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Autumn 2002
City Journal Autumn 2002.
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Going to the Doggs
John H. McWhorter
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Popular culture boosts destructive stereotypes of blacks.

Many high-profile black “leaders” complain that black men labor under a stereotype that depicts them, too often, as violent, drug-addled hoodlums. But these same “leaders” have said little or nothing about a form of black popular culture—hard-core rap music—that often celebrates thuggery as “authentic” blackness.

Consider superstar rapper Snoop Dogg’s activities of late. Wearying of the “gangsta” pose he’d cultivated through ten years of megahit recordings like “Murder Was the Case,” Snoop Dogg has decided to soften his persona. Instead of a gangsta, he’s now going to be—wait for it—a pimp! Apparently, for this onetime Crip and ex-con, becoming a “pimp” means “feeling good, dressing good,” and having no one “stepping on your alligator shoes.” No longer will he carry around a joint as a prop in his public appearances. Now he majestically holds a rhinestone-encrusted goblet.

In keeping with his new image, Snoop has launched his own line of successful hard-core porn videos, including the celebrated Snoop Dogg Doggystyle. One of his security men opines, “It’s good for him to be hanging with that caliber of people that are real businessmen, instead of on the streets”—referring to Snoop’s new chumminess with Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner.

Who knows what led the Jim Henson Company to sign up Snoop Dogg for a cameo appearance in a forthcoming Muppets Christmas special? “The Muppets are a pop-culture icon, and Snoop is a pop-culture icon as well,” Henson CEO Charles Rivkin enthused, unenlighteningly, to the Wall Street Journal. “The bottom line is we respect him as an artist.” But after a public outcry greeted Rivkin’s comments, the producers of the special left Snoop’s appearance on the editing-room floor, though they say the controversy had nothing to do with it. But not to worry: Snoop’s still got his hit records (14 million sold in the U.S. alone), clothing line, Nike and other product endorsements, and music production company to keep him busy. The world’s his oyster.

You might say that all this is harmless nonsense, but Snoop Dogg’s incredible success, like that of other new black minstrels in the rap world, sends a powerful message—to young blacks and to the culture at large—that, for blacks, dwelling on the wrong side of the road is an acceptable, even the most glamorous, way to get ahead. “Middle America would rather me be pimping than gang-banging,” Snoop Dogg says, in a line that would qualify as high comedy if it didn’t capture an entire tragic mindset that sees empty rebellion as what it means to be really black.

 

 


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