Black History Month has come and gone. Each year around this time, I reflect on the age-old question, “where do we go from here?” And my answer is always the same—“Up (you mighty race)” –Marcus Garvey. As I think about what prevents our upward mobility, unity (in the romantic sense) comes to mind. We are not united around a common cause or goal. In the past, it’s been because of leaders with different philosophies. Today it’s because of subcultures.
A few years ago, I was involved in a formal conversation about hip-hop music in the church. Later on that day, I had an encounter with a younger guy who was so upset with my stance that he wanted to fight! He told me that I insulted him because hip-hop was more than just music to him; hip-hop was his mother and his father, hip-hop was his friend, hip-hop was his culture, hip-hop was his life. “I am Hip Hop,” he yelled repeatedly as people had come around to hold him back. “I am Hip Hop!”
He was uninterested in hearing anything about Black history and Black (dominant) culture (although not monolithic). He dismissed any notions about Martin King or Malcolm X. His heroes were alive and in living color—covered with tattoos with grills that cost more than automobiles. Brilliance was measured by how much wit the artist could fit into a lyric or how many puns he could put into a rhyme. Philosophy was determined to how much word play the artist could use and by how coded the lyrics could be. History was respected when an artist sampled an old song, making a modern hit. Black history as made when the artist collected more money and fame than others of yesteryear.
In the past, Black people were united against a common enemy (oppression and racism) and were moving toward a common goal (freedom and self-determination). Even though there were different leaders with different methods on how to attain the goals, there was an overarching sense of unity. Today, it seems to me like that is missing. We’re not working with the same definitions of racism and oppression; neither are we working toward the same goals. As people identify with the subcultures, they drift away from the dominant culture, which inevitably creates a degree of enmity between the people in the dominant and sub-cultures (the generational divide).
As I think about the issues that we face as a people, the fight that we must champion is not one against issues of racism as we’ve known them in the past, they are issues of uniting despite so-called (sub)cultural differences. This is easier when we can agree on what culture is (and is not) and what the function of culture is. We must also come to terms and agree that others, who don’t have our best interests in mind, have had their hand upon many of the subcultures in the Black community.
The Next Generation
With no value placed on the following clips—let’s take a look at a few videos I’ve come across lately of what the younger generation has popularized.
Nearly 60 million views. That’s a lot. But that’s not all. Cartoons and other spoofs have surfaced since the original prank. There’s at least one high school band/ drum line that made a cadence from it.
Two brothers who have been putting thoughtful and humorous songs out since 2009. Their latest video has become a viral sensation (over 10 million views in one month) and still gaining popularity. They have become celebrities– interviewed, by news stations and visiting schools with students who know all the words to their songs.
Issa Rae had not seen herself represented on television shows or in the movies. She wanted to put something dealing with her sense of humor on YouTube. She never thought that it would become as popular as it was—so much so that her viewing audience raised money so that she could continue production. People everywhere have related to her sense of humor and are waiting impatiently for the return of the series.
No, everyone isn’t saying, “I am hip hop!” as the brother who tried to fight me a few years ago, but there is a new sense of humor emerging that is shifting education and entertainment. Funny rules the day. The silliest things and people become the most popular. People are becoming used to ideas and truth rapped up in sugary sweets and lighthearted and many times offensive humor. Fortunately or unfortunately, some have capitalized off of this understanding and present ideas in a new category: edutainment—unbalanced in many of its presentations.
It seems that Black (sub)culture is becoming less and less concerned about meaningful things that will get us out of the rut we’re in and more and more concerned about trivial things. Am I alone thinking this? Is there hope for unity in the future?