Number 128 / November 1995:
IT TAKES A NATION OF MILLIONS (TO PUSH ITSELF FORWARD).... "The Million Man March didn't cause a new stage [in American politics], the march is an expression of a whole new stage that's not black, it's American," Black Fire author Nelson Peery told RRC shortly after the October 16 demonstration in Washington D.C. "It's just that the blacks, being in the most untenable position, and being the most politically advanced, were the first ones to respond.
"White people in the United States have got to see that the blacks are not raising anything that's not in the interest of the vast majority of the American people: the question of police brutality, the question of jobs, the question of the welfare of the children."
There's evidence that millions of white Americans do see some of this, through the lens of rap. Despite the wishful thinking of everyone from Bob Dole to Billboard, rap's absolute popularity and social importance continue to grow. For instance, when WHTA-FM/Atlanta shifted to a hip-hop format this year, its ratings went up nearly 500 per cent. The reverberations of rap's popularity can be seen everywhere from the new Ralph Fiennes / Angela Bassett movie, Strange Days (the story of a political rap superstar murdered by the LAPD) to country star Trisha Yearwood expressing her affinity for Snoop Doggy Dog's music.
Peery pointed out that conditions for the unity of poor blacks and poor whites are more favorable now, since poor whites now share the position of blacks. In the past, Peery noted, poor whites were mostly small landowners, condemned to isolated and futile populist uprisings.
"On the other hand," he added, "the idea of black separatism is going to grab a lot of people, but they're not going to be able to practice it. Separatism won't work for objective economic reasons: Black people are only about 11 per cent of the population, and they control just 2 per cent of the wealth. The only thing that can be done today is to fight for unity along economic lines."
In that sense, the perfect rap album for the Million Man March would be KRS-One (Jive), the latest from KRS-1. It expresses its deeply thought-out indictment of American society in terms of young black men, yet does so by raising issues that connect to everyone struggling to survive in America. KRS-1 skillfully portrays himself as a graffiti writer, the homeless man he used to be, as a prisoner, as a victim of the police, as a project resident trying to live on government cheese.
KRS-1 attacks "the house Negro," singling out Colin Powell, C. Delores Tucker for her "attack on the youth with no voices," and the church for abandoning the revolutionary Jesus. Similarly, the Million Man March struck blows at some of music's worst enemies, including the right wing of the black church and pro-censorship do-nothing organizations like the NAACP and Tucker's National Political Caucus of Black Women. All of those groups refused to participate in the March, an event that captured the imagination of millions. "This march has totally isolated not just the NAACP, but every other organization that doesn't take some kind of militant stand on the questions that the people face," says Peery.
It is musicians, and their millions of fans, who have for years consistently taken such militant stands. KRS-One, which features the voice of dozens of rappers and radio DJs from all over America, exemplifies this. Musicians have already begun to take their stand in ways that promote unity across color lines. Despite continuing segregation at radio and at most record companies, there's more interaction between musicians today than ever before. You can see it in the growing number of integrated bands (Lenny Kravitz, Hootie and the Blowfish, Prince's New Power Generation, the Dave Matthews Band, Echobelly). It's one reason for funkateer George Clinton's ascension to alternative rock icon status. Above all, it's present in the wide-ranging impact of hip-hop, epitomized by the recent L.A. show where quintessential drunken frat-boy rockers Ugly Kid Joe performed with the Geto Boys.
As KRS-1 says, in "Squash All Beef," a song about ending violence between gangs, countries, and men and women: "Give me relief / Squash all beef / Don't let these arguments destroy us."
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