"Between The Lines"
Anthony Asadullah Samad

You Know, It's Hard Out Here For A (Anti-) Pimp!

I don't know about you, but the shock I feel for the Oscar awarded to Three 6 Mafia for best original song is not one of joy over how that could happen. It was more a shock of pain as to why this would happen. Why would, of all the movies that were created in 2005, and all the songs and soundtracks that came out in 2005, that the only one that the Academy could identify is "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp." Certainly, hip hop is the major music genre of the day and deserves its long over due "day in the sun." But this is not about the genre or the makers of the song. This is about another opportunity to misrepresent the context of African American life within a small subset of negative imagery that will last lifetimes. There is nothing original about "pimping" or songs about pimping. But the "pimp mentality" only survives through the "black prism" by which the world sees this sub-culture as pervasive or a mainstream element in everyday black life. Black children and young adults have a hard enough time finding positive images to aspire to without having the destructive ones constantly pounded into their heads. And no matter how much we try to counteract the negative imagery with positive ones-no matter how much we try to negate the pimp mentality with more constructive images of black life beyond the street life (and there is successful back life beyond the hood-athletes and entertainers manage to find once they succeed)-thuggery and pimpin' seem to be revived in the media, and now celebrated as an "original" contribution of the highest ilk, in the most recognized artistry award ceremony in the world. They must've forgot about "Superfly." But there is a deeper piece here, one that gives you that sinking feeling that another cruel joke has been played on Black America, on national television, when a song with a subject that most of us don't even relate to-somehow gets to be the mantra for creative artistry in a movie. It's hard out here for those of us who are trying to reverse the deconstruction of the black male image as violent, oversexed and maniacal when the only thing America is willing to show is black men as unemployed loafers, gangstas, jailbirds, hustlers, over feminine (flamingly) gays and, of course, their favorite, as pimps.

Beyond the other negative images, the pimp is worse than them all because his existence relies on the exploitation and degeneration of women. Pimps are what some young men aspire to be, and pimping is a predator mindset that allows a leech of a person (the pimp) to live off its host (the women who he transform into a prostitute). In a time when the biggest in the black male/female is trust issues over finances, the seed is always planted that any assistance to her man can easily be translating into some kind of pimping arrangement-breeding even a greater distrust and greater estrangement among segments of the black community that are co-dependent on each other in helping change the state of black community reality. The very interjection of the pimp mentality signals the desire to exploit in ways that leaves the exploiter and exploited victim, the pimp in their inability to sustain beyond devaluing another person to survive and the whore imprisoned in their own absence of self-esteem that doesn't allow them to rise beyond serving the exploiter. Meanwhile, we are never able to really discuss the ways our communities are really "pimped" (exploited) by those who rob of the means to self-sustain and flourish. We can only discuss how we step on each other to rise (bangin', slangin', hoe-ing, druggin') and the pimp never looks at the trail of destruction they leave behind. Just their own glorification, as temporary as it is.

No other community allows the most negative of their cultural reality to be glorified in the way African Americans feed this pimp mentality. Let's take the white gay male mentality as a comparison. Every one thought Brokeback Mountain was going to be the runaway winner at the Oscars this year. But white America was not quite ready to embrace the imagery of two gay cowboys along side the country's long fashioned fascination with the gallantry and heroism associated with the American cowboy and the macho-ism of the "Wild, Wild West legacy. Given the choice of best movie on race or validated homosexuality tied to the macho white male imagery, the academy choose to deal with something they've struggled with for 200 years versus introducing a new image of white males that in the eyes of some, like Christian conservatives, carries some negative connotations. They weren't ready for John Wayne to turn over in his grave over the deconstruction of an image of hero-macho-ism that he (and the academy) spend 50 years constructing. And they would give best original song with a theme that it ain't easy being gay, or drug-user, or a serial killer, or any other negative imagery historically associated with white men. And they make hundreds of movies to counteract that one movie or song that might portray negative imagery. But they have no problem resurrecting "the black pimp," in movie or song, over and over again, like that's the only thing a black man can be. The successful or intelligent or articulate black men in the Sidney Portier image hasn't been resurrected since Sidney left the screen. Positive black imagery is rarely portrayed, and even more rarely rewarded by the academy.

Dirty cops, slaves, wicked women, pimps…we can get plenty of recognition for those roles and now the ni**a, *itch, hoe mentality wins an Oscar. No matter how hard we try to reject these images, they find their way back in the limelight of America entertainment venues. Now, people walking past black people at work, talkin' 'bout, "It's hard out here for a pimp." Somehow, I don;'t think that smile (or smirk) on their face is a congratulatory one. Black America is being laughed at, again…under the guise of creative recognition. Now we can expect more "pimp" songs and more "wanna-be" pimps as reality always imitates art in our communities (versus the other way around).

More damage for us to try to reverse. More young minds for us to try to keep straight while the celebration gets louder. All I can say is, "It's hard out here for an anti-pimp."

Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, author and managing director of the Urban Issues Forum. His upcoming book, 50 Years After Brown: The State of Black Equality In America is due out in 2004. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com