Hip-hop culture and its effects on racial politics in post-Sept. 11 America were examined in a panel discussion on April 19 at UC Irvine.
Bakari Kitwana, author of ‘The Hip-Hop Generation’ and a consultant for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is currently involved in organizing the Hip-Hop Convention, which is dedicated to creating a national agenda which will bring the young voices of hip-hop onto the political scene.
The term ‘hip-hop generation’ finally gave definition to a community of young African-Americans searching for identity in the modern world, according to Kitwana. Until the late 1990s, when hip-hop emerged as a musical force, African-American concerns were not recognized as legitimate by mainstream America. Through their music, they developed a voice and culture of their own.
‘By defining the hip-hop generation, it can help identify ourselves,’ Kitwana said. ‘Hip-hop is a symbol of blackness, of resistance to oppression.’
Kitwana hopes that this tradition will continue through youth participation in the Hip-Hop Convention. The founders of the convention reach out to local leaders, trying to organize and formalize concerns which are currently unacknowledged.
According to Kitwana, it is especially important to be proactive in political fronts since Sept. 11.
‘The post-Sept. 11 ruling elite have gained control of everything,’ Kitwana said. ‘They can do anything they want because they know we won’t do anything about it.’
Adam Mansbach is the author of the novel ‘Angry Black White Boy.’ The protagonist is a young white man so enraged by white mistreatment of blacks that he goes on a killing spree. No one can identify him because they cannot comprehend a white man so radically opposed to his own race.
For Mansbach, the most important issue is the way that white people remove themselves from the issue of race.
‘White people see the world according to themselves, so they assume that everyone else is white as well,’ Mansbach said. ‘When they’re describing someone, the first thing they say is ‘He’s a little black guy,’ but never, ‘He’s white.”
Hip-hop has evolved into many different forms, recently including literature. In ‘Angry Black White Boy,’ Mansbach tried to incorporate what he feels are the roots of hip-hop: resistance, ingenuity, creativity and energy. These roots have been abandoned, as hip-hop becomes a more popular commodity.
Fidel Rodriguez, a radio host on 90.7 KPFK, described his early life, dealing with racism and a difficult home life.
‘Growing up in my neighborhood, the only nonwhite, I really felt the effects of racism,’ Rodriguez said.
While incarcerated at age 23, he read the biography of Malcolm X, which inspired him to use his life to seek knowledge and share it. Eventually he attended USC and started work in radio.
‘I use the radio to share information that is not just given to us,’ Rodriguez said.
As a member of the Chumash tribe, he believes that the struggles encountered today within our society result from a lack of connection to the earth. Hip-hop, to Fidel, is an expression of youths searching for an individual truth which was denied to them through an ‘undignified culture that was implemented by force.’
Students responded positively to the enthusiasm shown by the three panelists.
‘Fidel had the most impact as a speaker,’ said Dominique West, a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major. ‘He’s had so much real-life experience. He shows that even if you’re incarcerated you can still get out and make a life for yourself.’
Ashley Turner, a second-year social science major, was similarly inspired by the presentation.
‘It was a really good lecture,’ Turner said. ‘I want to go check out the references, the books that they mentioned.’