Geraldo Rivera and the shameful act of blaming art

By: Peter Kolb – Opinions Editor

“This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years.”

More damage than racism. Hip-hop, more damage than racism. To young African-Americans. Than racism.

The speaker: attorney, reporter, author, and frequent Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera. The quote was directed towards rapper Kendrick Lamar, specifically his controversial 2015 BET performance of the To Pimp a Butterfly anthem “Alright”. Lamar performed a top a vandalized police car, which unsurprisingly ruffled the feathers of the “Fox and Friends” talk show crew. All five correspondents condemned Lamar’s performance, but it was Rivera’s comments that lit the fire under Compton’s hottest MC on his most recent album.

Kendrick dropped his much-anticipated fourth studio album, DAMN. this past week. The album itself deserves its own discussion, but what’s most pressing is the continuation of Lamar and Rivera’s conversation. On the hot-tempered second track “DNA” Kendrick samples Geraldo’s comments in the bridge.

However Kendrick refrains from directly addressing Rivera until the album’s third track “YAH”, on which Kendrick slows down and takes a more vulnerable tone, rapping “Fox News wanna use my name for percentage/my latest muse is my niece, she worth livin’/see me on TV and scream “that’s Uncle Kendrick”/yea that’s the business/somebody tell Geraldo this n****’s got some ambition”
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Surprisingly, I don’t want to talk about what Kendrick said on “YAH”. The lyrics are, for the most part, pretty passive and more personal than anything. However, what’s really important is Geraldo Rivera’s response. The day after the album release, Geraldo published an almost 20 minute response video to his Facebook page. And make no mistake, it is very important.

Rivera gives a very calm, respectful response to Kendrick’s lyrics, as well as expanding on his original 2015 comments. However, what Geraldo said, both in the 2015 segment and in his recently posted Facebook response, is disgusting.

On multiple levels. I won’t even try to call it racist, or discriminatory, simply because I’m not sure I have the authority to call it those things. But I am a human. And as a human, listening to Geraldo Rivera speak about Kendrick Lamar and hip-hop culture as a whole, I was disgusted.

Let me make it clear. I like Geraldo Rivera. Growing up with Fox News in the background lets you become vaguely familiar with most of the frequent correspondents. Geraldo always struck me as one of the more intelligent, level-headed personalities on set.

And he is.

Rivera drew attention from the world of journalism after several years of working as a renowned social-rights attorney for the Puerto Rican activist group, Young Lords. Since then, he has reported for several different news outlets, even winning a Peabody award in 1972. However, what he said, both in the 2015 segment and in his recently posted Facebook response, is disgusting.

Before starting, Geraldo makes it clear he has no “beef” with Kendrick and even considers him one of, if not the best hip-hop artist working today. He then goes on to claim that Kendrick’s performance was “irresponsible”, as it’s sending “exactly the wrong message”. Rivera laments that too much of rap portrays police as the enemy. Convincing young African-Americans that their biggest enemy, their biggest danger, is the ones supposed to be protecting them.

Let me stop here and concede a point already. This is true. It’s not a whole truth, by any means, but at least it’s a little true – and that’s about as close as Geraldo gets to whole truth in this video. When Ice-T starts a song saying he wants to “shoot every mother-f*****” cop in their face, when UGK raps “I know you got a vest so I’m aimin at your head”, when Lil Boosie raps “we need to be like Khaled n***** and kill cops”, it’s hard to disagree with Rivera.

That’s pure hate – anger fueled revenge directed at our law enforcement. Of course rap is art, culture, and human-expression. Art, culture, and human-expression are all endlessly imperfect – unfiltered. It is to be expected. Not excused by any means, but expected.

However it is what Geraldo says next that made me want to write this article. “I mean you can’t compare the violence inflicted by cops with the violence inflicted black on black”. He claims Kendrick has “indoctrinated young people with the lesson the cops are the enemy. That there’s no good way to get ahead, it’s the worst role-model. It’s the most negative possible message”.

I don’t know. I don’t know what to call it. Fear-mongering? Bad journalism? Simply ignorance? Something. All I know is this is disgusting, and Geraldo Rivera should be absolutely ashamed of himself.
He has to acknowledge and respect the demographics of the audience he draws. He must know that the 50-70 white adult watching Fox News (dominant demographic of Fox News viewer, not a coy jab at the network) doesn’t listen to Kendrick Lamar.

They probably don’t listen to much rap at all, if I can make that assumption. So Geraldo Rivera is now their singular view hole into hip-hop – and to a more important extent – young, African-American culture. That’s a lot of responsibility for Geraldo.

So when he tells his viewers that Kendrick is preaching songs with pro-violence, anti-cop, “no way to get ahead” lessons: it’s disgusting. This is not Kendrick’s message. Never has been, never will be. Not in this album, his last one, one before that, and most certainly not the song Geraldo is citing as evidence for his argument.

Geraldo even says that the message Kendrick should be preaching (which, please Geraldo: do tell artists how to express themselves more) is “that if you work hard, you can succeed despite the handicaps that you have, despite the fact that the system is stacked against you.

Now I’m not sure if I’m allowed to use all caps here but THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT KENDRICK IS PREACHING. The chorus of the song Geraldo criticizes so much rings “WE GON’ BE ALRIGHT”. “Alright” acknowledges all the handicaps young African-Americans face, all the ways the system is stacked against him. But in spite of all that, Kendrick still stands on national TV yelling “we gon’ be alright.” I could honest to God not imagine a more hypocritical thing for Geraldo to say about this song, about this artist.

What he does is tell a story. His story. He grew up in Compton, California. A childhood filled with senseless violence, drug-destroyed relationships, families torn apart, and yes – whether you like to admit it or not, white America – police brutality. Geraldo tells Kendrick that you “can’t compare” the violence done by police with that of his community. For Kendrick, he has no choice – it was his life. All of it. And now, he’s worked hard enough to be able to tell his story, to grab the microphone and let out a scream for help. Telling us, “yo. This is not alright down here. All of it”.

Kendrick has never called for violence, never called for hatred and disrespect towards the police. He has never shied away from addressing black on black violence; in fact, he does it much more than police brutality. Tracks like “Art of Peer Pressure”, “Sing About Me, I’m Dyin’ of Thirst”, and more tell sombering tales from a Compton childhood.

If Geraldo did his work… if he respected Kendrick as a kid from Compton, as an artist expressing his human experience, or at least as a fellow human… he would know the emotional trauma Kendrick has endured and struggled with at the hands of the very same issues Geraldo claims he ignores. He would have at least the slightest idea of the pain, the horrible confusing pain Kendrick and many others feel as they watch their community eat itself alive with America watching. As Fox News tells them to be quiet.
Tells them to not be so aggressive. Don’t be so angry. So violent.

Don’t stand on top of my cop car, Kendrick. Too aggressive.

Don’t block my roads, Black Lives Matter. Too inconvenient.

Don’t politicize my football game, Kaepernick.

This is their lives. They are asking for help. This is their human experience and it is just as worthy of a patient ear as mine or yours.

Instead, Kendrick’s cry for help is met with Geraldo Rivera and Fox News not asking him, but demanding him, to literally sing a different tune.

Be positive! Your friend is serving 15 years for carrying a gram. Your cousin got caught in crossfire the day before graduation. Your pops got popped when reaching for his car insurance. Be positive.
Instead, Kendrick’s cry for help is met with pathetic, disgusting, bottom-feeding fear mongering that capitalizes on his audience’s (understandable) naivete.

This is what genuinely hurts me, listening to Geraldo speak. I hope it hurts you too. The fact that a bright, intelligent, talented kid from Compton has made it out of Hell – found out how to sell his talents to get an audience with Heaven – and now that he’s here, trying to help those he left behind the only thing he hears is complaints for bringing it up.

You don’t have to like rap music. You don’t even have to agree with what Kendrick is saying. But you do not get to silence it. You don’t.

Geraldo looks into the camera and says “stop the blaming, accept personal responsibility”. Don’t you dare lecture Kendrick on accepting responsibility. Geraldo discredits every single point he makes in this conversation. Here’s Kendrick accepting personal responsibility:

“I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015… why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was slain in the streets/when gang-bangin made me killin a n*** blacker than me” – The Blacker the Berry

Here he is again when asked about those lyrics: It’s not me pointing at my community; it’s me pointing at myself.”

Where is your personal responsibility, Geraldo. Where is yours? When you go on national TV and tell your viewers that hip-hop, an art-form, a vessel of human expression, has done more damage to African-American youth than racism.

Art is not the problem. Art is never the problem. It cannot be. As music reviewer Anthony Fantano explained “art does not cause the world to be shitty. Art is in fact how we cope with things being shitty.”
This is a problem. This mindset Geraldo preaches is a problem, across America. I hear it when I talk to the generation below me. The generation above me, and just as well the generation I am a part of. I don’t know what to do. All I can do for now is write, and just plead – I mean on hands and knees plead – for respect to the people that need it the most.

I’m happy Geraldo posted a response video. Equality is never a one-way discussion. It requires work and consideration from both sides. Geraldo’s opinion is not invalid, it is not unheard.
But please do not use art like that. Please do not try to turn us against ourselves. Please listen before you speak. Please care.

Photo Courtesy of siccness.net