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"Street Cred," International Style

Commentary by Greg Lewis / TheRant.US
March 4, 2005

The phrase "street cred" is short for "street credibility." It's a term used widely among so-called "street" people in America. It indicates that the person who is deemed to possess it has paid the necessary dues to warrant having what he or she says and does given credence in the "community," by the "people."

The term is often applied to professional athletes as an indicator of how well the products they endorse are likely to sell among (particularly) people who are growing up on the streets or whose lives were strongly influenced by the street culture of America's inner cities. Having survived growing up in inner-city America and achieved stardom as a professional athlete almost automatically marks you as someone who has street cred.

In America, the pronouncements of those who have street cred generally serve to stake out or to reinforce the position of the disenfranchised, which is often counter to that of those who stand for the core values held by those in power in the United States. More generally, around the globe, the term "street cred" has come to be applicable to those who represent the interests of a people or a culture that has historically been "victimized" by western imperialism.

In the international community, the interests of the global street have been taken up by an ad hoc coalition of advocates, including the UN, many Middle Eastern countries, and a number of nations in what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has tagged "Old Europe." These advocates have come together in the name of perpetuating — through the promulgation of, among other things, the Islamist cause — the values of radical leftists of every stripe. They have tended to find their focus in a shared disdain for, not to say a hatred of, President Bush and the aggressive anti-terrorist strategies he has implemented.

In this country, the growing presence of street culture has resulted in the emergence of a media-driven rap/hip-hop aristocracy that behaves in anti-establishment ways that would do a banana-republic dictatorship proud. Globally, the manifestations of an international street culture can be seen in the simpering anti-American, anti-Semitic polity that has emerged on the Continent and in the glorification of a terrorist agenda through Arab media outlets such as Al-Jazeera, among other things.

This presence can also be seen in the ravings of political liberals in America who, as Teddy Kennedy has articulated on their behalf, strongly recommend that we give up our hard-won gains in Iraq and, what the hell, just bring the troops home and regroup and see what shakes out in the Middle East. Such is the sense of an alternative strategy that Kennedy and his ilk have put forth.

A set of what I would describe as "casually shared values and assumptions" informs the positions of those who have earned street cred in America and those who might lay claim to international street cred. For starters, the fundamental argument that is brought to bear in defining and legitimizing the interests of those who have been granted street cred on any level is that they represent peoples and cultures that have been historically disenfranchised through being subjugated by western imperialism.

In 1961, Frantz Fanon's book, The Wretched of the Earth, articulated the leftist paradigm of imperialism for the generation that came of age during that decade. Fanon's book also provided a blueprint for revolution against imperialism. Western nations have in the intervening years broadly relinquished imperialist claims on their former colonies. However, the sense of formerly colonialized people's being subjugated and disenfranchised has not only not disappeared, it has been used extensively by their leaders to promulgate the idea that they must continually struggle in the most desperate and morally despicable ways to throw off the yoke of servitude to imperialist interests.

Never mind that, in order to maintain the fiction of a continuing repressive western imperialism, many Third-World leaders have purposely seen to it that their people remained in abject poverty and powerlessness. Indeed, in order for Yasser Arafat to perpetuate the paradigm of a Palestinian citizenry disenfranchised by Israeli imperialism, this Palestinian leader sold his people down the river, refusing, time and again, to sign on to resolutions that would have brought his subjects out of the darkness of international political and economic isolation and into the global community of nations.

There are parallels in the history of American popular culture to the phenomenon of perpetuating the "victim mentality" in order to maintain the illusion of a dominant culture that — despite, in this case, the gains of the Civil Rights movement by the 1970s — still sought to keep African-Americans down.

To cite but one example among many: In the mid-1970s, the Isley Brothers, among the most articulate popular spokespeople representing the case of the "people" — the increasingly self-identified black "underclass" in American society — released a political, as well as an artistic, masterpiece entitled "Fight the Power." The lyrics of the song's chorus went like this:

"I try to play my music, they say my music's too loud / I try talkin' about it, I get the big run-around / When I roll with the punches, I get knocked to the ground / By all the bullshit goin' down . . . "

On one hand, the song "Fight the Power" is among the most powerful evocations of the profound emotions informing the resistance against what the then-emerging and increasingly articulate black political movement perceived as the continuing oppression of their people by the white power structure. On the other hand, however, it failed to admit or recognize that, even by the time "Fight the Power" was released in 1975, things were beginning to change, and that change was coming fairly rapidly.

The fact is that "street cred" is now a fiction that has come to represent a sham justification for a no-longer viable political position. To realize that this is true, one need only look to the rapidly diminishing power of the Democrat Party in the United States. Dems are the party of "street cred" in America, and street cred is increasingly a fanciful commodity maintained to prop up a cultural/political agenda that a majority of clear-thinking Americans recognize, not only as inapplicable, but as downright bogus.

The same goes for the notion of "international street cred." The death of Yasser Arafat has opened the way to genuine attempts between Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a resolution of their decades-old conflict that will enable the two political entities to live in peace with each other and which will, perhaps more important, enable the Palestinians to get out from under the debilitating yoke of victimhood that it was necessary for Arafat to maintain so long as he represented the Palestinian position as a player on the international stage.

There is an upside, however. It is becoming increasingly clear that a growing majority of citizens of the world are taking a stance against international terrorism and in favor of the spread of democracy. The domino-effect democratic movements, from Ukraine to Lebanon, don't hurt the cause of freedom, either.

No matter whether it takes the form of anti-American positions through popular culture emblems that manifest as rap/hip-hop "joints," or of organized leftist protests against the Bush policy of aggressively confronting terrorism, or of snide and indirect Euro-leftist governmental innuendo against what America stands for, street cred is a medium of exchange that is increasingly seeing its power diminished.

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