I. Frederick Douglass, Stop Snitchin’ Son!: Slave Discourse and the Stop Snitchin’ Movement
Frederick Douglass’ narrative is a powerful piece of work. You can consider him your first black male feminist (shoutout to Dr. David Ikard and Dr. Mark Anthony Neal!) While he spoke to the horrific conditions of slaves in Maryland the one major characteristic that shines through Douglass’ narrative is the transcendence of being a slave into becoming a man. Something else that caught my attention was his refusal to disclose how he escaped from slavery: “I left my chains, and succeeded in reaching New York without the slightest interruption of any kind. How I did so, what means I adopted, what direction I travelled, and by what mode of conveyance, I must leave unexplained.” Here is an example of the Stop Snitchin’ Movement in 1838! Douglass refused to discuss his plan, which may have also been the plan for those runaway slaves enroute to the free states and Canada.
Where discretion was a survival technique in the 1800s, its Hip Hop descendant is….? I’m not quite sure what the point of the Stop Snitchin’ Movement is. The Boondocks aired an episode where Riley, keeping to the code of the streets (Chicago streetcode in white suburbia...comedy!), refuses to point out his friends for a rash of neighborhood robberies. In retaliation, Riley’s grandfather hides his bike “with the rims on it” and Riley frantically pleads with Grandad to tell him who stole it. Other examples would be the Stop Snitchin’ videos and merchandise that flooded mainstream culture with celebrities like Carmelo Anthony warning others “don’t be a snitch! Then you’re a bitch ass nigga!” (Sidenote: The Bitchassness Movement started by Diddy is its own blog.)
What is fascinating about the slavery snitch and its Hip Hop successor is that the concept holds steadfast. In both cases, the snitch is not respected. They are perceived to be a sell-out and disloyal to their people (whether racially or personal associates). And they are willingly telling valuable information about illegal dealings (remember, folks, hiding slaves or being affiliated with a runaway slave in any form was a crime in slave holding territories).
The context, however, changes. Jay-Z’s spits “I’m from the era where niggas don’t snitch/you’re from the era where snitchin’ is the shit” demonstrates a different contextualization of the snitch than in Douglass’ narrative. The most evident change is the shift of illegal activity – instead of bodies being transported, its the illegal dealing of drugs, murder, or gang affiliation. The criminal life is glorified and those who can correct the problem are ostracized or killed. Shows like Gangland and The First 48 reiterate that fact when speaking with witnesses to horrific crimes or a suspect’s associate. The first thing out of their mouth is “man, I ain’t no [insert expletive here] snitch.” Their names, identities, and voices are changed in fear of their lives. I don’t really understand the Gangland concept, though. They give the informant’s street name (the one that people know you by) and sometimes even show their face…but I digress.
I’m still playing around with ideas here but snitching as a trope is one pliable avenue to investigate the residual traces of slavery discourse and how it’s being expressed in contemporary black culture, especially in rap and Hip Hop.
II. Gucci Juice
I don’t knock Gucci Mane’s hustle. I can respect that. What I CAN’T respect is his lyricism or the lack thereof. Lemon Pepper Wings (WANGS), freeze cups, and bus schedules can only go so far. Dude is coonin’! And so is his boy OJ da Juiceman.
In my Gender Performance and Black Culture course we’re about to start talking about the coon figure. A plantation archetype, the coon is illiterate, inarticulate, and simple. In other words, he or she is an over exaggerated black stereotype that appeals to a non-black audience. Gucci Mane and OJ da Juiceman do that. They are Hip Hop coons.
While I find 2% of Gucci’s music somewhat tolerable, OJ da Juiceman can’t even finish his “ay!” catchphrase before he gets turned off. What most upsets me about Juiceman was his XXL online guest blog in August 2009. He literally spelled out what he said. While not saying anything at all. Not only does this reaffirm those stereotypical notions of blacks being unable to relay their thoughts through written expression, he is from the south. Southern blacks are fighting an uphill battle as it is. We’re not just backwards, beat-and-booty-driven. Our real lyricists are being overshadowed by those fools who are just following or contributing to the latest dance craze. Or speaking a whole bunch of uh-uh.
III. Sprite Stepoff
I saved this for last on purpose. Here’s my .08 cents. Yes, eight. Three words – Hot Ass Mess.
It started off decent enough. I was in attendance and had some great seats. We started at 6:00pm (don’t they know good stepshows NEVER start on time?! lol) and the events didn’t end until 2:00am. From start to finish, there were 20 teams. TWENTY! Fourteen of those teams were for the actual stepoff teams that Sprite sponsored. The good folks at Sprite must’ve forgotten that stepping is almost as sacred as rituals for any Black Greek Letter Organization (hereafter BGLO). They must’ve also overlooked the concept of having judges who are familiar with stepping and what to look for in a show instead of strictly celebrity judges who were judging simply because of their celebrity status or their affiliations. What Sprite banked on was the popularity and recent wave of steppers as a fad in American popular culture. This isn’t really anything new… the commodification of African American Culture. But you didn’t come to Red Clay Scholar for me to rehash what has already been discussed.
Greeks, I’m looking at us. As a woman of Alpha Kappa Alpha, I was appalled and embarrassed to be in attendance. I’m not going to comment on who should have won. What got me was the deplorable behavior by members of BGLOs who were wearing jackets, other (parapher)’nalia, and identifying themselves with XYZ organization while throwing racist slurs, fighting each other, and just being straight ignant (yes folks, the ultimate level of ignorance is IGNANT). During Zeta Tau Alpha’s performance, audience members who didn’t approve of a white sorority participating in the competition chanted “white bitches shouldn’t step” and boo’ed a great performance. Here’s what bothered me further: we were being taped for a show that was looking for some drama to pop off. And we gave it to them. I told ya’ll that Kum Bah Yah mentality was for the birds.
Food for thought: We are no longer just African American. We are international, interracial, and interconnected. While I’m not suggesting that ALL BGLO members think in such a manner, it’s a bad look for an overall network that is already under constant scrutiny. Let’s not give them something to add to that fire that’s already burning out of control.