We have only one WORLD yet! If we destroy it, where else will we go?
Winter 2002: 8th issue - **2nd Anniversary**

From hip hop to racism with the eyes of a stranger

by Evrim SEL

"An international language shared by millions," that's what music is to me. It is the voice of rebellion, voice of anger, freedom, love just about anything one can possibly imagine. Music is one of the rare tools to get people together. But even music fails sometimes.

How many times you walked to a record store and saw rock on one side of the store and rap on the other. All segregated, "white" music and "black" music.

There are some cross-cultural bands but they are constantly argued about whether what they are doing is right or wrong.

See, I love cross-cultural bands because they unite different cultures via music.

They are not black nor they are white. I guess lately cross-cultural bands are the only ones who make sense rather than mostly commercialized rock or hip-hop and they make their listeners comfortable being who they are.

I don't understand how so many people who talk about getting rid of racism get together and instead of finding a solution to it, try to create even more of a trouble.

I don't understand why hip-hop is supposed to be black or stay black. As if every black could rap or as if rap is still about black issues.

Also to the people who condemn whites for commercializing hip hop, all I can say is to pay a little more attention to the lyrics of today's hip hop and then decide if it still is the loud and powerful voice of black culture' or has it been loosing its roots. If you think all there is to black culture is their ability to shake their asses better than the white culture, or they can make better love to who ever they meet, then fine for you I guess, but I don't think so! I know that the style and the beat of rap came from black culture, but today's rap has nothing to do with that old style. Again I am not saying it's bad at all, no matter what I love hip hop, but it is  just a part of black culture it is not the entire culture.

"Hip-hop is the loudest voice for urban problems," as Dave Jannarone from The Daily Beacon puts it and urban culture is made up by many different races and ethnicity... "Feelings associated with this music come from painful experiences which many people can relate to-the feeling of being on the bottom, and trying to get on the top; mothers losing their sons to gang violence; being beaten by police; being constantly held back by forces you can't see; having more friends in jail than in college, seeing a single mothers struggle to raise their kids, and "all those pains are felt in different ways by many people and cultures throughout America and world," states Dave Jannarone. To a degree I agree with this fact. Here goes the reason why!

I won't deny the great talent of Jay-Z, well I love his sound, but what does he talk about in his lyrics that include the troubles black culture go through. Hip hop isn't the voice of the minority or the urban anymore. Nowadays black music is as commercialized as the so called "white" music. It's all about being rich, getting money and getting all the "boot" one can get nowadays. It isn't about people anymore. Then again most of the people who bothered to talk about their experiences in being black and being from the ghetto -like Notorious BIG and 2PAC ended up getting killed. (But then there still is a great talent like DMX, who might just prove me wrong on that one.)

Many see rock as a music that has been stolen from black culture, from its "owners". As hard as it is to connect Metallica or Nirvana to Chuck Berry and James Brown nowadays, it is common knowledge that rock derives from blues.

I do accept that the music was "bleached" a little by some producers, who wanted to make more money. I can see many people's anger, but I still do not believe that music is something to be owned. Music is something to be enjoyed, loved. It is a way of entertainment, as well as the voice of some (new) opinions. And, oh well, we all know that stars are mostly interested in the money.

Also another thing to be considered, is that R&B, new, modern form of Blues is still going on powerful in the music world, and also there are great black performances in the world of rock music. My number one example would be the Rage Against the Machine. I think the band raise great points with its lyrics. They deal with politics, they deal with society and the injustices. I think they are one of those rare bands that is not creating for money, they are making music because they love it, and they are for a better society. There also is Lenny Kravitz. I watched him on VH1 a while ago. He was complaining about how his own community didn't accept him, better yet his music. It is weird how black rock stars are well accepted by white population, but not well
respected by their own culture.

Now these people are a part of the minority in US culture and somehow they choose to Rock, rather than Rap. Is that a wrong thing to do? Do all the blacks have to rap as all the whites rock?

Since the cross-cultural music came along and also many whites stated to rap, the big issue of taking over another culture came along. "Are whites trying to steal hip-hop from black culture, as they did with blues?"

There are many clich's about every culture in the world. When it comes to black culture, they can rap, dance, they cannot swim, they eat a lot of chicken, they are good in bed. Then, when it comes to whites, they are business man and women, they are know as the people who cannot play basketball, cannot dance and they sure cannot rap.

I guess hip-hop got some airtime on European MTV for the first time with Vanilla Ice and I guess we all would admit that he was a disgrace to the whole world. 

But then again he was the one to introduce the hip-hop music to many outsiders. Well he for sure couldn't do a good of a job, simply because he was an outsider himself -I figured out later on as my trips to New York started. I look at Vanilla Ice as a moneymaker for white producers. Vanilla Ice was I guess one of the first attempts to make hip-hop a little more appealing to the white community. He did a music that did not belong to him, to his personality and background. I think later on, he also realized that the voice of his anger was definitely not hip-hop but it was punk. I look at him as the attempt of producers to create another Elvis. Although this time, they didn't take it into the consideration that, unlike Elvis, Vanilla Ice did not know anything about the culture that he was going to "imitate" the music from, so he didn't do much but embarrassing himself and many others.

Although in Europe it mostly started with Vanilla Ice, our hearts soon filled out with McHammer (even though he is a joke to many nowadays we shall never forget that his album broke the records) and later on the charisma of Coolio, Will Smith and Puff Daddy took over teenagers. Everybody adored them - Yeah I know they are the cheesy ones but oh well they are the well loved ones in Europe.

Now there is a newborn artist with the help of Dr. Dre: Eminem. Well loved and also well argued by both Europeans and Americans.

One real thing about Eminem is that he is not here to make the hip-hop more appealing to white community - without him 70% of hip-hop's audience was white people.

Although many argue about his lyrics, his fans simply admire him for he has the guts to rap about what is on his mind. His fans love the irony in his lyrics, perfectly being able to understand his side of the story. They don't see him as white or black, they never think that he is trying to be black. Simply because he is not trying to rap about stuff he did not experienced in his life. He raps about what he knows and that is it. Still the best congratulations Eminem ever got from his black fan is "you are dope for a white boy."  ---dope for a white boy---makes me think because some people cannot get over the fact that he is "white." We still see a great deal of skin colors.

It's funny how my skin color never occurred to me before I moved to United States. I am Turkish, if you look at me, I am white. But that is not how I see myself. I am a human being, and I am Turkish. The fact that I am white means nothing to me. I don't see colors. I see people. No one has the chance to choose their skin colors, or their height or weight as well, I have to agree with Eminem's statement  I read on the Spin Magazine.

I moved here 3,5 years ago. I have always been aware of the racism, but I never had to deal with the black and white issue before in my life. I never had to get rid of white friends, because I they were pressuring me over the fact that I had black friends and I also have never un-welcomed to an APO meeting before.

Before I moved to New York, I never had any black friends, not that I had any choice. We don't have many black people living in Turkey. The environment I grew up probably would never fit with the whole seen of hip-hop - I realized that just recently last year, as I went back to my city and tried to unite my two loved ones together: Hip-hop and my city. My city has a different vibe in it. The way people walk around, their entire attitude, street dogs and cats, the way the wind blows, the way the little kids run around the streets, the Old Istanbul hand in the hand with the modern Istanbul just cannot have the same rhythm with hip-hop. It's more like an oriental music, reaches to your ears rather than hip-hop. Although Jay-Z, Mystical, Dr. Dre and many others remain far far away as one walks through the streets of Istanbul, I have always been fascinated with the African-American culture for the fact that it had to go through a lot of struggle, and still managed to stand strong. I always admired the black culture for they had the power within themselves to make it.

But now that I live here, and I see a lot, I am indecisive, for the fact that I see they are not standing as strong as I imagined. Some are very handicapped by the idea of being "black" they forget we all are humans. It is great to be proud of who they are and where you are coming through, but I don't think it is fine for any culture to think they are superior to the other. Since I moved here I have see a lot of racism coming also form the black population which was something I never imagined to see, for the simple reason which is I think they should be the ones who can understand best, how much it hurts to be discriminated. I always thought their battle was about equality, about human rights, but nowadays it seem like they forgot the teachings of Malcom X or

Martin Luther King. They see too much of a color now. They fight their battles in the wrong site, as some whites did years ago and still doing without any embarrassment somehow, incredible! 

As I started to live here, I got to know the culture, I started to feel the music, I started to hear the lyrics. I believe in poetry. It requires a great deal of skill. Figure out the right words and put them in a way to really express yourself is a though job. Hip-hop grew on me. . . I love it. Hip hop's power does not come from the color, it comes from the ability to write good poetry and good rhyme.  You should also know the cultural background. Most likely it pays to be a part of the urban.

Then some one comes up to me and implies that I should not get involved with the music I love to hear, because I am "white" I don't get that. I don't understand why people try deny how popular hip hop became and how it is loved and heard by many people by many different cultures and "skin" colors by that fact. I'm thinking, if Turkish music became that popular I would love the fact that everyone is hearing what we have got to say!

I guess about me what we all know is that I can never be black unless I do the opposite of what Mickael Jackson did. (which I find very ridiculous, since he was the one singing "black and white.")

Well I guess when it comes down to it, Yes, I am white but guess what? Being Turkish in NY, I am a minority too! just as Latinos or African Americans are, and I am even more of a minority you would probably wonder what I just said that is, well I needed to make a point of saying that I am not just another white person, and again what if I was just another white person, are they all guilty of discriminating minds? I don't think so.

And just to speak my heart out, I am Turkish, but here in the community of minorities -and when I say that I mean the entire country- I am just another white. Any way in this society of confusion I am and many other white people being punished for the discrimination that is left over by some ancestors who we have no connections to.  We are put into the same box with many racist minds who we remember with embarrassment. And it hurts.

I am either "black wanna be" white kid who romanticizes the very ghetto life that so many black kids want to escape as R. Reese states on her paper called "from the fringe the hip hop culture and ethnic relations," or if not that than I am labeled as a racist. That's how I am looked at and either way I don't really have right to get involved with black issues and if I do get involved and try to do whatever I can, I still am an outsider. At least that is the way I feel most of the time. To black women I am an enemy and to the black men I am most likely to be a trophy, as it was well stated in the movie called "Black and White," which I find to define as a movie about everything, with a conclusion of a definite nothing.

So being labeled as a "wanna be," by the black population and a "lover" by the white population and being pointed out many times I go out with my boyfriend by people cause he is a "Black Man", watching him being ignored by a bartender once in a while cause he is not "white" enough, I really don't find comfort being among this society.

Works Sited:

*Black and White, a film by James Toback, Spring 2000
*Breaking News from the Associated Press at the New York Times, The Observer,  April 26, 2000
*From the fringe: The Hip-Hop Culture and Ethnic Relations by R.Reese, paper presente at the Far West and Popular Culture Conference, February 1998
*Spin Magazine, Chocolate on the inside by Charles Aaron, May 1999
*The Great White Debate by Chris Hall, WRAS-ATLANTA
*Urban Reality Taught Through Hip-Hop by Dave Jannarone, The Daily Beacon, January 1997
*Why Label Hip-Hop in Terms of Black and White by Davey D, A Hip-Hop Commentary


© Evrim Sel, Spring 2001, New York

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