I think I’m going to need a late pass on this one. I didn’t realize that Common had been invited to perform at the White House until after Sarah Palin had already gotten on the air and poo-pooed the whole thing.
My response to Common performing lyrics as poetry at the White House is probably as predictable as Sarah Palin’s. Yay! For me, this is a form of acknowledgement by those in power that the voice of my generation as expressed through hip hop is recognized not only for its entertainment value but for its social and political relevance. Never mind that this acknowledgement comes from a President that himself struggles for acceptance as part of mainstream America.
When Sarah Palin says that Common’s body of work doesn’t withstand the scrutiny of representing “all that’s good about America,” she does have a point.
“Downtown interracial lovers hold hands,
I breathe heavy like an old man…”
At the time, I remember reflecting on those lines for a while. Although in 1997 I hadn’t yet dated outside of my race (wasn’t the coolest move to make in my segregation-minded Chicagoland high school), I knew that one of my favorite artists and I felt differently on the subject of interracial relationships. Today, as part of an interracial marriage and father to a multi-ethnic child, my view on the subject is as diametrically opposed as ever to the view expressed on “Hungry.” Hopefully Common’s is too.
So no, Common’s body of work doesn’t withstand the scrutiny of representing “all that’s good about America.” But isn’t that bar too high? I wouldn’t pass that test. For that matter, neither would Palin, Hannity, O’Reilly or any of the right-wing (or otherwise) critics of Obama’s choice to bring Common to the White House. Even removing all of moral blemishes like the “Hungry” line from Common’s catalog, it wouldn’t clear the bar that Palin has set here. As an artist, Common has chosen to shine a light on some of the things that aren’t so good about America like police brutality and racial bias in the prison system. Would it be too much to ask for Palin and others to spend some time reflecting on the hard truths in lyrics like those before rushing to shoot the messenger?
I applaud the White House for hosting Common for a performance. Even with his imperfections, I think he’s done more to uplift America than any of the aforementioned pundits whose self-serving divisiveness does more to harm our social fabric than to strengthen it.
“Long as you know it’s a being that’s supreme to you,
and let that show towards others in the things you do”
Words to live by.