AKA “The Invisible Backpacker of Privilege.”
Some of you may have read my essays on sexism in indie hip hop and homophobia in “conscious” hip hop. I’d been meaning to complete the trilogy and examine racism and privilege within hip hop (particularly underground, independent hip hop… FAR too many essays, panel discussions and books are focused on “what Eminem did” or “what Lil’ Wayne says” or whatever, and completely ignore the MASSIVE, dynamic culture of indie-rap) for a long time, but it was always a pretty intimidating subject to tackle. Turns out I could address it better in a poem than in an essay.
I usually like to let the poems or songs speak for themselves, but a few background points on this one:
1. I’m trying to walk a pretty fine line here. The argument that hip hop is a rainbow-colored racial utopia isn’t true. And the argument that white people have no place whatsoever in hip hop is an increasingly abstract, academic one. Both of these arguments, however, are easier to stand behind than what I’m trying to say. I think it’s important to recognize the facts on-the-ground, while at the same time being careful not to excuse anyone or cop pleas; we have to understand the history of cultural imperialism, and we also have to know how that history interfaces with what is happening right now. The ending of the piece is intentionally layered/muddy.
2. White privilege as a symptom of white supremacy plays out in many different spaces. When I was more actively doing social justice education/facilitation stuff, a common argument among students was that white people lose their privilege when they become the minority, or visit another country, or whatever. I think it’s a lot more complex than that. Even in hip hop, a culture created by and still driven by people of color, white privilege plays out– that’s kind of a central message in this piece.
3. I think it’s important for people who are an active part of hip hop culture to be speaking on these things (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., not to mention aesthetics and all that). If we don’t, all of the commentary will be presented by professors, grad students and other intellectuals (and/or not-so-intellectuals) who don’t have the real lived experience of going to hundreds of rap shows, performing around the country, knowing people who live and breathe the culture, etc. And we all know how that ends up.
4. Shout out to Bao Phi, who introduces me in the beginning. He’s one of the best poets I know, and the series that he curates at the Loft, Equilibrium, is one of the most inspiring regular events in the Twin Cities.
5. There’s a really big white privilege conference in MPLS this coming week. Registration is open.
6. Only halfway-related, but I just put out a mixtape called “Conscious is Not Enough 2011.” It’s a free download, and like I said in the poem, I am very, very good at what I do, haha. Check it out at that link if you’re interested, and as always, I really appreciate the cross-posts, re-tweets, wall posts and everything, for the mixtape and/or for this poem. Thanks!