NWA & The Representation of Black Youth

In this argument I want to assess wether or not the movie Straight Out of Compton (SOC) helped the representation of black youth in America. When discussing gangsta rap’s commentary on racial politics there are two main arguments. The first being that the violence and demeaning of societal morals in the lyrics furthers the monstorization of African American men. On the other hand, it is a very effective and popular way of broadcasting the message of discrimination that is felt. In my opinion the movie was able to support the second argument.

While the album SOC undeniably perpetuates the stereotype of the dangerous black male I believe that the movie was able to humanize the stereotype. As you watch the story of these young men whom you know are violent criminals the viewer becomes connected to them. While they are a perfect representation of what America is supposed to hate you can’t help but love these young men, even Easy E a known drug dealer. You get to experience the discrimination first hand in this movie and it allows the audiences who have never seen this before to understand the issue of police brutality. For viewers  who had little contact with this type of brutality it is eye opening. Viewers sympathize with these violent young men in a way the media has never allowed before and this is how the SOC was able to positively comment on black youths.

The movies highlights the political and racial facets of crime. Law is not necessarily moral clear but it is black and white. Here I want to use McCann’s explanation,

“crime is political. By this, I do not mean simply that politics inform public policies related to crime and punishment… I am arguing that crime is in itself an act of political agency. As historian Peter Linebaugh states plainly in his study of political economy and crime in eighteenth century England, “In short, people became so poor that they stole to live, and their misappropriating led to manifold innovations in civil society.” If political struggle is at its very core about survival (and I believe it to be), then crime is no doubt political. Although the practices of a criminal will not be as politically conscious or beneficial as those of a street protestoror community organizer, they nonetheless partake in the social antagonisms that giveform and shape to political and rhetorical subjectivity. While crime from a punitive standpoint enables myriad discourses of racial, gender, and class scapegoating, it similarly enables alternative discourses of criminal behavior from the perspective of, or on behalf of, the incarcerated and their communities.” (McCann 14-15).

In essence, crime is subjective and determined by the politics of our country. SOC shows that the subject of our nation is to constantly mark black men as criminals.

This movie also released at a critical political moment with the popularity of movement like Black Lives Matter and was able to show the younger generations the parallel issues from previous generations. If kids today weren’t versed in the lyrics of NWA before they are now and NWA is a huge icon in pop culture right now. (Just look at all the “straight out of____” T-shirt’s ). This recycling of political music and pop culture fueled activism today.

Some important scenes from the movie I want to include,

The first scene included is one of the many examples in SOC of police brutality and profiling but I believe this one makes this most powerful statement because of the powerful dialogue of the black police officer. The scene ends with him saying “listen to your master” which is a stunning slave comment coming from a black man. The scene embodies the Fuck the Police lyric “black police showin out for the white cop”. The second scene I have included shows a perfect encapsulation of the two arguments for rap as a representation of black youth I previously spoke about.

On the subject of the music I think that NWA sells authenticity. McCann speaks a lot about this idea that in order for rap musicians to be successful they have to be gangster and this means their music gets progressively more violent as validation. While their music is full of political commentary because crime is political I believe the majority of NWA’s songs center around violence and degradation of society, women, and homosexuals.

The political music from decades ago is much mellower in comparison to NWA. This is due to many reasons. Rap music didn’t have the traction in the 60’s and 70’s,  and by the 80’s the civil rights movement was so long ago I think music became more frustrated. Musical artists grew impatient with the lack of change where as artist in the 60’s had just seen some success and sang with less anger.

The power of this music is due to its popularity. People far and wide listen to these albums with little personal connection to the issues. I think this is due to the clean and unique musical style of Dr. Dre and the taboo subject of the music. By now we know that people in American society love to watch a good societal deviation.

Finally, this may be outside the lenses of race and politics in this weeks discussion but I want to bring up HIV. When Eric is diagnosed with HIV his response is, “but I ain’t no faggot.” I think showing the death and diagnosis of Eric gave viewers another disdained group to sympathize. By this time you’re invested in they character and rather than feel that media perpetuated distaste for and HIV patient, you just feel bad for Eric. I appreciated the tone of this subplot and thought it was a positive contribution to the dialogue on HIV today. This commentary in the 80’s brought attention to a strongly misunderstood issue.


Police Brutality in Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Pick a quote or a scene from the movie that you think encapsulates the social commentary of this movie. Explain your selection.

The scene I chose to analyze occurs around 46 minutes into the movie, and is a portrayal of harassment of African Americans in Los Angeles by police officers during the late 1980s. In the scene, the members of N.W.A. are standing outside a recording studio in Torrance, CA, consoling Dr. Dre, whose girlfriend has just left him, when four police officers show up. The officers immediately start questioning the rappers’ presence on the street, assuming they are “gangbangers” and refusing to believe that they are actually there working. Even after their white manager, Jerry Heller, steps outside to try and tell the officers that they are artists working for him, the cops continue to harass the men, holding and patting them down.

The social commentary of this movie is about the extremely unfair treatment of blacks in the ghettos of LA by police, who have been known to arrest and beat African Americans on the streets for not committing any crimes or disturbing any peace. Throughout the movie, there are scenes showing this police brutality from the perspective of civilians in the streets. While this scene portrays a milder and quickly resolved altercation, some of the spoken lines, such as “you heard what your master said, get inside, boy,” spoken by the one black cop in the scene, showcase the unnecessarily racist attitude of police, even within their own race.

HACK #5: Hip Hop, Black Power, and Rap


As we discussed earlier in class today, rap music is generally perceived negatively in American society because it confronts many of the undesirable realities of many individuals, mainly experienced by African American communities. One of my favorite artists, due to his prolific lyrics and constructive approach to social issues, is Tupac Shakur. I chose to examine his song “Words of Wisdom” because in it, he discusses very directly the inherently oppressive structure of American society. Tupac is an incredibly unique individual, especially in rap culture – both of his parents were involved in the Black Panther Party, so he grew up surrounded by political activism. Additionally, he attended the Baltimore School for the Performing Arts, which contributed to his distinctly eloquent lyrics and poetry.

“Lady Liberty still the bitch lied to me
Steady strong nobody’s gonna like what I bumpin’
But its wrong to keeping someone from learning something
So get up, its time to start nation building
I’m fed up, we gotta start teaching children
That they can be all that they want to to be
There’s much more to life than just poverty
This is definitely ah words of wisdom
America, America, America
I charge you with the crime of rape, murder, and assault
For suppressing and punishing my people
I charge you with robbery for robbing me of my history
I charge you with false imprisonment for keeping me
Trapped in the projects
And the jury finds you guilty on all accounts
And you are to serve the consequences of your evil schemes
Prosecutor do you have any more evidence”

It is clear that Tupac does not identify with American patriotism. According to Karin Stanford, author of the article “Keepin’ It Real in Hip Hop Politics: A Political Perspective of Tupac Shakur,” Tupac rejects the deep-rooted capitalist nature of American society. He was a member of the Youth Communist League at the Baltimore School of Arts, as well as a handful of other political activism groups throughout his educational career (10). Tupac wanted to create a more fairly structured society; one that did not exclude people of color and the impoverished.

“Words of Wisdom
They shine upon the strength of an nation
Conquer the enemy on with education
Protect thy self, reach with what you want to do
Know thy self, teach what we been through
On with the knowledge of the place, then
No one will ever oppress this race again”
These lyrics express Tupac’s anger at White American culture for its oppression of black Americans. He uses his background in the Black Power movement to advocate for the civil rights of his people and to challenge the oppressive structures of the white, patriarchal, capitalist American society. He calls out America’s history of the violent oppression of blacks, which is an attempt to hold policy makers accountable for their actions. “Words of Wisdom” is the expression of frustration with the many social injustices Tupac had experienced, as well as a call for education so that the cycle of black oppression can finally be broken.

Hack #5: Ghetto Bird by Ice-Cube

ice sube

[VERSE 1] Why, oh why must you swoop through the hood
Like everybody from the hood is up to no good
You think all the girls around here are trickin
Up there lookin like Superchicken
At night I see your light through my bedroom window
But I ain’t got shit but the pad and pencil

I can’t wait till I hear you say
“I’m going down, mayday, mayday.” I’m gonna clown

Cause every time that the pigs have got me
Y’all rub it in with the flying Nazi
Military force, but we don’t want ya
Standin’ on my roof with the rocket launcher
“So fly like an eagle.”
But don’t follow us wherever we go
The shit that I’m saying, make sure it’s heard
Motherfuck you and your punk-ass ghetto bird

“Ghetto Bird” (1993) – Ice Cube

The song Ghetto Bird (1993) by Ice Cube is about racial tension and discrimination between the police and ghetto neighborhoods. Ice Cube makes it apparent that cops play on black stereotypes, and how these ideas affect the treatment of minorities or how these minorities view police under these circumstances. More importantly, Ice Cube offers the perspective of someone who is discriminated by the police while narrating a police chase, illustrating the aggression that both sides—law enforcement and constituents of LA ghettos—have toward each other, building awareness for the roots of anger that occur from constant surveillance due to race.

la's most annoying icon

To begin, Dr. Gwendolyn mentions author Arthur J. Gladley’s connection of Hip-Hop to the youth culture, acknowledging that the content early rappers offered were “artistic and designed to cope with urban frustrations and conditions” (Gwendolyn). Often times, various Black Panther parties set the precedence for this type of expression against law enforcement, creating bold and passionate lyrics that would eventually inspire groups like NWA to create songs like Fuck the Police (1988) (Gwendolyn). The beauty of Hip Hop and inspirations like the actions of Black Panther parties with rap created the foundation by which rap groups found it acceptable to begin voicing out against established institutions. In this case, the aggressions begin with ghetto stereotypes, and are quickly followed by discriminatory actions by the police; Ice Cube begins with blatantly calling out the police for thinking that there is nothing in the hood except for crime and sexual delinquents.

“Why, oh why must you swoop through the hood
Like everybody from the hood is up to no good
You think all the girls around here are trickin”

In response to a fault that Cube acknowledges for its existence in the hood—partially denouncing the fact that this is not a good representation as to what good the hood has to offer—he accuses the police for their foolish arrogance.

Up there lookin like Superchicken
At night I see your light through my bedroom window
But I ain’t got shit but the pad and pencil

He essentially tells the police, directly, that entering a ghetto neighborhood does not give police the right to think that they are above-all, since they look equally as ridiculous in the sky, searching for trouble that may or may not exist (searching for/expecting trouble instead of responding accordingly to it). The police, through these unnecessary actions, are discriminating against entire communities of people, creating the racial tensions and aggressions that the Black Power Movement began to express.

Tupac Shakur’s cultural-political activism causes this song by Ice-Cube to be a direct reflection of the reality of police relations in the ghetto; at the same time as showing the discriminatory actions of the police, Ice-Cube presents the perspective of urban youth and explains where the aggression comes from. Tupac utilized Hip Hop music as both a rallying source as well as a nuanced way of calling attention to the way old social interactions are affecting the urban youth of America (Stanford).

I can’t wait till I hear you say
“I’m going down, mayday, mayday.” I’m gonna clown

Cause everytime that the pigs have got me
Y’all rub it in with the flying Nazi
Military force, but we don’t want ya
Standin’ on my roof with the rocket launcher”

Cube’s song is not meant to be a rallying source but answers the complaint that white-America tends to have in dealing with the growing attitude of urban youth. The Black Power Era was notorious for using terms like “pigs” toward law enforcement and incurred militant actions from people who already stood above them from a racial standpoint; as a result, groups like the one that involved Tupac Shakur’s mom found the bravery to act militantly as well (Stanford). Ice-Cube uses the word “Nazi” to emphasize the depth of police brutality—police seemed to target only a certain race of people (African Americans) and white-privilege kept them concentrated in areas in which they were to be constantly monitored and harassed (in ghettos). He says “flying Nazi” to explain the watchful discrimination that the police impose upon ghetto communities from a noisy helicopter.

Like Tupac, Ice-Cube brazenly states:

“‘So fly like an eagle.’
But don’t follow us wherever we go
The shit that I’m saying, make sure it’s heard
Motherfuck you and your punk-ass ghetto bird

Ice-Cube expresses the request of the ghetto youth toward the police: Stop following (us) like we’re always doing something wrong. Coupled with a later set of lyrics, Ice Cube further emphasizes the frustration he has with police monitoring him as if he’s a criminal due to the color of his skin and his location.

“Now, my homey’s here to lick on a trick for a Rolex
And let me try the fo’ next
Now the fo’ I was driving was hotter than July
Looked up and didn’t see a ribbon in the sky
Saw a chopper with numbers on the bottom
‘Calling all cars, I think we’ve got em.’”

Here, Ice-Cube shows the scenario in which his friend in a richer neighborhood allowed him to borrow his car for fun, in which police saw him and attempt to arrest him for driving something so nice. With such heavy prejudice and discrimination, it is obvious that Ice-Cube was aiming to provide realistic scenarios in ghetto communities that illustrated the reasons for African-American irritation/attitude toward police. Unlike NWA, he does not just create an “us versus them” argument, but rather an explanation for the rage and anger that minorities have in similar situations.

Lastly, what I found the most interesting about Ice-Cube’s choice to illustrate the life of urban communities, is that this specific song almost mimics that of Tupac’s incident with shooting cops in Atlanta, GA. The helicopter that constantly ruins people’s nights in Ice-Cube’s neighborhood exists because the cops are expecting trouble and are outright searching for it to happen. The drunk cops created that type of trouble, and they chose to take it out on a ghetto neighborhood and on a minority, most likely due to the premonition that the person and location were quite insignificant in comparison to the power they held. Ghetto Bird provides a concise explanation for the anger and annoyance that minority groups have in regard to police activity; it artfully and effectively shows the way police abuse their rank and power, using it to outright oppress and harass ghetto communities and play on the stereotypes of the people who live there.

tupac yuh


Pough D. Gwendolyn, “Seeds and Legacies: Tapping the Potential of Hip-Hop”

Stanford, Karin L. “Keepin’ It Real in Hip Hop Politics: A Political Perspective of Tupac Shakur.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 42, no. 1, 2010, pp. 3–22., doi:10.1177/0021934709355122.

Public Enemy – Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)


“Mind over matter, mouth in motion
Can’t defy it cause I’ll never be quiet
Let’s start this right”

This is the refrain of Public Enemy’s song Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man), from their first album Yo! Bum Rush the Show, released in 1987. The general message of the song is that African Americans need to learn about their history, and use their minds and words to protect and better each other. Although the song never mentions race specifically, it is implied by the parenthetical phrase of the song title; Public Enemy is speaking to the community of African Americans who grow up without knowledge or concern about the slavery which brought Africans to the United States. The following lyrics speak to this point:

“Many have forgotten what we came here for
Never knew or had a clue, so you’re on the floor
Just growin not knowin about your past
Now you’re lookin’ pretty stupid while you’re shakin’ your ass”

Here, Chuck D is referencing the people who choose to party and be ignorant to the fact that African people were kidnapped from their home countries and forced into slavery, and because of this history, Blacks in America are oppressed. Public Enemy was a group that falls under the category of what Gwendolyn Pough calls “message rap,” a 1980s movement that focused on “political themes of unity, racial uplift, self-definition, self-determination, and Black diasporas connections…Each of these efforts used rap music as a vehicle to stop Black youth from killing one another and brought together a variety of rappers to get that point across” (285-286). This kind of message is reflected in the lyrics:

“Another brother with the same woes that you face
But you shot with the same hands, you fall from grace
Every brother should be every brother’s keeper
But you shot with your left while your right was on your beeper”

These lyrics also reference drug use and sale, pointing to the violence that comes out of these practices. Drug dealers were known to carry pagers before cell phones were available, and gun violence is also a huge part of drug and gang life. Public Enemy wants Blacks in America to wake up, realize that they are destroying their own race by contributing to the negativity, and educate themselves on their history so that they can understand and want to support each other rather than breaking each other down.

Source: Pough, G.D. Seeds and Legacies: Tapping the Potential in Hip-Hop. In M. Forman, & M.A. Neal (Eds.), That’s the Joint! The Hip-Hop Studies Reader (pp. 283-289). New York: Routledge.

The Beastie Boys: Subverting African American Hip Hop Culture Through White Punk Roots

The Beastie Boys, a New York hip hop group started in the 1980s under the name The Young Aborigines, were actually a punk band. Of the three members many know the Beastie Boys to be today, Michael “Mike D” Diamond is the only one who was an original Young Aborigine. The other two, Adam “MCA” Yauch, and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, were brought on later and the Beastie Boys as we know them were formed. Having started out as a punk band of white, middle class teenagers being influenced by others on the scene such as Bad Brains, and moving into hip hop where they became internationally known, the Beastie Boys appropriated aspects of both cultures and bridged the gap between punk and hip hop with their uses of sampling, humor, and teenage angst. Because of their background in punk, and their combining of musical genres, the Beasties changed hip hop to become a genre that reached a wider audience and expanded the culture.

beasties collage

The band is discussed in the book American Hardcore: A Tribal History by Steven Blush, images of which are included above, because of their start in the punk/hardcore scene. The introductory blurb (top center) reads, “the original brat pack was a second-rate hardcore group no one took seriously. Only later — applying [Hard Core] attitude to Hip Hop — did they make a splash” (Blush, 183). After the addition of Ad-Rock to the group, coming from a different punk band called The Young and Useless (who were apparently truly useless, according to an interviewee, left image) the Beasties recorded a punk EP, Polly Wog Stew in 1982 on Rat Cage records (full EP audio posted below). While Polly Wog Stew was not well-received, they tried again to make a second record, Cooky Puss (bottom video), which, according to Blush was “the first White attempt at Uptown Hip Hop” (184). On this 12″ tape, they recorded a prank call to an ice cream shop and used that on top of some simple beats and record scratches  to make a new track. Using similar techniques to those that created the beginnings of hip hop, taking  drum breakdowns, later called “breaks,” of rock songs and putting them on repeating loops, the Beasties were now appropriating a completely different culture from punk — but were the two really so different?

Interestingly enough, considering that punk started out as a mostly white-dominated genre of music, one of the Beasties’ main influences was a black punk group, Bad Brains (which is actually who they chose their initials, B.B., after, left image). MCA eventually made a demo tape called Brooklyn with his idol, Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains, but that project did not go any further, as the Beasties were already famous for making hip hop by that time (top right image). So, back to hip hop.

Hip hop and punk, as I will show, are not so different in their basic attitudes. In an interview for the HBO series Sonic Highways, season 1, episode 8, Mike D tells the audience, “We were punk rock kids, and the second we heard hip hop — ‘that’s for us!'[…]punk rock had Doc Martens, spiky hair. Hip hop had sneakers and sheepskin coats. Different uniform, but the attitude was exactly the same” (00:29:33-00:30:06). The only big difference was that hip hop was dominated by African Americans in lower socioeconomic areas of New York, who had figured out how to loop the breaks on vinyl records and were doing the spoken verses that became rapping. The Beasties, as a group of white boys, were, with the exception of MCA, “complete spoiled bastards…effete little shits — a very snotty, elitist bunch,” according to artist Sean Taggart, who made flyers for the punk scene at the time (left image), and the boys were definitely not impoverished, but they were funny. Once they learned to create the beats, which they often did by cutting physical tapes and recreating them as loops over which to add other (punk) elements, they had the foundations of creating hip hop music.

Much of the early hip hop, like punk, dealt with the personal and social struggles of those making the music. Iain Ellis, in his book Rebels Wit Attitude: Subversive Rock Humorists, discusses the use of dark humor by rap artists in an effort to make serious, often political points relating to the hardships and social disadvantages of growing up as African Americans in post-Civil Rights America. In addition to these political rap groups, others used juxtaposition of humor alongside their serious lyrics, and:

“The resulting incongruity humor offers an engaging comic relief in tandem with the subversive main content […] The pervasive locker room humor of gangsta and dirty rap served to perpetuate the half-truth that rap music was the sole preserve and representative voice of young, urban, black, male America. However, the full truth was that rap had included female voices since its early years […] and, though rare, white acts, too, joined the rap game during the 1980s” (Ellis 194-5).

These styles of lyrics having heavy political messages were unique to the African American experience in the US, and shaped the belief that hip hop was only for, and could only be produced by, African Americans. But punk too was a movement created out of anger and the Beastie Boys, being the first white hip hop band, began to appropriate the culture and put their own punk, angsty spin on it.

When the Beastie Boys came on the scene, they were introduced to Rick Rubin, a white NYU punk who had equipment to produce music in his dorm room, and out of that, the Beasties’ first album, Licensed to Ill, a hip hop album, was born in 1986. Rubin had partnered with Russell Simmons to co-found Def Jam Recordings in 1984, and on their label, the Beastie Boys’ album was the first hip hop LP to take the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200, quite a feat for some white kids appropriating music (billboard.com). Why was their music so immediately popular?

Ellis argues that “Their long-standing credibility within this largely black genre has been subversive in itself, suggesting that space is available for any artist with the requisite quotients of hip and humor” (196). It was this humor and creative wit that made their music so widely relatable and fun for an American, and even global, audience. They played with lyrics about being a kid living at home, rebelling against their parents by wearing long hair, smoking cigarettes, and owning pornographic magazines, while being sharp enough to break into the mainstream. “This capacity to bridge the hip and the wholesome via humor has been a marker of the band’s subversive strategies throughout their career” (Ellis 202). Not to mention, they poked fun at the machismo and seriousness of the political and gangster rappers, making them even more marketable to a wide audience.

The Beastie Boys were a group of affluent white kids from New York City who found their niche in making hip hop music, but not without elements of their original genre of punk. They discovered hip hop in the context of an emerging culture with space to expand, and combined the hardcore sounds of punk with the satire and beat-making of hip hop to create something new and popular in the mainstream. By appropriating a classically African American style of music, they subverted a culture and mixed it with another to create a new era and style of hip hop, one that still holds up today. The topic of sampling was considered to be given more weight in the discussion of the Beastie Boys’ rise to fame, but that brings up questions of their Jewish religious identities as well as their race, as there is much to be said about the tradition of sampling in Jewish history. However, taking the lenses of race and class fit better when discussing hip hop versus punk, and the punk identity of the Beastie Boys seemed to contribute more to the style of their music than their Jewishness. For more discussion on sampling and Jewish tradition, one may refer to the article by Jon Stratton which is listed in the bibliography of this essay.


Works Cited

Primary artifact: Blush, Steven. American Hardcore: A Tribal History. Feral House, 2001. pp. 183-185. Images digitally scanned, cut and pasted together in collage format by Arielle Gerrish, 12 March 2018.

Caulfield, Keith. “Beastie Boys Blazed Billboard Chart History.” Billboard, https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/489107/beastie-boys-blazed-billboard-chart-history. 12 March 2018.

Ellis, Iain. Rebels Wit Attitude: Subversive Rock Humorists. Soft Skull Press, 2008. pp. 195-203. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/sdsu/reader.action?docID=478547&ppg=178#, 12 March 2018.

“Beastie Boys – Pollywog Stew EP (1982).” Youtube, uploaded by NewWorldPictures, 24 April 2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lu5VkypHzoI.

“Beastie Boys – Cooky Puss EP (1983).” Youtube, uploaded by In Between, 9 June 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp7Fu-ng83E&feature=youtu.be.

Stratton, Jon. “Sampling and Jewishness: A Short History of Jewish Sampling and its Relationship with Hip-Hop.” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, vol. 34, no. 3, 2016, http://muse.jhu.edu.libproxy.sdsu.edu/article/627196. Accessed 12 March 2018.

Deconstructing the “instagram baddie”

Photos, from left: a Nuba woman wearing traditional cornrow hairstyle; a photo from social media, origin unknown. Both sourced from a Google search.

According to Root, appropriation is part of commodifying aspects of a culture for an economic gain. It is “not only the taking up of something and making it one’s own but also the ability to do so” (Root, 70). People in places of higher power over the culture they are appropriating can do so because of this so-called power, and do so without the permission of those people or the necessary education to spread the proper message of whatever it is they are commodifying.

I attended a forum put on by the Student African American Sisterhood (SAAS) at SDSU, called Bad to the Bone: Deconstructing the “insta baddie” Image, last semester, where I learned a lot about the appropriation of black culture by people on instagram and other forms of social media (flyer for the event posted below). In the two-hour discussion, we heard about how “traditional” standards of beauty come from Western, European, white culture, and how African characteristics have not been considered beautiful throughout the history of Western culture. The main argument of the people who put on this event was that white people in America tend to exercise their privilege and use aspects of African culture to their advantage without knowing the reasons for their existence in that culture.

Throughout history in America, white people have shamed people of African descent for the way that they look, the way their bodies and hair are different, and have deemed those characteristics “undesirable.” This is deeply-rooted in our society, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. Over time, it has become common for people who do not identify as black to appropriate aspects of that culture, such as braiding hair in cornrows, which is traditionally done in African culture to protect the hair; and on various forms of social media, we can see women wanting to look more like black women by accentuating lips, showing off full figures and creating this “baddie” look that is now deemed desirable. People of any race often use these platforms to sell products, such as “flat tummy tea,” or various hair and skin products to achieve such looks.

In my personal experience, I have worried about appropriating culture through my participation in hip hop dancing, but hip hop is interesting because as a culture it was intended to be inclusive. As part of my training, I was always educated on the history of different styles and elements of hip hop, so that is a key point in avoiding appropriation. For one performance, I asked one of my teammate’s mothers, who is African American, to cornrow my hair into a mohawk. This was before I knew anything about why cornrows are traditionally used, but she was happy to do it and accepted my wanting to have the hairstyle.  In this particular situation, in the context of the hip hop community, about which I know the history of the culture, I feel it is more acceptable to borrow aspects of that culture.


Reading: Root, Deborah. Cannibal Culture, Chapter 3, “Conquest, Appropriation, and Cultural Difference.”