ATR 65 – White People and Hip Hop – 03/26/2007

Carmen hosts a roundtable discussion on white people and hip hop with Jason Tanz and Harry Allen. Jason is the author of Other People’s Property: A Shadow History of Hip-Hop in White America. He is senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times, Fortune, Spin, and Time Out New York. Harry Allen is host and producer of Non-Fiction on WBAI. He has been writing about hip hop for 20 years as a journalist and he is a long-time associate of legendary hip hop group Public Enemy.

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10 thoughts on “ATR 65 – White People and Hip Hop – 03/26/2007”

  1. Great, great episode. I’m going to listen again and put together some voicemail comments. If you’re just reading to see what people are saying, go ahead and listen already.

  2. “Just don’t give a fuck” and “the escape of the day.” You guys put the nail on the head!!!

    The United States has a history that is sometimes a long fantasmagoric (spelling?) nightmarish landscape if you really look at it from the outside. The majority of whites in America have not gotten real still, and when someone comes along and brings it it’s a very big deal indeed. I’ll extend that to Blacks, Asians, Latinos, etc., also. We all have to play on this stages and lose a piece of ourselves in the process. You are right, white supremacy along with any false racial system is a giant fantasy and cannot survive with the truth.

    And Eminem’s movie: It was psychologically and emotionally moving in white audiences because there is a long history of white psyches penetrating black cultural mores. It’s been happening for 500 years and it’ll probably take another 500 years to dissapate. So we all keep playing these pathological circular games instead of looking at the core of the issue.

    As far as Latinos in hip hop, I’m sure that at least 75% of the b-boys and such were Latinos of African descent. That’s why we have some capoiera-inspired break dance moves, timbales, claves, and other latin instrumentation in the beats. Also there was the tradition of swing dance like the charleston, black bottom, lindy hop. Any body remember that New Jack Swing hip hop? Well there you go. It’s a mixture of many things, but it’s overwhelming an African expression!

    One of the gentlemen mention how there is this phenomenom of whites co-opting all Black artforms as well as other people of colors, as if everything they create in America is ultimately left to the imperialistic whims of the majority. Dang.

  3. Many people are uncomfortable to have a discussion purely on race, but having a discussion around a pop music topic can help bring in more listeners. I hope others will send this episode to their friends too.

  4. The complaints from Christian groups over a six foot chocolate Jesus, reported in the media, seem to focus on the fact that the “My Sweet Lord” statue is anatomically correct. Is this really the main beef, or is it the fact that he is black?

  5. Harry Allen’s response to Carmen’s comment on how participants in ghetto fabulous parties rationalize their behavior was golden. She said that the students say they are not mocking black people, but the images they see in mainstream hip-hop. To this Allen said that he would then ask: “If you were mocking black people, what would you do differently?” Love it! :D

  6. I’ve been trying to catch up on some missed episodes and this was certainly a good one. While the conversation was interesting and some good points were made, I feel there was a lot left out. Specifically, I’m speaking about the huge demographic of Americans of all races who don’t really care any more about hip hop than they do about rock and roll, pop, jazz or the blues. The two panelists struck me as slightly elitist in the sense that they have a vested interest in promoting the importance of the media in question as they are in the business of writing about it. For many of us regular people who are just trying to pursue our own goals and support our families, the issue of music in general and white people in hip hop in particular is really not that important. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there isn’t value there if you can find it but I am often left wondering–when did media and art become more important than the life it imitates, represents or satirizes? I find the whole topic of Hip Hop to be extremely ironic. While it did come out of urban, pop culture three decades ago as something of a rebellion against the status quo, it has now become the mainstream, the very thing that, at its roots, it professed to be against. Everything Hip Hop is considered “cool” and everything not Hip Hop is considered “old school,” lame and “also-ran.” I long for the day when we can appreciate art for art’s sake and we don’t have to analyze it down to the bitter-sweet bones of its skeletal platform. Being young and angry has always been popular throughout history and can be readily identified in American music from Jazz to Rock to Hip Hop. I’m not a hater and I’m not knocking Hip Hop because I believe it can be very positive and if you love it, you should run with it. I am saddened only by it’s perceived importance in a world full of much more serious problems with race, respect, communication and economics.
    I have enjoyed various Hip Hop artists over the years, but I am amazed that Eminem is so popular. He may well be the worst performer I have ever witnessed in my life, Hip Hop or otherwise. He looks and sounds like an angry clown with a thirst for revenge and a Texas-sized chip on his shoulder. I am confused as to whether I should revile him, pity him or just ignore him. I don’t find any of his work to be very creative, but what do I know? I’m no music critic!
    I also noticed that nothing was said about all of the negative stereotypes perpetuated in many (not all) Hip Hop music videos and lyrics that seem to embrace form over function, slickness over substance. material wealth over respect and the objectification of women. It should be stressed here that this is hardly an issue exclusive to Hip Hop; rather it is ugly force that seems to raise its powerful fist in all forms of popular media. I pity the children who lack parental guidance and are exposed to popular media on a daily basis with no supervision.

    Daniel

  7. I haven’t actually listened to the episode yet, but had to comment first as I think the question of race and cultural “ownership” is a fascinating issue that does not get examined enough.

    In college in the US, I got heckled by ABCs – who only spoke English themselvse – for being a Caucasian studying Mandarin. I emigrated to China, and when I visit the US now, Chinese-Americans give me death glares when I wear a Qipao, or comments like, “You must know more about my culture than I do!” I resist answering that, no, actually, I don’t know much about California yuppie culture, but perhaps they could educate me about it?

    Culture is not inherited, and it is not something dry and stagnant and possessible, you cannot place it decoratively on your mantleplace and forget about it. Culture is a living, breathing, fluid, ubiquitous, interactive and constantly evolving beast. You cannot own it; if anything, it owns you. Like food, you make it, consume it, then it makes you; sometimes you make what you don’t consume, or consume what you don’t make.

    Your culture is where you live, what language(s) you use to interact and who you interact with, your profession, your hobbies and interests and tastes, what you eat and drink, your aspirations. The culture of a city or country or demographic group is the accumulation and average of those individual nuances. But what is commonly considered “culture” is rather a reductionist stereotype of actual cultures and histories.

    I’ve had several Chinese musicians tell me that China will never make good rock music because it’s a Western genre. I think that’s bull. What’s interesting is the current emergence of hip-hop culture in China, translated via Japan and Korea. It’s more about fashion than music at this point, and most Chinese kids who are into it are only vaguely aware of its Black American origins. And then it’s only a matter of time before some Chinese hip-hop artist decides to perform in blackface.

  8. Sorry for the double-post and my verbosity, but having listened to the episode had to weigh in more.

    Taking the point made that hip-hop is not just an art form but rather the whole subculture of black resistance to white supremacy in America: throughout the history of art and music, as well as society, science, technology, politics, what have you, almost all major shifts have evolved out of a protest genre from a marginalized group, however they be defined. Revolutions are rare; what happens more often is that, after an initial resistance by the mainstream, the niche ghetto culture is absorbed by the mainstream, and the mainstream shifts a bit towards the ghetto. So, in this case: thesis, 1, American white supremacy; antithesis, 2, black resistance to it. If the resulting synthesis from white-mainstream absorption of the black resistance ghetto shifts the mainstream even just a little to a 1.1 or a 1.01, it still marks an improvement for larger society.

    Artistically, it’s normal for the creators of a niche art genre to want to hold onto it, and individually that’s what copyrights are for, but *generally* (emphasis therein, please prove me wrong) genres born in the ghetto that stay in the ghetto mostly whither and die in the ghetto.

    When listening to some of the arguments on this show, I find myself mentally introducing and comparing, along with race, contexts of sex, sexual orientation, and class. It is intellectually dishonest to consider them separately. I personally am ignorant of and indifferent to hip-hop, but as far as I know it is an African-American, lower class, heterosexual and male genre. Hey, Eminem is a lower-class, hetero man – three of four. If there was (is there?) an upper-class black lesbian hip-hopper, would she be embraced, or criticized for infringing upon an art form that is not “hers”?

    I completely concur that there is a lot of white (etc) fetishization of black (etc) culture, and that it is the flip side of demonization: both are dehumanizing and reductionist. Personally: I consider the “You live in China? I love chow mein! And ‘Hero’! And Buddhism! Nee how!” only slightly better than the “Those damn Chinese are stealing all our jobs!” But is the only option indifference? Some Caucasians are genuinely interested in and engaged with genres and sub/cultures and communities that we were not racially born into. My point is not that I or we deserve a sticker or a cookie for it; just ‘not being an idiot while white’ can be a delicate navigation.

  9. Hi HIPHOPHARRY I am WORDERING if i can come to your place i watch your shows a lot i even know one OF YOUR show called its called words have power.

  10. As someone who’s been a part of hip hop media for nearly 20 years, it was refreshing to hear a pair of gentlemen talk openly about how hip-hop has continued to galvanize race relations on various levels. What struck me was the comment by Harry Allen about us getting hit in the Towers and people asking why do they hate us. He’s right.

    Until this country quits being ‘addicted to race’ to the point where everyone gets their fair share – including a piece of the Presidency, everyone outside of the country will continue to harbor those feelings. We as a country really just don’t get it when it comes to race in 2007. We’ve made some strides, but we are FAR from anywhere near being able to show the world that we have overcome our addiction.

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