Speaking Out Against Profanity (S.O.A.P)
I am usually quite vocal when a situation arises where I feel a violation or an injustice is being done. Lately, I have found that living in the US, when it comes to speaking out in public against profanity, it becomes a situation of when in Rome do as the Romans do, when elsewhere do as they do elsewhere. I remember riding the subway from MD to VA, when a group of youths – there must have been three or four of them – boarded the car I was in. It was during rush hour so it was full to capacity and ordinarily I would not have noticed them since I was in the middle of good book, but they came in so noisily it was impossible to ignore them. There was a central character among them who was giving them a play by play account of his experience the previous night and they were cheering him on. Within seconds of them getting on the train, the whole car was silent with the exception of this young man who was very loudly and very graphically describing how he got busy with some girl the night before. I wish I could say he left out any of the details and I wish I could say that I managed to tune him out by reading my book. He was standing inches away from where I sat and at one point I looked at his face and actually felt pity for him, since it seemed to me that his story seemed to validate him in some way with his peers who at every dazzling turn would cheer him on as if he had scored some winning goal. More than anything, I wished someone would have told him to shut up…to say it was disgusting was an understatement. I scanned the faces of my fellow passengers and I saw a mixture of horror, bemusement and indifference in their faces. I would have said something but I was weeks-old in the country a Johnny Just Come (JJC). All I could do was look and listen.
When the train pulled up at their stop, the boys stumbled out as noisily as they had entered, the storyteller’s voice echoed back to us through the station and it was as the train doors shut that the drama started on the train. It seemed suddenly everyone had something to say about it. From behind me I heard a female voice say – None of y’all had no soap to wash that mouth out. Another person said ‘To think that that is someone’s son’ The lady next to me clapped her hands together and said she was thankful that she raised her daughter right and no boy would be talking trash about her kid like that in no train. A few people were narrating the experience to the other passengers who had boarded the train at the stop where the boys disembarked.
I found the reaction just as bad as the experience and when I shared this with people who had been in the country longer than I had, one of the many reactions I received was most people would never say anything for many reasons, some said that freedom of speech allows you to speak your mind. I ask – Is there any freedom of hearing which allows you to censor those things that are unpalatable to you? Another person actually told me that in situations like that one needs to be careful because any one of those boys could be a member of a gang and carrying a pistol which led me to believe that no one on the train dared say anything because they were afraid they would be shot at. Better to listen to gory details of an adolescent having unsafe sex than tell him to zip it and risk getting shot at? This is Rome, we do as the Romans do, elsewhere, even before I said anything, there would have been someone who would have said something. A simple – Come…you no get mama for house would have been enough.
Another time, more recently and still on the train, a group of youths stumbled on the train while I was again minding my business trying to read my book. I gathered from their noisy exchange that one of them was a rapper who had just released a demo album and they were all listening to this on their various music devices and passing comments as well as sharing the lyrics loudly with the rest of the passengers on the train. Lyrics which consisted of using derogatory words to describe women and parts of their anatomy….again no one said anything to hush them up. I glanced at the woman seated next to me who was also pretending to read but from her body language I could tell that she was finding this whole experience irritating. That episode came and went and no one spoke out against the profanity
A lot of people blame rap music for the promotion of this language…in some ways they are right but the people to blame are not the rappers but the music companies who think it is okay to churn out records with tasteless lyrics and for the most part, the blame goes to the consumer. If they did not have a market, they would not be in business.
In the April 2007 edition of National Geographic Magazine, James McBride admits his own initial myopic perception of rap music as he traces the root of rap/hiphop music to West Africa. The author tells the story of a young man called Assane N’Diaye who comes from a fishing village in Senegal called Toubab Dialaw and who along with his cousin and brother- meditate, pray and compose rap lyrics about life in their village, the humiliation of poverty, and the vagaries of life and death at the mercy of the sea- We watch our mothers boil water to cook and have nothing to put in the pot.
Mr McBride’s article confirms that rap music can be a poetic outlet for an artiste and like the music you’ll listen to below, it does not have to be laced with profanity to make an impact.