Why We Need To Stop Blaming Hip-Hop For Racism

by John Haltiwanger

The now infamous video of SAE frat bros exuberantly chanting racist slurs is undeniably disgusting. Yet, unfortunately, it's not all that surprising.

Racism is alive and well in America. It's a tragic product of this country's short but convoluted history. From slavery and Jim Crow to Rodney King and Ferguson, you don't have to look very far to identify the racial divide that's plagued America since its earliest days.

It's true we've made progress in terms of establishing a more equal society, but we still have a long way to go.

Still, many are determined to object to the fact racism, prejudice and discrimination are still present in America. Others simply make excuses and deflect blame. They argue racism is no longer systemic in America and it only occurs in the form of isolated incidents.

All of this is both counterproductive and dangerous, and it's the reason we saw those ignorant young men singing that abhorrent chant in the first place.

And, unfortunately, this mentality has driven some very misguided and fundamentally incorrect reactions to the video.

The other day, the hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" argued hip-hop is to blame for the fraternity's unabashed racism.

They suggested these young men learned the N-word from rap. It didn't occur to them the chant was a product of the men's upbringing or education.

Indeed, they found it far more appropriate to blame the frat bros' racism on a genre of music associated with black people.

The stupidity of this position cannot be overstated.

White people are not allowed to use the N-word. Nor are white people, like the out of touch hosts of "Morning Joe," allowed to pass judgment on the way black people choose to use the word today. This is not an issue for white people to deliberate.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon predates hip-hop. It was founded in 1856 and was the first national fraternity in the Deep South. The racist chant we heard in the video obviously was not an improvisation, but something that's been associated with the frat for quite some time.

Not to mention, this is a fraternity with a history of prejudicial behavior across chapters nationwide. SAE doesn't need hip-hop to inspire its racism; it's doing a fine job on its own in that regard.

By blaming hip-hop on the racism exhibited by SAE, the hosts of "Morning Joe" essentially argued it was the fault of black people. This is a blatant example of victim-blaming.

Hip-hop is an art-form; it's poetry set to music. It requires a sophisticated understanding of rhythm and a diverse lexicon. From its earliest days, it provided a creative platform for people pushed to the fringes of society.

Hip-hop offers an important glimpse into the poverty and violence too often ignored in our cities. It helps tell the story of the American ghetto, a place most of us are completely unfamiliar with.

From Public Enemy's "Fight The Power" to Tupac's "Changes" and Kendrick Lamar's "The Blacker the Berry," rap has covered a wide variety of important topics.

You don't have to enjoy hip-hop to recognize its value. Still, people have been denigrating it since it emerged out of the Bronx in the 1970s. These individuals claim to dislike its frequent use of harsh language and the gangster mentality it seemingly promotes.

What they're revealing is they're uncomfortable with acknowledging the issues brought forth in rap: inner-city poverty and crime, police brutality, the War on Drugs and racism.

Until we learn how to have candid conversations about racism and its byproducts, it will never cease to exist in this country. This begins with the way we educate children in both their homes and schools.

The SAE fraternity brothers didn't sing that chant because of hip-hop; they did it because they weren't properly educated. As Nelson Mandela once stated:

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

If the fraternity members truly knew the history of the N-word, lynchings and racism in America, they wouldn't have even considered uttering those words.

Citations: Dont Expel Members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon for Racism (Slate), Can black people really stop white people from using the N word (The Guardian ), Jon Stewart Addresses University of Oklahoma Incident Blasts Morning Joe for Misguided Blame (WSJ), History (SAE), Birthplace of Hip Hop (PBS)