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The twisted backlash of the Imus Controversy

By       Message Dia Kambon     Permalink
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The storm of controversy surrounding the racist and degrading remarks of Don Imus towards the girl's basketball team at Rutgers University seems to have created a backlash against hip-hop culture. Rappers who happen to be young, black and male are again subjects of the recurring issue of violent and misogynistic lyrics. After all, if referring to black women as "hoe's" is taboo for Imus, why should rap artists get away clean.

I agree. Degradation is degradation; no matter from whose mouth it is uttered. Yet, the national news isn't highlighting hip-hop's degrading lyrics against black women, but upholding the authority of police as the "protectors of society."

I thought the media reached a point of saturation against the "stop snitching" movement a year ago. But recent news broadcasts interrogating rappers on hip-hop's stance against stitching reveals otherwise. "If I knew the serial killer was living next door to me? I wouldn't call and tell anybody on him," rapper Cam'ron shares with correspondent Anderson Cooper on a recent episode of 60 minutes. "But I'd probably move."

Cooper followed up with another segment on CNN with Russell Simmons, while Neil Cavuto pit rap artist M-1 against Fox News business analyst Charles Paine on the topic of snitching. I wouldn't be surprised if anyone thinks, based on Cam'ron's comments, rappers must be a gang of fools for taking such an anti-social stance. Well, at least I thought that way after hearing the cowardly and foolish babbling from the rapper who popularized pink as a fashion statement.

Yet I caution you against weighing the words of one rapper against the entire hip-hop, or black, community. Calling black women "rough-looking, nappy headed hoes" and campaigning against calling the police are not even in the same category. Indeed, I am against the former and in support of the latter.

Yes, I said it. I am against snitching. And it is a cultural value that I learned long before hip-hop grew into such popularity.

Therefore, it shouldn't come across as odd that I never did think the issue of snitching was adequately treated in the media. It was and has continued to be no more than a lop-sided attack against hip-hop culture's alleged defense of criminality. Truth is, many rap artists do seem to advocate on behalf of criminals, especially with all the shout-outs to our peeps on lock-down.

However, the same social climate of "us vs. them" that influenced my position on snitching many years ago is what's influencing hip-hop culture today. It was racism -- white society oppressing black people -- that instructed my youth. Today, it is brutal police, of all ethnic persuasions, who terrorize the black and poor. Why call them? They can't resolve the problems that lead to crime. They do what they started out doing more than two centuries ago: making sure the slaves quietly submits to the status quo.

But let's be clear: opposition to snitching doesn't mean allowing crime to go unabated. To the contrary, it means looking within the black community, within ourselves, for real, long-term solutions to the problems that confront us. Drug dealing, for instance, is a result of the highly depressed economy in the black community. The fierceness of the competition, unfortunately, has turned many neighborhoods into literal war zones where murder is commonplace. Until the issue of economic depression is resolved, there will be crime.

Rapper M-1 doesn't deny black-on-black violence; but he also knows the blue-on-black violence that is visited upon so many young black men: "When you're talking about who gets murdered in our community, you can bring up the names of [police murder victim] Sean Bell, you can bring up the name of [police victim] Antwan Cedric...this is why we say no snitchin', because we know the policy of the police is not to protect us."

Rappers may have a lot of influence but they are hardly the shapers of social policy in the black community. Deferring to entities outsides one's group is taboo throughout society and the world. Certainly popular culture has shared much about omerta, the mafia's code of silence. It is considered breaking the ranks for police to violate the "blue shield of silence." Even George Bush thought it "disgraceful" that the NY Times would divulge privileged "anti-terrorist" information through its pages. And what about the military cover-up of the "friendly fire" that killed NFL player-turned-soldier Pat Tillman? So, hip-hop doesn't hold a monopoly on opposing snitching as a cultural value.

Some matters, as demonstrated within the mafia, are simply issues of family business that are better addressed internally. For the black community, snitching prevents this from happening. Instead, it fosters an ongoing dependency on outside forces to rescue us from an internal crisis.

As one brother once told me, "The answer [to any problem] lies within the affected community." With that said, let's stop snitching and start seeking answers to the primary problems that confront the black community.
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Dia Kambon is a Detroit-based community activist, freelance journalist and entrepreneur. He is actively involved in prisoner advocacy and outreach, and youth development.

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