Safeguard gangsta rappers’ right to voice ghetto reality — By Cheryl L. Kates
As a lawyer and defender of civil liberties, the editorials, essays and letters published recently in the Democrat and Chronicle on gangsta rap left me shaking my head in disbelief. Although the authors downplay what they are really doing, what we have here is straight-up censorship of protected free speech.
One thought that immediately came to mind were the words of John Stuart Mill in "On Liberty": "If all mankind minus one were of one opinion and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
Censorship is defined by the American Library Association as the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons, individuals, groups or governmental officials find objectionable or dangerous. Again the authors are entitled to their opinions, but I am also entitled to mine, and I personally appreciate the expression that can be found in gangsta rap.
The truth in this music may be objectionable and sometimes dangerous, but it is, nevertheless, the truth. The music accurately depicts life in the ghetto. This is a truth that some people are never exposed to.
The point being downplayed is the right of all people, even gangsta rappers, to express themselves, to have us feel their pain or pleasure. Gangsta rap educates. It’s reality. Gangsta rap portrays a segment of life that many of us white folks know nothing about. However, one needs only to drive down Jefferson Avenue or go out to a club to see this reality. It exists in most American communities.
The New York Civil Liberties Union clearly explains that the First Amendment’s purpose is to protect the most offensive and controversial speech from governmental or other intrusion. Part of this conception is recognizing intellectual freedom, the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. The first Amendment provides for free access to all expression of ideas, including those in gangsta rap.
Our Constitution protects us all, white supremacist to gangsta rapper. Just because we do not like an alternate point of view does not make it wrong nor does if give us the right to suppress it. We all have the right to our own opinions. Just because something does not portray our point of view, does not make it garbage.
Women cannot be degraded unless they allow themselves to be degraded. Women in the gangsta rap videos are adults. They have freedom of choice; they chose their profession. And, they are compensated for appearing.
So, too, ladies, we cannot hide behind the idea that we must protect the children. Children have parents. I am a parent of a biracial, once-ghetto now-surburban young male. My son likes rap music and feels it is a part of his cultures. I screen the music he listens to; its my job. Anyone can buy music that does not contain explicit lyrics. The music industry has created this option.
If you don’t like gangsta rap, don’t listen to it. But don’t impose your views by trying to censor the industry and my right to enjoy it. As Voltaire said, "I may not like what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Rap music is a form of expression. As Americans, we all enjoy the right to freedom of speech and expression. This right encompasses all of us, from the angry black man to the white man in the boardroom, and it is this that makes this country great.
— Kates, a Rochester-based attorney, is a former interim executive director, New York Civil Liberties Union in Syracuse.