Should anyone be surprised that a rapper decided to use the “N-word” as the title of his new CD? Has anyone in the Black community or elsewhere looked to rappers as civic icons or morality leaders? The way Nas’ new CD should be handled is like

The attention generally comes from protests at a Klan rally, not the rally itself. So, if the Klan marched for several blocks and there was no audience, there’d be a much shorter story, if one at all, correct? Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina, sees it differently, and has launched a meaningless crusade against the CD title. (See story on pg. 22).

Not only does Pfleger want the title changed, he’s seeking to stop distribution and sales, as well as have radio stations not play it. Part of the priest’s rationale is that the title is opening up the possibility that anyone can use the word given that it is now on the CD. Where has Pfleger been? Nas, whose real name is Nasir Jones, is way down the list when it comes to rappers and others who have taken this derivate of the “N-word” public.

When Jones was born nearly a quarter century ago, Black folk were clucking their tongues at anyone who used the word outside of their own circles. It’s use has risen and subsided periodically over the years. Pfleger is not wrong to want the word%uFFFDand ones like it%uFFFDburied, but practically it is not going to happen.

According to at least one source, Jones’ record label – Def Jam – said the title will stick. Our youngsters are not learning and using the “N-word” because they hear it first on a rap CD. They hear it at home, down the block, at school, at the park, on the bus and scores of other places they frequent and where we assemble.

White boys are not using the word because they bought a CD. They heard it live, from Black friends. They heard it on a television program. They saw it as a quote in a magazine. Pfleger has an iconic reputation in the Black community, no small feat for a white Catholic priest. He is known as the catalyst for revitalizing the neighborhood around his South Side church, and on more than one occasion has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Rev. Jesse Jackson on civil rights and community issues.

But when he ventures into the music business, Pfleger is merely tilting at windmills – a pointless, futile gesture. It was only a few months ago that through some phantom benefactor, Pfleger and St. Sabina put up billboards around the city urging folk not buy the CDs of 10 popular rappers. That proved to be a waste of time and money.

Every piece of research on the subject shows that more rap music is sold in suburbia rather than the inner city but Pfleger and the church bought no billboard space outside of the city. Of course, rap music riles a lot of folk, and many probably wish it were outlawed. Fortunately there are dozens of other stations on the dial, so unless an inconsiderate driver pulls up next to us at a spotlight we don’t have to hear it.

Rap is simply an easy culprit to identify, but it is not, nor has it been, the source of problems plaguing the Black community. From health disparities to unequal funding for education to pervasive unemployment; Black folk have big problems in big ways. The paucity of grocery stores in the Black community around the city is appalling.

How many folk can name a Black-owned gas station other than the one on 53rd and Lake Park? Do the Lawndale and Englewood communities have viable revitalization plans? Do our children drop out of school to go to jobs that are just waiting for them? Dealing successfully with these issues and so many more that could be named will be the start of improving our community.

They will be the start of realizing our potential. They will be the start of our folk gaining some self-respect. And those are the steps toward feeling good enough about ourselves that we refuse to let anyone identify us by a name slave owners and slave runners used for us.

If tomorrow every rapper and every poet stopped using the “N-word,” would our lives improve substantially, if at all? No! And if the next new rap star uses the word and uses it as the title of one of his songs, would our lives deteriorate to any significant degree?

Whenever we talk about improvements in our community, we should speak of things substantive.

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