The movie Friday's legendary status is cemented in the history of Black cinema, largely due to its comedic brilliance. But the most important and underrated moment of the film, isn't comedic at all. When the legend, John Witherspoon, implores Craig to fight with his hands and mind by saying, "Put The Gun Down, Son," he's encouraging Craig to conjure up the courage to make the decision that will save his life and Deebo's life. John Witherspoon was also conveying an underrated message to the Black community that we don't emphasize enough. A gun or promoting violence is not the solution to our problems. If you have listened to music over the last decade or so, it's fairly noticeable how frequently artists brag about using a gun to resolve any perceived slight or form of disrespect. Those of us that were born in the 80s and have achieved some form of success, now listen to the music and wonder how in the world did rap music become so violent?
One day while chopping it up about music, one of my closest friends, appropriately pointed out that the seeds of today's hyper-violent energy and lyrics were in-fact planted during the golden era of hip-hop (90s) because by and large, the community feared the ramifications of extreme censorship, and as a result we embraced and gleefully help to popularize misogynistic, hyper-violent and degrading lyrics under the guise that it's only entertainment. That conversation forced me to look in the mirror and examine how I'm complicit in where we are today and led me to think deeper about the larger picture.
So, this is the point of the conversation, where it would typically be appropriate to accuse the writer of this blog post of being someone who's refusing to perform root cause analysis and willfully ignoring the systemic causes of violence to scapegoat entertainment unfairly. And here's where I offer a reasonable rebuttal that will prove I'm not scapegoating entertainment for the ills of the community. I'm not saying stop listening to every song that contains a violent lyric. I'm not saying ban degrading language across the board. I'm just posing this question. Why do those of us that know better, choose not to do better consistently?
What I'm attempting to articulate, is that the fear of missing out has caused us to mainstream and popularize some behaviors that are detrimental to the community. What do I mean by the fear of missing out? Whenever something is popular, we feel compelled to take part in it, even if what we fear of missing out on is deeply entrenched in negativity.
For example: Gang Culture. On any given day, you can count on a significant portion of the community to give legitimacy to gangs by using gang lingo, gang spellings (removing b's or c's from words for Social Media cool points) or embracing the dances that the various gangs are famous for. Rappers that have been in the game for decades will take the opportunity to proudly rep negativity by throwing up gang signs on the biggest stage, even though gangs are responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Black boys and men. On any given night, you can catch a famous NBA player throwing up a gang sign after making a 3-pointer, and no one utters a word. Serena Williams who may have lost her sister to gang violence even decided to crip walk at Wimbledon. Why a rich and wealthy person would want to be aligned with organizations that are the antithesis of black lives mattering, I will never know.
Now ask yourself why such behavior is accepted and promoted on the biggest stages, whereas a Black man that never threw a gang sign and that stood up for the right thing is banished from the league and will never be permitted to throw another football in a NFL game?
If it's just entertainment, how has gang culture become so mainstream that adults with no ties to gangs feel compelled to use gang lingo, gang signs and gang emojis daily? If adults that know better can't help but to find themselves immersed in being imaginary gang members, what impact has the images and popularization of gang culture had on the most vulnerable? The individuals that we pretend to care about. The children of our community?
The battle to dismantle the systemic elements that foster the roots of violence and gang culture is one that we have been in for decades, but I can tell it's not one that we are really invested in winning because we are too busy mainstreaming negativity because it's the popular and cool thing to do. When we were young kids, our parents would sometimes ask/say, "Just because your friend jumped off a building, would you jump off a building too?" The answer was "no" when we were kids (most of us were smarter back then, apparently), so how did the answer to jumping off a building become "yes" once we became adults?
Everyone uses the N-word, so I have to use it. Everyone is dancing to this song about a black man killing another black man, so I have to dance to it too! Everyone is using the latest gang terminology, so I have to use it too! I'm possessed by FOMO and I don't care who knows.