Friday, October 17, 2003

Bob Herbert Says Something Sensible

I don't know what's happening to Bob Herbert. Usually he's very careful to stay firmly within the boundaries of orthodox liberal opinion on the issues, but this is the second time in the space of 6 months that he's had something to say that isn't the same old trite nonsense one expects coming from him:

Ghettopoly is a board game, based on Monopoly, and it has a lot of people fired up.

Marches and protests by people denouncing the game as racist have distributors running for cover. Yahoo and eBay have blocked the sale of the game on their sites, and the Urban Outfitters chain has stopped selling it in stores.

People are outraged — outraged! — that a game would portray inner-city blacks as pimps and hustlers and ho's.

Kweisi Mfume, president of the N.A.A.C.P., has threatened to boycott sellers of Ghettopoly, which he described as "demeaning, repugnant and reprehensible, to say the least."

For the record: Ghettopoly is without question an ugly game that promotes disgusting racial stereotypes. It presents blacks as murderous, thieving, dope-dealing, carjacking degenerates. Instead of the familiar Monopoly pieces, like top hats and thimbles, Ghettopoly players get to move around the board as pimps, machine guns and rocks of crack cocaine.

So I'm not feeling sorry for David Chang, the game's beleaguered 28-year-old creator. What I'd like to know is why all this outrage is springing up over a board game when so little is heard in the way of protest about the outlandishly self-destructive behavior that gives rise to a game like Ghettopoly, and which is burying any chance of a viable future for extraordinary numbers of young black men and women, and their children.

How can you march against a game and not march against the real-life slaughter on the streets and in the homes of inner cities across America? Violent crime, ignorance and disease are carving the very heart out of America's black population.

The president of the Los Angeles Council of Churches, the Rev. Leonard Jackson, told me last spring about the long line of funerals he's had to conduct for young black men and women, and boys and girls. He seemed on the verge of tears. "The young people have more of a chance of dying here in South Central than in a military combat zone," he said.

Instead of using their influence to help stop the slaughter, certain truly twisted elements of the hip-hop culture encourage it, celebrating it in songs that not only glorify murderous violence, but also degrade black people to a degree that should leave any sensible person stupefied.

"We dangerous," says one song. "Bitches pay a fee just to hang with us."

Trust me, we've got some problems that are bigger than Ghettopoly. We've got insane young men who take their heavy armament into the street and shoot up the neighborhood, and then go back inside to listen to music that celebrates the act of shooting up the neighborhood. That is not a sign of a healthy culture.


Ghettopoly is a stupid and offensive game. But its reach is nowhere near as vast or as dangerous as the "Lord of the Flies" street culture that is seducing one generation after another of black children, and producing freakish entertainers like Nelly and 50 Cent.

We learned last month that Nelly, a male rapper from St. Louis, was marketing a new drink called Pimp Juice — aimed, I suppose, at niggaz and ho's. The drink was a follow-up to Nelly's hit song of the same name, a song with such immortal lines as "You ain't from Russia, so bitch why you Russian?"

50 Cent has the top album of the year, and one of the hit songs is "P.I.M.P." He brags in the song that he'll have his ho "stripping in the street." Of one of his women, he says, "The last nigga she was with put stitches in her head."

That's not entertainment. That's a symptom.

I suppose it takes a black ultra-liberal to say something like this and get away with it, but this does need saying. Not all of the problems that befall blacks can be laid at the door of white racism, and there's something seriously messed up about the glorification of violence, thuggery and misogyny that is so prevalent in hip-hop culture. What is the world coming to when "black culture" is identified with gangsterism and poverty, and "keepin' it real" is interpreted as rejecting higher aspirations or "white" cultural values? It seems to me that those who buy into this rubbish are suffering from internalized racism - they are convinced that to be black is to be second-rate, and that to have ambitions beyond the ordinary is to entertain ideas above one's station.

For more on the problematic identification of "black culture" with "gangsta" rap, see this post by Cobb.