Monday, April 23, 2007

Antipathy toward snitching part of American culture, not just hip hop

Reacting to Anderson Cooper's story about snitching on 60 Minutes, Davey D's Hip Hop blog poses an important question:

This writer puts in very harsh words the hypocrisy inherent in law enforcement criticisms of the "stop snitching" meme:
Cooper and the 60 Minutes crew interviewed NY Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and somehow forgot to ask him about the 'No Snitching' ethos that exists within the police department. We didn't hear about the infamous Blue Wall of silence. Nor did we hear about the unsavory practices used by police to get confessions and flip informants. Torture, Blackmail and other manipulations are commonplace. Also we didn't hear about the No Snitching ethos that seems to be practiced by our very secretive Vice President Dick Cheney and Presidential aid Karl Rove.
Though parts of Davey D's polemic reach the level of hyperbole, this is to me a quite-valid point. The "blue wall of silence" among police is a very real thing. What's more, it's unbelievably ironic to see 60 Minutes grilling a rapper about not snitching the same week Alberto Gonzales said he didn't remember or doesn't know in response to questions from senators nearly a hundred times! Do you really think he got that from Cam'ron?

OTOH, a writer at the Economists' blog, Democracy in America, astonishingly found a way to blame the stop snitching meme on the civil rights movement! I wanted to mention it here because it's an original argument I haven't seen articulated so fully:

But the reason people like Cam’ron have elevated this attitude into an entire sense of place in the world is because the Civil Rights movement freed blacks into an America that had just made the upturned middle finger into an icon of higher awareness.

The Great Society sowed the seeds for a black identity based on Being Bad, in treating it as enlightened to pull poor black women out of the job market and pay them to have children instead. Generations of young people grew up in fatherless communities in which full-time employment—i.e. conformity to a long-established American norm—was rare.

Meanwhile, America continues enshrining acrid derision of The Suits as wisdom. It increasingly gets its news from the likes of the Daily Show. T-shirts read “F—k Milk – Got Pot?” “Edge", even of an unfocused, gestural variety, sells in a way that would have made no sense to even enlightened Americans in, say, 1947.

Few things are more American today than maintaining a bone-deep, reflexive cynicism about authority of any kind and cherishing oppositional sentiment as "authentic". The audience for rap music like Cam’ron’s is after all, mostly white. And that means we shouldn’t be surprised when he treats an upturned middle finger as a gesture of prayer—we should look in a mirror.

On the whole I tend to agree with this writer that antipathy toward snitching is not just part of hip hop culture but part of American culture - a tenet that both Davey D and the Economist also agree on, interestingly enough, although from polar opposite political perspectives. See Grits' item on Cooper's story and a roundup of blog reactions that I'll continue to update over the next couple of days.


JT Barrie said...

BTW, snitching isn't the only pervasive attitude. This country is obsessed with drugs - legal even more so than illegal. Most of our 'health' segments on TV and magazines is devoted to new 'drug therapies'. The mass media message is a resounding 'using drugs is best for what ails you'. And then the lapdogs go ballistic when young people get the message that they put out - but pick drugs that were banned with no evidence whatsoever?

Anonymous said...

We truly have a 'pill' culture. Trouble is, it is difficult to know which pills are good for you and which ones aren't. The pills that drug companies make a profit on are 'good' because political contributions protect them from the 'war on drugs'.

Too much money is wasted for the criminalization of drug use that only protects the economic interests of big pharma!