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As you can tell, we are 1980s kids, whose worlds were influenced significantly by Hip Hop culture that emerged in places like NYC and L.A. This counter-culture was gritty, and it made visible the racial and economic inequities that African Americans, particularly in urban areas, were facing.
What was fascinating about this culture of Hip Hop, was that black people all over the country–from urban to rural, from Baltimore to some place in the M-I-crooked letter– were all able to identify with the political unrest felt by the youth of this era.
We were the children and grandchildren of those who had gone through and survived Jim Crow and Civil Rights, and we were facing our own issues with racism and poverty in America. We saw black kids get beat down by cops in VA Beach as referenced in Public Enemy’s “Welcome to the Terrordome,” and being targeted by aggressive police in Los Angeles and New York. Hip Hop chronicled stories like these.
As Nana Poussaint says in Daughters of the Dust, “We are the children if those who chose to survive.”
But, what did it mean to survive? The 80s were rough and tough like leather: we saw a disproportionate increase in black men being incarcerated, President Ronald Reagan successfully convinced America that black women were “Cadillac Welfare Queens,” while his Trickle Down theory widened the gap between rich and poor.
Hip Hop grew out of a need for young African Americans to be heard, much like its black nationalist predecessors, the Black Panther Party and the Black Power Movement. Though no one in the 80s claimed a post-racial America, as we so unfortunately claim today, we did declare ourselves to be a country that embraced all cultures. America in the 80s was being considered a multicultural country–a melting pot, if you will–where all cultures and ethnicities abandoned their identity and became “American” (read: white). This new conversation on a multicultural America was the quiet before the current storm of post-racial discourse.
In so many ways, rap music became the conscience of a generation–a generation who some believed that, because we escaped Bull Connor’s vicious dogs and water hoses, George Wallace’s threat of “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever,” or the stick that came down upon John Lewis’s head on Bloody Sunday, that we also somehow escaped the racist practices of an (in)justice system. Rap music was the pulse of our communities and it reminded the rest of the world that inequality and injustice did not die with Dr. King in 1968.
Grandmaster Flash, in “The Message,” reminds us that in his community, black children are growing up “in the ghetto, living second rate. And [their] eyes will sing a song of deep hate.” He continues, in this song, to tell the narrative of a young black boy who is stuck in a cycle that includes dropping out of high school, turning into a “stick up” kid that goes to jail and ends up dying there. This kid, who could have been from any city, any rural town in America, hung himself in a jail cell. In his lyrics, Grandmaster Flash describes the boy’s body swinging from a jail cell and how the boy’s eyes tell the story of poverty, lack of education, violence, junkies and pushers, and other aspects of ghetto life. His body, hanging from a jail cell, and his telling eyes are reminiscent of that strange fruit with bulging eyes hanging from poplar trees that Billie Holliday so painfully sung about.
This is the era that inspired the politics of 2 Dope Sistahs and shaped our way of looking at the world. It is through this lens that we analyze the social and political circumstances of African Americans in this country, and through this lens that we were able to apply the academic scholarship we read as graduate students in English and History to our own research. This 80s culture also influences the ways in which we approach teaching in the classroom, so that we can inspire our students to appreciate both Black Liberation and Women’s Liberation movements and all that came before.
We see our blog as an extension of the conversations that we have with each other on a regular basis. We invite our readers to engage us in discussions on race and gender issues and the politics of poverty. Our posts will also explore current pop cultural events/issues, education and our school systems, the books we read, the writing process, and so much more.