I’m not sure if I ever made an official announcement, but I’m back in school in pursuit of a doctoral degree (specifically a DMin. – Doctor of Ministry), and as is made glaringly apparent by the nature of this blog, my research interest/focus is ministry to Hip-Hop culture. One of my recent courses was in ethics. My professor, Dr. Andrew Sung Park is also an author with quite a few books of his own in tow. At one point, the class was studying racism, and one of the required reading assignments was a chapter he wrote in a book Wading Through Many Voices – A compilation of essays by various multiethnic theology scholars on race, class, gender, etc. Each essay contains a targeted response from a peer.
I highly recommend that you read the entire chapter written by Dr. Park here. However, if you’re short on time, What follows is my response to his work. There are a few points that I sought to respond directly to because I thought they were of prime significance. I post it here because one must know that racism (systematic, educational, institutional, and all the rest of its forms) are the bedrock of Hip-Hop culture. There would be no Hip-Hop without racism. Therefore it provides additional framework for the discussion in this blog. Here’s a large portion of my response:
multiculturalism in America. It’s here that he questions, “All these
models support either assimilation or pluralistic isolation, is it possible to
appreciate diversity, yet improve the quality of diverse cultures without
sacrificing our true unity?” In the simplest of terms, I would say that the
answer is no; but I’d like to add another question. What unity? I assume that
“our true unity” is meant to refer to the symbiotic bonds that naturally exist
by God’s design and by the nature of our existence in the same geographical
space. Yet, unity in the eyes of the normative group is assimilation…or nothing.
I have often argued that multiculturalism is often at best an agreement of
middle class values. It’s economic, rather than ethnic. And that too is a
framework built by euro-centered values of economy and democracy.
However, I propose that (at least for African-Americans, especially poor ones)
the withdrawal approach actually involves escapism from the trauma of
persistent systematic and institutional terror and abuse.
In Democracy Matters,
Cornel West talks about the irony and the hypocrisy of the “American democratic
experiment” in that the nation’s founders were trying to escape the empire
while creating one of their own.
They were seeking their own freedoms, yet simultaneously enslaving
others. It’s a deeply harrowing concept to me. I’m inclined to
suggest that the “experiment” had failed at it’s outset because it had
compromised it’s own founding principles. Historically speaking, the
concept of “liberty and justice for all” has never been an American
reality. And so we continue to pledge our allegiance in the hopes that
one day, someday, we will get it right. But what is the pledge exactly?
We are taught to approach it like a prayer, when it’s actually a pronouncement
and a promise—a promise that often seems to have been terribly, irreparably
Dr. Park prescribes that “we need to accept each culture as
it is.” This is an extremely tall order for dominant, normative
culture. Blacks can relate to and appreciate Native Americans, Latino peoples (and others), because we each have been systematically
terrorized and marginalized by the dominant group. Yet, normative culture
lives in constant willful ignorance and denial of the realities that exist at
their own hands. African-American culture is the house that oppression
to accept and admit the legacy of forced labor and slavery that made them find
solace in songs. To accept the blues is to accept the bruises of Jim
Crow. To embrace the black church is to confront the religious and
hermeneutical manipulation that sought to sanctify and spiritualize oppression
and injustice. To celebrate black intellect, innovation and achievement is to
own the segregation and the glass ceiling that made such ground-breaking,
record-shattering progress necessary.
|Rap music forces us to hear the heart, the hurt,
the pathos and the pain of the projects.
of Hip-Hop and contemporary black urban cultures is to unveil the institutional
and systematic degradation and denigration of black communities with the
concrete quarantine silos of the Cabrini Greens, Marcy Projects, Magnolia
Projects, and Jordan Downs of the US. I’m not certain that the dominant group
has enough acres or mules, or that they even desire to actually care.
Accept each culture as it is? The normative culture was forced on blacks,
but do they accept us is a more relevant question.
Yet, that’s the beauty of African-American culture. We took
lashes, and developed thick skin. We bent over to pick up cotton, and
picked up an even stronger work ethic and resolve. We took the scraps that the slave master gave us, and made soul-food. We took those tattered and torn textbooks and dilapidated school-houses, and built brilliant scholars and HBCUs. We took the brick buildings, vacant lots, abandoned buildings and poor-excuse-for-playgrounds
of the projects, and turned them into fortresses to incubate the next generation
of overachievers, canvasses for urban art, dance floors for community
parties and arenas for rap battles with perfect natural acoustics.
But one must not remain angry. Dr. Park presents a powerful
hermeneutic of the cross and suggests that the dying to self demands “forsaking
our outmoded identity means negotiating a new boundary by negating our old self
that was negated by various oppressors.” He goes on to recommend that, “As long
as we have racial prejudice within, we cannot fight against racism without.” I
am convicted again that the cross renews us and demands that we like Christ
would, despite the abuse, by the power of the resurrection, rise to walk in the
newness of life—a life that is guided by grace. The grace of God has been
so freely given to me. I must give it to those around me. This is
hard, but God is love.
West, Democracy Matters (New York: Penguin, 2004),
42-45. In the very first line of the book West addresses the “legacy of
white supremacy” and the threat that it poses to authentic democracy. It’s in
the second chapter that he explores the tension of a free society built by slave
labor. He argues that American Democracy is at risk because of remixed
modes of imperialism.