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Hip-hop not the cause of society’s ills

This Saturday I had the opportunity to catch the first episode of BET’s three-part series “Hip-Hop vs. America.” The series addresses many issues commonly associated with hip-hop, such as the perception of black women, hip-hop’s close relationship with crime and the notion that hip-hop is airing the “dirty laundry” of the black community. The series is a roundtable discussion featuring prominent black figures as panelists commentating from all sides of the argument.

When it comes to hip-hop’s exploitation of the negative aspects of the black community, I must say that hip-hop is not the only popular form of music that exploits negativity. Various forms of rock music feature lyrics and music videos that use profanity, all while advocating violence, drug use, sexual promiscuity and anarchy.

I think it’s fair to say that many forms of entertainment exploit the negative side of American life. The point is that freedom of speech is a trademark of this country, and as long as there is an audience for this kind of material, it will not go away. So if you find this kind of material offensive you should simply not buy it.

In general, I thought most of the panelists articulated their points in a productive manner. One person whose opinion I found to be the questionable, however, was former Essence editor-in-chief Diane Weathers. Weathers said the negativity that hip-hop produces makes her job as a single parent harder.

Being the product of a single-parent household and a child of the hip-hop generation, I find this claim to be preposterous. Since when is raising a child supposed to be easy? I was raised in Baltimore before relocating to Naples to attend high school, and I can testify that children cannot escape exposure to the negativity of society. Bad influences are everywhere. They are on TV. They are in schools and in books. However, proactive parenting can combat that negativity.

I realize that children are naturally curious and impressionable, but if you lay a good foundation and hammer it home repeatedly – which is what a good parent is supposed to do – the chances of children understanding positive values will be that much higher.

In the case of music and the corresponding music videos, you should explain to your kids that the majority of this material is a great embellishment and fabrication of regular life. I’m not saying that kids should be able to listen and watch whatever they want, but it remains the parent’s job to censor the material within his or her household – not the job of another third party.

I admit that a good portion of hip-hop’s lyrics and music videos do not represent the most positive form of entertainment in America. But just because this art form is viewed by some to be negative doesn’t mean it should be used as an excuse for the shortcomings of individuals. I believe the most important value one can pass down to his or her child is that of accepting personal responsibility. It’s cowardly to throw the blame on a form of media rather than looking in the mirror and seeing how you, the person, could make a change. Until finger pointers accept this philosophy on an individual basis, this war will rage on.

Ryan Watson is a graduate student in mass communications.