Jewish World Review Oct. 30, 2003 / 4 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Stanley Crouch

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Consumer Reports

Forget Ghettopoly,
black music's the insult | A few nights ago, I went to see Bobby Short playing his 35th season at the Cafe Carlyle, where, one assumes, particular people congregate - upper East Side types who want to hear some class at the piano, in the songs and in the repartee.

I was, as usual, taken by what Short has come to mean to us here in New York and how well he defines the line between the achievements of American show business and the decadence of our moment. In Short, one is made witness to how much good music was produced by very special black people and white people, some them of them Christians, some of them Jews, all of them dedicated to presenting a good time with polish and soul. What a marvelous tradition!

What Short made me think of, yet again, was how low we have fallen in our popular music since the days of Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Bessie Smith and the rest. This has been brought home to me most recently bythe controversy over the board game Ghettopoly, which has sparked attacks from civil rights leaders because they consider it racist and insulting.

The game has players engage in pimping, whoring, selling drugs and committing acts of violence to move around the board. But I do not think Ghettopoly is actually the problem. In actuality, the insulting and debasing of black people has been snatched from the white people and taken over by the black people. For the first time in show business history, Negroes can literally make millions by acting out every derogatory stereotype - the cruder the better.

The creator of Ghettopoly is David Chang, who is an immigrant from Taiwan. If his name had been Mustapha Lee Jackson Jr. or Jay-Z or Ja Rule or 50 Cent, we would hear nothing about it at all. There would be no threats of boycotts; there would be no marches; there would be no high-toned talk.

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This is because, as one music-business insider said to me, "Hey, man, they bought those black people a long time ago. Once the big companies learned that all they had to do to keep these [civil rights] organizations quiet was to contribute fifty or a hundred thousand to each of them a year and let them have recruitment booths at their industrywide conferences, hey, all the shouting was over, baby. Done deal."

I do not think this would happen if,say, degrading stereotypes about Jews were called "authentic" or described as "keeping it real." The Jewish organizations would not have it. They would mobilize, and they would attack. And they would be right. And they would not be bought off.

So, as we look at our moment, we see that black people are still being sold out by those who purport to represent their interests. And as we listen to Bobby Short, we realize that popular has not always meant denigration. That should never be forgotten.

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JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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