THE BRIDGE: The Notorious Conspiracy Theory
I hear the excitement, but I can't feel it.
I guess for some, they loved the music and the man, so therefore, they want to support the film as a tribute.
But for others, I think a little pandering to violence is in the mix.
For them, they are more enamored with the story of a violent death of an artist who rhymed about a violent lifestyle.
What is it about the rap music game that seems to marry it to violence? And what is it about the death of young Black men that gets America so aroused, yet unconcerned?
In this nation, the death of young Black men is not seen as horrific or even unusual. It is seen as a regular occurrence and too many people are becoming numb to it.
Tupac Shakur was shot and killed in 1996. Christopher Wallace aka "Biggie Smalls" was shot and killed in 1997.
We all know that.
What we don't all know is who committed either murder, or why.
If Elvis had not eaten and drank himself to death, but had been murdered instead, would his death still be a mystery?
I think not.
Then why are the deaths of two of rap music's brightest stars mysteries?
Call me a conspiracy theorist, call me a race-based reactionary, but I believe that in this nation, Black lives are viewed as less valuable than white lives.
There is a bigger picture here. Young Black men are in crisis and their lives are valued at something less than the price of a CD.
How did we get to this point? We can blame racism, we can blame classism, and certainly, we can point a finger at institutionalized preferential treatment of whites over Blacks. However, the real ugly raw answer is that Blacks must also share the blame.
An entire generation has been abandoned by the middle and upper class Blacks who benefited from Affirmative Action, set-asides, corporate window dressing and educational benefits won in the sixties as a result of marches, sit-ins, etc., or from simply being Black in a time when that would get you so much community support that you could sell almost anything and get votes for almost any office.
Blacks ascended corporate ladders and made millions of dollars as professional athletes, musicians, singers, etc., and almost immediately "loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly...Hills that is."
Yes, Blacks abandoned the community by the droves. White flight from urban areas nearly became a joke as Black families began "moving on up" like the Jeffersons and made every human effort to get away...from low-income Blacks.
Communities disintegrated as urban communities emptied of role models for success. Factory jobs became a thing of the past as factories largely moved to foreign countries where labor could be had for cheaper. Even Black mom and pop businesses left the hood as immigrants moved in, employing their own. Low-income Blacks who were left behind had to struggle to make it on fewer job opportunities and dwindling government assistance, and while some made it up and out, some continued to spiral downward.
As the economy worsened, Blacks once again became the Boogeymen, serving as scapegoats for all of the country's ills. The following fallacies became fodder for political campaigns: "Whites would fare better in the working world if not for Affirmative Action." "They would have more educational opportunities as well." "Welfare would not be such a burden on the nation if not for those Welfare dependent Blacks."
The real-life solution to the fallacious problems? An attack on government assistance in every way possible and a move away from goals of parity in the workplace.
The result: dwindling job opportunities and dwindling government assistance.
Some hood denizens ran on the newest fast track for success--the drug game. The drug game brought its own evils that were even more insidious than racism. It demanded a devaluation of human life and territorial violence.
It also became fodder for the tales from the hood over beats popularized among young whites in the late eighties. Platinum status was regularly reached in Rap music when white youth began to embrace the "ghetto lifestyle" that has become a staple in the music. The stories of the ghetto lifestyle were plentiful, because by the 1980's, the times they were a' changin'.
Two generations ago, parents slaved at two blue collar jobs or went to night school to improve their earning ability and saved, saved saved...for their children.
The subsequent generation enjoyed better opportunities and increased earning power, and saved, saved, saved...for bigger cars and houses for themselves.
Today's youth have virtually been tossed in an ocean of sharks with bloody meat drawers and no life preservers. The only hope most of them see outside of the drug game is in professional athletics, or music.
In the music, they bring the raw, ugly reality to rhyme. We may not like it, but these stories are largely based on reality. The problem is drawing the line. But who can make that decision?
The failure of successful Blacks to reach back in society has merged with the void of training and development by successful Blacks in the music industry to create the situation in which Tupac and Biggie could rise and metamorphose from shooting stars to stars who were shot.
I refuse to blame their deaths on some non-existent "East v. West" rivalry. That simply never existed.
I refuse to lay the blame entirely on the doorstep of racism. That's only part of the problem, and we always point to the white man.
The Motown of the eighties did it's best to ignore rap music. While the reasoning may have been that the content was too harsh, this industry giant could have developed artists of it's own early on who would have followed a more positive program, and the best and brightest artists would have flourishing, long term careers.
But rap music was left to it's own.
Just like young Black men.
Let's not pretend that today's youth are failing because they choose to. Youth often fail because of the lack of viable alternatives.
Our youth are in trouble because many in our own community are on the same program as society at large. They would rather worry about other things than work with a group of people who they don't understand anyway.
The National Urban League, The NAACP, the Black fraternities and sororities and the religious institutions that used to be symbols of hope and bastions of change are now shadows of their former selves, concerned more with the older leadership than the youth who need to be lead.
The police, who are supposed to serve and protect do just that-they serve and protect those who have from those who have not, and too many young Blacks have not.
Politicians follow the same program, serving those who have, while paying lip service to those who have not in order to garner their votes.
There has to be a major upheaval in the way young Black men are viewed in this nation. There is a popular sentiment that we are the enemy. And there is a movement against the enemy in politics, in the workplace, and especially in the media, which fuels public opinion. That movement is given fuel when rap artists ignominiously decided to use their standing as victims of violence as badges of honor.
It has to stop.
And I believe that the beginning of the end lies in identifying the real Boogeymen.
It's not as simple as recognizing rap music as a violent art form.
It's precisely that young Black men are in crisis. They are being shot and killed every day. But they don't all make the ten o'clock news, because they don't all make platinum rap albums.
Was there a huge difference between the deaths of Tupac and Tyrone from Cleveland? How about between the Notorious B.I.G. and Keith from Compton?
Who is really notorious? If we continue to pretend that the lives of young Black men are expendable--we are.
The media vultures could say that there was an aura of street violence that followed both Pac and Biggie, because they both rhymed about it and claimed the lifestyle. But is this a real reason, or is it a real excuse to tacitly ignore the deaths of young Blacks?
There was no conspiracy of East coast rappers plotting to kill West coast rappers or vice versa.
There is no mysterious shooter on some grassy knoll.
There is only violence in our inner cities.
The lives of young Black men are as valuable as any other human being's life and we will stem the tide of violence when we realize that.
So, rappers can "keep it real," until reality keeps them and other young Blacks in the midst of violence, but at some point, it all has to end.
The rappers, you and I are a part of the real conspiracy.
Darryl James launched Rap Sheet, the only Black owned rap music publication in 1992. He is the award-winning author of the powerful new anthology "Notes From The Edge." He released his first mini-movie, "Crack," and will soon release his first full-length documentary. View previous installments of this column at www.bridgecolumn.proboards36.com. Reach James at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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