"Start the revolution": hip hop music and social justice education.

Author:Rashid, Kamau


The collective effect of school closures, population displacement via gentrification, and mass incarceration have resulted in dislocations and disruptions of African American life in major cities in the U.S. This suggests that the urban milieu that W.E.B. Du Bois identified as contested space in his early Sociological field studies, remains such today. This confluence of crises challenges institutions to respond forthrightly to the evisceration of urban African American communities, or to position themselves as facilitators of Negro removal. This paper argues that Hip Hop, a music genre formed in the U.S. during the early 1970s by African-American, Caribbean, and Latino youths in the South Bronx section of New York City that became popular outside of the African-American community in the late 1980s that consists of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted (rapping) defined the stylistic elements of: MCing/rapping, DJing/scratching (turntablism), b-boying (a style of street dance that originated primarily among African American and Puerto Rican youth during the mid-1970s), break dancing, and graffiti art/writing, sampling (synthesis), and beatboxing (a form of vocal percussion primarily involving the art of mimicking drum machines via a person's mouth: lips, tongue, and voice) represents a potent resource in the conceptualization of social justice pedagogy in urban communities.

It seeks to conceptualize a Hip Hop pedagogy that also answers the challenge of African-Centered education, wherein Hip Hop becomes expressive of the intergenerational legacy of social critique and activism in African communities. Herein Hip Hop's utility as a vehicle of critical literacy is explored, seeking to answer the question: How Hip Hop pedagogy can inform resistance to the political-economies of racism/white supremacy and neoliberalism.

They ain't fighting poverty, they fighting the poor/And every couple of years they just declare a new war/Cold war, drugs, gangs, terrorism, et cetera/Man I been seen it coming got my vision ahead of ya/They be BSing me because I didn't enlist/That be their hatred boy that I refuse to resist/That be they hate a brother because of this black fist/But nah, they probably just chasing young Muslims for kicks/Ya know same story brothers face and constantly chanting/Meanwhile in my brain I'm thinking about Fred Hampton/Geronimo, Mumia, and Assata Shakur/Imam AlAmin plus a whole lotta more/But waiting for the opportunity to settle the score. ...

--Capital D, "Start the Revolution" (2004, track 2).

A Confluence of Crises

Chicago is illustrative of the contested nature of space within the global political-economy of neoliberalism and white supremacy. The technocratic forms of governance that led to the closure of 50 schools in 2013 (Ahmed-Ullah, Chase, and Secter 2013) is both a hallmark of neoliberal forms of governance (Lipman 2011) and illustrative of the paucity of African American political power. In both contexts political participation is deemed intrusive or disruptive to the process of policy formulation, and African Americans' voices and their vociferous demands are ignored, meeting the ambivalence of an unresponsive school board (Lutton 2013). This suggests that the demographic representation of African Americans within America's major population centers does not necessarily equate to proportional representation in terms of their ability to make policy.

The preceding point is underscored by the mass displacement of African Americans over the last decade, as former public housing residents are moved about within (Moser 2014) and outside of the city. (Lipman 2011). As a matter of policy, these dislocations have served to stimulate the city's housing market, create new upscale neighborhoods, and bolster the city's image on the world stage as an urban destination for tourists. The inverse is that these processes have priced many residents out of their former communities, exacerbated the racialized containment of low-income African Americans, and destabilized already struggling areas by injecting hundreds of new residents newly displaced from public housing.

The dispersal of public housing residents merely echoes previous initiatives that have resulted in the removal or reconfiguration of African American and other communities of color (Fernandez 2009). Central to this process is the racialization of space. That is, the attribution of racial and class features to physical spaces. Within a racist and white supremacist context, the consequence of this process can be quite profound.

Due to the totalizing nature of white supremacy, space is never neutral. It is inscribed, by default, as white space, a quality of possession that is either actual or potential. Spaces either lie within the direct possession of the white community, or they are spaces that are in the process of being appropriated by the white community. In both instances space has already been designated as space to which whites are entitled, therefore the act of acquisition is secondary to the reality of possession, which is assumed, whether acquisition is extant in a present or future reality. This poses severe challenges to the idea of a Black community, and the personhood of those who inhabit said communities. (Rashid 2014)

Resulting in a super ordination of the interests of the white community, the racialization of space creates conditions of fundamental insecurity for African American communities in terms of their political enfranchisement, institutional viability, and spatial integrity. And also, linked to this is the process of mass incarceration, which has resulted in a profound disruption of the cultural and institutional processes of African American communities. Whether driven by failed drug enforcement policies (Alexander 2012) or processes of racialized containment (Lipman 2011), communities of people of color in general, and African Americans in particular have been perennially impacted by policing as a method of control and suppression within the largely inequitable political-economy or urban America. We are reminded by this in W.E.B. Du Bois's early community studies of African American communities offer vivid portraits of the imperiled nature of black life in America's metropolises. His 1901 study of the Black community of New York City ... offers a portrait that is at once compelling and tragic. While he notes the burgeoning nature of the community-driven by migrations from the South--he also comments upon the challenges faced by these communities such as incarceration and discrimination in housing and employment. Du Bois's findings are apt, as they capture the tension inherent in the constitution of space within a white supremacist context. (Rashid 2014)

Succinctly stated, the city represents a frontier of African American life whose promise has been simultaneously bountiful and tragic. As African Americans have sought to shape these spaces in dynamic ways leading to community empowerment, education and the cultural arts that have been a recurring tools of struggle (Danns 2005; Neckerman 2007; Stovall 2005).

Hip Hop and the Politics of Black Liberation

Hip Hop's emergence as a cultural form parallels its application in the vein of social justice (Ards 2004). This social justice dimension has gained expression in varied contexts (Kitwana 2004). Perhaps most prominent among these has been the emergence of socially conscious Hip Hop in the late 1980s. Born of the latent African American nationalist movement, socially conscious Hip Hop mirrored Black Nationalism's three core thrusts (Karenga 2001; Lusane 2004): political--as in the music of Public Enemy, Paris, KRS ONE, or Sister Souljah; religious--as reflected by artists such as Poor Righteous Teachers and Brand Nubian; and cultural--as in the case of X-Clan, Queen Mother Rage, and Isis.

This political movement within Hip Hop can be looked at in a number of ways. In one respect it reflects a reappropriation of the ideological tenets of Black radicalism from the late 1960s-1970s. In other ways it may also signal the totalizing nature of capitalism, as Hip Hop's voice of opposition was effectively commoditized for the mass consumer (Lusane 2004). In any event this political movement did represent a potential shift in the ideological and ideational dynamics of the African American community insofar as it signaled an intergenerational movement around crafting solutions which were artistic, organizational, and institutional to the structural malaise of postindustrial, urban Black communities (Kitwana 2004; Neal 2004). Within this vein Hip Hop became a platform for social criticism, often articulated a vision (though sometimes deeply conflicted) of social transformation, and was employed as a tool of social activism (Ards 2004; Boyd 2004; Hall 2009; Kitwana 2004). Hip Hop also became a new social canvas upon which the failures of the civil rights movement, the violent suppression of the Black Power movement, the sweeping changes of postindustrial society, and the painful dislocations of urban transformation and mass criminalization might be reconceived and reconstructed as the signifiers of a new social possibility--one wherein Hip Hop, as a cultural composite, might also reflect this new cultural moment (Alexander 2012; Neal 2004; Walker 2003).

If media exists as an agent of socialization, by the late 1980s Hip Hop had become a critically significant element in the social-construction of reality, particularly as it pertains to Black identity (Coates 2004; Ogbar 2007). As an agent of socialization, situated within a political-economy of African American marginalization, Hip Hop became a contested terrain of ideas in a struggle of grossly unequal, yet partially concordant interests. Whereas viable commercial Hip Hop artists had to fulfill the profit imperatives of a capitalist industry, artists...

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