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Stop Dissing Hip-Hop Nation

March 13, 2003|Jimi Izrael

I can't understand why the civil rights illuminati wake up only long enough to scold the young people.

Rosa Parks, for instance, the hero of the mid-1950s Montgomery bus boycott, chose to sit out this year's NAACP Image Awards, mounting a sort of personal boycott of her own, even though a biopic in her name was nominated for a number of awards. She's apparently upset about a couple of disparaging remarks about her made in the movie "Barbershop," which was also nominated for five awards.

Parks has already alienated hip-hoppers by hiring Johnnie Cochran to sue rappers OutKast for alleged misuse of her name. Now, instead of bearing the dignity that takes a joke in stride, she joins others who expect so much from a generation they have nothing but contempt for.

The civil rights generation has imposed an agenda on a nation of black youth that, although as capable as any before it (if not more so), has only been passed the fish but not the rod and reel. We have benefited from the struggle of others without learning the value of continuous agitation.

Generational Division

There has been a lot of criticism from the oldsters but no effort to empower and assist the next generation. The freedom fighters hung up their gloves too quickly, leaving a nation of hip-hoppers flailing at enemies unknown.

Instead, the civil rights middle class has passed down a Jeffersonian "movin' on up" ethos about the culture of consumption, teaching that the power of the dollar is in the spending, not in the wielding of it.

With millions in discretionary income and no fear of authority, the hip-hop generation could be a formidable political lobby. And the optimum time to agitate is when you're young, while getting arrested at a protest is hip, progressive and still gets a lot of finger-claps at the coffeehouse.

But Al Sharpton and Jesse "Side Action" Jackson are too busy at the movies and chasing racist apparitions (real and imagined) to actively engage and work with hip-hop heads.

Parks is upset by less than 30 seconds of commentary in a movie she has most likely never seen and is unlikely to see. And, obviously being ill advised, she has missed a teaching opportunity.

Ozzy Is Better?

Instead of boycotting the NAACP event, why didn't she take that same energy, push pseudo-politico Russell Simmons off the podium and become a spiritual leader of a recent boycott attempt on cola conglomerati PepsiCo? Granted, she probably doesn't drink Pepsi anyway, and she isn't likely to be a fan of rapper Ludacris, but surely even she can understand the dis leveled at the hip-hop nation when Pepsi dropped that "inappropriate" black spokesperson and picked up a white one: When did Ozzy Osbourne become appropriate for anything?

What a powerful statement she could have made to the establishment, and a loving gesture to a generation largely consumed with consuming, too much so to grasp the poignancy of using the power of the dollar to effect change.

How long could Bill O'Reilly and PepsiCo have stood up to Rosa Parks? But she -- or her handlers -- seem preoccupied with preserving an image that she herself has admitted is overdone.

Parks should know that Cedric the Entertainer's comments about civil rights legends in "Barbershop" probably sent many to the library to learn more. She could have embraced this faux pas and used it to move forward -- maybe even hosting an MTV special with Cedric on the power of protest. Instead, she's at home, wondering what's wrong with kids today.

What's wrong is that we need guidance and hands-on interaction, not admonition and scorn.

What's wrong, Mrs. Parks (respectfully), is that the hip generation gots love for you, but you gots no love for us.

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Jimi Izrael is a writer in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. E-mail: jimiizrael@hotmail.com.

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