A Rap on Racism | Letters | Chicago Reader

A Rap on Racism 

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Mr. Wyman,

This letter is in response to your February 11 "Hitsville" column concerning the panel discussion of rap music. I will take a slight chance as I proceed with this letter and assume that you are white. More pertinent, however, is that you have established your column as a forum for music primarily from white sources.

I must first applaud your understanding that oppression of any kind can and must be opposed by individuals and communities not in the group that is under attack. As with your example, one need not be Jewish to actively oppose anti-Semitism.

Yet, you seem to use your column to congratulate yourself for such understanding, as you simultaneously ridicule the rappers and fans who took issue with your mention of anti-Semitism. In fact, your opening statement implies that they revealed a lack of intelligence for countering your remarks--that they were "otherwise pretty smart." Bill, your values of mental prowess don't apply to any cultural environment you choose to drop in on. It wasn't stupidity that you observed at the panel discussion, and it probably wasn't merely a tolerance of anti-Semitism. Perhaps you were unwittingly exposed to someone's frustration with yet another privileged know-it-all suggesting to them how to run their show.

If that isn't what you were doing at the panel, you certainly display such arrogance in your column.

I would like to help you understand a couple words you used rather recklessly in the article--definitions that deserve some consensus if we are to effectively deal with the subject.

First, "racism"--you mention rap lyrics that refer to racism against whites. We must distinguish between racism and "prejudice" or "bigotry." Racism speaks of power--deep-rooted, institutional power, where prejudices of the individual manifest themselves in the patterns of the community. Blacks, as a group, do not possess such power over whites. There is not a place in the entire country, Bill, where you can point to racism against whites.

Second, the word "oppression"--the example of oppression cited in your column is that of a black making an anti-Semitic remark. Oppression is not one person name-calling another. It is the continual, society-enforced press of one group upon another. Within that framework name-calling and more will flourish. But the power must back it up for the act to be regarded as a display of oppression. African Americans do not wield such power over the Jewish American community.

Racism is seen when the six o'clock world frets over large houses burning in southern California, while in neighboring fields, a Latino population is breaking its back. Oppression is seen when Roseanne doesn't get to kiss Mariel Hemingway on t.v., and across town some cops are kicking extra hard into the ribs of a gay man.

Racism is displayed when white music critics, writing for periodicals supported by some of the more affluent advertisers, write to their predominantly white audience about blacks and black culture and the perceived problems within that culture and effectively leave black writers with very little chance to reach a white audience at all.

LeRoy Bach



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