Hip Hop community joins protest of radio racism

NEW YORK — Protesters were on the street outside the office of Hot 97 here Feb. 14, the second day back on the job for suspended morning show deejays.

The “Miss Jones in the Morning” crew on WQHT-FM sparked outrage last month when it played the “Tsunami Song,” a racist parody of “We Are the World” that made fun of the victims of last December’s South Asian tidal wave that killed almost 300,000 people. “We Are the World” had brought an array of stars together in the 1980s to aid victims of famine in Africa.

“This is something that we’re just getting started with,” City Council member John Liu told the World. Referring to the Hip Hop station’s owner, Emmis Communications, Liu said, “Emmis needs to come clean because people are united against the kind of hatred that is put over our airwaves.”

The company issued an apology and fired several people, including one disc jockey who said on the air he would start “shooting Asians.” Although Emmis also donated one week’s worth of paychecks of the suspended staff members to tsunami relief, many believe this was mere lip service and more needs to be done to seriously address the problem.

The Coalition Against Hate Media (CAHM), organizers of the rally, includes dozens of elected officials and community groups, among them the NAACP, the National Hip-Hop Convention, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 1707, and the teachers union.

Although the people killed by the tsunami were mainly South Asian, Indonesian, and African, the song’s racial hatred is directed primarily at Chinese people. However, the anger and indignation has spread far beyond the Chinese community. The multiracial rally included representatives of the Latin American Integration Center, the gay and lesbian community, and several city council members. Out in full force were members of the area’s hip-hop community. Many speakers say they came to let the city and the world know that while Hot 97 claims to represent New York’s Hip Hop scene, racism and hate are not part of that movement.

“I am here today protesting … as a young adult I’m speaking up,” said Jessica Edraza, a student from Vanguard High School. “They think that this is what young people want to hear and I honestly say this is not what I want to hear … not this negativity.”

To drive home the point that hip-hop is about unity and respect for all races, the “godfather of Hip Hop,” Afrika Baambaata, took to the stage. “Hip Hop is for peace, unity, love and having some fun, and to organize many of the communities throughout the world,” said Baambaata.

“This is just the first step. We are going to organize, organize, organize. First it’ll be Emmis, and any other stations that try to keep talking this hate or any type of disorder against any people on the planet,” he said. “We must stand against anybody that preaches hate, that teaches hate … [we must] try to make a change … and never give up the fight.”

The rally had four demands of Emmis: termination for anyone involved in the song; donation of a week’s worth of corporate revenues to tsunami relief and local community organizations; establishment of clear, written corporate guidelines against racism and hate; and an ongoing dialogue with the community to implement long-term solutions to prevent hate speech from recurring.

After an earlier protest (immediately after the incident), a number of companies, including New York Newsday and Sprint, withdrew their ads from Hot 97.

“This is just one station and they’ve been doing this for a while, so we’re going to keep the pressure on here,” Baambaata told the World after the rally. But, he stressed, it’s a nationwide problem and plans are to continue “organizing people around the country about stopping this type of program that’s going on our airwaves and coming mainly to our youth.”

dmargolis@cpusa.org