The depiction of gender, race and class in the media

The documentary titled Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes illustrates the negative aspects of the music genre. Presented by Byron Hurt, the film interviews several key personnel in the music industry and documents their views and opinions on Hip Hop. The artists and performers in the Hip Hop genre are almost exclusively black. While it might appear that black musicians are at last given their due recognition by the predominantly white America, there are aspects of hip-hop music that actually does disservice to the black community and portrays them in derogatory terms. The lyrics and visuals shown in hip hop music videos are misogynistic, aggressive and male chauvinistic in nature. There is also the depiction of gangster culture and its attendant casual violence. While this does not prove that black Americans are intrinsically violent and chauvinistic, but it does suggest a feeling of insecurity within the community with regards to their own identity and their place in the broader American society.

The black American community is generally associated with narcotics drug trade and gangster culture. The number of African-American men who get involved in homicide cases are also disproportionately high. This situation could be attributed to the historical injustices done to the community. For example, for nearly half of American history they were used as slaves and servants. Even as recently as the 1960s, they were being discriminated against in schools and the workplace. Black men who write and perform hip hop and rap might seem to be expressing their newfound freedom and recognition, but in reality they are only reinforcing negative stereotypes about their own community. It is true that hip hop artists such as Nelly and 50 cent have gained popularity and wealth through the success of their music. But these are exceptional cases and the majority of the African American community remains socially and economically backward. This make-believe world of hip hop music will not alleviate the real-life problems of most black Americans and if anything will only aggravate it.

Another contributing factor to the negative stereotyping of the African American community is the organizational structure of the music industry. Irrespective of the quality and merits of various music albums, it is ultimately the decisions made by white American executives that really matters. Given the social and economic distance between the majority of whites and blacks in America, the decision makers in Corporate America choose and promote a certain image of blacks that they are comfortable with. In other words, they do not want black musicians to compose conventional music, as there are enough players already in these genres. In an indirect and a subtle way, the corporate owners of the music industry impel black musicians to cater to specific vacant spaces in the marketplace.

This essentially boils down to the manipulation and exploitation of the historically disadvantaged African American community by making a select few of them believe that they are ultra-masculine, rich and powerful. But the reality is quite the opposite. Beyond those visuals of glorification, superiority and success projected by the hip hop genre, the artists are subverting their own progress. For example, by glorifying violence and prison terms for blacks, the hip hop artists are undermining the efforts taken by social activists to address the disproportionate rates of incarceration and conviction against blacks. Hence, as the presentor of the documentary Byron Hurt suggests, the hip hop genre does disservice to the African American community through its narrow stereotypical portrayal of black men. If left unchecked, it will prove to be a resistance to further emancipation of blacks and other minorities in America.

References:

Hip Hop: Beyond the Beats and Rhymes, Presented by Byron Hurt, Produced by Independent Lens, retrieved on 5th October, 2009 from <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8YpcN7oKIM>