Another Bad Rap: How Ebola Is The New Hip Hop

Question: “I was in a pool today where there was no chlorine in the water. In the pool there was also some African people (I know that they are Africans but I don’t know when they came). Can I get Ebola if these people “piss” or spit in the water (or if any other with ebola does) and I accidentally drink it?”
Answer: “No, you cannot. … Ebola can only be spread through direct contact with the blood or feces of an infected individual…. Also, just because someone is of African descent does not mean they are from Africa. There are many African-Americans who have never been to Africa in their whole lives. Also, there are only a few areas of Africa that are infected with Ebola, and someone with Ebola would be in a hospital and suffering too much to even consider going swimming.”
Update : I try not to be racist 🙁
I’m sorry…
This recent exchange on an Internet chat website may seem innocent, but those of us who are more informed know better. The question, steeped in fear and paranoia over the virus that affects “those people,” captures well the latest “fear-bola” pandemic – a phenomenon powerful enough to legalize discrimination against people who “look African.” The Ebola virus has changed the new student enrollment process for school districts around the country in an effort to “keep our children safe.” Heck, the United States even has an “Ebola Czar.” Last month Governor Deal announced the creation of an “Ebola Response Ream.” He also noted that because Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is one of five points of entry into the United States from affected areas, all travelers will be screened at the airport for symptoms and history of any exposure to known Ebola patients by quarantine station medical personnel. Travelers who show symptoms will be isolated immediately and transferred to a designated hospital for evaluation, while travelers who show no symptoms will be divided into categories.
Interestingly, this wave of fear has spread over a virus that to date has only claimed the life of one person on U.S. soil. Popular V-103 Radio deejay Ryan Cameron recently quoted President Obama on Twitter as saying in an interview with him that, “30,000 people have died of the flu, one person has died of Ebola. So if you want to keep your family safe, get a flu shot!” He’s right. On average the flu kills anywhere between 3,000 and 49,000 Americans every year, in 2012 alone 50,643 Americans died from it. Sounds like a very good reason to get a flu shot to me.
So why has the country been so quick to buy into this “outbreak” (which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention incidentally has owned the patent on since 2010)? The answer depends on whom you ask. One thing’s for sure, the hoopla seems eerily similar to the one during the rise of rap music and Hip Hop culture into the mainstream. That’s why I assert, “Ebola is the new Hip Hop.” Here’s how:
1. The response does not match the risk.
As rap music gained widespread popularity in the early 1990s, politicians, religious leaders and parents passionately touted the risks that “consuming” such music posed on the masses. Listening to rap music was even used as a defense in legal cases. Rallies were also held to bulldoze and burn rap CDs in the name of “saving our youth.”
Similarly, the risk of catching Ebola is pretty low, especially since it is not an airborne virus. We won’t even get into Governor Deal’s recent blunder when he stated, “water kills the Ebola virus.” According to the CDC, Ebola is only spread through direct contact with broken skin or membranes or with bodily fluids from an infected person. Additionally, the Mayo Clinic says, frequent hand washing and avoiding bushmeat (say from eating bats) are excellent measures to prevent the spread of Ebola. So, getting it from casual contact is about as likely as the Columbine High School shooters from back in the day citing rap group NWA as their motivation for mass murder!
2. “Fear-Bola” allows for exclusion based on appearance without the usual fears of appearing to be “overtly racist.”
The initial reaction to Ebola in the U.S. was, “don’t let them in.” From Donald Trump on Twitter to the Superintendant of DeKalb County Schools, apparently it is now okay to overtly exclude people from “infected regions” in the name of preventing the spread of Ebola. Coincidently, said people have been habitually excluded (or made to feel excluded) throughout history. Nowadays though, open expressions of this sentiment are being deemed “politically correct” and acceptable even among people with brown and black skin.
Similarly, restrictions on Hip Hop culture are common in the areas of fashion, artistic expression and speech. From school policies regulating the use of slang terms to laws that ban saggy pants, Hip Hop culture, too, is regularly excluded without challenge or hesitance. We even see these exclusionary practices in professional sports, with the dress code enacted by former NBA commissioner David Stern and the NFL ban on “excessive celebration” following a touchdown and the wearing of Beats by Dre headphones. It’s time that we start challenging this overt bigotry.
3. The face of Ebola is Black and male.
How many times have we seen that same stoic snapshot of Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, the only U.S. casualty of Ebola, plastered across our television screens? Kind of reminds us of the images we see daily of Black men shown as perpetrators of crime on the evening news. The sight of Duncan’s rich chocolate skin seems to overshadow the fact that he contracted this deadly disease while being a good Samaritan, helping to carry a convulsing pregnant woman who later died of the virus to safety. It seems that most rappers (almost all Black and male) get the same bad rap. No matter how much talent they possess or good they do in the hood or abroad, they are often relegated to being nothing more than thugs or criminals. Duncan is dead because he performed a good deed. He should be commended as a hero, not chastised.
In 2012, I created the term “Ebomaphobia” (a combination of the words ebony, male and phobia) to define a deep-seeded ideation that impacts the way individuals relate to Black boys and men. It has long impacted the American medical field, legislation and law enforcement practices. I assert that “Ebomaphobia” is at the heart of this aggressive response toward both Ebola and Hip Hop. President Obama echoed a similar sentiment in July of 2013 when, in a speech he noted that, “There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.” The term “catastrophizing” is a psychological construct defined as the misinterpretation and exaggeration of situations that could be threatening. The response to Ebola, like Hip Hop culture, has been catastrophized in a way that can only be countered through fear reduction and education.
We can do that by turning off the television, looking at the facts and getting real about our internalized fears about the African continent, Black men and now, Ebola. Like the late great rapper Tupac Shakur so eloquently stated in his song Only God Can Judge Me, “Recollect your thoughts, don’t get caught up in the mix, cause the media is full of dirty tricks.” Wake up!
Dr. Adia Winfrey is a Stone Mountain, GA-based author, psychologist and corporate trainer who has been featured on National Public Radio, “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” and in JET Magazine. She is the founder of Healing Young People thru Empowerment (H.Y.P.E.), which incorporates Hip Hop music and lyrics into group therapy sessions for at-risk youth, with an emphasis on Black males.

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