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When your 7-year-old comes in the house spitting lyrics that would make a convict blush, what do you do? Abdul Ali and Natalie Hopkinson recently presented an online debate on the Washington Post about how to deal with children in the age of hip-hop, where one of the greatest musical art forms in history has been transformed into a straight-up gangsta’s paradise.

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Cuddly elementary school kids have let go of Sesame Street in exchange for an AK-47 with a condom on top.  The great challenge is finding a way to be a good parent in a world that provides influences that run counter to everything you want your child to believe, and believe me folks, it ain’t easy.

The formula presented in commercialized hip-hop is simple:  Drink and use drugs in excess; have as much irresponsible sex as possible; don’t ever show any respect toward women; for God’s sake, don’t ever educate yourself; make sure you’re “strapped” whenever possible, in case some fools try to roll up on yo’ spot; spend all your money and don’t think one second about saving or investing it.

It’s hard to disconnect the beats, rhymes and messages being absorbed by our kids with the fact that Black people are broker than we’ve ever been, getting less educated by the minute, going to prison like cattle, killing one another at record speed, and running back and forth to the club every other day.  Hip hop is not entirely to blame for these problems, but yes, there is a connection.

Dr. Towanna Freeman, who professionally mentors young women, has strong feelings about the music and spoke openly about how she dealt with her daughter’s decision to download music that she found to be objectionable:

Whether you know it or not, your subconscious is absorbing the stuff this music is saying to you.  What goes in eventually comes out. One day you will find yourself cussing someone out or acting in a way that responds to the music you’re listening to.  That’s why when someone is being brainwashed, they have them listen to headphones.  You absorb what you hear.

Columbia University Professor Dr. Christopher Emdin says that the music provides a teachable moment for parents:

The chief thing for parents to understand is that there is a major distinction between rap and commercially hip-hop (which is driven by corporate interests and caricatures of blackness) and black music and its complexity, its history, and its wide ranging messages. Parents who have children who are interested in music/hip-hop have to make the music sharing/listening activity a family activity.

Dr. Emdin goes on to say that there are ways that parents and kids can work together to inspire critical thinking as it pertains to hip-hop culture:

Create playlists with wide-ranging Black music together. Listen to their music, and then suggest something that you like. If a child likes a song, find the original sample and develop an appreciation for the original music. Teach them to listen and then critique the messages in music. Teach them not to be a consumer, but a critic.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College for Women, also sees the music as a chance to teach your children about values:

Parents are responsible for transmitting values to their children, despite the challenges of hip hop and black radio. When vulgar language is used, parents should be the ones to point it out and discuss why it is vulgar. When sex and sexuality are on display, parents have the opportunity to talk about their values about sex.

While the debate over hip-hop isn’t going to end anytime soon, there is no debate regarding whether or not some things need to change.  There’s nothing in the theory of Psychology stating that you can recite lyrics over and over again without this message having some impact on your subconscious thinking.  Black people don’t own media, but we own the right to reject the media that is serving to destroy our children.  Our voices must be louder than the radio.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University.  To have Dr. Boyce articles delivered to your email, please sign up here.


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