brutality. Without those stereotypes applying to him, Beiber was able to break the law and smart-mouth the cops and still have a fair shot at defending himself. Meanwhile a 16 year-old Black boy who broke not a single law was profiled, harassed, and sexually assaulted by the police. He was actually lucky compared to many others.
All of this was just to say be mindful of your words, folks, and always remember to look at the bigger picture.