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2005: MTV.com – The Hip-Hop Hype… Black Males Battle Stereotypes

June 23, 2008

November 2005 — As high school graduation and incarceration rates
suffer, young African-American males are under more pressure than ever
to overcome negative stereotypes. Many question whether hip-hop is
helping them or hurting them.

WASHINGTON – Last month’s launch of the Millions More Movement 10 years
after the Million Man March brought scores of black men together to
fight prejudice was the latest effort to try to eliminate negative
stereotypes of black men – with the rise of hip-hop as a hotly debated
flash point.

"The image of blacks in America is a very stereotypic image," said Dr.
Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, who was national director of the Million Man
March. "One of the key reasons we had that demonstration 10 years ago
was to challenge the image of black males as worthless, non-responsible

– a menace to society."

Muhammad argues that the popularity of hip-hop has dispelled the
stereotype, although others say hip-hop hurts the image of black men.

"With the rise and evolution of hip-hop, I would argue that hip-hop has
brought a more multi-faceted spectrum of images of black males,"
Muhammad said.

Blue Williams, who manages OutKast, grew up with the hip-hop culture.

"Hip-hop was something that was ours, something we could embrace,"
Williams said. "It mattered, the dress, clothes — it was a culture."

Not all blacks think that hip-hop reflects positively on African-American males.

"Gangsta rap music is candy and that’s it," said John McWhorter, an
author who comments on race, language and cultural issues. "It’s not
deep and it’s not advice."

Muhammad says such criticism of rap music is shortsighted.

"All rappers are not gangsta rappers," he said. "I think Kanye West and
Common offer a positive role model image for black males, but that is
not to say that 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg and others don’t also offer a
positive image."

Williams agreed, noting that "there’s a middle ground to hip-hop, just like there’s a middle ground to rock and roll."

"The problem is that American culture has such an inbred sense of
racism, we don’t even realize that anything that shows black men
speaking in high voices and being aggressive is going to be perceived
badly," he said.

McWhorter admits that not all rap music is of the gangsta persuasion, but sometimes it’s hard to tell.

"It’s not an accident that the [artists] on the magazines, headliners
for concerts, the tone of [their] music is bullet wounds, guns, a
dismissive attitude towards women – that’s the tone of the industry,"
he said.

Beyond hip-hop music, the hip-hop culture also is embodied by the
stereotype of young black men in baggy shorts and black sneakers
seeking fame as athletes as a way to get out of the city.

"It’s like Biggie said," said Jalen Rose of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors.
"’ Either you’re slingin’ crack rock or you got a wicked jumpshot.’"
Rose was part of the Fab 5, five highly touted freshmen who were as
famous for their fashion statements (baggy shorts, black sneakers and
socks) as they were for taking the University of Michigan’s basketball
team to the NCAA championship game in 1992 and 1993. Rose said that
going from inner-city Detroit to national fame in one year was a big

"I was exposed to what a lot of people consider corporate America; me
being a confident kid from Detroit trying to be an NBA player," Rose
said. "But then the stereotype that comes with that is if I wear big
shorts, black shoes or black socks and have a bald head, that makes me
a thug."

Rose stressed the importance of school in changing stereotypes – and
reality – for black men. A Manhattan Institute study in 2003 found that
only 51 percent of black students graduate high school and only 20
percent of all black students leave high school "college-ready" –
having basic literacy, taking courses that adequately prepared students
for college and earning a high school diploma.

"The number one thing that drives everything is education," Rose says.
"Times have changed where you can graduate from eighth grade or with a
high school diploma and get an 80,000- or 90,000-dollar a year job."
Rose practices what he preaches. After leaving school after his junior
year in 1994, Rose recently completed his degree through online courses.

McWhorter said blacks should realize some progress has been made.

"Our job now is to make the best of things because that’s a lot easier
for us than it would have been even 40 years ago," he says. "Don’t
prepare yourself for a battle because people who came before you have
already fought those battles."