- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2004

Amid the ongoing culture war, I pose this question to my fellow social commentators: Why have we failed to discuss, not to mention condemn, the violence that occurred at the recent Vibe Awards?

I hope it’s not because we’re scared. But are we anesthetized by the bloodletting that occurs each and every day in the ghetto and other urban areas? Is our “silence” on the brawl at the awards show sending, as the e-mail said, “tacit approval of the behavior?”

I, we, have no defense. The answers all appear to be yes.

Wholeof heart, I concede my guilt on several fronts. My husband and three of ourchildren discussed the violence at the show. Mostly, though, we were feigning interest in the details. A stabbing led to a brawl just as the legendary Quincy Jones was about to present an award. We brushed it off to the lethal mix of gangsta rappers and the presence, flush at the stage, of the notorious rap mogul Suge Knight, founder of Death Row Records.

The media gave the violence cursory coverage with wire copy. Follow-up stories mostly focused on the offenders or questioned Mr. Knight’s involvement, since he was in the car with Tupac Shakur the night that rapper was fatally shot.

My search for commentary turned up empty. Even blackamericaweb.com, founded by talk-radio giant Tom Joyner, was quiet on analysis. My buddies at The Washington Post, Colby King and Courtland Malloy, wrote nary a word. Even Adrienne Washington, whose column appears twice a week in our Metro section, was mum.

Now, all the folks I just named are black. All the folks involved in the fight at the awards show are black. The person who posed that initial question to me is black. I’m black, too. But the violence is not a black thing. It is a culture thing.

Where are our outspoken voices? When Tipper Gore and C. Dolores Tucker were enraged about gangsta rap, we said, “Right on!” When Sistah Souljah eased her way out of the darkest side of hip-hop, we said, “You go girl!” When Rosa Parks sought R-E-S-P-E-C-T for being blasphemed in the movie “Barbershop,” we snuck into theaters and suppressed laughter at Cedric the Entertainer’s backhand at the “Mother of the Modern Civil Rights Movement.” But when senseless violence breaks out within spitting distance of Quincy Jones, an elder statesman of the entertainment industry — and founder of Vibe — our keyboards fall silent.

Falling silent doesn’t mean we are too embarrassed to speak up, and it certainly doesn’t imply that we are scared of what white people might or might not say. Being silent, however, does send a wink, wink to the perpetrators and relay an ominous sign of irresponsibility on the part of social commentators of all races.

Think of remarks made earlier this year by Bill Cosby, who merely said, to a mostly middle-class audience, that we didn’t hold up our end of the bargain with this current generation of young folk, many of whom are as illiterate as immigrants who’ve never heard a lick of English. The bargain, made in the 1950s, was to bury Jim Crow six feet under and we’ll do all we can to rise to the challenge. Lots of black folk rose — and still they rise. But in every major American city, black ghettos flourish.

A wise man once said to me: “It is up to individuals to move forward. Once they do so, they will be empowered.” We talk about empowerment all the time. We have seminars at the Congressional Black Caucus weekend on empowerment. We want to empower ex-cons to vote. We want to empower entrepreneurs to start their own businesses. We want to empower women so they don’t have to depend on a man.

Well, when we fail to air our own dirty laundry, we don’t move forward. Indeed, we stand still.

We stood still this election season, when practically every black American commentator stood behind John F. Kerry and said, “Hey, you the man.” Look where that got us.

By the grace of God, no one was killed at the Vibe Awards show. It’s a shame we never even noticed. Let’s commit to fighting the good fight in 2005.


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