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Samizdata quote of the day

Duke Ellington has more in common with Ravel than with Snoop Dogg. Scott Joplin would have regarded today’s “black culture” as an oxymoron. To eliminate a century and a half’s tradition of beauty and grace from your identity isn’t “keepin’ it real”; it’s keepin’ millions of young black men and women unreal in ways the most malevolent bull-necked racist could never have devised.

Mark Steyn

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18 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Brian

    Outstanding article. Mr. Steyn “keeps it real” himself.

  • Dats tellin’ dem Ho’s an Mofo’s.Actually there is a host of black musical talent out there – they are just not famous outside jazz circles.

  • a_T

    There’s a host of black musical talent out there in all sorts of fields. Steyn’s criticism of much ‘urban’ music’s nihilism is spot on, but implying that it’s not music is plain ignorant. Ah well, if people will get old & ignore that which is new, that’s their own loss.

    (also, it has to be said that being socially aware/relevant/a decent citizen & making good music don’t necessarily go hand in hand, as many a rapper/rocker/country star/jazz musician can testify)

  • veryretired

    There is a very common, and uniformly disastrous, error at the core of what Steyn, along with many other insightful commentators, is writing about. It afflicts many groups who have gone through the fires of repression and persecution, progresses through some clearly definable stages, and inevitably ends up exactly where the black community is now—victims of their own definitions.

    First, the problem. It is natural, common, almost irresistable, to take the trait(s) long used against you as an epithet and turn it into a basis for prideful identity.

    It can be seen clearly in the history of groups like Jews, Catholics, the Irish, women, gays, various people of color, Islamicists, and many others. The mechanism is simple and obvious—for generations, some group is demonized because it’s members are stereotyped as having a basketfull of negative characteristics. (The basket contains roughly the same alleged failings in almost all cases, another fascinating element of this phenomenon).

    Then, in a surge of awakening assertiveness, the group begins to agitate for better treatment, and, invariably, selects the very stigmatizing characteristic that was used against it as its “badge of honor”.

    For black people, that characteristic has been race.

    For generations, being black, being a negro, meant a long list of failings and faults. One has only to watch an old movie with a comedic black servant, such as the driver in most “Charlie Chan” movies, to see the whole range of alleged flaws. (Old movies are wonderful for this kind of cultural research—any then-current social shorthand is used to quickly establish characters without having to explore or develop them, thereby revealing prevalent attitudes in nice, clear brushstrokes).

    Then the group leaders, trying to rally the other members to more activism, begin to accentuate that previously negative element as a positive characteristic, imbued with numerous wonderful traits which should be celebrated, not apologized for.

    As these new assertions harden into cultural axioms that form the basis for a better, more admirable group identity, and, by extension, better individual identities, sharing in the group’s alleged basic characteristics becomes not just a source of pride, but a duty that admits of no variation.

    And, over and over, there lies the fatal flaw of group identity.

    If, one is told, you are black, then it means this, and this, and this, is what you must believe. These are the values you must adhere to. Anything else is “not-black”.

    Substitute feminist or gay or Irish or an host of others, and the pattern is the same.

    Furthermore, as in many group dynamics, the more radical the definitions become, the more vehement the demands for conformity.

    Several studies have shown that it is the radical members of any group that tend to pull the group towards them, as they demonstrate their courage and committment by rejecting any compromise, rejecting any criticism, indeed, by escalating their demands and increasing the eccentricity of their definitions until, in the current black disfunction, trying to do well in school is “white”, or, in radical feminism, getting married to a male is synonymous with submitting to paternalism and rape.

    The error, of course, is not in the demand for respect, or the agitation for equality and justice under the law, or the abolition of barriers erected due to utterly fallacious negative group stereotyping.

    The error is in the adoption of a group identity as definitive at all, for good or ill.

    Over and over, the same mistake engenders similar disastrous results—deny the individual dignity and unique nature of each independent person, lump everyone into the same basket because they’re (fill in the blank), and, very quickly, the badge of honor pinned to the chest becomes a knife to the heart.

    Several prominent members of the black community have tried to raise this issue. It entails a painful and rationally meticulous reconsideration of the collectivist fantasy that so many have invested so heavily in that to accomplish a reappraisal will be, in many ways, an even greater triumph than the orignal movement for equal rights.

    Self examination is always a difficult and demanding task, but therein lies the greatest honor and reward—the glorious realization that each human person is an individual unique to his- or herself, an end, never a means, an entire universe of mind and heart and soul contained in a few square yards of skin.

    It is the pearl of great price, for which all else is sold in order to possess it.

    Some day, I pray in my heart of hearts, there may come a time when most people, though never all, will wake each morning and exult in the fact that they stand alone before the universe, a feeling, thinking, striving individual whose only required claim to fame is his unique status as a rational human being.

    Oh, man, makes me want to out and tilt at a windmill.

  • I have not read the Steyn article yet but I do hope he is not suggesting there are not also hugely talented black musicians out there because that is crazy. Sure, there is a lot of crap (nihilistic crap at that) but there is also some real brilliance… and some of it is rap/hip-hop.

  • Brian

    Why does it matter what colour they are?

  • What galls me is that the current ‘black’ music industry is so ungrateful as to exclude forms of expression without which the would be no ‘black’ music industry.
    Take away a culture’s past and you take away their present, denying them a future.

  • Shorter Mark Steyn: I’m old and this new fangled music is the devil.

    Next he’ll be complaining that white kids these days listen to Justin Timberlake instead of The Beatles.

  • I should add that despite being white and listening to Eminem a fair bit, I have never once been tempted to drive my car off a bridge with my girlfriend locked in the trunk.

  • walkercolt

    Before you comment on this, shouldn’t you read the Steyn article? Old Folk’s distaste for rap/hiphop is the least of the issues dealt with by Steyn. In fact, I don’t even see that as a point in his article – the self disempowerment of the “artists” is.

  • michael farris

    “I have never once been tempted to drive my car off a bridge with my girlfriend locked in the trunk.”

    I don’t use the word ‘hero’ lightly…

  • Rap/hip-hop is only “black” in the sense that most of the artists are black. The audience comes in all colors – and (for admittedly mainly demographic reasons) most rap artists sell more albums to white fans than black.

    I agree with Steyn that the black community suffers from a cult of victimhood promoted by the likes of Jackson and Sharpton. But I disagree that the “touchy” defense of rap music is symptomatic of this. The touchiness about rap music is partly justified: rap/hip-hop artists were unfairly singled out by the PMRC’s censorship campaign in the 80s. Sure, they complained about some metal albums here and there, but hip-hop got the brunt of it. As for today, I think it’s simply more visible becuse it’s so popular. There are plenty of metal albums with equally objectionable nihilistic lyrics, and I guess if Agolloch sold as well as Snoop we’d hear more about that. Most rap fans don’t take the lyrics all that seriously — because they’re not meant to be taken all that seriously.

  • CFM

    Conformist members of any of the collectivist victim groups don’t seem to understand a basic rule of life: When all is said and done, what defines any human being is not their race, but their actions.

    Letting either racists or race-mongerers define your place in life for you is a recipe for personal, and social, disaster.


  • lucklucky

    What about if rap is a result of not anymore significant thing to be discovered in music? The Human genious and capitalism make that many more people than ever staying in music industry( certainly more than population in some big European XVI countries) and that extraodinary growing in XIX and XX centuries ended the search of rythms. There are certainly some more combinations to be discovered but maybe there arent much more. I say that is also happening in painting.
    Our senses are limited. And that would be an issue in XXI Century.

  • JB

    I wonder whether “keeping it real” came before rap music or rap music came before “keeping it real?”

    There are definitely talented musicians that operate in the rap genre. The problem is not that they’re not talented, the problem is when kids try to live their life like a rap song. At the end of the day, the white kid in the suburbs with a stable family and a middle class lifestyle has a better understanding of the limitations of a “keeping it real” ideology. The black kid, in the inner city with no father and fewer role models has a much weaker moral compass to help him decide which reality is preferable and to understand that the “keeping it real” ideology is more of a ploy to sell records than anything else. I see these kids in my neighborhood everyday with t-shirts down to their ankles, hanging out on the street and up to no apparent good.

    Furthermore, it is easy to blame the problem on “society” at large. It is much harder to call these parents to account for their actions as Bill Cosby famously did.

  • Steyn’s article has nothing to do with rap music.

    It is a review of Juan William’s book, Enough, which describes the total failure of leadership within the black community that has institutionalised victimisation and failure.

    Whites who profess a love of gangsta rap music to enhance their cool credentials do not exactly figure too highly in Williams’ estimations either.

  • Julian Taylor

    Sasha Cohen/Ali G’s sending up of the “Is it cos I is black?” tag, often used as a precursor to stifle any attempt at racial debate, probably did more to help stop this sort of behaviour in the UK than any touchy-feely government department, racial equality quango or other state-sponsored organisation ever has achieved.

    Of course, whether his latest Borat creation does the same for Kazakhstan remains to be seen …

  • jon

    I think that blaming the leaders of a certain underclass for the failures of that class is largely without merit. For American blacks to be the victims of their leadership is almost a way of excusing the actions of the blacks themselves. Jesse Jackson has never, to my knowledge, robbed a convenience store. Ray Nagin didn’t, as far as I can tell, loot a single storefront in New Orleans. The leaders of blacks should be the blacks themselves, and it is ridiculous to assume that others are following their examples in all matters.

    Are conservative white guys in America going to start targeting my sons with sexually-explicit instant messages soon? Sure, maybe some will. But that’s the fault of those few, not of some idiot in a position of leadership.

    What I find most interesting regarding the entire “keeping it real” meme is its applicability to the Islamic world and its apparent inability to modernize. Instead of “acting white” being a much-employed epithetical method of control, the Islamic world controls itself by undermining any efforts to modernize as “acting Western/American/Jewish/modern/un-Islamic”. Invest in the future? Usury is heretical! Free speech? Dangerous ideas! Rights for women? Disrespectful insults!

    Just keepin’ it real, say those lady-stoning, gay-hanging, change-fearing, backwards-thinking morons.