A Common misperception: Disconnect in American culture

Daniel Perret-Goluboff

A group making misinformed statements through a national news medium could be called unprofessional. A group glorifying their preconceived biases about a given art form could be called ignorant. A group doing both of these things at once — with a moderately noticeable tinge of racism — could be called Fox News.

This prominent news source has been up in arms this week in response to Michelle Obama’s extending of an invitation to Chicago-based rapper Common — Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. — to attend a poetry reading at the White House. This might be a slightly extreme reaction, but doesn’t that seem the least bit racist to anyone?

The invitation extended to the two-time Grammy winner initially caused tension with a union representing the New Jersey State Police. The union in question voiced an issue with Common’s track “A Song for Assata,” which chronicles his opinions on the case of Joanne Chesimard, a member of the Black Liberation Army who was convicted of the murder of a New Jersey State Police officer in 1977. Chesimard has often been theorized to be wrongly convicted and a victim of institutional racism.

The president of the New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Organization then voiced his concern to the White House, beginning the gloriously misinformed reaction from Fox News. Fox covered the issue widely earlier this week, taking a strong stance against Lynn, Jr.’s invitation to the White House. Fox analyzed many of his lyrics outside of their written context and even went so far as to describe the groundbreaking artist as “vile” on their national television broadcast.

What these reactions represent is not simply a disdain for cultures that lie outside of the mainstream, but a far deeper disconnect occurring in American culture. The invitation extended to Common to visit the White House does not endorse his lyrics or his behavior — neither of which are even all that questionable — it simply recognizes him as an artistically successful American.

Michelle Obama is not making an effort to send a message that Common is some sort of beacon of morality, but rather that there is indeed a place for him and those who hold his beliefs in American politics. The point being made is simple. Based on his strong contributions to the hip-hop culture of the last two decades, it is not unreasonable for those in power to celebrate the music of Common by inviting him into their home for an evening.

Perhaps the least shocking result stemming from this situation was Sarah Palin’s reaction — why does she even have the ability to call press conferences? Palin showed strong disdain for Common by describing his lyrics as “misogynistic,” and claiming that he openly supported “cop-killers.” Palin continued on in this interview to state that she actually holds a bit of a fondness for hip-hop music and has memorized the lyrics to “Rapper’s Delight.” Sarah Palin claiming to know anything about hip-hop is amusing in and of itself.

Ultimately, this situation shows that there is still much ignorance and unwarranted disdain for the growing hip-hop movement in America. People are too quick to write off any sort of event involving rap as detrimental to society.

As a society, we need to move away from our biases before they further impede the progress of what has the potential to be a very beautiful cultural and artistic movement within our nation. What do I recommend? Perhaps Sarah Palin and the Fox News staff who were so quick to trash Common should sit down and bond over OFWGKTA’s latest tracks. I imagine that might give them a little more to talk about.