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Date: Fri, 22 Nov 2002 14:57:19 -0800
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Will hip-hop kill the civil rights star?
Will hip-hop kill the civil rights star?
Provocative generation-gap premise fuels a new book
Nov. 21 When characters in the hit film
"Barbershop" ridiculed Rosa Parks and other
revered civil-rights figures, it infuriated defenders
of '60s-style activism. But to Todd Boyd, it was no
big deal. It was just talk from down the street. To
Boyd, the movie's comments point to an
intraracial cultural divide a long time building a
generational split that, he suggests in a new book,
spells an end to the cultural dominance of black
Americans raised in the era of civil rights.
BOYD IS AUTHOR of "The New H.N.I.C" (New
York University Press), a book whose provocative subtitle
"The Death of Civil Rights and the Reign of Hip Hop"
points to a growing rift among African Americans of
different generations, a crack whose potential to turn into a
generational chasm has implications for the future of black
Boyd, a professor of critical studies at the University of
Southern California School of Cinema-Television, and
co-writer of the acclaimed 1999 film "The Wood," argues
that the civil rights movement, and its icons, resonate far less
for African American youth than the music and esthetic of
hip-hop that the swagger and braggadocio of the hip-hop
world, and its underlying self-assertiveness, matter more than
the protest-based traditions and values that typified the civil
It's a viewpoint likely to put Boyd in the free-fire zone of
racial politics when the book is published in December.
'A DIFFERENT GENERATION'
"When you talk about civil rights, people from then are
often held up as the model of blackness, as though anything
that comes after that must adhere to those standards," he
said in an interview. "It's the same impetus behind [NBC
News anchor] Tom Brokaw saying the World War II
generation was 'the greatest generation.'
"However significant the civil rights movement was,
there's now a different generation that relates to the world
differently," he said. "The younger generation isn't going to
identify with civil rights the same way their parents did."
Boyd seems to stake out provocative territory in his slim,
conversationally-styled book. But one could almost apply the
comfortable '60s-vintage phrase "generation gap" to describe
the division that Boyd describes.
"I wouldn't minimize the term 'generation gap,' " he
said. "That's quite instructive, in that it tells us that people
from different generations relate to issues of their time
and before their time based on how they came into the
There are curious disconnects in his argument. Boyd's
broad identification of the civil rights era's seminal figures
overlooks Malcolm X; the Black Power movement of Stokely
Carmichael and H. Rap Brown; and the Black Panthers, all
of whom came to prominence in that time with an assertive
activism that contradicts the notion of civil rights veterans as
mealy-mouthed accomodationists an in-your-face activism
consistent with the hip-hop esthetic.
But for Boyd, it's not the same. "Malcolm and the
Panthers were not part of the civil rights movement," he said.
"Martin Luther King drew his ideology from Gandhi, while
Malcolm X defined his ideology from third-world struggles
rooted in Marxism and Islam."
In the book, Boyd
distinguishes hip-hop from rap
("rap is what you do; hip-hop is
what you are") and celebrates
"hip-hop purists" who "regard the
celebration of wealth and material
goods to be counter to hip-hop's
overall objective ... to make music
for the margins, as opposed to the
though, Boyd offers an expansion
on the book's argument that
verges on the contrary.
"I don't know that 'keeping it real' means doing
without," he said. "It has to do with being honest and
authentic about who you are, regardless of the
circumstances. I don't necessarily see it as a vow of poverty.
To me, ^A'bling-bling' [hip-hop's description celebrating
conspicuous consumption] is a political statement where
people are saying to a hostile world, 'in spite of obstacles,
I've managed to succeed.' "
PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN
And Boyd decries the violence in society against blacks,
but to him, hip-hop's misogynist aspect something that's
complicated acceptance of rap and hip-hop in the wider
cultural arena is a matter of artistic expression.
"It may not be politically correct; it may be offensive,
sexist or misogynistic," he said. "But these ideas exist and
hip-hop allows you to hear that they exist.
"Hip-hop's representation of women is more
complicated than 'bitches and ho's.' When people want to
reduce it to that, they miss the point," he said. "The
articulation of these sentiments is important because it allows
us to hear what people think."
But Boyd rails against what he sees as bigger
inconsistencies in popular culture. "Hip-hop is about
portraying a certain aspect of society," he said. "People point
to what hip-hop is responsible for, but they never point
fingers" at other pop-cultural outlets, he said.
"When women are treated in sexist ways in a James
Bond movie, no one accuses James Bond of being a
perpetrator of sexism in society. Rappers often describe the
lives they came from. When [series creator] David Chase
does that on 'The Sopranos,' he's praised as a genius.
NO STRANGER TO CONTROVERSY
"Look at 'The Sopranos,' or look at 'The Godfather' or
'Goodfellas' take your pick. Nobody sees [those films] as
leading to a rise in the murder rate, as they do with hip-hop. I
don't know what it is that makes people want to hang the ills
of the world on hip-hop."
Boyd is no stranger to hot topics. In a previous book,
"Am I Black Enough for You?" Boyd examined ways in
which aspects of inner-city life are woven into popular
culture and the entertainment industry. And in April 2000, at
a Los Angeles book festival, Boyd had a volatile, highly
publicized row with Jonathan Entine, author of "Taboo," a
controversial book on the dominance of black athletes.
Boyd realizes that the viewpoint of his new book will
probably raise readers' hackles, but he said he's ready
eager, even for the return fire he's expecting.
"We're at a point where people think disagreement is
almost bad manners," he said. "People don't debate the
issues anymore. Ideas are there to provoke and make people
think. The same sort of competition that's on the basketball
courts, I want to bring to intellectual discussion. I want to
make people think, talk and reconsider some of the ideas
they've held so dear. If my book prompts controversy, if
someone wants to argue, hey, I'm from Detroit let's go at
it. I'm ready to defend mine."
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