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Hip Hop and Race Relations in America

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KRS One once said, "Rap is something you do, Hip-Hop is something you live." The difference between how Hip-Hop is portrayed (rap) and what the Hip-Hop movement is, is that Hip-Hop is a lifestyle but the Hip-Hop we see on television is a media creation. We have to look at hip-hop as a whole culture and rap as something that comes out of it. Although Hip-Hop was originated by a mostly Negro constituency, it has evolved since its creation into a "worldwide forum through which family, community, social and political grievances" (HHC) can be voiced through various art forms. Today, the Hip-Hop movement (if looked at as it's meant to be looked at) plays a very positive role throughout the political and social spectrums in America, and is helping to push America in the right direction.

Hip-Hop has created a lot of social and cultural bridges that otherwise wouldn't exist today. For example, the Hasidic Jew reggae artist Matisyahu is one of the most popular artists today. But would he ever have even thought to have become a Hip-Hop artist if Hip-Hop wasn't such an accessible and open movement? "Hip-Hop is creating very interesting bridges across racial and ethnic communities," says S. Craig Watkins - a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Kay Kendall, also from the UT at Austin, says the "youth of different races and ethnicities are using the common ground of Hip-Hop to interact in a more seamless fashion than their grandparents ever would have envisioned. Mass media and clever marketing have made it a small world after all." And even Russell Simmons, "the godfather of Hip-Hop", says, "According to the statistics [of a recent survey], it seems that youth are much more likely to accept and embrace the differences between people in terms of culture, color, religion, and ethnicity than older Americans." Referring to the same statistics Dr. Benjamin Chavis said, "These polls indicate that the Hip Hop generation (people ages 18-35) are willing to embrace diversity and the cultural transformation where ethnicity and race hopefully will not be seen as barriers or obstacles to progress and opportunity..." And Watkins enlightens us to the most obvious fact that has been sitting right beneath our nose yet has eluded us; that "if you're considering [change in] American culture in the last [three] decades... you have to look at Hip-Hop." The consensus seems to be that Hip-Hop is helping to bring more people closer together than ever before. Bakari Kitwana, an author/columnist who has written many books and articles on the subject, believes that hip hop has broken down more racial barriers than any other social development of the past three decades. But he also argues that Hip-Hop hasn't done enough to pursue the goals of the movement, to help change the way things are today.

"Hip hop has become the most visible voice for black culture..." says Kay Randall. However, it is a very disorganized movement; most of the progress that it has made has been due to private organizations, such as Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and Hip-Hop Congress (HHC) which is located in 18 universities and three high schools nationwide. But with the correct leadership and a united Hip-Hop movement, such as a the creation of a national group to consolidate the movements goals might bring about, Kitwana feels that the hip-hop movement today could become even more influential the '60s civil rights movement. He feels that this movement should stand on the shoulders of the civil rights movement to help push the envelope even further. It is a multibillion dollar industry with millions of followers, if those resources can be fully utilized it will increase the Hip-Hop movement's power exponentially. And, finally, this movement isn't as narrow in scope as the civil rights movement was; the Hip-Hop movement today is focused on issues like education and employment for all people. The HHC can be used as a model for what Kitwana thinks is necessary for today's movement to be successful. The HHC goal "is to create a viable [worldwide] forum for people to learn, express themselves, interact with diverse ideas and cultures, and gain the tools they need to facilitate their own goals." This organizations goals are extremely ambitious, but the HHC doesn't have the backing necessary to achieve their goals completely. However, that is exactly the problem that most groups face today. There are literally hundreds of organizations that have lofty goals, such as the HHC, but they don't have the resources necessary to unite the Hip-Hop movement into an actual force. Nor do they have the leadership or the exposure necessary to overcome that major obstacle. Right now the Hip-Hop movement is just a vague notion, but with the right leadership it can become a dagger to be held to the throats of the people in power to demand equality for all people in America and eventually throughout the world.

The fact that the Hip-Hop movement is often equated with something negative such as anti-black images, drugs, violence, and sex definitely detracts from the power of the movement. It strips the power the movement gains from its noble ambitions - the heart of the movement. But unless the public understands there is a difference between what the media portrays the Hip-Hop movement as and what the movement actually stands for, nothing will change. No progress will be made. Suzy Hansen argues that "some black activists complain that the media marginalizes the good things about hip-hop, choosing to focus on the often misogynistic lyrics, flashy and violent music videos and 'gangsta' image of its stars rather than its more socially conscious messages." Most people don't understand that the "gangsta" image is a very small aspect of Hip-Hop that doesn't even coincide with the movements message! Kitwana says, "if you can get past 'pimps and hos', hip-hop conveys the message of poor people not having jobs and having inadequate education." But this side of the movement, Ms. Hansen would agree, is rarely shown. I agree with Kitwana 100%, but there is no way for people to get past the "pimps and hos" if they don't know that something else exists. It's incredible how successful this movement has been when most people only see one side of the issue, the "bad" side, and yet it has still brought about a lot of good. But it's not enough, the potential this movement still has is enormous. This movement can bring about so much more good for America. But people need to see what the movement is about. People need to understand that there is more to Hip-Hop than "bitches and money" as N.W.A (an abbreviation of "Niggers with Attitude") so eloquently



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