Texas Says Hip-Hop Has No Stand in History

They don’t know who we be/

They don’t know who we be/

—DMX, “Who We

Be,” The Great Depression (2001).

“[ O]nly a small

percentage of people … have a genuine concern for Hip-Hop.”

—Chuck D, Fight the Power: Rap, Race, and Reality

It’s been 30 full years since the

cultural force known today as Hip-Hop mushroomed out of the ghettos of South

Bronx and spread over the surface of the earth, but nobody could have claimed, back

then, to foresee the journeys Hip-Hop would take or the magnitude of a legacy

it would build through those journeys. It was simply impossible for a gang of

hopeless, crime-prone Black and Brown

saps to set off a cultural explosion that in little over two decades boasted a

multi-billion dollar empire. It’s easy today to look back and reminisce with

great pleasure (and displeasure), but the founding fathers and mothers of

Hip-Hop had no idea what trail they were blazing would one day make many multi

millionaires or create such intense international dialogue and debate.   

More importantly, they couldn’t foretell,

even through all the struggle and strife that produced this remarkable

phenomenon, that very few would have the courtesy—nay, the human decency—to

acknowledge its place and time in history as a moving mass of artistic genius.

Last Friday, the Texas Board of Education cast its lot amongst those

unconvinced Hip-Hop deserves the light of public recognition.

In a controversial—really whitewashed—draft

of the state’s high school social studies curriculum, Hip-Hop as a significant

cultural contribution failed to meet the mark, as conservatives struck out, on

multiple counts, attempts to add Hip-Hop to the list of noteworthy cultural

creations in American history. “Experts had recommended students study the

impact of cultural movements in art, music and literature, such as Tin Pan

Alley, the Beat Generation, rock and roll, the Chicano Mural Movement, country-western

music and hip-hop,” reported The

Houston Chronicle. “The board’s seven social conservatives, joined by

Geraldine ‘Tincy’ Miller, R-Dallas, considered some of the hip-hop lyrics

offensive and voted to eliminate hip-hop as an option for students to

consider.”

Hip-Hop, however, made

some good friends at the party, as Thomas Jefferson, the word “democratic,”

and references to religious tolerance also fell under the red inks of the

Republican and conservative members on the board whose sense of history stands

somewhere between the pages of McCarthyism and Reaganomics. Texas students, if

this measure is finalized in May, would learn some strange stuff of their

country and world. They would learn that Hispanics hardly count as having any

social relevance in American history—and neither do just about all non-White

people. They would learn that their country is God-given and can do no wrong—and

never has. They would learn that if not for conscionable and courageous

conservatives, Black people might still be hanging half-burnt from trees and

denied suffrage. They would learn that the Black Panther Party was a violent

and fascistic mob with eyes cocked at social destruction. And, of course, they

would learn next to nothing of the global force for political and social

advocacy that is Hip-Hop. In short, they would learn White History to an H.  

… Man, this history don’t acknowledge us/

We were scholars long before colleges/

This notion that all Hip-Hop artists

wallow in the wasteland of gutter talk certainly brings to bear baggage of the

past. From the early ‘90s on, political leaders lived high off the curiosity

Hip-Hop aroused in society. From congressional hearings to TV panels to newspaper

columns, the fix was in—Hip-Hop dominated the national dialogue. Everyone had a

say and couldn’t remain tight-lipped long enough to ponder its accuracy. What

is Hip-Hop? When was Hip-Hop conceived? Why is Hip-Hop relevant? Why do White

kids love Hip-Hop so much? Very few could answer; but far more wanted to—and

did—weigh in.

Commentators and critics divvied up

Hip-Hop into categories—“Gangsta,” “Commercial,” “Mainstream,” “Underground,”

“Good,” “Bad.” But the scale showed it bias—public figures shamed “Gangsta” and

“Commercial” Hip-Hop for exploiting social maladies and repackaging trauma and

glamorizing violence and fetishizing fatalism. Black activists invited TV

cameras to special sessions where stock of Hip-Hop CDs cracked under their trampling

boots and the crushing tires of farm tractors. Still, very few voices of

conscience made headway as the debates ratcheted.

And though even fewer flew to the

defense of this great contribution to society—contribution without which a

whole generation might have lacked meaning—the full swath and broad bath of

Hip-Hop still remains unknown to most, especially those quick to mouth off

about how bad and despicable and vile and endangering Rap lyrics are. And the

reason why lacks no mystery—for a generation raised on the terror of

Reagonomics and brought to life in an age where their humanities had dollar

signs written all over, the pent-up rage that found refuge through the mic

didn’t do well to please authority figures.

And for all the attacks lobbed at

Hip-Hop through time, most evident has been the belief that Hip-Hop artists

have no leg to stand on in attacking society for the problems they believe it created for those they represent—those torn apart by

racism and classism. You lack the

credentials, society is quick to fire back. Your concerns are as valuable as a toad’s croak. But Hip-Hop

artists have remained effervescent in demanding dignity from this society,

refusing to let the bellicose barrage take hold and stomp out their message or

mission. Through all the storms and static, they still find this their

responsibility—to hold the feet of the rich and powerful to the fire, and to speak

loud for the oppressed and underserved.   

Perhaps this very fact—that Hip-Hop at

its best lifts the voices of the unloved and rejected, of the displaced and dispossessed—is

what makes the culture so threatening and so scrutiny-served, and this is what

must be kept from the hearts of schoolchildren even as they listen to Hip-Hop

artists, some of whom, it should be admitted, stray far away from any forms of advocacy

for the meek and muted, the weak and wasted—the

wretched of the earth, to invoke Franz Fanon.

Grace Wiggins, executive director of United Sisters, an E-mentoring program

focused on females ages 14-18, says she “can understand the disdain for the

music,” as modern forms of Hip-Hop have largely failed to “demonstrate the

qualities it once had—so I think we have the leaders in Hip-Hop to thank for taking

away the significance of Hip-Hop and not having it taught as a part of history.”

Hip-Hop since its inception, Wiggins contends, has morphed from an ant-sized

social service agent to a “giant hungry only for the top of the charts and

skilled in leading our children into believing that there are no consequences

for our actions—only rewards.”

Wiggins also manages a listenership

campaign, Listen 2the

Lyrics, through which United Sisters hosts “After School Listening Sessions”

to empower young female Hip-Hop fans in putting what they hear in critical

perspectives. She says the Texas ruling only pumps up the volume why

initiatives like Listen 2the Lyrics matter: “This decision only further makes

our project relevant to our community and society, as Hip-Hop is no longer just

influencing minds in the city—it has made it across seas and has become

multicultural and a language that the youth listen to and understand.”

Prolific author and scholar Tricia Rose, PhD, insists the decision “represents

a specific attack on Hip-Hop, one that has been going on since its inception,”

but also “reflects a general ignorance about, marginalization of, and hostile

disregard for, the contributions of African-Americans—intellectual, political,

social and culture—to the United States.”

And such undervaluing, Rose warns, “is a

terrible mis-education of our youth about the complex ways that new cultural

expressions come into being.” Hip-Hop’s reach extends beyond beats and rhymes,

she adds. It has “empowered and inspired people around the world for over 30

years. To rob young U.S. citizens of their knowledge about this art form is an

educational disservice and a sign that there is still a whole lot of work to be

done when it comes to educating people about African-American culture.”

Rose, whose acclaimed work on Hip-Hop

culture and music includes books like Black

Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America and The

Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop—and Why It Matters,

can bear witness to “disregard, disinterest and evasion” of Hip-Hop within the

academy. Hip-Hop theory often takes flesh in forms of “fun scholarship,” many

detractors scowl. But at stake is the “general incapacity to properly

understand, interpret and appreciate the creative and intellectual

contributions” Black people have produced on these shores. “Let’s not forget,”

Rose reminds, “that Jazz, Blues and other musical forms continue to remain

marginal in music departments and in school curriculums generally.”

“Even more importantly,” she says, “all

black cultural forms suffer from misunderstanding because the larger cultural

contexts out of which they come are not studied and thus we create uneducated

cultural consumers.” If students learned early on the value and virtue of

Hip-Hop, and understood the responsibility to consume critically, it would set

their feet firmly forever because, as Rose point out, “I find that once you

know something, you can’t un-know it.”

But perhaps the Texas Board of Education

has a few lessons to teach the Hip-Hop community, amongst which must be that an

uneducated mind is a terrible thing to flaunt.

Tolu

Olorunda is a cultural critic whose work regularly appears on AllHipHop.com, TheDailyVoice.com and other online journals. He can can be reached at:

Tolu.Olorunda@gmail.com.

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