The Aversive Racism Behind Rap
Gangsta rap has provided the Black community with the opportunity to express their concerns about racial injustices and power inequalities. The violence associated with stereotypically aggressive Black people leads to the portrayal of rap as a dangerous genre. Therefore, racism exists whether people look at rap through a racial lens or not. Carrie B. Fried's word "aversive racism" shines a light on the unrecognized discrimination against rap, describing it as "a form of racism that is not [apparent]" (2141). Using Ice-T's song "Cop Killer," Fried examined aversive racism; she reveals that songs, particularly rap, produced by Black artists seem more dangerous and require further restrictions than music written by White artists. In this paper, I will argue that biases against Black people and the misunderstanding of rap and its use of lyrical formulas result in the continuation of stereotypes and racist reactions from the public. It becomes evident when understanding rap as a vital means of expression in Black culture and history that the limitations and derogatory connotations surrounding rap stem from aversive racism.
In "Bad Rap for Rap," Carrie B. Fried uses Ice-T's "Cop Killer" to conduct experiments on White individuals; she claims that music made by Black artists seems more violent than music made by artists of another race. In her argument, Fried confirms this statement by concluding that "these studies clearly show that even when explicitly asked to judge only lyrics, other variables such as the music genre or the singer's race play an important role in reactions to musical lyrics" (2141). In this experiment, individuals judged based upon provided lyrics. Later, when told about the artist's genre or race, aversive racism played a role in contributing to their subconscious bias towards rap. In conclusion, rap by Black artists or lyrics written by them reflects the automatic, aversive racism discussed by Fried.
Furthermore, Fried explains the biases' towards certain songs and lyrics that remain neglected, continuing her argument about aversive racism. She argues that it may seem rational to make decisions with the pre-existing aversive racism: "this racial processing may be so subtle and automatic that those making the decision may not realize that race is an issue" (2142). The rap lyrics' adverse reactions can "easily be justified on non-racial terms" (Fried 2142), thus enabling underlying bias in rap reactions to pass as explanations for rap criticism. This concept showcases the commonality of aversive racism and how it runs in bias and negativity throughout the system towards rap in one's decisions without even knowing it.
In another example, "Prophets of Rage" exemplifies the Black community's prejudices; Tricia Rose describes her encounters at rap shows, explaining Black fans' aggressive treatment. Her argument solidified after the stabbing of Julio Fuentes at a rap show in 1988: "[…] the death of Julio Fuentes was not cause for regret over an unnecessary loss of life, it was the source of an image problem for venue owners, a sign of invasion by an unwanted element" (Rose 134). The incident exposed that rap concert venues view rap fans as unsafe and unwanted. While Fried claims gender and race impact how the mainstream media perceive rap, Rose adds to this claim, describing the mainstream media's portrayal of rap fans as violent Black youth. Rose's rap venue scenario and Fried's claim regarding aversive racism prove that prejudices trigger the negative connotations and constraints surrounding rap music and their concerts.
On the other hand, Nicholas Stoia et al. addresses rap lyrics in criminal trials in "Rap Lyrics as Evidence," discussing how people misunderstand rap's traditionally evolved "lyric formulas" because they take them so legitimately. According to Stoia et al., "lyric formulas" function as "fragments of lyrical content […] that are shared among singers and recognized by both musicians and listeners" (335). He explains that lyric formulas evolve based on the conditions faced by the artist and people like them. And to make music, "it is necessary to explore old-school hip-hop in order to fully understand the origins of violent lyric formulas in rap and their connections to modern, lyrical practices" (343). This idea indicates the disregard for rap because the vast, mass media do not understand the historical meaning of rap lyrics and its formulas that repeatedly appear in their music to fulfil the standards of what rap truly means. Stoia et al. and Rose share a similar claim about rap and its fans as violent. He explains lyrical formulas' misunderstanding as forceful and honest that shapes people's views on rap. Still, they don't understand the rapper's views of not taking it so legitimately. Stoia et al.'s statement showcases that racism from the confusion of lyric formulas leads to limitations on rap lyrics and how people view them.
Moreover, Stoia et al. explain why rap lyrics should not have literal interpretations even though rappers reflect their music on real situations. He also showcases the need for false portrayals of actual circumstances by saying that "however compelling and realistic their lyrical stories might seem, they are fundamentally formulaic, designed specifically to resonate with acculturated listeners in predictable ways" (357). This statement explains how rap songs describe real situations in their terms, and lyrical formulas fire a discussion and elicit a specific reaction from the listeners. Stoia et al. agrees with Rose's statement because both sources discuss rap's misconception as something designed to celebrate violence. Rose clarifies that rap serves to raise the consciousness of Black people's unjust treatment, while Stoia et al. specifies that rap uses lyrical formulas designed to create audiences' responses that make them understand the unfair treatment Black people face. Through Stoia et al.'s critique of rap's literal interpretation, negative connotations of rap place limitations on rap lyrics, which derive from aversive racism due to the misunderstanding of rap's lyric formulas.
Aversive racism and rules imposed on rap are the sources of negativity against rap and its fans. While reading rap lyrics, misconceptions about the Black community contribute to the incorporation of aversive racism. When discussing rap and its intent, which is to bring awareness of the Black community's treatment to listeners, rap lyric formulas' confusion allows aversive racism to emerge. The vast, mass media must thoroughly analyze the rapper's lyrics to understand the hidden message displayed within gangsta rap. They must also comprehend the influence of the aversive bias on Black people's representation and their modes of speech to minimize aversive racism when debating rap.