Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Double Consciousness

            In my African American literature class we had a discussion about W. E. B. Du Bois and his influence within the African American community and I would like to share some of these points. W. E. B. Dubois was one of the most renowned intellectual figures in the history of the American society. He was considered the “Renaissance man of African American letters during the first fifty years of the twentieth century. He was the most multifaceted, prolific, and influential writer that black America has every produced, with one of the widest-ranging intellects of any of his American contemporaries” (Gates Jr, and McKay 686). Disturbed by the fundamental problems of race and justice in the United States, specifically “the incidence of white violence against blacks in the South and the chafing against the restraints of segregation, (Gates Jr, and McKay 687),” Du Bois became an advocate and oracle of his people. Du Bois is noted for his book, The Souls of Black Folk, One of the central themes stressed by Du Bois in this book is the idea of double consciousness.

            According to Du Bois, the paradox of African-American identity is this idea of double-consciousness. Du Bois describes double-consciousness as the “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity” (Gates Jr. and McKay 694). African-Americans in this time period were wrestling with their identity. They were grappling with their personal views of themselves and the American society’s views about African-Americans. For a very long time, African-Americans had defined themselves by what the American society defined them to be. Whereas the white American was considered American, they, being black, were considered a separate entity from the American. As a result, they continually struggled with these two distinct identities: “Negro” and “American,” identities which possessed their own consciousness. Du Bois points out that in the African-American’s search for self-consciousness, he constantly strives to amalgamate these two identities. He (the African-American) is coming to the realization that he is not just a Negro; neither is he just an American, rather he is both an American and a Negro, and thus these two identities cannot be separated. Regarding this identity-struggle, Du Bois states, “The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain  self-conscious manhood, to merge this double self into a better and truer self” (Gates Jr. and McKay 694).

1) In your opinion is this idea of double consciousness still in effect today. (2) Based on the documentary we watched, would you say that the struggle between two identities could explain how the African American male is portrayed in Hip Hop?

Citation: Gates Jr., Henry L., and Nellie Y. McKay. The Norton Anthology of African American
            Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2004. Print

Response to the Hip Hop Documentary

I truly enjoyed the hip-hop documentary from class and how it delved into the topics of women, violence, and manliness. The film described how these topics are deeply related, and it suggested that the violent lyrics of hip hop had a deep impact on the minds of those who listened to it.  Throughout the film, Byron Hurt explains what he believes to be the idea of manliness in rap music, and he illustrates his point with many examples. The most effective of these examples, in my opinion, were his interviews with those at the rap convention. In one memorable example, there was a rap battle between two African American men, and their lyrics were fairly similar in that they were either going to punch or shoot their opponent. It was clear that Hurt was suggesting that music videos and the like were influencing the black community, that it made them want to look “hard”. The violence present in hip hop lyrics is obvious, and to make a documentary on seems to be beating a dead horse. This thought led to a question that kept popping up in my mind was: How is this any different than the womanizing and violence shown in Hollywood movies, and why don’t parents simply keep their children away from these supposedly despicable forms of art?
                When thinking of Hollywood action stars many people come to mind, but I think most people would agree that Arnold Schwarzenegger would come to most people’s mind. A quick Google search simply using his name comes up with a DVD cover from his movie Conan the Barbarian, which depicts him sitting on a throne with a sword in one hand a woman at his feet. Throughout the film he slays numerous adversaries and women, though the women in a different sense. The reason behind me bringing up this movie is the fact that you know exactly what you are getting yourself into by viewing this film, and this is the same case in the majority of popular rap today. I realize the influence that rap music has on people wanting to be hard is certainly present, but how is it less influential than any other medium of violence? I think that if parents do not want their children to be exposed to violence, then they should keep a closer eye on them. Their efforts to shield these impressionable people away from these supposedly despicable forms of art will allow the rest of us to view them at our leisure.

Nicki Minaj: The Blueprint for female rappers.

As we’ve learned Hip Hop is a very aggressive masculine industry. Where women are represented in one of two ways. Hypersexualized or masculine and anti-sexual. You can count the number of female rap artists on your hand. So with that said, I don’t think it can be disputed that the most popular female rapper in this moment is Nicki Minaj.  I don’t think anyone will oppose me using her as a model for what a successful female rap artist is. Notice I said successful and not ideal. Nicki Minaj has capitalized off of her success and parlayed it into makeup, perfume, and television deals. So what is it that makes Nicki Minaj so successful?
Nicki Minaj’s name represents the first component of what is necessary to make a successful female rapper—sex appeal. Minaj a play on her real last name Maraj and also an ode to America’s favorite French phrase “,ménage á trois.”  Nicki Minaj used her sex appeal to garner attention also representing the fantasy of female homosexuality to appeal to a larger fanbase. Nicki Minaj’s image is more than behavior her appearance plays a big factor into her success as well. Nicki Minaj represents main stream hip hop’s ideal image for a woman. The hottentot venus in her more modern form: beautiful, shapely, and light-skinned. Her light skin making her more marketable and relatable cross culturally (but I may be stretching here).

Somehow, Nicki Minaj’s music is also what makes her successful, she somehow seamlessly navigates through the harder edges mainstream black hip hop and the electric hip pop that is becoming more and more popular. Nicki Minaj raps with different convictions, flows and accents creating different personas that no one seems to question. Take, for instance, two of her current singles—Beez in the Trap and Va Va Voom—two singles you would never think to catch on the same radio station let alone the same album. One song talks about drug dealing using rather masculine braggadocio and misogynistic lyrics (women can be misogynistic too) and the other an upbeat electronic ditty about boys or something or other with a sing song chorus that seams made for Disney Channel.

Now that we all know a bit more about Hip Hop how does she navigate the pop base and the hip hop base so well? What do you think makes Nicki Minaj arguably the most successful female rapper? 

Response to Rosa Parks Article

I agree with this article in its entirety. Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and other movers and shakers of the Civil Rights Movement have been canonized and included in a watered down national narrative of the struggles of African Americans in the United States. We recognize Rosa Parks for her heroic stand against racial segregation in public places. We recognize Martin Luther King for his eloquent speeches and marches that kept morale for the achievement of civil rights exceptionally high. We recognize the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam for their promotion of militancy and black nationalism. Nonetheless, all the people that contributed to the fight for equality contributed so much more than the box American likes to place them in. We have to move past Rosa Parks sitting in her seat, she got up a long time ago. Human Rights icons and activists can be acknowledged for so much more than what we choose to recognize them for. Rosa Parks was not an old, tired woman that was too fatigued to rise from her seat because of a long day of work. She was a feisty, strong, social justice leader who dedicated many years of her life to the Civil Rights Movement. Unfortunately, we never get to hear this narrative. The educational system tends to keep lessons taught on the Civil Rights Movement short, sweet, and to the point. Regrettably, the struggle for Civil Rights cannot be kept short, and in doing so you create a false idea of what the Civil Rights Movement actually was. It is a major part of American History and we should work towards embracing it in its entirety, whether good or bad.

Recent historians, editors, and journalist  interested in the study of the modern-day Civil Rights Movement have started to speak out more on the fraudulent national narrative of the movement American Society has deemed to be acceptable. Years after the end of the movement, we have obtained so much more knowledge concerning its frontrunners and their hard work; therefore it makes little since to continue to preach the same ole’ tunes.  Do you feel as though America has placed the Civil Rights Movements and its prominent leaders during that time in a box? Is it even necessary to try to re-write the narrative of a movement that existed in the past? How can we climb out of its constraints? 

Wells and McWhorter

McWhorter’s article, “Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America” was very interesting and provided a different perspective than many of the other authors we have read in this class or during my time at Rhodes.  His very conservative critique as a well-educated and well-read African American man was, quite frankly, unexpected. His discussion of the cult of victimology was an intriguing read and something that many of my professors, my fellow students, and half of my brain wanted to or would disagree with.  While I was rereading the article to prepare for this post, a curious thought crossed my mind. In many ways, McWhorter and his article are similar to Ida B. Wells and her pamphlets and anti-lynching campaign.
While comparing these two authors directly would be difficult because of time and topic difference, their means for accomplishing their respective ends were very similar. Both McWhorter and Wells attempted through lectures and articles to dispel myths about both African American and mainstream American culture. Wells argued and dispelled, with factual and anecdotal evidence, many of the myths surrounding the lynching of African Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In her pamphlets, stereotypes of black and white men and women were examined and usually disproven. In his article, McWhorter uses very similar tactics to discuss the Seven Articles of Faith of the cult of victimology. In each of the sections, he discusses one article of faith – which usually revolved around a stereotype or other promulgated inaccuracy – and attempted to refute it with statistics and anecdotal information.
However, it is unlikely McWhorter will ever be hailed as an African American revolutionary like Ida B. Wells. This is partly due to the fact that McWhorter was only allowed to write this paper because of the Civil Rights foundation that was partially laid by Wells. But, the majority of the reason for McWhorter not being named a hero is likely because of the very tradition he writes about. In fact, it may add more evidence to his claims of the cult of victimology. Exposing and critiquing said cult would not and probably did not, understandably, lead to an embrace from the majority of the African American or well-educated populations.
I just want to be clear; I am not arguing that Wells and McWhorter should be held on the same pedestal. Wells and her work to discourage and erase negative stereotypes were incredible and revolutionary in their own right and deserve to be studied and lauded. Though, McWhorter was also revolutionary/groundbreaking/radical in that he critiques the system most of us believe in. I do not necessarily believe wholeheartedly in his arguments but his examination certainly adds a different perspective to the stream of research surrounding the issues of racial disparities, much like Wells’s African American perspective added a new viewpoint to the white-dominated stream of explanations for lynching in the 1880s to the 1920s.

The Ghetto Cracker


With our recent study of hip-hop culture I found this article to be very compelling. The “ghetto cracker” is a concept that places blame on Southern “crackers” of the post-antebellum period for the violent, substance abusing, and sexist characteristics that influence hip-hop music today. This article argues that when African Americans migrated to inner cities in the north during the Great Migration, they took with them bad habits picked up from “Cracker Communities”. Southern crackers were considered to be brute, ignorant, promiscuous, drunken, partying, selfish, hotheads. Ghetto crackers arguably, pursue a self-destructive lifestyle that completely disregards morality and societal values. These characteristics have been embraced by the hip-hop community, which started in the North, and began to fuel the lyrics that produced an immense amount of popularity in American society.
The African American community has been heavily criticized for its contribution to the hip-hip culture. I argue that White Americans are just as guilty as black people in contributing to the demeaning, money hungry, fervent themes the hip-hop industry has picked up over the years. Even if it’s not entirely due to the “cracker culture” of the Old-South, White America has definitely capitalized on the hip-hip culture. Most of the owners of major hip-hop record companies are White people. They are indirectly responsible for picking what images they want to represent their companies. Rappers are paid to portray images most appealing to consumers and unfortunately those images line up with “cracker” characteristics. While some might call this “selling-out”, all of the blame cannot solely be placed on the African American community for the images they portray in hip-hop culture. At the end of the day this world continues to be driven by money, and regrettably the most violent, degrading lyrics are the ones that sell the most. Nonetheless, hip hop rappers need to move away from only promoting negative images white and black owners, executives, and consumers feed into.
The Hip-Hop industry has always been a major source of criticism and controversy. Many people have spoken out on the negative portrayals of African Americans the industry has generated over the years. Do you think the “Ghetto Cracker” concept is a reasonable explanation for the on growing, damaging images and lyrics associated with Hip-Hop? Are there other prominent factors that play a role in the messages the hip-hop industry promotes? What can be done to help change these notions?

The Relationship of Racism

As I was perusing the Internet this week I came across a very interesting study entitled, “When Whites Avoid Mentioning Race to Avoid Being Seen As Racist They Are Seen As Racist.”  The experiment was set up so that a white individual would be “randomly” paired with either a white person or a black person.  Their partner had a picture of a person hidden from the white person and the white person was supposed to guess who it was by asking yes or no questions.  When their partner was black, the white person was much more hesitant to ask about race of the person in the picture.  However, if the paired partner was the first to ask yes or no questions then the results varied tremendously.  If the partner was willing to ask about the race then that the white person took that to mean race wasn’t a touchy subject to them.  According to the psychologist’s, “Our findings don't suggest that individuals who avoid talking about race are racists.  …On the contrary, most are well-intentioned people who earnestly believe that colourblindness is the culturally sensitive way to interact. But, as we've shown, bending over backward to avoid even mentioning race sometimes creates more interpersonal problems than it solves." The same experiment was conducting using participants that were between the ages of 8 and 11 and the same results were found for the participants between 10 and 11. 
I find racism, in most cases, very difficult to identify.  What does racism mean? Does it me excluding or setting yourself apart from someone because of skin color?  In that case, affirmative action would be a form of racism, which would mean that racism isn’t always bad…but that sounds a little racist doesn’t it? 
As we’ve discussed in class throughout the semester, racism and the overall relationship between blacks and whites today is an awkward examination.  It is something people feel the need to tiptoe around in order to be “politically correct.”  To me the relationship between whites and blacks mirrors a bad break-up.  Girls, you will understand this.  Boys, bear with me.  First there is the beginning stage of the break-up where one party (in this case white people) is in denial.  White people did all they could to see that segregation did not win.  However, like any breakup, it was inevitable.  The next stage is the “I hate you” stage.  Pretty self-explanatory, for the most part, whites were not very fond of blacks.  The stage I think we are in right now is the awkward stage.  Both parties are over the breakup but it’s still awkward.  Slavery, segregation, and everything else that came along with that is in the past.  The next stage is the friend stage.  I truly believe that we as blacks and whites will eventually be able to look past the judgment of race.  The question is how long it will take.