When Will the Ghetto’s Creation “Infest” the “Pristine” Fabric of the Institution?

I want to tell y’all a story ‘cuz Hip-hop showed me something…

I remember witnessing 20-plus students in my classroom allow fear and insecurity to inhibit them from comforting and helping a couple of vulnerable students. See, I had given the class a task:

 

  1. Create a circle
  2. One person at a time: go into the circle, dance, and continue dancing until everyone is in the middle of the circle
  3. Once everyone is in the middle, one person at a time, exit back to the edge of the circle in the order in which you entered

 

I ask if everyone understands. They say they do. I ask if anyone has questions. They say they don’t. I play the music. And the aura of the room stiffens. I’ve never felt so much tension in a room before as people looked to their-left-and-their-right in an awkward attempt to say, “anyone but me is going to enter that circle first!” Finally, after about a minute or so, this brave female enters the space. Kicking her knees and legs in a frivolously rhythmic pattern, she overcomes the tension in order to share herself with her classmates. After her, one, two, three more students sequentially come to the middle in order to connect physically and spiritually with this first energetic soul. We’re on a roll! But not really. Because almost two minutes later those same 4 students are dancing and exerting themselves in the middle of the circle as their fellow students simply watch like an audience at a golf tournament.

My patience quickly turned into a gamut of dramatic emotion. I snap the music off and frustratingly spill out, “It’s interesting to me how we can have these four people overcome their insecurities in order to do what most of us could not do (go into the middle of the circle) and tire themselves out in the process; yet, instead of joining them, thus putting an end to their exhaustion and vulnerability, we’d rather stand here and watch them continuously suffer…”

I believe all dance forms allow the opportunity for practitioners to apply their experience with dance to the challenges and achievements of life. However, I have rarely felt any Eurocentric dance form make me look at my culture, my worldview, and my society quite like Hip-hop dance has. I think it’s because Hip-hop is not just a dance, but also a convoluted and complex culture that spawns the arts such as dance, visual art, music, fashion, and poetry. As I reflect on that mentioned teaching experience, I fascinate at Hip-hop’s ability to reveal ourselves to ourselves. The way in which we think and behave in society was transferred into a fairly simple, yet clearly complicated exercise.

Despite this, rarely is Hip-hop embedded into the foundational Eurocentric structure of dance departments throughout America. The stigmatization of Hip-hop as a recreational and commercial fad has blinded institutions to see Hip-hop as a useful, powerful, and educational tool that can be beneficial for dance majors as well as elective students. As a result, students are graduating into the professional world without valuable Hip-hop lessons that would not only inform the way in which they move, but also the way in which they tap into their potential as thinkers and social beings.

I’ve been so blessed to be here at Ohio State as it has allowed me to see how important Hip-hop dance is to critiquing our flaws and displaying our potential as citizens in America. As I prepare to graduate I am nothing but excited to see how else this Hip-hop dance form can change lives, communities, and societies for the better.

Where White People Say “Nigga” Freely: Reflection of my Kendrick Lamar Concert Experience

Two weekends ago I was the most excited I’ve been in a while. I was going to see one of the most prominent figures in Hip-hop music and culture: Kendrick Lamar. I was hype because although I’m a Hip-hop dancer, I really don’t get down with a lot of rappers. Kendrick, however, is one of the few rappers who I consider to be an artist within the emcee element of Hip-hop culture. I don’t agree with how he says a lot of things, but that is beside the point as he produces products that allow for one to take an introspective look into their character, their relationships, and their society. Kendrick’s lyrics personally encourage me to search for a deeper knowledge about the different cultures I represent and how that affects the way I negotiate myself within the structures of American society. Whether it’s replaying the words of Tupac Shakur in order to discuss a philosophy of revolution that spawns from the enlarging gap between the rich and the poor, or providing historical knowledge of the convoluted n-word that goes beyond the African-American experience of slavery, I can count on the words of Kendrick Lamar to constantly help me question what is happening in today’s society. So yea, I was pretty hype to let loose and enjoy the concert; and I paid enough money, waited enough time in line, and suffered through enough bad weather to deserve enjoying that concert! However, I quickly realized that my being at this event was not for my blissful enjoyment, but rather for a heavy educational experience.

I’ve been thinking a lot about black males who identify themselves through Hip-hop culture and how stereotypes of that demographic serve as evidence for mainstream audiences to justify devaluing black males within American society. All cultures have their own stereotypes, but there may be no other demographic whose stereotypes affect the way they are seen and treated in society as much as black men in America. Stigmatizations such as the dangerous thug, the uncontrolled sex symbol, the violent drug dealer, and the primal athlete aid in many people’s reasoning as to why so many black males are incarcerated, why so many black females are single mothers, why black-on-black crime is so high, and why the black male academic dropout rate is so high. And, Hip-hop culture, specifically rap music, is constantly dealing with receiving ridicule for enforcing these stigmatizations.

So, I’m observing Kendrick Lamar express what I believe to be an authentic and artistic description of his life—an on-going struggle to find a sense of true and positive self in the midst of growing up in one of the most dangerous urban areas in America. As a result, lyrics with themes such as violence, drugs, gang life, and more are being portrayed as a representation of the culture in which Kendrick grew up in. And, in what I believe is an attempt to keep it real as an artist, the word “nigga” is constantly flowing from the voice box of Lamar’s throat to the ears of a sea of Caucasian college students in Columbus, OH (the crowd had a diverse mix, but still… it was mostly white folk). And, surprisingly—or maybe not—they are repeating the word right back to him.

Without going into the complication of the n-word in contemporary society, I just want to say that the historical baggage of the word has not lost its power regardless of whether its nigga or nigger. If a white person calls a black person a nigga in many contexts, especially out of malice, somebody is dying…just kidding…but not really. The point is that although the n-word still has the power to devalue a black person within a society that still carries the stench of racism within its foundational structures, all races in America find it okay to use the contemporary version of the word, and its mostly if not completely because of Hip-hop culture. Now, to go back to the concert, is it Kendrick’s fault that all these white people have no problem yelling out nigga? Many people would answer yea because he is responsible for the lyrics that he produces. Others have made the argument (and I’m generalizing) that these white people are going to say it anyways, so why not just be real with it, especially if the lyrics are authentic to the rapper’s experience?

Despite what side you’re on, and there are quite a few sides, there lies the fact that the word “nigga” is not used simply to describe a comrade. It is used to represent a commercial portrayal, specifically through Hip-hop culture, of what it means to be “real” as a black male in society: aggressive, strong, materialistic, misogynistic, homophobic, violent, and more. Yet, being “real” is exactly what is aiding in the devaluing of the black male in American society. For people who cannot understand the struggles of living against those stigmatizations on a daily basis to be yelling out this word, to me, is just ignorant. Furthermore, people who know about this struggle yet decide to say the word anyways…to each is own I guess. And, I get it. I’m a privileged black male from the burbs. I didn’t grow up in Compton or anywhere else where these stigmas are your daily reality. I just will never completely understand why anyone, especially black males, would so frivolously aid in the stigmatization of their own demographic within this hierarchical society.

So, anyways, yea…that’s why I couldn’t enjoy the concert featuring my favorite rapper.