Say what you want about the level of resistance to this country’s wonderfully constructed image and mythology, that which it creates about itself or those it holds in check; but hip-hop is a leading force in that fight.  In fact, without hip-hop very little of the symbolism or artistic expression of radical resistance to the brutality this country can impose on its own would be known or felt.  Without hip-hop so much of what I heard described recently as “inattentional blindness” would pass without recognition. So as another celebration of the 4th of July passes for some of us it is hip-hop that best represents in this moment the sickeningly still-relevant question of Frederick Douglass; “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?”

The 4th of July, Hip-Hop and National “Inattentional Blindness”

Jared Ball

Say what you want about the level of resistance to this country’s wonderfully constructed image and mythology, that which it creates about itself or those it holds in check; but hip-hop is a leading force in that fight.  In fact, without hip-hop very little of the symbolism or artistic expression of radical resistance to the brutality this country can impose on its own would be known or felt.  Without hip-hop so much of what I heard described recently as “inattentional blindness” would pass without recognition. So as another celebration of the 4th of July passes for some of us it is hip-hop that best represents in this moment the sickeningly still-relevant question of Frederick Douglass; “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?”

National Public Radio (NPR) again recently demonstrated that the real national pastime is not baseball, nor is it football.  In fact, it is no game at all; it is the collective disavowal of racism’s origin, function and impact.  White supremacy remains so powerfully unnamed in its relationship to power that its complete removal from even its most obvious displays is almost laughable.  NPR’s story was the retelling of the 1995 case where Michael Cox, a Black Boston police officer, was mistaken for a criminal and viciously beaten by his White colleagues.  But NPR’s focus was not the continuing cycle of police violence against Black people, no.  In an almost ironic twist NPR’s focus was research into a condition known as “inattentional blindness” or the inability to see even the most shocking events around you due to intense focus on something else.

Instead of investigating the routine abuse of Black people by the police NPR chose to recast this story with a focus on the fact that one officer is said to have run right past a group of his fellow White cops beating a defenseless Black man without seeing a thing as a case of “inattentional blindness.”  He was so keyed in on a subject he was chasing that he was momentarily incapable of seeing the beating.  What makes the NPR piece nearly ironic is that were this story told by The Onion or had it once been a sketch on the Chappelle Show the humor in the framing of the story would be obvious.  But it is indicative of the national need to have as its national pastime a national “inattentional blindness” to the ways in which its oppressed communities suffer.

The framing of this story by NPR is indicative of the national blindness to the treatment of its colonized inhabitants.  It is the oft-described invisibility of Black suffering which is a political necessity to the stability of social order that demands non-sight of the unsightly, of the wretched.  And it is often hip-hop, the maligned, misrepresented angry – yet poetic – responses that reminds the world of the fakery in the stars and stripes.  Skipp Coon said, he’d “rather see it ablaze” than salute it. Killer Mike, a la Michelle Alexander, is reminding us that prisons are “new age slavery” and a la Malcolm X suggests we all get a “shotgun” and that, a la the misrepresented Magnificent one, says he will “burn this “muthafucka down!”

And like Mike is Jasiri X denying the blindness by retelling the story of Jordan Miles, another of the more recent innocent victims of police violence; another national pastime to which Pharoahe Monch suggests the response be to “Clap… and [he] don’t mean applause.”  It is also the journalistic work in hip-hop, from DaveyD to FreeMix Radio where such artistry is reported in connection to the political activism that also seeks to deny the imposed blindness to as, Kwasi Seitu reports, the continued “coon hunting” by police in cities like the nation’s capital. No room for inattention here.  In fact, quite the opposite.

As we go to press artists and activists are gathering in New York City to raise further protest to this past week’s police violence against people gathered at the Pete Rock/Smif-n-Wessun album release party.  The press release for the event calls for the police to stop seeing hip-hop gatherings as “a crime waiting to happen.” But in the eyes of a country whose national pastime is the “inattentional blindness” to Black suffering gathering crowds of Black people are indeed potentially threatening criminal acts.

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