Truth in Humor


What the people need is the truth. And not the pretty truth. The horrible, awful, terrible truth that hurts people’s feelings. The truth that makes people angry and get up and do somethin’.

— Huey Freeman, “The Return of the King”, The Boondocks: Season One

Fact: Season Two of Aaron Mcgruder’s acclaimed comic-strip-turned-animated-series, The Boondocks, continues its mixture of humor and political commentary while earnestly incorporating contributions from a variety of hip-hop artists, including Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Mos Def, Lil Wayne, Xzibit, 9th Wonder, and Ghostface Killah.

Question: If The Boondocksis critical of hip-hop and its artists, why are hip-hoppers so eager to participate in the show? You’d think rappers would be angry at The Boondocks‘ worldview on rappers and hip-hop related issues (i.e. snitching, materialism, rap beefs, etc.). But that’s not the case. While there are some who take issue with the show’s content, rappers really seem to love the show.

I have a theory to explain this phenomenon, and it goes a little somethin’ like this: lovers and haters of the series are experiencing what I like to call a “Boondocks Moment”, or Boondocks Response Syndrome (BRS). I’ve coined this phrase to summarize the intense emotion that overwhelms the sensibilities of an otherwise logical member of the television viewing audience. Such emotions run the gamut, and may be positive (joy, wild applause) or negative (anger, outrage).

The Basics

Every “Boondocks Moment” begins with a single event — namely, an episode of The Boondocks. Without this key ingredient, the Boondocks Moment could not take place. A single episode of the show has been known to shake relative feelings of complacency and tranquility with the burden of critical thinking and introspection. The best way to get the full effect, though, is to acquire an entire season.

Season Two has 15 episodes spread across three discs, with audio commentaries for three episodes and a couple of behind-the-scenes extras. However, I would have enjoyed more episode commentary and more from Regina King. In particular, King’s voice work as brothers Huey and Riley Freeman has gotten incredibly good. But, hey — I’ll be happy enough if the show is allowed to continue for a third season. Sometimes, you just have to be grateful for what you can get.

The comic strip, and Season One of the series, established the premise. Robert J. Freeman (“Granddad”), voiced by John Witherspoon, moves from the city life of Chicago to enjoy his elderly years in the predominantly white suburb of Woodcrest. Freeman loves: “cutie pies”, chatting with said “cutie pies” via the Internet, new shoes, soul food that makes you so sleepy you pass out after you eat it, and his favorite car that he nicknamed “Dorothy”. Freeman’s plans for relocation and relaxation are complicated by his grandkids, Huey and Riley, who are forced to live with him and aren’t too happy about it. Huey is a ten-year-old social activist, a self-described revolutionary who sports a gigantic Afro that might have made Angela Davis’ jaw drop in awe back in the day. In the comics, Huey also had a thing for Star Wars. He is perhaps the strongest and sanest voice in the “black community” today, which is not a good sign because he’s a cartoon character.

Riley, Huey’s eight-year-old brother, is a gangsta rapper in training who constantly vows to “keep it real” and stay true to the streets. What kid in his single digits has business in the streets? I don’t know, but Riley believes he does. And he’s got more aliases than Method Man: Riley Escobar, Reezy, H.R. Paperstacks, Horse Choker, Pillsbury Doughboy, and Louis Rich. Decked out in his tank top and sagging pants, and wearing his hair in cornrows, Riley is a caricature of the hardcore gangsta lifestyle. It’s one thing to hear the clichés from an emcee over a dope beat. It’s quite another to hear that stuff from a miniature cartoon character. Then it just sounds bizarre. The interesting part, though, is how often Riley and Granddad end up on the same side of an issue, despite the generation gap, with Huey being the lone dissenter.

The Freemans are surrounded by a wacky crew of neighbors, the show’s supporting cast. Tom Dubois (Cedric Yarbrough), pronounced “Doo-bwah”, is an assistant district attorney with a straight-laced demeanor that stems from his fear of stepping outside of the lines, going to prison, and being turned into (gulp) another inmate’s girlfriend. Tom is black, and married to Sarah (Jill Talley), who’s white, and as you might guess, the issue of interracial marriage intermittently rears its head to undermine his credibility — yeah, as if “blackness” is a club and you’ve got to have the right credentials to be accepted: dating and marital history, militancy score, diction, whether your name sounds “ethnic” or not, syntax, and so forth (wink).

Tom and Sarah have a daughter named Jazmine (Gabby Soleil) who: loves Santa Claus to the point of equating him with Jesus, wears her hair in two humongous frizzy puffs, and makes for a cute companion for Huey. Tom offers some strong appearances in Season Two, including an episode in which his wife’s adoration for Usher sends him over the edge, but I didn’t get enough Jazmine this time around. If the all-knowing and all-powerful “they” don’t cancel The Boondocks, I’d like to see more Jazmine, as well as “Cindy”, a little girl with pigtails who outplayed Riley in basketball (did I say “outplayed”? I meant “obliterated”) until he resorted to talking trash about her mama.

Ed Wuncler (Ed Asner) is the type of man I imagine in my conspiracy theories. When I’m imagining secret societies that control the government, manipulate oil and natural resources, and make plans in rooms filled with cigar smoke — I envision Ed Wuncler. This dude seems to own everything, from banks to gas stations, and always has a plan for making himself wealthier. Wuncler figured prominently in Season One, but stayed in the background for Season Two.

On the other hand, his grandson, Ed Wuncler III (Charlie Murphy), served in Iraq and continues to carry himself as a gun-toting bad-ass in the second season. He, along with his buddy Gin Rummy (Samuel L. Jackson), does what he wants, usually under the protection of his grandfather’s influence. Ed and Rummy have robbed banks and mini-marts, shot folks in the street, kidnapped Maya Angelou and Bill Cosby (by mistake — they were trying to kidnap Oprah), and taken a kid hostage. But since the Wuncler family owns the cops, they are never brought to justice.

Perhaps the most fascinating character in Woodcrest is Uncle Ruckus (Gary Anthony Williams). To make a long story short, Uncle Ruckus is crazy. Like, certifiably so. Crazy enough to give you the idea that racism might be a psychological illness and its effects might manifest in psychological dysfunction. Consider Ruckus’ psychosis: he is a heavyset, dark-skinned “black” man who hates “black” people. Somehow, he has convinced himself that he is actually a white man with a skin condition he calls “re-vitiligo”. “That’s the opposite of what Michael Jackson’s got,” he always explains. Ruckus believes in the sanctity and purity of the “white race”, and he regularly espouses the philosophy that “whites” are naturally better and more intelligent than non-white people in all subjects and endeavors. In Season One, he founded a religion based on praising White God and White Jesus and hating black people. It’s quite likely he might be closing in on the world record for Most Derogatory Phrases & Utterances.

The Uncle Ruckus character is perhaps the most divisive and controversial of The Boondocks cast. However, here’s a not-so-fun fact that ought to mitigate the absurdity of Uncle Ruckus: “black” people can be sort of hard on each other. For all the talk you hear about us having “unity” and “sticking together”, we don’t always carry it out. That’s a generalization, of course, which is why I keep putting quotations around words denoting racial classifications, like “black” and “white”, and also around the phrase “black community”.

Setting aside any biological components to these words, I think much of the issue centers around our social, and to some degree “imaginary”, constructions, leading us to both complicate and oversimplify the subject of “race”. Hence, the irrationality of it all. But when it comes to Uncle Ruckus, there’s a little bit of him in all of us (“black folks”, I mean), although it might not manifest in real life with the same ferocity as it does on the show. One’s inner Ruckus might be seen in a derisive comment about another brotha here, a joke at a sista’s expense over there, a little pointless gossip in between, plus a couple of conversations on the subject of “what black folks don’t do” or “need to do”. As if any of us have it all figured out. If we did, I suspect the world would be tremendously different. So I interpret Uncle Ruckus as a reminder to cut people a little slack, ya know?

The beauty of The Boondocks is that it gives us an opportunity to reflect on a variety of communal and world issues. Even if we don’t have the solutions (yet), we can at least laugh at the problems, and at ourselves. I think there’s a level of understanding about a situation that can’t always be reached through logic, a level that only humor can touch. Ever heard a good joke and then tried to retell the joke to someone who didn’t hear it and, when the joke failed on the replay, said, “Well, I guess you had to be there”? Well, The Boondocks does a great job of putting you “there”.

Anecdotal Evidence of Boondocks Reaction Syndrome

A Boondocks Moment causes the viewer to react to this hip-hop-centered anime-inspired cartoon in an extreme manner, sometimes leading to behavior reminiscent of characters on the show itself.

Here’s an example. Season One featured an episode called “Return of the King”. It posed a hypothetical of sorts in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. Instead, the assassination attempt sent Dr. King into a coma that lasted until October 27, 2000. Back in action, Dr. King slowly settles into his new surroundings, with all of its flashy technology. “I don’t know if I need the 20 gig iPod or the 40 gig,” he admits. He is troubled by cable television and the rampant and wanton use of his likeness (“I really should have approvals over this kind of thing,” he notes), while also amusingly surprised by things as mundane as a fast food menu. “Oh, snap. No, they didn’t,” he says. “A boneless rib sandwich. What will they think of next? I know I shouldn’t eat these, but they are for a limited time only.”

Yet, as the newly risen Dr. King finds himself unprepared for the new millennium, we discover that a world engaged in the War on Terror is similarly unprepared for Dr. King’s philosophies of nonviolence. His “turn the other cheek” advice in the wake of September 11, 2001 turns him into a pariah. He is ignored and ridiculed as “unpatriotic”. Young Huey Freeman strives to keep Dr. King’s head in the game. When a dejected Dr. King refuses to go back into the world, Huey admonishes him, “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., you get out of that room and continue to fight for freedom and justice this instant!”

Together, they seek to organize a “black revolutionary” political party, which degenerates into little more than a block party with the dress code of a nightclub. Disturbed by the disengaged and apathetic state of the “black community”, Dr. King drops the bomb on the pandemonium: “Will you ignorant n*ggas please shut the hell up?” And he goes on, “Is this it? Is this what I got all those ass whoopings for?” His speech ultimately inspires a revolution.

As Boondocks Moments go, this one’s a classic. Some viewers were outraged at the episode, citing its disrespect toward the King legacy, particularly with the irreverent language he uses at the political rally. Meanwhile, others viewers (like me) thought the episode was as close to genius as a cartoon can get. On the one hand, Al Sharpton denounced the episode. On the other, “Return of the King” won a Peabody Award. I’m convinced Boondocks Moments are the third leading cause of TV viewer confusion, right behind random time slot changes and dream sequences.

Hip-Hop & The Boondocks

According to my theory, rappers are as susceptible to a Boondocks Moment as any other viewer. As I’ve noted, rappers seem to really enjoy The Boondocks, evidenced by the high profile hip-hop artists who have appeared on the show.

Hip-hop figures prominently in the show’s design, from the fly theme song by Asheru to the background music and much of the subject matter. By accommodating the voices of well known emcees, The Boondocks tackles issues within the hip-hop community without the usual sting that comes from unsolicited criticism from people with little or no interest in the culture. At the same time, The Boondocks doesn’t shy away from controversy, nor does it play favorites. This is equal opportunity satire, folks.

Season Two presents a number of issues that are important to the hip-hop community, a few of which are highlighted below.

1. Censorship

The most common misconception about the Boondocks Moment is that it can be contained by keeping the lid on The Boondocks itself. If the show doesn’t air, chances are good that people won’t respond to it. Right? If only this were true. Hip-hop has endured similar criticism, from the days when rappers had to fight for airplay to the current debate about its language and content.

Two episodes from The Boondocks‘ second season were banned, both taking aim at Black Entertainment Television (BET). I suppose the beef between The Boondocks and BET really began long before the TV series, back in the days of the comic strip. When I bought the The Boondocks‘ collection of strips, subtitled “Because I Know You Don’t Read the Newspapers” (2000), there was a quote on the back cover from BET founder Robert Johnson:

The most appalling of [Aaron] McGruder’s reckless charges was that BET “does not serve the interest of black people.” Our response to this slanderous assertion is that the 500-plus dedicated employees of BET do more in one day to serve the interest of African-Americans than this young man has done in his entire life.

That quote is almost funnier than the comic strip.

Now, here we are, in the aftermath of Season Two of McGruder’s animated series, and two of the episodes, “The Hunger Strike” and “The Uncle Ruckus Reality Show”, did not air. They do, however, appear on the DVD set, with some self-censored commentary from McGruder and co-executive producer Rodney Barnes. From the sound of it, they couldn’t even believe the episodes were banned.

The “Hunger Strike” episode introduces BET’s executives as part of a conniving plot to realize Robert Johnson’s “dream” of accomplishing “the destruction of black people” through its horrible programming. The BET CEO, Debra Lee (she’s called “Debra Leevil”), is drawn to resemble the villain from the Austin Powers movie, holding what looks like a dead cat, and talking like Eartha Kitt’s “Lady Eloise” character from the movie Boomerang. That impression is sidesplitting, particularly since the real woman doesn’t really look or talk this way. It’s called “The Hunger Strike” because Huey Freeman has vowed to fast until BET is “taken off the air, the office is shut down, and all its top executives commit Japanese ritual suicide.” The other episode gives Uncle Ruckus his own BET reality show, which is never a good idea given Ruckus’ opinions on race relations. A DNA test tells him he’s actually black, forcing him to face reality with the cameras rolling. In case you’re wondering, the news that he’s black almost makes old Ruckus commit suicide!

If I worked at BET, I guess I’d want the episodes banned, too, although I honestly don’t see what all the fuss is about. It’s funny! The Boondocks has political insight, skewering depictions, and a healthy skepticism about the status quo, but, first and most importantly, it has humor. Plus, BET isn’t the only target for the show’s satire. Wal-Mart, the channel formerly known as UPN, MTV, Flavor Flav, Ann Coulter, 50 Cent, Al Sharpton — they all catch flames.

But you know who should really, really, really be mad? Hello! Lionel Richie, that’s who! There’s an episode about one of Granddad’s Internet hookups and the woman turns out to be misguided and insecure in addition to being a martial arts expert. As Granddad contemplates the perils of breaking the heart of an unstable trained killer, he tells Huey and Riley the story of Brenda Richie catching her husband Lionel in bed with a white woman. In Granddad’s account, Brenda delivers a potent beat down. I haven’t seen anything so gruesome since Scar set that trap for Mustafa in The Lion King. So, yeah, BET got off kind of easy in their episodes. Lionel Richie’s the one who should be sending hate mail.

2. Profanity

Hip-hop criticism often focuses on the language in the songs. Profanity is widespread, plus there’s almost universal use of the N-word and the B-word. The Boondocks is the same way, going completely uncensored in DVD form while using the N-word and the B-word in its censored television format.

Predictably, the language issue is the same for rap as it is for the cartoon, leading to the concern that kids will pick up on the language and be negatively influenced. Kids are attracted to rap, and kids are attracted to cartoons, so the connection makes sense. Another concern, from an artistic standpoint: are the right words being used in the right places? Sometimes, profanity is what works best. Sometimes not. Are the decisions being made to advance the art, or are the decisions being made for shock value or (gasp!) due to laziness?

Both concerns are valid and lead to discussions that should be detailed and constructive. Still, I’m not all that worried about the first concern. Kids are going to curse, they’re going to hear things you don’t want ’em to hear — best to worry more about whether they can think critically about what they are exposed to than about how to keep them from being exposed in the first place. There, I think I’ve sufficiently oversimplified that one.

The second one is the one that worries me. When The Boondocks airs on television, the “bad” words are beeped out, except for “n*gga” and “b*tch”. Watching the DVD version, with all of its expletives intact, is a little jarring for me, and sometimes I find the beeps funnier than hearing the actual words.

Here’s a “for instance”. In the “Ballin'” episode, Tom Dubois strives to put together a successful youth basketball team. He has a dream of living out a movie-style ending, where his belief in his team allows them snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. You know how those corny basketball films are — Tom’s dream is exactly like that. Well, when Tom’s team loses and the other team’s coach gets to live out the dream, Tom strings together a litany of curse words. When the episode originally aired, with the beeps, I cracked up because I knew ol’ straight-laced Tom was having a curse-fest, but the beeps allowed me to imagine what the curses were. On the DVD, I knew what the curses were, and it just wasn’t as funny. Since Tom doesn’t usually curse, his uncensored outburst didn’t strike me as being in keeping with his character. The censored outburst worked better.

I generally have the same feeling about rap records, especially from artists we label as “socially conscious” or “progressive”. They’ll release an incredible track — the vibe is right, the message is on point, the production is killer. But then the language will be slightly out of step and it’s like, “Wow, I wonder if they realize how many more people I could convert to hip-hop if they had just changed that ‘f*ck’ to something else and gone for some alliteration instead.” And some rappers toss in a curse word when they need another syllable in a line and don’t want to rethink the wording. That’s just lazy.

Don’t get me wrong; I love profanity. Actually, I encourage it. Sometimes, there’s no substitute for a good curse word, but there are also times when, say, “f*ck” just isn’t the right word. Do you remember the radio version of the Geto Boys’ song about paranoia, “Mind Playin’ Tricks on Me”? It’s okay if you don’t. It’s an “old” song by rap standards. Anyway, the album version was way more “hardcore”, but the word choices were infinitely better in the radio-friendly version. On the album, Bushwick Bill rhymes the line, “It was dark as f*ck” on the street.” In the radio version, the line goes, “It was dark as death on the street.” See, the radio version is the better choice, alliteration and all. “Dark as f*ck” is asinine.

3. The N-Word

In the language debate, the N-word has a special place. It has a sordid history of use and connotation to follow it around. Some people, understandably, despise the word. In 2007, the NAACP held a mock funeral for the N-word. More recently, Nas announced that his newest release would be called N*gger, leading to a storm of debate and controversy, much like his Hip-Hop Is Dead release in 2006. The last I heard, Nas’ album won’t have that title, although a mixtape with the N-word in the title has been in circulation.

The Boondocks has used the N-word over 60 times in a single episode. Season Two’s “The S-Word” episode confronts the use of the N-word straightaway. Apparently, we’ve gone FUBU with the N-word — making it “For Us, By Us” — and this is causing communication problems.

The first rule regarding the use of the N-Word is pretty simple: white people shouldn’t call black people the N-word. That’s not too difficult to comprehend. Complications have arisen from the second rule: black people can, and sometimes do, call each other the N-Word, or some derivation thereof — “nikka”, “nicca”, “nukka”, “nig”, “n*gguh”, “n*gga”, and so on. There are also compound slurs formed by adding adjectives such as “dumb”, “punk”, or “b*tch”, as in the doubly confounding “b*tch n*gga”.

This leads everyone to wonder about a third possibility in N-word usage: can someone who is not black refer to a black person as the N-word? After all, N-word use has been defended on a cultural reclamation theory. That is, black people can say the N-word because we have taken the negativity of the word and transformed it into a positive. This transformation is sometimes symbolized by an alternate spelling, like the “n*gga” spelling instead of the “n*gger” spelling. But then, if the word isn’t being used negatively (as in, “What’s up, my n*gga?”), the argument has been made that the word belongs in the community chest for everyone to enjoy.

The “S-Word” episode positions Riley and Granddad against the school system. Riley’s teacher, after hearing Riley use the N-word so many times, has become so desensitized to its use that he refers to Riley as the N-word when trying to give Riley a directive: “Sit down, n*gga.” Whoops. By the way, the episode is called “The S-word” because the school says “the S-word” as a euphemism for the phrase “spear chucker”.

Riley and Granddad then go on a mission to sue the school and get paid. It’s true that Riley uses the N-word frequently. In fact, during the episode he actually says, “That’s a damn shame. You can call a n*gga a n*gga and keep your job.” The threat of a lawsuit, however, doesn’t bring the school system to its knees. Riley and Granddad, who had already started dreaming of where they would spend their settlement money, were predictably more upset about the lack of cash (the principal, if you will) than about the use of the slur (the principle, that is).

In this regard, I was intrigued by the way the episode illustrated the transformation of the N-word into a commodity, a type of personal property that the uninitiated can buy their way into for the right price. Riley and Granddad weren’t looking for the teacher to be fired or reprimanded. They were looking for a payday, trading on the exclusivity of an utterance, and looking to trade access to notions and stereotypes of racial identity. Granddad rants, “Hey, after a lifetime of being treated like a n*gga, if I catch a break off the word, good for me! Shoot. All the years I’ve been on this earth, you know how many times I’ve been called a n*gga for free?”

It reverses the idea described in “Whiteness as Property”, a 1993 Harvard Law Review article by Cheryl Harris. In the article, Harris proposes that “whiteness” meets the theoretical and functional criteria of a recognizable property interest. Functionally, Harris posits that holders of “whiteness” receive the same benefits and privileges as other property holders, including rights of disposition, rights of use and enjoyment, rights in reputation and status, and the right to exclude.

Like the very personal rights of publicity and privacy, we can see how the potential property interest in “whiteness” might involve use and enjoyment, reputation and status, and definitely the right to exclude. But disposition? Whiteness is not freely alienable, meaning you can’t readily buy it and sell it. That’s what intrigued me about the monetary value Riley and Granddad see in the use of the N-word. Harris theorizes that the inalienability of whiteness “may be more indicative of its perceived enhanced value, rather than its disqualification as property.” Another way to look at it, though, is that the transfer of “race” happens through inheritance, through the biological component of passing genes and traits to one’s offspring.

Back to The Boondocks, the teacher’s confusion over the appropriate use of the N-word is funny, almost cute, as it mimics arguments we hear in real life. “If it’s so offensive to them,” he says, “why do they say it over and over again?” In real life, though, I’ve heard some white folks take it a step further, arguing that it’s not fair that black people can say the N-word and white people “can’t”. “Why can’t we say it too?” they complain. Now that’s just silly. Almost as silly as my own superstition that I’m lessening the power of the N-word by either (a) calling it “the N-word” as a euphemism or (b) replacing the “i” in the word with an asterisk (i.e. “n*gga”).

I still haven’t heard anything that explains why people think N-word Rule Number Two (“Black people can, and sometimes do, call each other the N-word”) creates a loophole in N-word Rule Number One (“White people shouldn’t call black people the N-word”). More significantly, the application of N-word Rule Number Two is sometimes inconsistent with the cultural reclamation theory that supposedly supports our use of the N-word. In rap songs, the context is not always positive. Referring to other rappers as “wack n*ggas” doesn’t foster a congenial atmosphere, does it? Folks don’t always use it as a positive in ordinary conversation either (“I can’t stand that n*gga,” somebody might say). So it’s possible that maybe — just maybe — we (black folks) are confused (at the very least) about our use of the word too.

Honestly, I’d like to hear the N-word a little less, in music and in conversation. We should all try to find the words that help us communicate best.

4. Snitching

“Snitching” has become a touchy subject. Rappers have advocated a no-snitching code of behavior when dealing with the police. Members of law enforcement counter that the no-snitching policy is tantamount to witness intimidation and obstruction of justice.

In the “Thank You for Not Snitching” episode, burglars are breaking into people’s homes and, since the Freemans aren’t part of the neighborhood watch and don’t like talking to the police, their neighbors suspect them of wrongdoing. They, however, aren’t guilty of anything other than not cooperating with the police. Riley learns that the culprits are Ed Wuncler III and his buddy Gin Rummy, but he refuses to tell. Riley’s refusal is all well and good until Ed and Rummy steal Granddad’s car, his beloved “Dorothy”. Later, they steal Riley’s bike and chastise him with, “Thank you for not snitching, you stupid muthaf*cka.”

The refusal to “snitch” looks foolish in this episode, doesn’t it? Especially when you stretch the definition of “snitching” so far that you won’t even report a crime against yourself or a loved one. Good point, Team Boondocks! But there’s another, more subtle scenario here that I don’t think McGruder and crew necessarily intended to bring to light. You only see it when you look at the show as a whole, putting both seasons together. Back in Season One’s “The Blocks Is Hot”, Riley starts playing with the water from a city fire hydrant on a scorching hot day. Uncle Ruckus demands that he stop “playing with the white man’s water”, and Riley responds by spraying the water on Ruckus.

Ruckus retreats to his truck and calls the cops on his cell. The police show up with their guns drawn. They order Ruckus out of his vehicle, although he’s the person who called for help. He steps out of the truck. The police demand that he show identification. When he reaches for his wallet, the lead officer shouts, “Gun!” and the police fire at Uncle Ruckus 118 times. Then, they beat the crap out of him with their batons. Later, a reporter interviews Tom Dubois, the assistant district attorney, about the incident and Tom encourages everyone to remain calm. The reporter asks, “Have you observed anyone not being calm?” Tom replies, “No, I guess…This neighborhood is actually handling the shooting of an unarmed black man pretty well.”

Fast forward to Season Two’s episode about snitching, and you get the idea, however unintentionally, that one reason people don’t like talking to the police is that otherwise concerned citizens have had unpleasant dealings with law enforcement. That’s not to say that law enforcement officers are inherently corrupt or that every controversial incident between a few officers should taint the reputation of every officer. But it does offer another explanation as to why people don’t like talking to the police: some people are afraid of cops and the legal system, including people who don’t commit crimes.

A curious twist in the “Snitching” episode is that when everyone learns that Ed and Rummy are breaking into people’s houses, no one wants to believe it and no charges are filed against them. On the surface, talking to the police in this context seems pointless. The deeper point, though, is that we should decide which choices to make and then execute those choices regardless of the immediate outcome. You should “do the right thing” because it’s the “right” thing to do. Period.

5. The G-Word

In Season One, we met Gangstalicious (Mos Def), a rapper whose popular song “Thuggin’ Love” propelled him to fame. He was Riley’s favorite hip-hop artist, and part one of the Gangstalicious story, narrated by Riley, gave him a chance to meet his idol. Gangstalicious had been shot on stage while performing a song ironically called “I Got Shot”. By the end of the episode, Riley discovered that Gangstalicious’ jilted lover, another male emcee, planned the hit. Under the moonlight, Riley saw the two men kissing. Riley’s inability to process this development leads to denial. He convinces himself he was hallucinating.

In the Season Two finale, Gangstalicious returns, this time with a new clothing line: pink hats and vests, large white T-shirts with holes that expose the rear end, shorts that look like skirts, pearl necklaces, sandals, and man-bags that look like purses. Each item has a “thuggish” explanation. The large t-shirts, for example, have holes in the back so a true playa can quickly reach the gun stashed in the back of his pants. Gangstalicious also has a new hit song, “Homies Over Hoes”, containing the suggestive refrain, “Do the homie, do the homie.”

When Granddad sees Riley in the new Gangstalicious gear, he concludes that Riley is gay. Granddad and Uncle Ruckus, who disagree on so many other issues, are in full agreement in their concern for Riley’s sexual orientation. It’s weird how ideological enemies unite over shared prejudices. To help Riley, Granddad gets Katt Williams’ “A Pimp Named Slick Back” (that’s the character’s whole name, and you have to say the whole thing like A Tribe Called Quest) to have a little talk with him. This character’s pimpology is priceless.

The action is interspersed with asides from characters “MC Booty B.” and “Homo D.”, touted as the first homosexual rappers from back in the day. They cite three reasons for the rise of “gay” rappers in hip-hop: emulation of prison culture, reliance on the fashion industry to supplement income from decreasing album sales, and the prevalence of ecstasy (the drug, not the emotional state).

The big lesson from this episode comes from seeing Riley continue to deny his favorite rapper’s sexual orientation, despite having witnessed the revenge plot from Gangstalicious’ ex-lover and hearing about a tell-all book by a woman claiming that Gangstalicious is gay. Riley regularly denounces everything he doesn’t like as “gay”, but when it comes to someone he admires, he can’t see the truth. Even when Riley comes to grips with it, Gangstalicious easily convinces Riley that he’s mistaken, as the rapper realizes the issue could completely ruin his career. This is a rapper who’s been shot more than once and yet his fear of having his sexual preferences revealed trumps his fear of bullets.

It’s disappointing that hip-hop isn’t as inclusive as it could be, not only regarding this subject but many others. Hip-hop has demonstrated its power to encourage critical thinking and problem solving. What this episode shows us is that there’s still a lot of work left to do, as a genre and as a society. The good news is that The Boondocks continues to point us in the right direction, so we’ll know where to start. At least we’ll be able to laugh along the way.


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