Sunday, June 10, 2012

GWYN AND BEAR IT


This author is a week or so behind in tackling this particular hip-hop related scandal, but unlike the average shelf-life of a Twitter post, it still bears further discussion.  Indeed, Twitter is at the center of this particular celebrity faux-pas.

It seems that Gwyneth Paltrow-- A-list movie actress, wife of Coldplay bandleader Chris Martin, and mother to quaintly-named children Apple and Moses, found herself in a foot-in-mouth social networking fuss when she typed a tweet "Niggas in Paris for real" while at a Jay-Z/Kanye West concert (Paltrow and her husband are apparently godparents to Jay-Z and Beyonce's baby Blue Ivy.)  http://tinyurl.com/7tg2txr For the uninitiated, "Ni**as in Paris" is a Jay/Kanye song, though on radio and in the music-video it is officially referred to simply as "Paris"-- go figure, right?



In interviews, such as with Tanning of America author/hip-hop manager Steve Stoute, Paltrow is upfront about having been a rap music fan while growing up, even name-checking the likes of N.W.A.  When Paltrow's tweet went viral, any number of celebrity culture blogs and even mainstream news-talk programs brought it up.  Meanwhile, an assortment of hip-hop culture personalities like Nas, Ice-T, Russell Simmons and The Dream have come to her defense.  More often than not, Paltrow's buddy-credibility with rappers has been mentioned and the relatively innocuous context of N-word being said among knowledgable friends, particularly when spelled with an 'a' rather than 'er'.

This author is not so cynical as to equate Ms. Paltrow with the Ku Klux Klan for her tweet. However, what hasn't been discussed (the surface was scraped with Russell Simmons' response) is how people are going to be more nuanced in facilitating cross-cultural communication in this post-post-hip-hop America (and the world.)

For the better part of three decades people across national/ethnic lines have been assimilating hip-hop's music, street slang, dance moves, graphic designs and politics.. but for those younger folks (and those now grown) who were already of a background that could be largely considered "establishment"/middle-America, do they simply have "empathy" for the "ghetto/minority experience", or are they willing to make personal choices that, at least in some small individual way, counteract the cultural/political traditions that led to "the 'hood experience" to begin with? Can you be 'hip-hop down' but hate the idea of visiting downtown Detroit (or a neighorhood non-profit) for a day? Does loving Jay & Kanye's lavish-life themes on the Watch the Throne album mean you endorse the idea of expanding the social safety net, or are you more of a free-market/tax-free absolutist like Mitt Romney and his Bain Capital peeps, since, clearly, those guys are "making that cheddar"?

Let's face it, for a lot of folks who grew up in the 'hood, there's always been a certain counter-cultural novelty context to seeing whitebread Caucasians (and other ethnics, including outer-suburban reared blacks) speaking urban slang, however awkwardly or adeptly. Often times this is met with laughter, or for those who've been granted a 'pass', "yo, you my boy/girl" accolades [and for however long the fellowship lasts, at the concert, club, party, etc., there's an unstated solidarity along the lines of "we're all some n_____ up in here!"]

But when the lights come on and people go back to their daily lives...

Is Gwyneth going to get passed over by taxis now, in NY or Paris? Is she likely to face being detained by police for extended periods without explanation?  Would the Louis Vuitton store clerks usher her out if she says "she just wants to browse"?  Ummm.... I don't care how many celebrity rap/R&B folks are friends with or being godparents to their kids, I don't want to see Paltrow or Chris Martin-types walking up to me (or near me) at a restaurant and popping off with the n-bombs like it’s just another accepted insult-turned-term of endearment (e.g., d*ck, b*tch, d*uche, a**hole, etc.)

For countless groupings of people, “my n***as” is an accepted private joke. But a private joke, by definition, means that not everyone is in on the gag. Sometimes for good reason.  Not every person, even when they intellectually understand the cultural nuances of how an historical slur-word/phrase has evolved, and how often it may have been used in their own families and neighborhoods, is on board with said word/phrase becoming the equivalent of a marketing brand.  No, symbolic burials won't make it go away (sorry, NAACP) but pretending that taste in music or fashion automatically equates with facilitating social justice is just as naive.

The rappers and others who dismiss ‘Gwyneth-gate’ as meaning nothing are either clueless or just aren’t being fully honest about addressing the broader issues at work here.

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