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April 16, 2007

An Open Letter To Reverend Al Sharpton

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Dear Reverend Al,

Now that you've made the world safe from Don Imus and his obnoxious comments it's time to take on an even bigger evil.  An evil so great that it's sometimes ignored simply because of its ubiquity.  I'm talking about the disgusting, degrading, and highly offensive lyrics and images perpetuated by the rap/hip hop/gansta rap music industry.  It's an industry that is often run by black people, often profited from by black people and largely supported by black people.

Now I know you've taken some steps recently speaking out about offensive music lyrics to music executives behind the scenes, but that's not enough.  What I want to see, Reverend Al Sharpton is the same public outspokenness you unleashed on Don Imus, unleashed on the music industry.  Your protests and those of Jesse Jackson should be as vocal, as vociferous, and as committed as those for the dismissal of Imus.

I wonder if you've read this article by Stanley Crouch in today's New York Daily News.  In it he praises the Rutger's Basketball team for their poise under fire last week.  He further states that their grace under pressure was a small blow to the images perpetuated by the "hip hop buffoons" of the music industry.

The fact that a lot of black people feel very comfortable using the "N" word to each other, while talking about their wives, daughters, sisters and friends with filthy, disgusting names, has always been totally beyond me.  I know there are a lot of black women in and out of the music industry, who see no problem with any of this. So what.  If the average black woman was really honest, I think she'd admit to having a problem with a lot of these lyrics and images, but the code of silence that insists we present a united front with our black "brothers" curtails our outspokenness.  It shouldn't.  I don't ever want to claim kinship with any "brothers" who would dare to use such names referring to me, or in fact to any woman.

The argument that African Americans have "reclaimed" those words as their own and are free to use them as they like within the community with no censure is patently ridiculous.  One result of that stupid claim?  Our credibility when we protest about a Don Imus or someone like him is severely limited.  But more importantly, our respect for ourselves and the women in our community is destroyed---blatantly passing on the victimization that black people have faced since they were first brought to this country.  Except this time, we're the ones perpetuating the victimization.

Young black boys grow up thinking that education is for chumps and the gangsta lifestyle of guns, drugs and glamorous death is a legitimate life goal.  Young black girls grow up thinking that the most potent power they have is how freely they give away sex.

If the statistics are correct nearly 60% of rap/hip hop/gansta rap music is bought by whites.  That means the other 40% is bought by African Americans.  I can say with confidence that we're never going to convince the white teenage population to stop buying this stuff, but we do have half a chance of teaching black young people some of our own proud history and why this poison is so vile and destructive to all of us.

I'm a black woman.  I don't listen to, nor have I ever listened to this stuff, but I know it's out there and it makes my skin crawl when I happen to channel surf past BET or one of the many television music channels that show rap videos.

As Mr. Crouch said in his column when referring to the women of the Rutger's Basketball Team:

"The hand-me-down denigrations easily available in the rap world for more than 20 years did not work this time. These women are not Lil' Kim or Foxy Brown or any of the sex toys for sale or for mindless pleasure that proliferate in hip-hop videos."

Are you listening Reverend Al?  The hypocrisy needs to stop now.  How can we possibly fight racism, garnering support from all right thinking people, when we refuse to acknowledge our own beauty and dignity as people?

Are there other issues that are as important as this in our community?  Of course there are.  The people in New Orleans who still don't have homes, the lack of quality education in so many of our communities.

However, that does not mean we should allow one segment of our community to treat the women of our community as objects to be denigrated for profit, political convenience, or for the sake of so-called art.  If we do, we are the ones oppressing ourselves.  Not whites.  Us.

Speak up Reverend.  Now's your chance.

Sincerely,

Megan Smith

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