May 13, 2011


Rapper’s Delight: A defense of Common at the White House. (John McWhorter, May 13, 2011, New Republic)

Of course, while Common is a poet worthy of the White House, he’s no political leader, and thus the sourest note about the whole fracas is that it has stirred up something that Obama’s election quietly tamped down. Not so long ago, quite a few harbored a melodramatic notion that “conscious” rap was going to undergird some kind of “hip-hop revolution.” That idea was always a distraction from real politics, which are something quite different from the earnest but idle cynicism set to rhymes over beats.

Immediately after Obama’s election, this trope lost its mojo. I suspect that the election of a black president looked so revolutionary in itself, and was ineluctably real in comparison to the fantastical “hip hop generation” vision. At the Obamas’ poetry night, rap was treated, in a high-profile venue, for what it is. That is, not something that is going to turn the Capitol upside down, but poetry—like Jay-Z’s work now sold between covers.

But the scenario is ruined when we have people of a different brand of recreational opposition protesting on the sidelines as if the Obamas having Common over were like inviting Young Jeezy or Cam’ron. Because Common now has a guru status complete with a burgeoning career in film, the criticism will come off to a healthy contingent as a knock on one of the bards of black dignity—i.e. as more evidence that Republicans are racists just as the debate over racism in the Tea Party has retreated.

Moreover, it will revive the eagerness of that same contingent to fill us in on the fact that “All rap isn’t like that!” The implication traditionally associated with this observation is that the rap not “like that” is our new Freedom Songs. But it never has been, and we’ve seen blissfully little of the pretense over the past two and a half years. It’s a shame, then, that the cotton-headed artistic sensibility of the Republicans’ poster people will pump new life into a routine with such a vast disproportion of heat to light.

a href="">holds Mr. Obama's own father in contempt too:
TOUCH: This is a lyric from the track ‘Heat’ on your ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ album: "State senators, life twirls, most sell out – like a dread with a white girl." Explain please.

COMMON: Rastafarianism is a black culture. When you see dreadlocked dudes with white girls that’s like they going against what the dreadlock’s purpose was. The dreadlock was a symbol of black love and the black people gettin’ to a certain level. In America we’ve got a lot of dreadlocked dudes and all you see them with is white girls. I don’t think there’s anything the matter with somebody loving somebody from another race but it’s almost like a stereotype that if you’ve got dreadlocks you go out with a white girl. I just feel like, as black men, we do have to be aware that, yo, every time we step out with some woman it’s setting an example for our daughters and it’s also representing something for our mothers. If you can’t really love your own, how can you really love others?

TOUCH: So you don’t agree with mixed race relationships?

COMMON: I disagree with them. It's a lack of self-love. It's a problem.

TOUCH: Have you ever dated outside your race?

COMMON: Nah, not dated [giggles].

AUGUST WILSON'S REALITY (John McWhorter, 5/10/07, New Republic)
Several years ago a young black woman I was talking to said "I think we'll always be a sad people." I asked her why, and the upshot of the answer was that our psyches will always be stained with the trauma of dislocation and lost identity.

But to this, I still ask "Why?" I ask that not because I don't want it to be that way--although I don't. I ask that because it is really unclear to me that black Americans will be the only humans in history to never heal. I don't see the logic in it. I, for one, feel thoroughly "real." I have plenty of music in me: I have hundreds of CDs and a piano. I suspect my CD collection and Wilson's would overlap only slightly--but I've got plenty of stuff Wilson would accept as authentically black, and I process all kinds of "realities" in the non-black music as well.

Yes, my wife is white. However, she sure looks real to me, and our relationship feels real, too; last time I checked she was my soulmate. With another roll of the dice, she may have been a black soulmate. They come in all colors.

As much as I have loved so many of Wilson's plays, I do not accept that the life I lead is unreal, inauthentic, or broken. Our vegetable garden is authentic, and I do not water my cucumbers because I wish I was white. My life is authentic. It is authentic to me.

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Posted by at May 13, 2011 2:21 PM

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