Hip-Hop Fridays: Racist Vilification Of Hip-Hop by Imani Henry
Marxists must understand the historical legacy of slavery and racism on this generation of young urban people of color.
For example, as of 2003, AIDS is the number one killer of African-Americans between the ages of 18 and 25. In 2002 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2001, 12 percent of people in the United States were living under the poverty line--and 23 percent of them were Black people.
Of the Black households headed by single women, 58.1 percent make less than $25,000 a year. Thus, for Black children under 18, the percentage living in poverty is three times as high as that of white children.
Thirty percent of all Black children are born into poverty.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the ways that young people of color have been economically disenfranchised.
What I now want to focus on is the hip-hop culture, which was born out of the struggle for self-determination, specifically of Black and Latino urban youths.
Right now in almost every country, there is a hip-hop scene. Of course this is partially due to the billions of dollars used by the music conglomerates to market hip hop. But at the same time, hip-hop has by design always been a mass and accessible art form that did not lend itself to formal elitist study.
Its birthplace was New York City during the early 1970s. It was rooted in some of the most economically devastated communities like the South Bronx and Brooklyn.
There are four elements of hip-hop as told by KRS One, a pioneer in the South Bronx movement. KRS One is of Carib bean heritage and was homeless as a youth.
There is "MCing" or rapping; "DJing", the spinning of the records; Break Dancing; and artistic expression through graffitti. Break Dancing, made popular in the 1980s, is rooted not only in African dance but also in Capoeira, a form of martial arts said to have been used by enslaved Africans in 1630 in Brazil during revolts against attacks by the Dutch and Portuguese armies.
Hip-hop culture, just like the communities it originated from, fell under heavy attack in the United States, ranging from national censorship campaigns to police attacks on hip-hop concerts.
Today, rap music is part of mainstream culture and hip-hop artists are some of the biggest celebrities in the music world. Most commercial forms of hip-hop culture have unfortunately praised misogyny, promoted anti-gay bigotry and glorified senseless violence, all in the name of making money. At the same time, the music industry on the whole also praises misogyny, is anti-gay and projects white supre macy, all in the name of making money.
To only target, criticize and demonize rap music for its backwardness when the entire music industry is backward is the real issue at hand. It is one thing when the Black community wants to debate the situation of the hip-hop scene today--and another when the media and the government launch racist attacks.
Major hip-hop artists have created foundations and programs that give back to the communities they come from. This includes the creation of anti-violence initiatives. Artists like Queen Latifah and TLC have become highly visible as spokespeople for AIDS prevention among youth. Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, the founder and head of Def Jam records, was the one of the first celebrities to speak out against the war on Iraq. When have the heads of Elektra or Arista Records come out for anything progressive?
Here in New York City, twice when the public schools were facing funding cuts, hip-hop artists like Sean "P. Diddy" Combs called for student walkouts to demand that there be no cuts.
Recently, there was a protest mounted in New York against Combs by the anti-sweatshop movement after it was revealed that his clothing line called "Sean John" was produced by sweatshop labor. P. Diddy called a news conference within hours to apologize and to denounce the use of sweatshop labor. What does it mean when mostly white college students put an equal sign between a young Black businessperson and the multi-million-dollar corporations like Nike and the Gap? There can be no equal sign between peoples of oppressed nations and the white oppressor nation, regardless of their social status.
With all of his millions of dollars, P. Diddy is an African -American raised by a single mother. He has donated hundreds of computers to New York schools and given proceeds of his sneaker line to aid in the national struggle for reparations.
Would any rock star or white celebrity be made to feel guilty for bourgeois success? If you are a descendant of slaves, the message is: You cannot achieve the same success as your white counterparts.
There are many progressive hip-hop artists who use their talent as a weapon in the struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia embodies the struggle against the state and its prisons, cops and the racist death penalty.
Workers World Party is fighting so that urban youths of color will not have to face such oppression. We are fighting a system where getting a record deal or sport contract is seen as an alternative to selling drugs because higher education isn't an option.
We are fighting for a system where education and health care are free, where there is cure for AIDS, and where the racist death penalty is of the past. That system is socialism.
Imani Henry is a well-known poet and cultural artist. The talk excerpted here was given by Imani Henry at the New York Black History Month forum on Feb. 20. and appeared first at Worker's World. Imani Henry can be contacted via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, March 5, 2004