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A Long Way to Go

by Sudhama Ranganathan Monday, Mar. 02, 2009 at 6:19 PM

In an effort to reconstruct after the defeats of the latest elections Republicans have been working to re-brand themselves. They have suffered from an association with the Bush – Cheney administration no doubt. The refusal of many Republicans to openly distance themselves from them during the elections surely contributed to this, but that’s not all. Now, Michael Steele, the new Chairman of the Republican National Committee wants to give the party “a hip hop make over.” That will be interesting.

A Long Way to Go...
longroad.jpg, image/jpeg, 1024x768

I grew up as a young biracial American the son of two immigrants one from the UK and one from India. My parents weren’t politically active per se but always had political opinions and much of how they chose political affiliations depended on how they were treated. As a married interracial couple the bite of intolerance made an impression, and when they found friends who accepted them, Democrats 90% of the time easily, that too made an impression.

I learned early on which party was known for being more open to change and people’s differences and which was more rigid. In the neighborhood I grew up in those neighbors who were most bigoted were usually Republican. As I grew up this didn’t change although the country did. People of color, different religions, creeds and lifestyles became more and more prevalent. The party that reached out to minority groups and middle class Americans was invariably Democrats.

I started listening to hip hop in the early to mid eighties as I lived in a college town/small city where a large number of students came from New York. As such those students would bring hip hop culture and music to their school, my city and their college radio station. I got into hip hop music, the culture and the message during its infancy. I remember clearly the reaction Republicans had to hip hop and it was negative, uncivil and typically derogatory.

During the civil rights movement of the 60’s and 70’s it was Republicans who openly campaigned to deny minority rights. I recall with some recoil when a former Grand Wizard of the KKK ran for and got elected Louisiana State Representative in 1989 and served until 1992. It may seem like a long time ago, but it was not.

Here we are in 2008 and things are so different right? Well yes and no. It’s nice a part of the Republican Party wants, as Steele puts it, to “capture that region – young, Hispanic, black.” He says he wants to apply conservative principles to hip hop. I myself am an independent, but can tell you… that’s going to be rough.

Look at some things prominent Republicans have said with regards to race lately. I say race as it has always been a matter of concern in hip hop from the early days of the Bronx River Housing Projects Community Center activities to get at risk youths (usually minority) off the streets, to groups like Public Enemy, Tupac and Nas just to name a few. Hip Hop always talked honestly and openly rarely resorting to subtle innuendo, but rather rewarding those who spoke frankly about what was happening.

Attorney General Eric Holder said a short time ago we are a nation of cowards when it comes to discussing race. Many took offense to this statement although the statement was not pointed at a specific group of people. Of course he was not trying to be subtle he meant what he said, and he was referring to all of us.

Prominent Republican Pat Buchanan in response claimed to be insulted, and instead of discussing race in terms of things all sides could do better he immediately, as if defending himself from the ropes, attempted to discuss race by rattling off a litany of negative statistics. He made an argument that in essence said blacks and Latinos are criminals, blacks and Latinos are doing nothing to curb this, it’s no one’s problem but theirs. The only cause he offered was regarding why unemployment is so high with these demographics that being illegal Latino immigrants.

He of course failed to mention how things got that way. He never mentioned the contributions of minorities, and didn’t treat them as his neighbors or part of the culture at large. He behaved as though minorities are unworthy of consideration. No one’s going back to Africa, Asia, Latin America or anywhere else nor should they. Americans are Americans.

Rush Limbaugh, known as the intellectual voice of the Republican Party and proclaimed an honorary member of congress for helping Republicans win a majority in the 90’s, has his own list of hits. Here’s one: “I mean let’s face it we didn’t have slavery in this country for over 100 years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: slavery built the south. I’m not saying we should bring it back I’m just saying it had its merits. For one thing the streets were safer after dark.”

This is not an old statement and not atypical. Who was he talking about after all? For whom did it have merits? Not blacks. For whom was it a good thing? Not blacks. Which streets are unsafe? He was touting the benefits of slavery as he perceives them to his audience members who are Republicans. The “voice of the Republican Party” goes on similar tirades listened to by millions of Republicans every day. Who is his show geared towards? Not hip hop.

The days of guilt are over and we should all take sober looks at race relations from all sides. Hip hop has helped to do so especially for those who did not grow up in impoverished neighborhoods. What will Michael Steele do to bring urban youth in? Will he proclaim Patrick Buchanan irrelevant? Will he declare Rush Limbaugh obsolete and an outcast? That would effectively ostracize most of the voters they currently have or himself. During the 2008 elections all four leading candidates for the Republican nomination during the primaries rejected Tavis Smiley’s invitation to an all Republican debate at a historically black college to speak to a mostly black audience. The Dems all took theirs.

The hip hop generation grew up in a time in which they were transformed by the music they listened to. It became a part of their life and exposed them to the truths of the ghetto whether they were from there or not. There weren’t stereotypes and skewed statistics tossed at them as a way of hiding what wasn’t known or what they might not want to face. Along with the poppy tracks of some of the more pop oriented groups heartfelt confessionals from Tupac Shakur, Mobb Deep and Nas were playing in the background and became a part of the soundtrack now deeply ingrained in their psyche.

We grew up in integrated schools and have actually known people of other races, religions etc. We didn’t live based on guess work. We knew and know each other. That will only progress. When Pat Buchanan says he wishes we could go back to when America was mostly White and segregated in his new book, that’s the kind of thinking we already know is irrelevant. It will take certain people time to catch up.

Republicans have a lot of water to haul to get the hip hop audience because we’ve been educated by disciples of the streets who helped us realize that no one forces anyone to do crime, but the large amount of drugs and guns just could not pop onto the streets unless someone somewhere along the line wasn’t looking the other way. As a result of our experience and our street prophets we’ve learned. One of Rush Limbaugh’s favorite tracks to play now is called “Barack the Magic Negro.” As long as that’s on the Republican playlist how can they really expect to attract the hip hop crowd and generation?

To read about my inspiration for this article go to

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