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As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free.
August 6, 2007 11:25 AM   Subscribe

“‘Keepin’ it real’ is one of the most dangerous phrases in our language.” "This is the misguided notion that the only way to appeal to the young demographic (.pdf) of the sneaker-buying public is to adopt the negative attitudes of the thug life popularized by black gangster rappers. It is all part of the systematic hijacking of the Black American culture."
posted by four panels (81 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Money can buy you a lot of things in this country, including a damned good defense (which after reading the indictment, he’s really going to need one).

That's some dreadful copy, there.

Oh, and wendell.
posted by Kwantsar at 11:34 AM on August 6, 2007


Black American culture."

What is black culture? It's a pretty outdated notion these days.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 11:49 AM on August 6, 2007


HIJACKING IS WHAT CULTURE IS FOR
posted by quonsar at 11:49 AM on August 6, 2007 [4 favorites]


People who think that those who shift culture in a particular direction are "hijacking" it remind me of people who think that those who use less than perfect speech are ruining language.

Stuff changes. Accept it, or give people useful alternatives, but don't just fricking complain and expect people to give a crap.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:53 AM on August 6, 2007


People / nefarious organizations / whatever only attempt to hijack cultures that have power.

So, you know, congratulations!
posted by rush at 11:58 AM on August 6, 2007


23skidoo, your analogy is pretty good. But I can think of a lot of reasons to be a cultural prescriptivist while not being a linguistic prescriptivist. If there's a correlation between art that glorifies violence and the murder stats in that third link, for example.
posted by sy at 12:00 PM on August 6, 2007


Stuff changes. Accept it, or give people useful alternatives, but don't just fricking complain and expect people to give a crap.

I think you're missing the point here. It's not cultural changes that pose a problem, it's cultural changes for the worse that pose a problem.
posted by delmoi at 12:04 PM on August 6, 2007


People borrow from other cultures all the time, if they didn't-men from Southern Europe would not wear pants, practice Christianity, speak English or do Algebra. Borrowing culture is a natural part of human interaction and should not be taken as hijacking. Very few cultures have not picked up certain habits or customs from other people.

The choices Vick makes are a different issue.
posted by Deep Dish at 12:08 PM on August 6, 2007


If there's a correlation between art that glorifies violence and the murder stats in that third link, for example.

Is there such a correlation, though? Why are murder rates today the lowest that they've been in 30 years?
posted by 23skidoo at 12:08 PM on August 6, 2007


The thug culture is the projection into black culture of a much more pernicious hypermasculinization of the male image in American media that goes back decades.

In "mainstream" culture, guys are supposed to be tough, straight-talkin', brutish, semi-morons. The cowboy was the iconic American male until there weren't any cowboys left, and then it alternated between tough, corner cutting/rule-breaking brutish cops or gansters. And the original gansters were whites - Capone, Dillinger, etc. Even back in the 19th century and outlaws like Jesse James and Billy the Kid became legendary figures.

I think there's a need in boys to feel strong, invincible, and brave, and this image appeals to that. For every black kid idolizing a thug, there are ten white kids doing the same with pro-wrestlers. I guess no one told them that in the information age, muscles won't help you.

The problem is that as it has in many other ways, mass marketing and the consumer culture have stunted most men's psychological development. Teenagers are supposed to think they're invincible tough guys, not grown men. Nor are grown men supposed to be so superficial as to want to dress up and pretend to be tough guys.

The reality is that it is easier to sell to the lowest common denominator as authentic than to appeal to some higher aesthetic. Media wants people looking up to tough guys because that is an easy image to construct, recast, and sell over and over and over. Coming up with a 50 Cent or a Stone Cold Steve Austin is easy - how many muscled street toughs are there that could be dropped into their places? It's a lot harder to sell a Langston Hughes or a Miles Davis because the consumer has to make an effort to understand it.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:09 PM on August 6, 2007 [22 favorites]


The superficial co-opting and sanitized marketing of a minority's pop culture by the dominant society is about as old as, well, pop culture, isn't it?

Coming up next, which work better: Spring clothespins or the other kind?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:12 PM on August 6, 2007


Stuff changes. Accept it, or give people useful alternatives, but don't just fricking complain and expect people to give a crap.

I think you're missing the point here. It's not cultural changes that pose a problem, it's cultural changes for the worse that pose a problem.

I'm not missing that point, I'm making a completely different point altogether, namely that if one thinks that a culture is getting worse, the way to change it for the better is not just denouncing people who are changing culture. The way to change culture is to provide lots and lots of counterexamples so that people will feel confident and comfortable in behaving in certain ways. If "keeping it real" is bad, then saying "keeping it real is bad, y'all" does jack shit.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:13 PM on August 6, 2007


This is serious shit. We really need to address what happens when "keeping it real" goes wrong.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 12:14 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


At least one of these articles criticizes the silence of white liberals on the subject of thug idolization among African-Americans. Problem is, most white liberals feel extremely uncomfortable about criticizing the negative cultural aspects of any non-white and/or non-European culture, for fear that the criticism will be interpreted as attempting to oppress that culture's development or whitify it. Now, of course there is a difference between promoting education, equal rights, and speaking out against misogyny and violence and being racist but when those offering the criticism are from a cultural group that has a long history of oppressing the group they're criticizing things get twitchy and difficult. It's so much easier to leave that job to black commentators and just volunteer for Big Brothers/Big Sisters or act as a tutor in an urban area.

"Thug culture" arose out of a rage and frustration regarding the condition of urban ghettos and the continuing lack of opportunities offered to young African-Americans in the post-Civil Rights era. Though it has long transitioned from social commentary to posturing and outright nihilism. But the balance commentators must strike is to critique the evolution of the rap movement without seeming like you're dismissing its roots. For some kids the life of drugs and violence is their world. Trying to wipe that out of their music is like saying it doesn't exist. And it's pretty hard for them to relate to music that tries to convey a positive, encouraging message when it seems like 99% of the time anyone who tries to get out of the drug-infested ghetto gets sucked right back in.

That said, let's not forget the expropriation of "thug culture" into white America, where increasingly it's seen as a pretty hardcore and awesome way of life among youth who've never actually seen the inside of a ghetto.

On Preview: Pastabagel, I think hypermasculinization has a lot to do with it, but as said, there is a deep, deep undercurrent of nihilism in this music and cultural movement that flies in the face of attempts to tone down the misogyny and violence. Why care about getting an education if you're going to die before you're 21? Why care about treating your woman right--like it's going to lead to marriage when she's going to be addicted to crack in two years anyway. I'm not saying this is what happens, but it's probably what runs through the heads of the highest consumers of this stuff.
posted by schroedinger at 12:17 PM on August 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


It's so much easier to leave that job to black commentators and just volunteer for Big Brothers/Big Sisters or act as a tutor in an urban area.

Maybe I'm misreading your point, but if not...I'm pretty sure it's a lot more work -- and a lot more constructive -- to volunteer for Big Brothers/Big Sisters and/or tutor inner city kids than it is to criticize people on the internet. The rest of your comment is, I think, very worthwhile, but I'm a little dumbfounded by this first paragraph.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:28 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


When ever I hear a derivative of "keepin' it real" all I can think of is this.

Maybe the hijacking goes back even deeper than we think...
posted by hermitosis at 12:30 PM on August 6, 2007


It's pretty obvious, "keeping it real" ( and all that goes with it) seems like a trap that the Black youth culture can't avoid or even recognize . They don't see how how consuming and becoming slaves to material is just another sad game they've fallen into. It's a reaction to being poor and "without" for so long.
That doesn't only apply to Black youth culture but that's the main culture that seems to have nothing else going on except that. And Then of course,.... the dumb white kids follow.
posted by Liquidwolf at 12:30 PM on August 6, 2007


I don't think a like Allen Iverson is glamorizing thug life, I think he's a straight up thug. I knew a solidly mid-level Philly coke dealer once upon a time who went to the funeral of a old school weight mover named "Real Roller" who had successfully crossed over into the entertainment industry and managed Eve during her rise to stardom. It was an invitation only affair that was a who's-who of the underworld. Who else was there besides the biggest slingers in the city? Allen Iverson. And Jay-Z. And Beanie Sigel. And Freeway. Among other prominent sports and rap stars. There was no line between the rap stars and the drug dealers, everybody knew everybody else from way back when.

I think people lose sight of the fact that a lot of these guys are the real deal. Hey, everybody thinks it's totally awesome at the end of season three when Stringer goes legit. Well, this is Stringer going legit. Did you really think the actual Stringer gone legit was going to be reading Adam Smith?
posted by The Straightener at 12:32 PM on August 6, 2007 [4 favorites]



I'm not missing that point, I'm making a completely different point altogether, namely that if one thinks that a culture is getting worse, the way to change it for the better is not just denouncing people who are changing culture.


Except, well, cultural criticism is in fact a perfectly valid way to change a culture. Indeed sustained denouncing of the negative aspects of various cultures, from slavery to political corruption, has been the prime example for improving a culture. So, no, "lots and lots of counterexamples" is a stupid and inefficient way to change a culture than targeted criticism. This is important especially with Black Culture since you can be absolutely certain that American media and entertainment will never allow positive examples of Black men who don't "act black" and "keep it real" to reach a popular audience. Obama is running for freaking President and already the media is feeling out its planned "How black is Obama?" campaign.
posted by nixerman at 12:34 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hey, everybody thinks it's totally awesome at the end of season three when Stringer goes legit. Well, this is Stringer going legit. Did you really think the actual Stringer gone legit was going to be reading Adam Smith?

argh, I'm watching season 3 now. No jury in the land would convict you for spoiling, but it burrrrns. And this article did make me think of the Avon/Stringer debate, at least as it stands mid-season.

posted by COBRA! at 12:36 PM on August 6, 2007


Sorry, I wasn't clear. I see two components to social work: the individual, one-on-one work you see in a soup kitchen or in Big Brothers/Big Sisters that work to address the needs of specific children or adults, and the widespread grassroots activist movements that work to change hearts and minds on a widespread basis, through commentary and public policy work. I think both are necessary for change. In the case of trying to counteract the nihilism of thug culture, I think you often see blacks involved in both aspects--public criticism and individual action--while whites are only involved in the individual action because they feel uncomfortable in the public role due to the racial dynamic.
posted by schroedinger at 12:37 PM on August 6, 2007


argh, I'm watching season 3 now. No jury in the land would convict you for spoiling, but it burrrrns.

Don't worry, that's not even the half of it, nothing's spoiled for you, trust me.
posted by The Straightener at 12:40 PM on August 6, 2007


I think people lose sight of the fact that a lot of these guys are the real deal.

Real deal what? Thug? Being a "thug" is just another way of participating in the dead end materialist. It's more pitiful than impressive I'd say.
posted by Liquidwolf at 12:42 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Consider too that (at least the the visible part of) "Thug" culture centers around money and "bling." It's a marketing gimmick. To paraphrase Lou Reed, somewhere some rich Mad Ave racist is laughin' till he wets his pants.
posted by davy at 12:43 PM on August 6, 2007


"Gazziza Dilznoofus! it's Bill McNeal saying get with the crezappy taste of Rocketfuel Malt Liquor... Rocketfuel's got tha upstate prison flavor that keeps you ugly all night long. So when you wanna get sick remember, nothing makes yo' feet stank like Rocket Fuel Malt Liquor!... DAMN! It's crezappy!!!"
posted by mwhybark at 12:54 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


And that if the Nazis had been more patient and more knowledgeable about the psychology behind advertising they wouldn't have needed much of a Holocaust. Why spend money killing your "enemy" when you can get rich persuading them to kill themselves and each other? Imagine "Bugsy smokes Zyklons!" as a beginning.
posted by davy at 12:54 PM on August 6, 2007


I may be out of my element here. When I was a kid I lived in a poor white area. People had knives at school, and a couple of my classmates are dead.

Metal was popular and brought with it all kinds of nihilism, occult, non-mainstream fashion and violent images. Nobody talked about it destroying "white" culture, and of course quite a few people didn't like it and didn't buy in. None of this stuff is really that powerful, thug messages are out there but living that lifestyle isn't mandatory - especially for someone like Michael Vick. The fact Michael Vick chose this path in life is a little out of the ordinary because he is rich, but people choose to fit (or not) fit into lifestyles all the time.

I don't get how Michael Vick's dog fighting says anything about culture.
posted by Deep Dish at 12:57 PM on August 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


davy, thank you for ending this discussion. Godwin's Law is invoked. Good night everybody. See you all tomorrow.
posted by SansPoint at 1:05 PM on August 6, 2007


If y'all are gonna invoke Godwin's law at least try to understand it first.
posted by davy at 1:12 PM on August 6, 2007


We live in an age where the media (print, the Internet, TV, film, radio, music, art, literature...) is so broad and so accessible that one can choose virtually any area of the human experience and see it discussed or represented somewhere. And yet this doesn't create especially widely-experienced people who can live with and understand divergent ways of thinking about the world, because, as Pastabagel said above, it's easier for media companies to sell advertising to develop content by dividing people into distinct demographics than by appealing to a consumer's sense of intellectual diversity. You won't hear ads for Boost Mobile (ATHF, nsfw, hilarious) on the classical station, but you will hear ads for Lexus, because the station's managers have decided that's where money is to be made.
posted by mdonley at 1:15 PM on August 6, 2007


I had to look up Godwin's Law ( before davy even posted it) to see what he hell it was. All these internet nerd rules are hard to follow.
posted by Liquidwolf at 1:17 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Speaking of 'upstate prison flavor' that stuff must taste horrible. All the betta fo' a Real Man to choke down a 40, eh? (And I say this a someone who LIKES "211.")
posted by davy at 1:17 PM on August 6, 2007


Er, 'I say this AS someone who LIKES "211."' Obviously.
posted by davy at 1:18 PM on August 6, 2007


How many black players on Vick's team? Are they not to be lumped with this dummy who broke a law. Lots of folks break the law with cock fighting but no big cultural issue involved because those guys are not high profile. Ps: Godwin's law might well be cultural nonsense taken as an iron clad surefire proposition.
posted by Postroad at 1:20 PM on August 6, 2007


I wish someone could explain what "keeping it real" actually meant. I recall one of the characters from the movie Clueless claiming he was "keeping it real" when he shaved his head. Does "keeping it real" mean, "embracing a low-class, ghettoized experience and lifestyle, and avoiding and denigrating any attempt to distance oneself from it?"

So, Michael Vick was driven to dog-fighting, or else lose status within his perceived community, because to avoid dog-fighting is to take on airs and reject one's "realness?" Being an NFL quarterback is not enough -- I must at least skirt criminality, or else I am not being true to myself and my community?

If so, this is the very height of idiocy. This is why civilizations fall -- continuing to hold onto counter-productive values and behaviors in the face of overwhelming evidence to the otherwise.

This is nihilism? No. Calling it nihilism gives it too much credence.

Bill Cosby was right. Some people just aren't holding up their end of the bargain.

"Oh, but Cool Papa Bell, these people are poor and disenfranchised!"

Bullshit. As a writer once said, "No one is so poor that they cannot clean up their own yard."

"Oh, but Cool Papa Bell, these people are so poor they cannot afford yards!"

It's a metaphor, dick. STFU.

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:43 PM on August 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


Real deal what? Thug? Being a "thug" is just another way of participating in the dead end materialist. It's more pitiful than impressive I'd say.

I wasn't placing any value on it either way.
posted by The Straightener at 1:58 PM on August 6, 2007


It's a curious coincidence that earlier today I read this article on CNN.com regarding how more black women are choosing to date outside their race.

"She reflects many black women frustrated as the field of marriageable black men narrows: They're nearly seven times more likely to be incarcerated than white men and more than twice as likely to be unemployed."

Add those statistics to the ghetto nonsense discussed above, and I have to say: I don't blame them.

I'm a black man who is painfully embarrassed by both the issues brought up in the articles in the original post, as well as in the CNN article. It seems like the black community is on a self-destructive path and, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, I have no idea how things can get better. I have to agree with 23skiddoo: give me a useful alternative. I would like to see some discussion on how to fix the problem, as it obviously won't go away on its own.
posted by mjbraun at 2:07 PM on August 6, 2007


I would like to see some discussion on how to fix the problem, as it obviously won't go away on its own.

On it's own? Whose job is it to fix fucked up dysfunctional cultures? Nobody on the outside of them is going to able to do anything.
posted by tkchrist at 2:16 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


tkchrist: that's a messed up attitude. Sure, change has to come from within, but to say that nobody on the outside is going to be able to do anything is like both defeatist and a bit cowardly.

Sure, we want to avoid a "White Man's Burden" sort of approach, but at the same time, it's not like white and black culture are completely separate.

schroedinger mentioned volunteering for Big Brothers/Big Sisters or acting as a tutor in an urban area as an option. While it may not have a huge impact, it will have an impact nonetheless.
posted by mjbraun at 2:36 PM on August 6, 2007


Sure, change has to come from within, but to say that nobody on the outside is going to be able to do anything is like both defeatist and a bit cowardly.

So. France can fix our aggressive attitudes onforiegn policy or our propensity to shoot each other with hand guns?

That's AWESOME. I may not even vote any more.
posted by tkchrist at 2:39 PM on August 6, 2007


If you've read recent editions of Freakonomics or kept up with their blog you probably already know a bit about Harvard economist Roland Fryer. If you're not already familiar with him, check out this great article from The New York Times Magazine.
posted by inoculatedcities at 2:42 PM on August 6, 2007


I wish someone could explain what "keeping it real" actually meant. I recall one of the characters from the movie Clueless claiming he was "keeping it real" when he shaved his head. Does "keeping it real" mean, "embracing a low-class, ghettoized experience and lifestyle, and avoiding and denigrating any attempt to distance oneself from it?"

Errr, most people can explain what "keeping it real" means. You're mostly right, if you remove the painfully loaded language. "Keeping it real" means "not letting money change the people who you associate with and the things you like to do". It's not a bad thing to be unashamed of your roots. It's a bad thing to let that pride get in the way of other good things.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:53 PM on August 6, 2007


tkchrist: A better comparison, I'd say, would be an intervention with an alcoholic. Sure, they have to choose to not drink, but the rest of the family can help and support them and can work with them to achieve sobriety.

Or would you have someone's family just ignore the problem, since they can't just reach in and turn off the alcoholism switch?
posted by mjbraun at 2:57 PM on August 6, 2007


Wut de black man say iz tru, yo.
posted by wfc123 at 3:05 PM on August 6, 2007


tkchrist: A better comparison, I'd say, would be an intervention with an alcoholic. Sure, they have to choose to not drink, but the rest of the family can help and support them and can work with them to achieve sobriety.

That is not an accurate model. A FAMILY would be exist in the same socio-economic cultural frame work as the individual from the family. There is then also the issue of legal and moral obligation that exists with in the family.

I may work as a Big Brother to an under-underprivileged kid of another class, race, and culture. Which I agree is a good thing. But I am also participating in a self-selective process in which the larger culture (his family) of the kid is, at least partially, defacto rejected.

"Thug Culture" - CRIMINAL CULTURE - (that is what it is) has to be rejected by the bulk of mainstream black culture first.

See what I am saying.

Laying the solution on the doorstep of rich white people will not, and has not worked, at all.
posted by tkchrist at 3:07 PM on August 6, 2007


I agree with tkchrist to an extent. I don't know that at this point there even exists a common dialog between the educated middle class (of any race) and ghetto culture. I'm part of the former group, and I have absolutely no idea what would motivate the latter, because we don't (apparently) share the same goals, values, or language.

A (white) family member has been a high school teacher in an impoverished inner city neighborhood for several decades, and has seen the deterioration of culture firsthand. What is he supposed to say to these kids that they'll actually listen to? If they respected authority and/or education, they wouldn't be devotees of thug culture to begin with.
posted by desjardins at 3:19 PM on August 6, 2007


I would like to see some discussion on how to fix the problem, as it obviously won't go away on its own.

It comes down to personal responsibility and self-determination. The problem goes away when we all accept that Michael Vick's actions are a reflection on Michael Vick, and anybody who says otherwise, regardless of skin color, is ignorant and racist.

Which is my way of referencing MLK's dream that one day we will all be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. I'm pretty sure he was referring to those of low character as well.

This might not be the most elegant thing I've ever said, and I don't really know of any way to prove it, but I'm gonna say it anyway.

The idea that African American culture is in decline, and that Black Males are somehow limited to a few negative options usually involving drugs and crime is just flat out not true. It's a big fucking lie, and there are Black people who are just as guilty of perpetrating the lie as anyone else. It's stupid, and I hate it. end of rant. Thanks for listening.
posted by billyfleetwood at 3:39 PM on August 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


I may be way off base, but to me this 'thug culture' is really not very different from mainstream american capitalist culture. there is nothing unique about it, other then the motifs. the bottom line is "get rich". is school in the ghetto going to make you rich? Not usually. Is selling drugs or pimping? maybe. all the acoutrements are fun to analyze but bottom line is that every aspect of society, white/black/brown/yellow says that making money is the #1 thing you can do with your life, the more the better, and the faster the better. pimping, dog fighting, and drug dealing are businesses, not nihilistic activities and those who do it are not rejecting society, they're looking for ways to emulate a society which says stuff is more important then morality.
posted by cell divide at 3:54 PM on August 6, 2007 [7 favorites]


I guess I'm totally ignorant but I always thought "keep it real" meant "stay true to yourself" (and don't be a sellout, or forget what's truly important, etc). So, sometimes friends or I will say this as a departing phrase.

Is this totally wrong? Am I revealing my uneducation by misusing this term? I never really associated it with violence or thuggery, drug dealing.

Am I missing something?
posted by PsyDev at 3:59 PM on August 6, 2007


Every time I hear "keepin' it real," I flash back to a certain Chris Rock bit about ten years back, where he talks about how the phrase is used to excuse, and even praise, avoidance of learning.

Thug Life is chicken-and-egg. I don't know whether it or a bad attitude came first, but I know that it's spectacularly good at self-perpetuating. It's media that offers success by following its precepts, the way that advertising's first real client was advertising itself (they sold us on "you can't sell anything without advertising!"). Gangstas are visible in a community the way that the kids who keep their noses clean are not. It attracts and recruits, not unlike a religion, becoming highly visible (if feared) within a community. Bonus round: some of them go on to make music and occasionally movies about the lifestyle. When you marry it to a surefire way of making cash in impoverished areas and have reinforcement through drugs, well, I can't imagine a better brainwashing scheme ... at least until some Bush memos get declassified somewhere around 2020.

My gut instinct tells me that change must come from within, particularly here. White representatives, or those who are perceived as indoctrinated by White Culture (Euro-Caucasian Culture, or The Man, what have you) will be disregarded, their efforts viewed as an attempted subversion of Black Culture (African-American Culture, what have you), if not outright racism. It's why Cosby got some traction and J. Random White Dude (like, say, me) doesn't. And, as J. Random White Dude, I feel pretty much helpless to do anything about it.

The only thing I can think of that would completely short-circuit most of the mess is the legalization of drugs. Bear with me for a moment. If drugs were legalized, they'd find a natural price that would be a great deal lower than it is now. In the 1970's, Sex, Drugs, and the Occult suggested about fifty cents for some heroin. Let's go with two bucks now. I'm sure crystal meth and crack would drop, too. Because you could buy them at Walgreen's, a great deal of money would vanish from organized crime everywhere (leaving us with extortion, prostitution, and gambling). Drug money powers a great deal of street crime. When you're moving several keys of some illegal and highly profitable substance from one shady guy to another shady guy, guns become both affordable and advisable. No money, no guns, no rims, no bling. It wouldn't eliminate gangs entirely, just cut it back to random violence and theft. And that's not even sure fire - it could just foster a generation of people (brown, pink, and otherwise) who are pleasant, legal drug addicts. You'd still have base captalistic desires and hypermasculinazation to deal with. Quite a gamble. Other than hoping people will wake up, I'm out of ideas.
posted by adipocere at 3:59 PM on August 6, 2007


It comes down to personal responsibility and self-determination. The problem goes away when we all accept that Michael Vick's actions are a reflection on Michael Vick, and anybody who says otherwise, regardless of skin color, is ignorant and racist.

The American extremist faith in individuality is the single strongest cultural affectation for maintaining the status quo. There's absolutely nothing else like it in the world. Not even the English ever refined this notion that the 'poor bring it on themselves' to such a degree. Combined with the complete ontological rejection of cultural forces you can see why institutionalized oppression would thrive. Even when confronted with shocking images like those revealed by Katrina or extraordinary statistics suggesting a system failure there's an almost willful ignorance to contemplate, even for a moment, that a cultural/classist system of control could be at work in America.

But it's all good. As long as any serious criticism can be roundly dismissed by platitudes then we have nothing to worry about. These things have a way of spreading very, very slowly from the bottom up. It's very literally not our problem.
posted by nixerman at 4:07 PM on August 6, 2007 [4 favorites]


The prominence of nihilistic behavior in 'black culture' is just a subset of nihilism in American culture in general. Watched WWF lately? listened to death metal? watched a slasher film? People, especially young act like there's no tommorrow because to them, it seems like there i no tommorrow.

As for the embracing of the 'tough guy,' after a workday stocking Wal-Mart shelves or otherwise taking orders from some schmuck, embracing that attitude is a lot more satisfying than feeling totally defeated and emasculated. and this is nothing new, twas ever thus.
posted by jonmc at 4:13 PM on August 6, 2007


We got to do better.
posted by dhammond at 4:21 PM on August 6, 2007


Even when confronted with shocking images like those revealed by Katrina or extraordinary statistics suggesting a system failure there's an almost willful ignorance to contemplate, even for a moment, that a cultural/classist system of control could be at work in America.

Thanks for the great post, nixerman. It reminds me of this article I just read about this young black economist at harvard.
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/20/magazine/20HARVARD.html?ei=5090&en=e9727ddcbbbd4431&ex=1268974800&partner=rssuserland&pagewanted=all
A new york times article lauds him and his mission: 'I basically want to figure out where blacks went wrong. '

Other gems include:
" As soon as you say something like, 'Well, could the black-white test-score gap be genetics?' everybody gets tensed up. But why shouldn't that be on the table?' "

To be clear, I don't support sacred cows either, but really, this really shines through as a great example of blindness among academics. I assume their framework is "well, our capitalist system is not equal in wealth distribution but is more or less fair... so why are blacks failing?"
When you're this blind, naturally you have to come up with these kinds of explanations like genetic heritage. This is not new actually, some academics in new york claimed that black women don't take care of their babies as well due to some evolutionary difference stemming from life in Africa, and consequently their children don't do as well in tests...

Right.
posted by PsyDev at 4:37 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


As long as any serious criticism can be roundly dismissed by platitudes then we have nothing to worry about.

Nixerman, your response is far more eloquent, and better thought out than my emotional ranting. I tend to get cranky when this issue comes up, as it is an issue that pretty much defined my upbringing. The reality of the cultural/classist/racist system of control that I was born into is something that takes a large amount of will and focus NOT to contemplate.

I believe that every person has the choice as to who they want to be in this life, and the color of your skin is not a factor in that decision. To say that there's any excuse for Michael Vick because of "culture" is an insult to every person who came out of that same culture, without any of Vick's advantages, talents or opportunities, and somehow decided not to be a scumbag.

posted by billyfleetwood at 5:19 PM on August 6, 2007


The emphasis on US black culture in this thread is interesting to me, because I see an almost identical trend in the area where I grew up. I grew up in a Liverpool neighbourhood that was poor but respectable white working class -- for those who know the city, I grew up in Everton, almost equidistant between the two football grounds. Pre-war terraced slum housing that lacked basic amenities like hot water, indoor bathrooms, etc. Most wage earners either worked in local factories or on the docks.

During the 1960's, despite the people in that neighbourhood being poor, respect for things like the law, your elders and education were deep rooted cultural norms and aspirations. Going to prison was seen as a disgrace on yourself and your family. If a child in the street passed the eleven plus (an entrance exam into the selective school system), everybody in the street gave them money.

Today, a profound nihilism has taken root in that area. Anybody with aspirations towards respectability who can afford to leave, has done so. Those who remain are either unable to do so, or they embrace that nihilism. Old people are frequently abused by children, and drawing the parents attention to the issue is likely to result in a mouth full of abuse. Similarly, attempts by teachers to draw a parents attention to a child's bad behaviour may also result in verbal or physical abuse.

Rather than being seen as an escape to a better way of life, education is seen as either wimpish, or getting above yourself, or just boring. Kids are fed on a continuous diet of intellectual pap.

There are a couple of factors that I see as causal here. The destruction of those communities during the slum clearance programmes of the 1960's and 70's, relocating people to stark urban wastelands on the outskirts of the city, that lacked the amenities that allow people to build community (like pubs, libraries, washhouses, etc.) and demolishing ties to extended social networks.

Also, the decimation of traditional working class industries. The docks and factories have all gone now, so unless you're a member of the labour aristocracy -- a tradesman of some sort, perhaps -- chances are, you'll be the second or third generation unemployed.

The other big thing that has played a role in decimating these communities has been drugs. Firstly, an enormous wave of heroin use that began in the late 70's/early 80's, and today, growing amounts of crack cocaine use.

Rather than creating policies that actually benefit the people who live in these communities and provide incentives to get out, New Labour's policies have been much the same as those of George Bush, and have exacerbated the extent and degree of social inequality. In the 1960's, the grammar school system and free access to university education provided people with a ladder that helped millions of working class people to better themselves. Today, that ladder has been increasingly pulled up and made inaccessible.

While we don't have the added burden of race, and a history of resentment over slavery, it does seem to me that the parallels between these two disparate communities are very similar, and the solutions lie in a need to change the culture. How we even begin to go about that though, given the pervasive ethos of nihilism that exists, I can hardly begin to imagine.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:45 PM on August 6, 2007 [13 favorites]


Also, I'm pretty sure this has been posted here before, but it bears repeating:

Robert Lashley: In defense of Bill Cosby
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:54 PM on August 6, 2007


I read this thread and wonder how we ever thought we could manage cultural change in Iraq. We cannot even clean up our own yard; what made us think we could clean up theirs?
posted by SPrintF at 6:00 PM on August 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


I guess I'm totally ignorant but I always thought "keep it real" meant "stay true to yourself" (and don't be a sellout, or forget what's truly important, etc). So, sometimes friends or I will say this as a departing phrase...
Am I missing something?


That's what it originally meant, but it got hijacked. "Don't be a sellout" means different things depending on where you come from.

[NOT REALIST]
posted by Challahtronix at 6:02 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


I wholeheartedly agree that this trend of "Keepin' It Real" is corrupting The Youth of Today™. Did you know these kids Kill Each Other Over a Pair of Sneakers? Furthermore this "rock and roll" music shall surely corrupt the minds of our teens. Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin used to sing "rock" music. And you know what happen to them? They died.

Also, hey, you kids, get off my lawn.

Sarcasm aside, how is it that this article from MSNBC tells us anything new? Isn't it just recycling of the same old thing? Vic and Pacman weren't ruined by "keepin' it real." They were ruined because they were immoral morons with a lot of money.
posted by deanc at 6:14 PM on August 6, 2007


I disagree with those who say race is no longer a barrier to success. Now that is bullshit. Economic background may be a larger factor, but a white guy is still going to get more respect in intellectual areas than a black guy. People aren't as likely to cross the street when they see the white guy as when they see the black guy. The white guy will statistically be paid more, hired more, and is more likely to advance than the black guy. Any basic statistical analysis will demonstrate this fact. People are still racist, and that racism affects their decisions, and while I believe everyone has the strength to rise above negative messages they can't necessarily rise above the negative messages others think about them.
posted by schroedinger at 7:21 PM on August 6, 2007


"Black Gangster Rappers", "Thug Life", "Keepin' it Real"...

Grand-Ma, did you write this?
posted by SweetJesus at 7:26 PM on August 6, 2007


"Sure, we want to avoid a 'White Man's Burden' sort of approach, but at the same time, it's not like white and black culture are completely separate."

I hear you. I also know that the Black communities didn't do this entirely to themselves: if there was not green money to be made by white people pimping this "culture" to our darker brethen it would not be such a problem.

One thing "ordinary" white people can do is quit reinforcing it: quit dressing like that, quit talking like that, quit spending money on that kind of "bling-bling" and the CDs and the shows. It's nothing but "blackface" when "whitey" does it anyway; it's doubly ridiculous, pretending you're not racist by perpetuating racist stereotypes of another race. What if Jews ran around going "Ah so, I want flied lice!" or if Chinese took up talking about "gelt" and "shmatta" in TV-shmaltzy "Yiddish" accents?
posted by davy at 7:32 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've always understood "Keepin' it real" as a counter to something that was happening in the late '70s and early '80s where minorities, people who had worked hard and established themselves in their respective fields, be it sports or business, were seen as stepping away from their culture and 'acting white'.

Keepin' it real was taking all those successes, and trying to maintain your black background. Problem is, that the culture that everyone seems to want to embrace is the 'thug life' one.

But here's the thing, that does a huge disservice to the millions of black families who worked hard, who didn't embrace that 'thug life' shit, and who strove to ensure that their kids would have a better life than theirs.

Thug life is not black culture; it's very small, yet very loud, and unfortunate part of it.
posted by quin at 7:49 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


I may be way off base, but to me this 'thug culture' is really not very different from mainstream american capitalist culture. there is nothing unique about it, other then the motifs. the bottom line is "get rich". is school in the ghetto going to make you rich? Not usually.

I agree with your basic assertion that criminality in the ghetto is a means to an economic end in the absence of other, legitimate economic means. In fact, filthy rich gangster rappers and sports figures that rose out of ghetto thug culture should from a purely capitalist standpoint be praised for their ability to identify a market niche and exploit it to its maximum financial potential, despite a number of social barriers to financial success.

However, getting rich legitimately through education and hard work doesn't require you to engage in morally bankrupt behavior. Which is not to say some legitimate capitalists aren't morally bankrupt. But it's not a requirement, in fact a training process of sorts. Becoming the kind of drug king pin that's horded enough laundered money to bank roll entertainment acts or buy up blocks of studio time and start a record production company usually requires some connection to violence, and sometimes lots of it. It's not capitalism that corrupted the "keepin' it real" set, they were corrupted by the criminal environment they participated in probably at first for economic survival purposes but later continued to indulge in because they thrived at it.

Becoming a drug king pin takes a tremendous amount of business saavy that is clearly transferable to legitimate business endeavors but it also takes a cold heart that's willing to literally step on the necks of the weak in order acheive. That kind of person will also make dogs maul each other to death for entertainment purposes and talk about women like they are sides of beef to be inspected and consumed.

We're basically talking about sociopathy, perhaps psychopathy and if you have any experience in the streets you've seen it up close. Because these are the conditions that a totally rotted and largely abandoned urban infrastructure and generations of disenfranchisement and seething resentment create. It's sociopathy on a large scale and it doesn't give a fuck what the white man thinks of it as long as it gets paid, gets laid, gets respected and feared.

A few months back I watched a kid launching bullets arbitrarily into a crowded intersection in broad daylight and laugh while he did it. He was having a blast, it was nothing but a game to him. I think sometimes people lose perspective on how truly bad it is out there, because most people don't know how bad it is and can't even stomach a look. Until Mike Vick brings it right up into your lap during dinner and then nobody can make sense of it except in platitudes and broad generalizations because they can't possibly understand why or how a culture comes to this.

It didn't exactly happen yesterday. It's going to be like this, or worse, for generations to come. We don't even know how to make a start let alone find a solution and the fact is that the current administration couldn't give a less of a fuck about it.
posted by The Straightener at 7:53 PM on August 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


Also, I saw a couple of youths tonight, whether they were black or white is irrelevant, but they were fully thugged out. They had the whole look, they were strutting, and rolling, it was very cute.

I say it 'cute' because we were at the Wisconsin State Fair. And I'm sorry, but it's just impossible to act like a pimp or player or whatever, when there are sheep and cows all around you.

And I can assure you, your street-cred styling really isn't going to impress either the giant pigs, or the camel in the petting zoo.
posted by quin at 7:53 PM on August 6, 2007


Just because they are in Wisconsin doesn't mean they can't fuck you up. I was assaulted in a Taco Bell in Iowa because someone thought that I was "looking" at him. The fact that you can get beat up by an Eminem impersonator in any state in the union would seem to indicate that this is media driven.
posted by erikharmon at 8:51 PM on August 6, 2007


keep it real? ... compared to what?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:58 PM on August 6, 2007


I disagree with those who say race is no longer a barrier to success. Now that is bullshit. Economic background may be a larger factor, but a white guy is still going to get more respect in intellectual areas than a black guy.

I'm not sure if we're on the same track here, but where I work (a major media corporation) we are desperate, DESPERATE, to hire black men and women. And so is everyone else in the business. Hence a bidding war for qualified black job candidates that drives salaries up, up, up. In my industry, if you are African-American and you are good, the playing field is tilted very heavily in your favor. I wish that notion could be conveyed to black kids today. Just try, man. We are eager to have you.
posted by stargell at 9:06 PM on August 6, 2007


Any basic statistical analysis will demonstrate this fact. People are still racist, and that racism affects their decisions, and while I believe everyone has the strength to rise above negative messages they can't necessarily rise above the negative messages others think about them.

One CAN rise above all of it. This is exaxtly what I was alluding to in a previous comment. Statistics work both ways. If 4 out of every 10 Black men go to Jail, be one of those other 6. This is what I was taught growing up. I might have more hurdles to jump than my white counterparts, but if i know those hurdles are there, I have no excuse for not jumping them. My parents taught me from an early age that I would sometimes have to be twice as good just to be considered equal. They told me that this was an unfair burden, and the world is an unfair place. Then they assured me that unfair does not mean impossible.

And they were right.

I've encountered plenty of racism in my life. I have yet to have it keep me from anything. A lot of my friends look at me and say i've somehow led a "charmed" life. Nothing could be further from the truth. My life is my own, that's about all there is to it.
posted by billyfleetwood at 11:50 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, there is in fact a current book on this very subject:

Ghettonation: A Journey Into the Land of Bling and Home of the Shameless by Cora Daniels

Not that I agree with her necessarily, but if anyone wants to read more on it.
posted by Violet Hour at 2:30 AM on August 7, 2007


Another book on the issue of keepin it real - Check out Adam Mansbach's novel "The miscegenation of Macon Detorney".
posted by yoHighness at 3:43 AM on August 7, 2007


Apologies, that book is calledAngry Black White Boy.
posted by yoHighness at 3:45 AM on August 7, 2007


DEEP DISH: Metal was popular and brought with it all kinds of nihilism, occult, non-mainstream fashion and violent images. Nobody talked about it destroying "white" culture,...

Sure they did. Incessantly. They just didn't say "white", they said "American." "White", as the dominant, un-marked culture, didn't need to be identified by a subordinate marker.

Which is part of the point.
posted by lodurr at 5:27 AM on August 7, 2007


And I'm sorry, but it's just impossible to act like a pimp or player or whatever, when there are sheep and cows all around you.
Oh, really?
posted by deanc at 5:40 AM on August 7, 2007


So which is worse: racism, sexism, not getting laid, or being unable to afford a new iPod?
posted by davy at 8:43 AM on August 7, 2007


They just didn't say "white", they said "American." "White", as the dominant, un-marked culture, didn't need to be identified by a subordinate marker.

just for the record, my experiences reflect life in Western Canada. Some people thought it was sick/disgusting but taking Metal as a sign of cultural rot would be a minority position at best.
posted by Deep Dish at 12:05 PM on August 7, 2007


/Slightly off topic

The worst thing (for me anyway) is watching the kids of Muslim families walking away from their roots and taking on the ghetto culture. They aren't white, they aren't black and neither racial group includes them by default - there is a whole generation of children who are going to end up as fucked up as the kids of West Indians who came over in the 50's and 60's.

No respect given to them because they aren't white or black, hatred and suspicion at every turn - it's little wonder that a small number of them end up identifying with extremists or take the worst aspects of existing cultures. In some areas in the north of England you've a far higher chance of being on the receiving end of racial violence if you are white.

In the UK a metal fan is a far more likely to be a middle class kid who hates his dad and whilst he may wear a hoody he is approximately 100 times less likely to give you shit then some moron in a tracksuit. I have never seen a greebo/metal kid start a fight - not once, ever and I practically lived in rock bars/clubs for the period of my life when going out was financially possible.

It's slightly different when they are 40 years old and hardened bikers (there are some fun people in those circles) but I've never felt threatened by someone in a leather jacket. People wearing Ben Sherman shirts? People wearing tracksuits? They are the ones who start fights. Guess what sort of music they listen to - it's either "urban" music or dance.

Now if you're talking Norwegian Metal fans? Whole different kettle of fish. They are nucking futs, but that's because they're drug dealing bikers* - not because they like listening to umlaut rock like VöleStörm...

*Worth a read, particularly because it puts into perspective drug/gang wars in the USA, at least they don't use anti-tank weapons on each other...
posted by longbaugh at 12:43 PM on August 7, 2007


Gender frustrations = race delineations.

It must be obvious by now.

When in doubt, switch from a jock to a frock.
posted by humannaire at 3:04 PM on August 7, 2007


Enfranchisement, politicisation, engagement with democracy and inclusion could all help the situation.

Not something the ruling class likes to see. Divide and rule.
posted by asok at 3:55 PM on August 7, 2007


"Enfranchisement, politicisation, engagement with democracy and inclusion could all help the situation."

So what did voting in a lot of new Democratic Party politicos get us in the U.S.?
posted by davy at 2:11 PM on August 20, 2007


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