The concept of "authenticity" -- that one's skin colour mandates particular behaviours, such as voting Democrat and supporting "affirmative action" -- is, of course, racist. But the peculiar touchiness of the black community on this question recurs again and again in Williams's book. "The defence of gangster rap, with its pride in guns and murder, was that it was all about 'keepin' it real,' " he writes. "In that stunning perversion of black culture, anyone who spoke against the self-destructive core of gangster rap was put down as acting white."
This is a fascinating theme whose significance extends far beyond music -- or, in this case, "music." We're encouraged these days to disdain ethnic stereotypes -- the Scots are stingy, the Germans humourless, etc. -- but, if one were to ascribe certain characteristics to particular ethnic groups, you'd be hard put to burden African-Americans with as many disabling pathologies as are currently touted under the justification of "keepin' it real." "Violence, murder, and self-hatred were marketed as true blackness -- authentic black identity," says Williams. "Keepin' it real" means the rapper Nelly making a video in which he swipes a credit card through his ho's butt. "Keepin' it real" means men are violent and nihilistic, women are "sluts, bobbing chicken heads, and of course bitches." "Keepin' it real," noted the writer Nick Crowe, equates, in effect, to "disempowerment." Because if being black means being a self-destructive self-gratifying criminal rutting machine, and building a career, settling down, getting a nice house in the suburbs, raising a family is acting white, that would seem to hand whitey an awful lot of advantages.