From Majesty of Paul Robeson to Tragedy of Dwayne "Lil' Wayne" Carter

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[The View From Washington]

The one word to describe Paul Robeson is “giant.”

He was born April 9, 1898 and died January 23, 1976.  He was a person of extraordinary power, significance, and importance; a man of enormous strength and stature.  

Paul Robeson was an artist of the highest order; a singer, actor, scholar, and activist.  He was considered by many to be one of the most important figures of the twentieth century.

Robeson was a so-called “race man.”  He was an African American who used his enormous strength and stature as an artist, intellect, and international figure to represent the race, disproving at every turn bigoted notions of White power and Black inferiority.  

Robeson was socially conscious, socially responsible, and socially relevant. James Baldwin once wrote, “Robeson…lives, overwhelmingly, in the hearts and minds of the people whom he touched, the people who gained from him the power to perceive and the courage to resist…He lived in our times, we live in his…”

In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, singer, actor, and life-long activist Harry Belafonte stated, unlike Robeson --whom Belafonte knew quite well-- “I think one of the greatest abuses of this modern time is that we have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility.”

One of the current examples of a socially irresponsible high-profile artist is Dwayne Carter, Jr. a.k.a. Lil’ Wayne.  Cater is a rapper; a hip hop artist. He was born in 1982, eighty-four years after Robeson.

One would only expect artists to become better educated, better informed, more socially conscious and aware. Unfortunately, Carter and his ilk take us back.

While working with rapper Nayvadius Wilburn a.k.a. “Future” on his “Karate Chop” remix, Lil’ Wayne drops the line, "beat the pussy up like Emmett Till...”  Does Lil' Wayne, Epic Records Chairman Antonio “L.A.” Reid, or any rational adult in their inner circle have any idea how disgusting, demeaning, and socially irresponsible this is?  

Have their have of shame know no limits or bounds?

Emmett Till  was a 14 year-old African American boy from Chicago, IL who was visiting relatives for the summer in the small town of Money, Mississippi.  On August 24, 1955 while out playing with his cousins young Till was accused of whistling at or flirting with a White woman, 21 year old Carolyn Bryant.

On August 28, 1955 in response to the alleged whistling incident, Bryant's husband Roy and his half-brother J. W. Milam went to Till's great-uncle's house. They took Till, transported him to a barn, beat him and gouged out one of his eyes, before shooting him through the head and disposing of his body in the Tallahatchie River, weighting it with a 70-pound cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire.

His body was discovered and retrieved from the river three days later.

The brutal murder of Emmett Till was a seminal moment in African Americans struggle for human rights, a turning point. Tens of thousands attended Till’s funeral.

Images of his mutilated body were published in black magazines and newspapers, rallying popular support and sympathy across the U.S. Intense scrutiny was brought to bear on the condition of African American civil rights in Mississippi and throughout the entire country, with newspapers around the country critical of the state.

Paul Robeson the artist dedicated his entire life to fighting the hatred and racism that motivated Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam to brutalize and murder an African American teenager.  Lil’ Wayne the so-called artist decided to trivialize that horrific and historic event by using it to make sick, caviler, sexist, and misogynistic references to women.  

I ask again, has he no shame?

Future makes a feeble attempt to defend the indefensible by telling MTV News "The record it was done from a good place, good art, he ain't have no bad intentions when he was thinking about it like that."  

Relative to this ignorance, there is no good place; this is not good art; and their intentions are irrelevant.

Gil Scott Heron, one of the original rappers wrote in Message to the Messengers, “We got respect for you rappers… But if you're gon' be teachin' folks things, make sure you know what you're sayin'… Because if you're gonna be speakin' for a whole generation; And you know enough to try and handle their education; Be sure you know the real deal about past situations… Four letter words or four syllable words won't make you important; It'll only magnify how shallow you are and let everybody know it…”

This is a current example of how far we as a community have strayed from standards of conduct and decency.  

Anything goes for the sake of a dollar, a record sale, a fleeting moment of fame.  Ignorant rappers can demean our history and demean our women.  They can use our history to demean our women and claim “it was done from a good place, good art.”

Paul Robeson was a giant. Dwayne Carter, Jr. has turned his back on social responsibility; he is shallow and has let everybody know it. He is by his own admission and moniker just, “Lil.”

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues With Leon,” and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C.  Go to or email:

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