These days, I suppose I am what many African-American “gangstas” in the ‘hood or pseudo-gangstas in the comfortable middle-class call a “cracker.” Especially in hip-hop settings.
I’m thankful my cracker parents were wise beyond our white-bread surroundings. I never heard the word “nigger” in our house. My dad coached my Little League baseball team, and he was the only coach who drafted African-American kids my age. We watched Alex Haley’s Roots on tv in the ’70s and were captivated and shamed by it. The word “nigger” always stung me, obviously not as a personal affront but as an instance of meanness and hateful ignorance. Despite a Southern drawl that would probably fit in at a KKK meeting, I was lucky enough to grow up without the terrible baggage of racism.
Some folks from where I grew up might call the beautiful woman I married a mulatto or a “high yellow.” Some folks from where I grew up did tell me that my marriage was simply wrong. My favorite aunt said she had no problem with my wife but that she wouldn’t want that for one of her sons. A co-worker politely said whom I married was my business and he was happy for me, but that he didn’t believe in interracial marriage.
There’s no getting around the fact that my children will be different, discriminated against, and stereotyped. And some folks back home will call them “white chocolate.”
When Coretta Scott King died a few weeks ago, I thought of her husband’s most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” My oldest boyz are only 12 (they’re twins), and they’re already prancing around our crib with their boxers pulled up and hanging out of their saggy jeans. They cultivate ghetto-speak. And my 7-year-old daughter sings along with the fornication-innuendo-laced lyrics that fill every other hip-hop song. They’re all on the verge of a hip-hop adolescence, and I have to tell you that – even as an open-minded cracker – I’m illin’.
The boys are about to enter puberty enthralled by an African-American counter-culture that celebrates the sexual degradation of women – women no different from Coretta Scott King or, for that matter, Rosa Parks – a subculture that attempts to dignify sexual lasciviousness, blatant chauvinism, children born and reared out of wedlock, African-American male egomaniacs (rapping mostly about themselves and how thug or hard or down they are), gun violence, ruthless greed (“Get Rich or Die Tryin”), absurd covetousness (flashy tire rims, dental grills, pimped rides), questionable sports hero-worship (A.I., T.O., Kobe Bryant, and the like), and intellectual superficiality. Hip-hop debases educated diction, scorns nonviolent conflict management, and trivializes platonic relationships. I can’t help but be concerned.
Am I being an alarmist honky? Am I just out-of-touch with my familial circle of interracial peeps? Is it wrong for me to criticize the cultural skillz of my shorties?
I try to be open-minded. I even try to be absent-minded. I just can’t help but think that when MLK had a dream, this wasn’t what he had in mind. He wouldn’t have approved of the hip-hop lifestyle, music, and videos. He wouldn’t have wanted young black women – potential Coretta Scott Kings or Rosa Parkses – depicted as “babymammas” or “ho’s” or “hollaback” girls. He wouldn’t have wanted young black women to be portrayed as promiscuous, flesh-baring sex objects to be coveted and collected frequently but fleetingly by young black gangstas eager to bolster their cred as playas. He wouldn’t have wanted young black men using or peddling drugs or settling their differences by capping each other with gats. He wouldn’t have wanted young black people branding themselves with phat tattoos.
Coretta Scott King’s passing struck me because it made me realize that the voice of black America is no longer her husband’s. It’s P. Diddy’s or Kanye West’s or 50 Cent’s. And they’re speaking loud and proud but not really saying anything particularly meaningful or culturally redemptive.
All this compels me to sincerely ask all you homies to front me a serious piece of ear: Is it just me, whitey, or doesn’t practically everything that hip-hop culture promotes make Martin Luther King Jr. look like a clueless Uncle Tom? Doesn’t the lifestyle you gangstas perpetuate resemble his nightmare rather than his dream? Have MLK’s ideals become embarrassingly un-hip or completely irrelevant?
Break it down for me playas, peeps, countrymen. As a fairly new member of black America by marriage, I’d really like to know.
E. R. Bills is a Fort Worth writer and construction worker.