Point of View Columns

A Message to Sarah P. and Other Rappers

In the United States the First Amendment provides an environment for virtually unfettered expression. In recent years rappers and members of the right wing of the right wing have made full use of this freedom. Consider some of these pearls of wisdom:

“My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building.”- Ann Coulter
“Don’t retreat, reload!” – Sarah Palin, March 2010
“I got myself a gun,Uh Ohhhh!
Yea, I got myself a gun” – Jay-Z, “Super Ugly”
“I’ll react like an animal, I’ll tear you apart
If the masterpiece was murder, I’d major in art” – 50 Cent, “Gattman and Robbin”

Over thirty years ago the Black Panthers threatened to “shoot the pigs” (referring to the police) and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were known for inflammatory rhetoric as well.

But it has been a while since the left wing of the left wing glorified murder, mass or otherwise. And its really hard to find a current instance of liberal and moderate elected officials openly using gun terminology as a part of their political rhetoric.

Rappers have gotten fair criticism and a deserved bad rap for glorifying and inciting violence in urban communities throughout the country. In New York City the Police Department estimates that 90% of the recorded gunshot victims are black and Latino, communities that make up a large part of the audience of the rappers who love their guns and bullets all the way to the bank.

Ministers, community leaders and many members of the right wing of the right wing have regularly denounced rap lyrics as contributing to violence and mayhem in society. I am certain that no one would suggest that multimillionaires like Jay-Z and 50 Cent are actually giving directives to street operatives to shoot and maim. And we would all agree that “Fitty” and all of his bling wearing colleagues are simply exercising their First Amendment right of free speech.

Yet the body bags are regularly filled in urban America. And one has to get a queasy feeling seeing so many young black men in wheelchairs, paralyzed from the waist down by a spray of automatic bullets that may have been inspired by the regular outpouring of music and lyrics and imagery that portrays gunplay as part of life – “keeping it real” as it were.

Rappers like Jay-Z, take no responsibility for the culture of Uzi’s and Glock’s and 9 millimeters that is now as American as baseball and apple pie. And in this regard Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are no different than any of the other rappers that are out there making their multimillions while spewing forth hateful and violent images that too many people hear and a few people take seriously.

Sara P. and her defenders are absolutely correct in stating that there is no direct connection between her rifle scope “targeting” of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords while urging her supporters to “reload” and the Congresswoman being shot in the head by a (presumably) deranged gunman during the Tucson Massacre.

But this is a culture that exists in an environment of viral communication.
The rifle scope “target” map was broadcast over the internet and around the world. Who knows who saw it and incorporated a not so subtle message into a twisted directive? Sarah P. tweets to millions who in turn use a multitude of media tools to pass on the message without nuance or caution.

And then one day a gunman shoots a member of Congress. Last year another (presumably) deranged man flew his plane into an IRS building in Texas. This suicide bomber wanted to strike out against “big government” and his interpretation of the message that he heard from Sarah P., Rush Limbaugh, Tim Pawlenty, Michael Steele and so many more created a perspective that made a suicide flight into a federal building a logical next step.

Some rappers have realized that their glorification of guns and violence has been taken too seriously by their audience and too many people have died as a result. Some have toned down their message recognizing that overheated lyrics can have unintended consequences.

Perhaps Sarah P. and some of her supporters can recognize that there is a Law of Unintended Consequences at work all around us. If Sarah Palin is intent on being a rapper at the very least she can become a responsible one.

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