Updated: Oct 12, 2020
Can you smell that? It is the smell of marijuana pouring out of a house party. Go on in! Underage drinking is okay. People are openly doing bumps of cocaine. Go upstairs into a bunk and people are doing lines. Oxycontin is available if you know who to talk to, and ecstasy. Give a heads-up and anything is available: Ketamine, LSD, Methamphetamine and so on. Gucci Mane is bumping on the stereo.
No, you have not arrived at a trap house. You are going to a fraternity party at a college campus near you. The best thing about this party is that there are no police around. You do not have to worry about an arrest ruining your permanent legal record. The university works closely with the campus police to ensure that students are not harassed and to keep arrests down. Nobody wants to create any unwanted attention for the college.
This was my experience in college, and countless other people's as well. No, it was not going on at every fraternity. In fact, it was a select one or two. But let me tell you, it was going on. I was there.
Now, I am not writing this piece to rail against fraternities, or even against excessive partying. In fact, as long as people do not mistreat one another, I do not judge people for their lifestyle. However, I do see a glaring double standard in how black and white communities are policed, and how black and white culture is viewed in America.
Where are all of the police? Oh yeah. They are patrolling a majority black neighborhood. After all, they don't want any trouble spilling over to the college campus. They need to keep the drug dealers in check. But ask me who was dealing drugs on the campus I attended, if drug dealing is really the thing about drugs that gets under your skin. The biggest cocaine dealer on our campus was a business major. He was extremely successful dealing drugs, and he is very successful now. He has a clean record, minus some minor infractions. I still talk to him from time to time and we laugh, reminiscing of all of the crazy times back in the day.
Recently, as I have taken time as a white man to reflect upon my relationship to systemic racism in America, it hit me how many double standards exist for black and white communities, even with artistic license. I was doing some deep thinking while listening to Gucci Mane, a trap rapper from Atlanta whose lyrics are filled with references to drug dealing. Why would I listen to such things, you might say? I like it. I have always liked art-forms that explore parts of society with which I am not fully aware. It takes me out of my comfort zone and expands my mind. I like taking a ride with Gucci, since I would likely never take that drive myself. It is a form of escapism, not to mention a window into a different culture. You know, it's kind of like "The Godfather," unless you are an Italian gangster, that is.
Not long ago, I was speaking with a friend about music, and he was surprised at the breadth of musical genres with which I indulge. I have always loved music of all kinds, and the jazz, rock, rap, classical, and electronic genres have all influenced the way I think about music, and how I approach my own songwriting as a guitarist. With all of the genres of which we spoke, he was the most surprised that I listen to trap, a sub-genre of rap music with a theme that glorifies drug dealing and life in the hood. It has heavy, hypnotic bass beats that make you nod your head, and it sounds great through a good sound system in your car.
As I spoke to my friend, he immediately went on the attack, without giving my view much thought. Everyone has their own opinion of art, but he seemed somewhat disgusted that I listen to a genre that he considers ‘low brow.’ I quickly realized that I was compelled not only to speak about my interest in trap music, but to defend it, not on the artistic merits alone, but on the subject matter itself.
"Glorifying drugs," he said, "Is bad for the youth and promotes violence and a lifestyle that is destructive to society." As a natural born arguer, and someone who missed my calling as a defense attorney, I quickly recalled that my friend was a movie buff, and "What movie buff doesn't like "The Godfather,"" I thought. I saw a double standard and I set out to expose it.
After establishing his love for this series of movies, I asked him why it is okay to like a movie that is so entrenched in a gangster lifestyle that includes murder, racism and drug-dealing. (Though the Corleone's themselves abstain, Don Zaluchi, at a meeting of the bosses, is quoted as saying, "I want to control it as a business...keep it respectable. I don't want it near the schools, and I don't want it sold to children. We'll keep the traffic in the dark neighborhoods, the coloreds. They're animals anyway." If my friend had pushed back on the Corleone's not dealing in drugs, I knew that I could cross reference another Hollywood favorite, "Scarface." My friend did not have an immediate answer for this contradiction, though he did mention 'artistic merits,' for which his definition was a little vague.
I ask you, why do white people, especially men, like "The Godfather," but scoff at movies and music with 'gang-violence?' (Gang violence is code for black violence). One way to answer this question is to do what my friend attempted to do: Talk about the Godfather's artistic merits, of which there are admittedly many, and discount Gucci Mane as classless trash.
The Godfather movies, in my opinion, are true works of art. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I find artistic value in Gucci Mane too. I love his charisma, his delivery, and his rhymes. But I also like the macho side of the music as well. It gets me pumped up. I love lifting weights to Gucci.
And if people are honest about the Godfather, they are just as drawn to the macho aspects of the characters and plot as they are the 'artistic merits.' Michael Corleone is the prototype of what a white, manly, disciplined, alpha-male boss looks like. Men like to live vicariously through a character like that. Sure, he is a killer. But he does it for the greater good! For his family. That makes it okay.
What is not okay in our society is glorifying black lifestyles of any making. If the lifestyle is too upscale, white people quietly despise the flaunting of wealth, or as Gucci would say, stunting. Scarface did like to stunt a bit, but he gets a pass too. Hispanic is close enough to white, after all.
What white people don't want to admit, why they find black gangster culture disturbing and give white gangster culture a pass, is that black culture makes them feel threatened. Black people with power, of any kind, is a threat to the power structure in America. Anything perceived as too black, does not get artistic license. If Gucci Mane was a bootlegger of alcohol, (the classic white man's drug) it would be a little better, though not okay. No, for Gucci Mane to get full artistic license from white society, he needs to 'whiten up.’ Can't he just wear a suit like Don Corleone? Why all of the chains?
This is the Gucci Mane / Godfather double standard.