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Rap Killing Reinforces Racial Stereotypes

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: May 20, 2009

A few years back, media outlets took shocking note of a deadly and disturbing phenomenon. A lot of rap artists were suddenly turning up dead. Dead actually is not the right way to describe their deaths. They were murdered, and their murderers in almost all of the cases were other rappers, or their friends, or the associates of rival rappers. The most celebrated killings were those of rap bigwigs Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG. The rap victims were killed at parties, nightclubs, recording studios, or while sitting in their cars. One was even killed while allegedly trying to knock over a convenience store. Since then the body count has climbed even higher, with the latest casualty being 21-year-old rapper Dolla (Roderick Anthony Burton II), who was gunned down Monday at a shopping center in Los Angeles.

Dollas murder again tossed an ugly glare on a problem that has bedeviled the rap business, and a bigger problem that chronically plagues young black males. The personal feuds, jealous rivalries, and unvarnished gangsterism that is rife among some in the rap industry has deeply planted the sordid image in the minds of many that the rap industry is synonymous with gangs, crime and violence. The Dolla killing reportedly was preceded by a gang brawl in a parking lot outside an Atlanta club. This is an all too familiar rerun of mob brawls that have been the prelude to the murders of the other rappers.

The murders of the rappers have done more than batter an image of an industry branded and universally reviled as violent, self-destructive and self-indulgent. It has also reinforced the stereotypes of young black males as inherently gang attracted and violence prone. This is a vicious and unfair stereotype since the overwhelming majority of young black males do not engage in this gratuitous violence. They have gotten the emblematic rap as being a part of that world because the gun-toting rappers and their violence-prone hangers-ons play hard on the us-versus-them volcanic rage of some young blacks.

But black-on-black violence -- though exploited, glorified, and even celebrated, especially if theres a payoff in it -- is hardly an invention of rappers. The biggest buyers of rap music and even the rapper lifestyle have been non-blacks. They are the ones who jingle the cash registers for the rap industry. But the bitter truth is that they arent the face of the violence in the rap world, and they arent the ones that much of the public would dare finger as responsible for violence and murder among young people.

Young blacks are the ones who are fingered. And tragically in the last two decades, murder has been at or near the top of the list of the leading causes of death of black males under 25. Their assailants were not white racist cops or Klan nightriders, but other black males. Their death toll has soared, because far too many Americans still dont get excited about black violence as long as it doesn't spill over the borders of the ghettos into their suburbs.

Pent-up anger and frustration among some black males is only one cause of the dangerous cycle of black-on-black violence. Some black males are engaged in a seemingly eternal desperate search for self-identity. Their tough talk, swagger, and mannerisms are defense mechanisms they use to boost their esteem. They measure their status or boost their self-worth by demonstrating their proficiency in physical fights, assaults and, yes, murder.

Some blacks even make a litany of excuses, such as poverty, broken homes, and abuse, to excuse the violence. These explanations for the mindless violence that thug-acting rap entrepreneurs engage in are phony and self-serving. Many of the rappers who have landed hard in a court docket are anything but hard-core, dysfunctional poverty cases. Yet the internal rage that propels them to commit thuggish acts still lies dangerously close to the surface.

None of this is consolation to Dolla and his family. Sean "Diddy" Combs, who is certainly no stranger to controversy and has had his run-ins with the law, praised Dolla as a good kid. However, Combs had a cautionary note in his praise of Dolla and that was not to take life for granted. His message was not for Dolla, but for the potential targets and victims of those who exult the gangster violence that many in the rap business make their fortune from exploiting. Its a message that those within and without that world should heed.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, The Hutchinson Report can be heard weekly in Los Angeles on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and nationally on blogtalkradio.com.

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