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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hip-Hop And Gang Culture Is Marginalizing Minority Youths

Lift 'em up, lift 'em up.
Hip-Hop has given us a lot of great music and has driven fashion trends across the world. However, there is a part of Hip-Hop that has grasped the hearts and minds of young blacks, Latinos and even whites that is pushing them farther from success in society. Hip-Hop and gang culture is marginalizing minority youths - and even whites teens.

For probably 100 years, older generations have despised and criticized the music of the younger generation. I know that growing up in the 1960's and 1970's my father always referred to my music as jungle music and that it was going to ruin my brain.

During that time period, the hippie mindset and fashion style spread across the country. Boys grew long hair and had wild sideburns, girls wore sandals and exposed their midriffs. It was shocking. "You'll never get a job looking like that," parents yelled. And they were right.

The difference between now and then - most of us stayed in school, graduated and went on to college. Somewhere along that pathway, we cut our hair, bought appropriate work attire and got jobs. We assimilated into the corporate society we were so opposed to. Reality set in and we joined the club.

Today, however, parts of Hip-Hop culture and especially gang culture are diametrically opposed to the whole purpose of the Civil Rights movement. Latinos and whites never had to fight the kind of fight that blacks did in this country for inclusion. Thousands of blacks were brutally beaten, maimed and killed on the road to Civil Rights - with the goal of being part of the greater whole. Even though Martin Luther King worked so hard to protest in a non-violent way, anger on both sides took the pitch to violence and there was blood shed by everyone, for a courageous and just cause. No man or woman should be excluded from their shot at the American dream based on the color of their skin, their ethnicity or their religious beliefs. A giant step was taken forward from the fight for Civil Rights. But now, are future generations of black youths moving backward?

Some parts of Hip-Hop has created an attitude and a style that basically says, "Take your way and shove it. I won't dress for you. I won't respect you. I won't play the way you want me to play." And society's response is - Well, you've just received a "Permanently Unemployed" tattoo.

This culture of bold exclusion has swept through young Latinos and some young whites. Dropping out of school, challenging the law and not being an asset to society has put these youths in a position where the anger they feel toward the whole is mostly self-inflicted.

Gang culture really puts distance between teens and fitting into society. When you have tattoos that go up your neck to your hairline, you're only going to get a job where turtlenecks are allowed. How many businesses do you know that have a policy - No visible tattoos or piercings? A lot. Most jobs that involve dealing with the public in any way still have certain cultural mores that govern proper appearance and behavior.

I see the "screw you" Hip-Hop mindset being more detrimental to blacks than Latinos or whites. When I lived in Las Vegas, almost all of the fast food restaurants were run by Latinos - primarily of Mexican origin. They were clean, the service was great, you got the right order and the experience was usually good. Here, in my Cleveland neighborhood where black teens hold the majority of all fast food jobs, it is a completely different story.

You have pants hanging down, shirts on crooked, hats tilted to the side, no one wears name tags and the attitude is pretty much, "What the F do you want?" ... Food ... sorry for asking you to do your job ... maybe I'll come back ... or maybe I'll never come back.

In the last year and half, I have seen things at fast food restaurants staffed by black teens that I have never seen since I had my first McDonald's hamburger, sitting on the side of the restaurant in the early 1960's. I've seen a restaurant closed 45 minutes before the posted closing time on a Saturday - not sure why - maybe the staff just didn't want to work. Orders get screwed up constantly. The staff screams and swears at each other. Food is assembled in a "who gives a crap" manner. Restaurants are filthy. One McDonald's doesn't even have trays. They must not want to clean them or the customers use them as weapons. I can't imagine people were stealing the trays to take them home and put legs on them.

I don't even know how these kids got the jobs in the first place. But the bad attitudes and the butts hanging out of the pants are norms. If you watch the students leaving the local high school, you'd be hard pressed to find one that you'd say, "He/She looks like a fine young person and I could hire him/her."

A friend is a teacher at the high school and he says they have policies about dress, but the black administrators and principal won't enforce them. And if they do enforce them, they come down on the girls for salacious attire and not the boys for exposing their boxers.

The real problem starts at home. Parents need to take responsibility. But there seems to be a generation of black parents that forgot how hard the fight was for their parents to just ride a bus with white people or sit at the same lunch counter or not have to go to the colored restroom around the back of the building.

It is my belief that there is an across the board prejudice toward blacks in our society. It may be unspoken, but I believe it is there. To me, it is as factual as the sun rising in the morning. Well, the only way to overcome a blanket assessment of one's abilities, solely on the color of their skin is to prove them wrong. That means you have to be better, smarter and more prepared than the white kid interviewing before you. You have to work hard to get better grades. You have to dress for success. You have to speak in a way where people can understand you on the job and not just in the parking lot of Mickey D's.

I'm not saying we need to get rid of Hip-Hop music. It has given a voice to a lot of social ills and needs to be heard. But there is this mindset that is counterproductive and leads to a teen setting themselves up to fail.

I haven't even touched on dropout rates and teen pregnancy. Both of which have been on the decline, but not in the black community. Now, we have black flash mobs organized through social media wreaking havoc on communities. For what purpose? Are these kids trying to change anything? They might not have a change in mind, but they are affecting change and it is a negative attitude toward the larger group. It may be unfair, but I don't make up the rules about societal mindsets.

Leadership and guidance are needed in the black community, along with Latino households and in some white households. Hip-Hop is fine, but when you latch on to the ugly side that preaches social disobedience, violence and disrespect toward women and gain at any cost, then you have a cultural problem on your hands.

Pretending to be gangstas is not a way to become part of society. Visible obscene tattoos are red flags for employers. When your belt is around your thighs, it's easier for you to get your ass kicked out the door where you could be starting a future.

Unlike the days of the past several decades where wild fashions and music their parents hated eventually were set aside by teens as they moved forward with their education and into the workforce, Hip-Hop and gang culture is marginalizing minority youths - and parents and community leaders need to step up and turn the ship in a positive direction.

Related articles:
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How To Make Friends In A Black Neighborhood When You're White
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Living In A Black Neighborhood Takes Some Adjusting
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