How Hip Hop Destroys the Potential of Black Youth
Hip hop has long been a bone of contention between younger and older blacks. Even Oprah Winfrey and Ice Cube are now in a highly publicized tangle over the genre. Yet, no one can deny that it has evolved into a compelling, multi-billion dollar, global industry. But what exactly is hip hop and why has it become such a commercial and cultural force around the world? It certainly is not simply some harmless fad that some claim it is, and its negative impact on young blacks can no longer be ignored.
Contrary to popular belief, hip hop is not just a style of music. It is actually the culture of poor inner-city life and the rallying cry of those unable to negotiate the nuances of the mainstream. It validates and glorifies formerly stigmatized characteristics of the lower class, in effect, preventing impetus for upward mobility.
The lyrics of hip hop music involve recurring themes of braggadocio and boastfulness to the extent that one can only wonder if it is overcompensation for inadequacy. Going beyond music, it also encompasses styles of dress, codes of behavior, and an overall defiance of social convention. It is this defiance of mainstream life that is at the root of underachievement in black youth. According to hip hop orthodoxy, for young blacks to be mainstream is for them to exhibit weakness, whiteness, and all that is the antithesis of hip hop.
Hip hop, as a culture, compels black youth to eschew the important concept of deferred gratification at perhaps the most formative juncture of their lives. The hip hop imperative is to accumulate flashy, overpriced, gaudy symbols of street success and to get it fast. When young men prance around with ostentatious items of “bling,” they advertise their worth and worthiness to the opposite sex. Materialism becomes the means to winning sexual conquests. Of course, young men can always earn sexual conquest the hard way, by cultivating one’s thug factor. Braided or dreadlocked hair, baggy clothing, ghetto diction, and street reputation can all serve to raise one’s thug factor.
Not to be outdone, young black women have a huge hand in the process. By sexually rewarding those young men most able to finance the materialism of hip hop, or those most endowed with the thug factor, the vicious and destructive lifestyle of hip hop is maintained. Knowing this, is there is any wonder why profit-driven crime has such a foothold in young inner–city life?
It is tragic that the hip hop imperative entrances young black students at a period when they should be mastering the scholarly basics. By eschewing their studies in favor of the “pimp and hustle,” important opportunities for self improvement are lost. By emulating convicted felons like 50 cent, 2 Pac, and Lil Kim, young blacks are laying the groundwork for their eventual failures in life.
More importantly, those talented black youth bright enough to realize the importance of preparing themselves for the future are too often demoralized and brow-beaten into hip hop conformity through peer pressure. Hip hop culture causes studious black students to be branded with accusations of “acting white” or not “keeping it real.” Even those who choose to pursue typical teenage employment are subject to ridicule since the hip hop imperative only respects earning money in a fast lucrative manner, regardless of legality. Consequently, preparedness for the competitive job market or higher education are squandered.
Sadly, when young blacks finally attempt to enter the mainstream job market, they are often devoid of the skills to obtain and maintain gainful employment. Because hip hop is frequently the cultural norm for inner-city young blacks, they see no harm in applying for a job with unsightly cornrows, baggy clothing, and less than industrious dispositions. Furthermore, those few who can muster the wherewithal to present themselves to employers in a professional manner are often not conversant enough in standard, grammatically correct English.
But what about the masses of white youth who are the primary consumers of hip hop? Why are they not adversely affected by hip hop as are black youth? For white youth, hip hop tends to serve simply as a medium for youth rebellion much like rock and roll did during the mid part of the 20th century. Only rarely do the children of the white middle class take on hip hop as more than mere entertainment. That is they tend not to view hip hop as a way of life, or as a standard to be attained as in the case of many black youth.
However, there is a segment of poor white youth that is increasingly falling prey to the hip hop imperative, the “Eminem” element if you will. While still miniscule, there is evidence that the hip hop imperative has infected poor, white inner city enclaves like
What about the global negative impact of hip hop? As mass media now reaches international audiences far and wide, it is no surprise that angry and underprivileged youth in
No less distressing is the growing notion that hip hop culture is tantamount to black culture. Forget about the rich cultural legacies of the Harlem Renaissance, Jazz, and the black middle class. None of that seems to matter anymore.
Let’s face it. Hip hop deadens the drive toward civility and legitimizes backwardness. It is high time that hip hop industry comes to terms with the social damage it perpetuates. If not, we can all count on yet another generation suffering from potential unrealized.
This insightful article is attributed to a guest writer at Project 21, a subgroup of the National Center For Public Policy Research.