By Lawrence Ware / @law_ware
For a brief moment in the early 1990s, I was a Raiders fan. Every summer, my cousins and I would go to Idabel, Oklahoma, to spend the summer at my grandmother’s house. I am an only child of a deeply religious mother, so it gave me a chance to hang out with people my age and catch up on the cool stuff. They would teach me about the latest music and make fun of my inability to dance. It was the best of times.
I was 9 years old the summer I came across Straight Outta Compton in my cousin Dionte’s boombox. We sat around the stereo fully aware that what we were listening to would get us in immediate trouble if grandma ever caught us. We were willing to take the risk because it was, well, fresh.
The members of N.W.A. were subversive and authentically themselves. They were exactly the examples of manhood a kid with no father would embrace. I loved everything about them. They were unapologetic in their rejection of authority. They had a style all their own. They even used CURSE words. I was hooked.
I got all the N.W.A. posters I could find. I listened to every song attentively. I took an old Shirley Caesar tape and placed a small, balled-up piece of paper in one of the holes at the top so I could record over it — thereby convincing my mom I was listening to gospel nonstop.
Then I saw them perform live. They were clothed from head to toe in L.A. sports gear. I bought a Raiders Starter jacket immediately. I even tried to convince my mother to let me have a Jheri curl like Eazy E, but she was having none of it. (Thank God for small miracles.)
For a solid year, I was a Raiders fan. Many black and brown kids were during that time. N.W.A. and the Raiders mirrored each other perfectly. Al Davis was invested in pushing back against the oppressive nature of the NFL, and N.W.A. was invested in telling the truth of how it felt to be a working-class black man in Compton, California. The fans of the Raiders were seemingly uncontrollable; the same was true for N.W.A. It was a match made in Black and Silver heaven.
Seeing the trailers for the film Straight Outta Compton took me back to my days of being a Raiders fan and caused me to think deeply about the current crisis in Black America. The more I thought about it, the more I saw three ways their song “F**k Tha Police” resonates still.
There was a national outcry when “F**k the Police” was released. Not against the police brutality described in the song, but against the victims for reporting it musically. The media castigated N.W.A. The FBI wrote a letter to their record label expressing disapproval. Many radio stations banned the song. As a result of the attention, the Raiders became associated with black and brown people. They became the biggest consumers of the team’s merchandise. The group and the team became symbols of minorities living in urban environments.
No one wanted to listen, but they should have.
Just four years later, after the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers caught beating Rodney King on tape, the L.A. Riots began. No one listened to the experiences of young black men when they told their stories musically and feigned surprise when riots erupted.
The same is true today.
It feels like tapes of police brutality are released weekly, yet few listened to the suffering of young black men and women, and riots broke out.
We need to allow suffering to speak … and listen.
When the war on drugs began in the 1970s, communities of color became targets of police officers hungry for drug busts. Instead of policing centered on solving specific crimes, officers began focusing on geographic areas. This meant focusing on a high-crime area and randomly targeting people of color people who looked suspicious. What’s amazing is that similar things were happening to minorities who were fans of the Raiders. They were often harassed just for being black or brown and wearing clothing associated with N.W.A.
This song was released back in 1988, but it could have been recorded today. Chuck D of Public Enemy called hip-hop the black CNN, but it took videos of black people dying for the real CNN to take note.
The BLUE Gang
My grandmother used to remind me that your skinfolk ain’t always your kinfolk — meaning that because a person has a high level of melanin in the skin does not mean he or she is on your side.
She was channeling her inner Ice Cube.
In the first verse of “F**k Tha Police,” Ice Cube says of police officers:
“Don’t let it be a black and white one. Cause they’ll slam you down to the street top. Black police showing out for the white cop.”
This reminds me of Freddie Gray.
Often people who support the #BlackLivesMatter movement talk like it is only white officers who are problematic. Ice Cube knows better. He understands that black cops who are eager to show their fellow officers that they are not like them can do the most damage. He critiques an unjust system instead of focusing exclusively on race. Let us never forget that there were three black cops indicted in the death of Freddie Gray.
Niggaz Wit Attitudes is possibly the most influential rap group of all time. Their depth of insight, leadership in putting L.A. on the hip-hop map, their impact upon the sports landscape and influence upon popular culture cannot be overstated. They convinced thousands of black and brown kids who otherwise would not have paid attention to the NFL to become Raiders fans. And even now, here in 2015, their words remain as true as ever.
Lawrence Ware is a professor of philosophy and diversity coordinator for Oklahoma State University’s Ethics Center. He is the kind of Steelers fan that enjoys watching the Dallas Cowboys lose.
Lawrence Ware is a philosopher of race at his day job and a curator of dopeness when time allows. Words in The New York Times, Slate Magazine, The Root and others. Email him at email@example.com. He is the kind of Steelers fan that enjoys watching the Cowboys lose.