Every Box Has A Right To Be Boomin’ - The Boom Box And The Voice Of An Underclass

BoomBox

"Cause the streets are alive with the sound of boom-bap…every box got a right to be boomin’, every flower has a right to be bloomin’ – stay human," Michael Franti

The Boom Box is a controversial symbol. To those who grew up lugging them around, armed with tapes and batteries, it offered a continuous, personal form of expression – perhaps in a time and place where one was not offered a forum for civil discourse, or one was incapable of it. To many others, the Boom Box was a nuisance – sonic pollution and an affront. But to miss the point: the symbolic importance of the Boom Box, is part of our collective defense mechanism. Raised in a country that cherishes freedom of speech, is it so surprising that people without a voice will find the only civil way they know how, to shout out their feelings? America persists in a fantasy that to, somehow, disconnect from the wrongs of its past is to sever any link to it, and in so choosing to think this way, that some how lingering symptoms of this past won’t regularly rise to the surface? A Boom Box? We are lucky rage has been articulated this peacefully.
Put simply, given no easy forum to articulate rage, given no voice in "free speech" America, Hip-Hop’s sentiments, burned in tapes and cd’s, became the message blared out of Boom Boxes in urban centers throughout the country’s urban centers.


RADIO RAHEEM
Radio Raheem, Man-Child Mountain in Spike Lee’s "Do the Right Thing", took great pride in having the biggest, loudest box, that throughout the film, blared Public Enemy’s "Fight the Power". While he didn’t say much in the film, he had much to say, and said it in a way that has caused much conflict and concern about this "Hip-Hop" generation. Put simply, given no easy forum to articulate rage, given no voice in "free speech" America, Hip-Hop’s sentiments, burned in tapes and cd’s, became the message blared out of Boom Boxes in urban centers throughout the country’s urban centers. My guess is we’d not have an establishment thinking the Boom Box was/is a threat if the music blaring was Wagner or the Beatles. The issue America has had with the Boom Box is that, in typical Hip-Hop style, a community seized a megaphone and told people what they thought, whether they were offered a forum or not, whether people were prepared to hear the message or not. Well, America doesn’t like to hear the ugliness articulated by the voice of its underclass. In the quintessential defining moment of this conflict, Sal, in "Do the Right Thing", after repeatedly asking Radio Raheem to "shut that f*ckin’ thing off," takes a baseball bat to the box until thoroughly obliterated, at which point, he announces, "I killed your f*ckin’ radio." I killed your radio, shut you up, stifled the strident Chuck D urges to fight the powers that be. A common reaction to this scene is that it was Sal’s place, he had the right to tell Raheem to turn the box off. Well, then, that’s the crux of it. It was Sal’s place. Amerika is Sal’s place, a place that offers no chance for Raheem to suggest that not all’s fine. Where and when, then, can issues be talked about?

FEAR OF A CONVERSENT PLANET
It has been this way in America. Regardless of distance, time and intentions, America, like all nations, shares in a past of misdeeds and immorality. America’s legacy has created an underclass that share in this legacy, or better put, are descendants of it. As we attempt to make things better with everyday, we cannot simply ignore the voices that say the things we don’t like to hear - not and believe all that we want to believe about our freedoms and ourselves. Look, in September we walked out of a World Conference on Racism because we were afraid that the conversation would get to reparations for slavery. Why is conversation so threatening? Well, ask yourself why the Boom Box, a symbol to both the person choosing to lug it all over and feed it, and to those that fear and despise it, has been so powerful and threatening.
If we truly buy into the American mythology of freedom of speech, then every box has a right to be boomin’.

Human beings have an amazing ability to rationalize. We are remarkably capable of finding ways to evolve and to eventually come down on the moral side of issues - but still justify collateral matters too close to home, regardless of obvious inconsistency. Apartheid in South Africa was hideously immoral to us. The notion of Nazi Germany concentration camps and institutional genocide made Swiss/German reparations paid to Jewish families, the right thing to do. However jumping continents, from Africa, to Europe and on to America, why are we so determined to not look inward and explore? As Mos Def said, "America’s two centuries deep in cotton money". So, again, is it so hard to understand why Rap music lyrics are the lightening rod for Washington’s call for a more stringent sticker (censorship) policy on music cd’s? Is it so surprising that the Boom Box blares in American urban centers? Is it not understandable that the establishment is threatened by it? If we truly buy into the American mythology of freedom of speech, then every box has a right to be boomin’. And if you find the music, the Boom Box, threatening, be relieved that muffled voices find some forum – assaults on the ears are a most passive form of political dissent.

This editorial originally appeared on Subversemusic.com
Do you think the boom box is a cultural symbol? Respond to this or other WireTap articles and editorials on the Tap In message boards.

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