The tragedy of Mos Def

The second Dante Terrell Smith lives up to his silly nickname. Not long ago, after reading a black political blog, I found myself moving along, link to link, until I went from Smith’s making hilarious fun of another rapper’s insipid lyrics to a very disturbing appearance he made with Cornel West in a discussion with Bill Maher on Real Time some time shortly before the presidential election. That was a gully-low moment.

I found it disturbing because it was the contrived Mutt and Jeff act of a public—or pop—black intellectual and a guy from the bottom. Successful people perform that act in order to prove that they are still connected to the community. While Cornel West pretended to sympathize with “where he was coming from,” the actor ran through the counterfeit lack of sense we see too frequently in those always trying to make it clear that they have not “left the ‘hood.” Their mask of brain rot allows them to genuflect in the face of ignorance.

Just a few weeks ago, Smith appeared on Real Time with Salman Rushdie and Christopher Hitchens, but his pretentious “brother from the projects” act did not go over well. His supposed courage to “express an unpopular opinion” was taken by Hitchens as an insult to the common intellectual knowledge that anyone should have about big issues in the contemporary world. Unlike those white Americans who have presented black illogic as a form of popular entertainment since the days of Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver, Hitchens was not having it and challenged Smith to back up his purported opinions. This is something the British are much better at than their American counterparts. Stuck in his act, Smith wavered forward, sinking with every syllable he uttered. That’s how it goes: When the right white people are encountered, contrived ethnic authenticity doesn’t cut it.