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...
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