Ice-T, Juan Williams, Tipper Gore, Jello Biafra and Nelson George, all on the Oprah Winfrey Show (circa 1990) discussing the influence of rap music on white teenagers.
Alright, alright. That’s not what half of them take themselves to be talking about, but that’s what they’re talking about.
What’s striking to me about this is that I actually remember seeing this discussion around that time (I was in high school), and I can vividly remember being completely against Ice-T and thinking that he was truly evil. (Did I mention I’m white and that I grew up in the South?)
But now I can’t watch this without really being astounded at the implicit white supremacy and complete erasure of the experience of young black men that comes through in what a lot of these people are saying. It’s all over the discussion, but I especially direct your attention to the white male audience member who’s speaking at the break between the first and second video below.
The other angle is that there is a serious problem with misogyny going on as well.
So what is my opinion? I honestly don’t know what to think about it.
I do think that criticism of misogyny in Ice-T’s music, as if he and other hip hop artists are uniquely or especially misogynistic, belies the implicit white supremacy I mentioned above.
Misogyny is everywhere in popular music going back a very long time. See Johnny Cash (“I shot my woman down”), Led Zeppelin (“The soul of a woman was created below”) and countless other white musicians of all genres.
None of that’s to say that there isn’t and wasn’t serious misogyny in hip hop, but any justice minded person should worry when charges of misogyny are deployed from a white supremacist standpoint in order to silence black men.
I have to think that it’s possible to reconcile gender justice and racial justice.
So, yeah, watch this. And wonder if we’ve made some progress since 1990. Or if we’ve gone backwards.
Yes, it’s (annoyingly) in four parts. Yes, it’s Oprah Winfrey. Yes, it’ll take you about 45 minutes to get through it. Yes, should watch it anyway.
But first, watch Ice-T’s Lethal Weapon (the link is to the lyrics), which is – frankly – a work of genius.
And here’s the Oprah in four parts.