What was the lesson of Straight Outta Compton? Was it that... “black hoodlums” are the real problem, in America? If you said “yes,” you could write for the prestigious Wall Street Journal!
In the realm where pop culture meets politics, there is almost no debate more tedious than “Did gangsta rap music make everything bad? Or were things bad, already?” If you missed the 90s culture war period during which this was considered a serious intellectual topic of discussion, consider yourself lucky. If you still have questions about this, try this experiment: First, institute hundreds of years of slavery, followed by legalized discrimination, disenfranchisement, vicious racist violence, and systemic deprivation aimed at the black community. Did that create any problems, like poverty or crime? If yes, this discussion is over. If everything was perfect after all that, try adding some rap music, and see if street gangs spontaneously form.
This is a snide way of saying “this debate is dumb.” But it will never end! Mostly because it is much easier for conservatives who oppose policies aimed at combating the root causes of crime (racism and poverty) to believe that rappers are the culprits here than to believe that they are the culprits. In the Wall Street Journal today, Jason L. Riley has a very... interesting reading of what Straight Outta Compton and N.W.A. were all about:
The film is more interested in presenting the rappers as authentic voices of decent young black men in poor communities who are regularly victimized by police. Still, the viewer can’t help but notice that our protagonists regularly engage in criminal behavior, dress like gang members in areas infested by ruffians and defy the police who suspect them of being up to no good. Their problem is not that the cops harass them but that the cops interfere with their lawbreaking.
Interesting... so when they dressed in the normal clothes worn by everyone else in their neighborhood they were actually dressing “like gang members”—which is even worse because they lived in “areas infested by ruffians”—and when they objected to racist police harassment, that was bad, because they should never “defy the police who suspect them of being up to no good,” even if they were not, in fact, up to no good.
This is a valuable peek into the Republican psyche. While a reasonable person might say to himself, “Violent street gangs are bad, and police brutality is also bad, and both may have a much larger root cause,” such gradations are not amenable to the gangsta Republican mind. The real problem is these rappers—who are bad!
In one of the film’s early scenes, designed to illustrate the kinds of experiences that shaped the rappers’ upbringing, a young Ice Cube is riding home on a yellow school bus when a group of gang members pulls alongside in a sedan. Some of the kids on the bus start shouting out the window and playfully flashing gang signs at the men in the car. The gang members respond by stopping the school bus, forcing their way inside and putting a pistol to the head of one of the teenage taunters. The scene suggests that the biggest bane of the black community isn’t the police officer but the black hoodlum. Yet Ice Cube and other gangsta rappers would go on to great fame and fortune penning lyrics that claimed the reverse.
Watch for Ice Cube’s new album, “The Biggest Bane of the Black Community Isn’t the Police Officer but the Black Hoodlum,” dropping this fall. Man, he really changed.