Musings: On Hot 97 Yusuf Hawkins and Racism in Media
I have to interrupt some of my previous editorial plans for the day. I need to get a few things off my chest. I applied to a really cool job at a major magazine. This is a job that I felt I could do with my left-hand tied behind my back. I have 15 years under my belt as a freelancer and blogger, covering an insanely eclectic array of music — and I’ve done this while spending 15 years or so working at three different publishing houses, moving up from being an Editorial Assistant to being an Acquisitions Editor.
I’m extremely nocturnal. “Sleep all day. Up all night,” as a song once said. I woke up at noon today. My mom was talking to me about some news item of the day. I was barely awake and I needed coffee. Before I even had my coffee and while I was still in bed, I started to check my email accounts. Technology is wonderful sometimes, ain’t it? So as I typically do, I went through my blog account. And then I checked my personal email. I received the impersonal form letter rejection from that major magazine. Most of the time, I don’t take it personally. I shrug it off and move on. But this one, it felt like a bit like finding out your partner has been sleeping with your best friend or a relative. And yet, somehow, I wasn’t surprised.
I then went on to Facebook. One Facebook friend is posting infuriatingly dumb things and has been doing so for the past month or two. I ignored her and scrolled down a bit. Then I came across an article an elementary school classmate posted it on his page: https://hiphopdx.com/news/id.57484/title.longtime-hot-97-executive-paddy-duke-fired-for-involvement-in-yusef-hawkins-murder?fbclid=IwAR0AfP1_IS_OEGXvRE_I6QgJFsJGtQi6MQ5BiSFd36Kn5Oidt8ypP9f6zqo.
After reading the article, I immediately felt anger, despair and hopelessness. I’ve mentioned this on Facebook as a response to the events of the article and I think it’s important for y’all to read and think about: Two things likely happened with Paddy Duke — but one of them is probably more likely than the other in my mind:
- Raucci lied (and an omission is a lie here, too) and went through his life with the desperate an insane hope that no one would find. But every minute and every hour of the past 31 years, he had to live with the fact that he was involved in a heinous crime and with the fear that someone would find out, that someone would out him, that the walls would come crumbling down.
- Rauuci was connected to someone, who gave him a shot above all the other talented people of color, who have been busting their ass for a shot, then protected him and allowed him to move up the ranks.
People have lied about their qualifications for jobs for generations. It was difficult for your employer to find out — and generally no one really bothered to delve that deeply, if you were embellishing a bit and not saying something flat out ridiculous. Over the past 20 years, employers have been following up on jobseekers’ claims: they’ll look Google you and look at your LinkedIn profile; they’ll call your references and ask detailed questions about you and your work. And if somehow, you’re one of the few lucky ones, who may have gotten away with it, it doesn’t last long. Companies have fired people once they’ve find out. (Remember the Notre Dame football coach, who lied about his background? By the following week, the school rescinded their offer.)
So for argument’s say, let’s say that Raucci lied. Maybe in 1994 he might have gotten away with that for a year or two, maybe even five years. But by the time he became a radio personality, his involvement in a heinous racial crime wasn’t outed by someone? Milli Vanilli and Vanilla Ice were outed as phonies — before the Internet. Pusha T shouted out that Drake had a secret baby on a fucking diss track. And you’re telling me that Hot 97 and its corporate office didn’t have a clue that Raucci was one of Yusuf Hawkins’ attackers? Raucci didn’t get outed as he moved up the stations ranks, earning a position of power and authority at the station? How did that continue for over 25 years? You mean no one was curious about the guy and said “Let’s look into him?” Seriously, how does that even happen?
Of course, that leads me to something insidious — and seemingly more likely to have happened to me: Raucci is connected to someone, and that someone not only gave Raucci a shot to redeem himself, that someone allowed the former Hot 97 exec to move up the corporate ranks. There wasn’t some equally qualified person or color without a criminal record that couldn’t have gotten a shot? Who does Raucci know?
There’s no way that Hot 97’s corporate office didn’t have an idea. Out of due diligence, the filmmaker who made the Yusuf Hawkins documentary did their research and confirmed their claims before leaving that in the final cut. Hot 97 and their corporate ownership is full of shit on that.
I’ve freelanced for a nubmer of publications and websites. I started this site over a decade ago while working full-time. The past 15 years I’ve slept very little, worked full-time and then worked hard on making moves. I’ve done JOVM, completely on my own terms. I’m proud of that fact. I’ve obsessed with music since I was a toddler. I’ve played a little bit, too. And when I turned 14, I knew that the only thing that made sense for me was to write. But I have to admit something: lately, I’ve been feeling deeply discouraged.
Sure, being a writer — or any other creative — means enduring through some degree of failure or feeling as though you’re a failure. But when you add unfair, incredibly racist shit to the mix, it just hits differently and on a deeply personal level. I often suspect that some mediocre white person, who’s connected to the right people will get some of these jobs that I’ve long coveted despite my education and my background. I’ve edited fucking books. Don’t tell me that I can’t edit other music journalists — or that I can’t contribute to a publication.
Look at the staff at some of these websites and publications. If you’re lucky you may see maybe one or two black people on their staff. It makes me wonder how that’s possible. And I dozen wonder if some mediocre white person is getting that key gig, because they know the right people — and not because they’re truly talented or knowledgeable. There have been only a handful of days recently where I felt like everything I did felt profoundly stupid: George Floyd’s death and the protests immediately after and after reading that HipHopDX article today.
My folks gave me the talk when I was about 7. But I’m also not a stupid or naive man either. I’ve lived in the world and been around enough to know that life is really unfair. So I really loathe when organizations and people actively try to insult my intelligence. Don’t bullshit me about how you’re diverse and are down for the cause of Black Lives Matter if you don’t have executives of color or members of the LGBTQIA+ community in real positions of authority.
This story about Raucci and Hot 97 is a constant reminder of how insidious racism is — especially in media and other creative fields. At the end of the day, a lot of these companies are frankly full of shit. Either we’re willing to be better or we’re not. It’s that simple.