Taking time, when it’s time

The main point of the 2012 BET Hip Hop Awards, as far as I could tell, was to give tribute to Chris Lightly. Hip Hop inspires me as a courageous form of protest by facing the ugly realities of the modernized social world head-on. This shows up in the differences between white-styled award shows and black-styled award shows. It was fun, too, to hear Kendrick Lamar, who won Lyricist of the Year. He had a line in the West Coast cypher acknowledging the passing of the intergenerational torch from Snoop Dogg, who at least I’ve heard of before.

I watched the BET Hip Hop Awards the other night.

Mostly, I didn’t know what was going on. (Comes with being a white grrl.)  I mean, I could discern snatches of lyrics in the cyphers but no where near the whole dialogue. My point of comparison was the Oscars: tons of awards interspersed with periodic pre-scripted performances and the occasional live number.

So it was intriguing to me that the program seemed to include only three awards.

They opened with the big one, Kendrick Lamar winning Lyricist of the Year. He had a line in the West Coast cypher acknowledging the passing of the intergenerational torch from Snoop Dogg, who at least I’ve heard of before.

Many other awards were given, but most of them were not spotlighted in the same way. That says something about community – doesn’t it? It seemed to me that the point of the broadcast performance was to be together, to throw down and feel connected with each other by participating in a common culture. This is a different motivation than white-styled shows that insist on singling out individuals and – although the award winners always shout out to the peeps who helped ’em make it, you don’t usually get let in on the range of collaborators and competitors who drove them to up the game.

The main point of the 2012 BET Hip Hop Awards, as far as I could tell, was to give tribute to Chris Lightly.

Hip Hop inspires me as a courageous form of protest by facing the ugly realities of the modernized social world head-on. Suicide is up across the US, driven by the uneven economy and its concentrated adverse effects on particular populations. Why some people become vulnerable, under what conditions, is more than a philosophical question. I’m glad I was able to be a tiny part of the audience celebrating the life of a hip hop icon.

Which brings me back to the title of this blog entry. I’m speculating that another difference between white-styled award shows and black-styled award shows is in the orientation to time, particularly what it means to use time well. At the BET Awards, the program inspired communion around a current event and the shared mode of entertainment. Perhaps there is evidence of a similar kind of sensitivity in white-styled award shows, but I haven’t seen it – at least, not at this scale.

Thanks, Hip Hop, for insisting that we’re all in this together.

Btw, October 11 (yesterday) is National Coming Out Day. Hold your head high, Frank Ocean!

 

 

 

 

I Sing the Body Electric (Walt Whitman on Hip Hop)

Through me the afflatus surging and surging . . . . through me the current and index.

Whatever goes to the tilth of me it shall be you,
You my rich blood, your milky stream pale strippings of my life;
Breast that presses against other breasts it shall be you,
My brain it shall be your occult convolutions,
Root of washed sweet-flag, timorous pond-snipe, nest of guarded duplicate eggs, it shall be you,
Mixed tussled hay of head and beard and brawn it shall be you,
Trickling sap of maple, fibre of manly wheat, it shall be you;
Sun so generous it shall be you,
Vapors lighting and shading my face it shall be you,
You sweaty brooks and dews it shall be you,
Winds whose soft-tickling genitals rub against me it shall be you,
Broad muscular fields, branches of liveoak, loving lounger in my winding paths, it shall be you,
Hand I have taken, face I have kissed, mortal I have ever touched, it shall be you.

I hear the trained soprano . . . . she convulses me like the climax of my love-grip;
The orchestra whirls me wider than Uranus flies,
It wrenches unnamable ardors from my breast,
It throbs me to gulps of the farthest down horror,
It sails me . . . . I dab with bare feet . . . . they are licked by indolent waves,
I am exposed . . . . cut by bitter and poisoned hail,
Steeped amid honeyed morphine . . . . my windpipe squeezed in the fakes of death,
Let up again to feel the puzzle of puzzles,
And that we call Being.

Performing "I Sing the Body Electric" in the 1980 film, Fame.
Performing "I Sing the Body Electric" in the 1980 film, Fame.

Leaves of Grass

Dolphin  Books, Doubleday & Company, Inc
Garden City, New York
“…a reprint of the first edition, published in Brooklyn, New York, in 1855. The text is a faithful copy of the original, and has not been edited or abridged in any way. The typography and design…have been altered, however, to meet the requirements of [now, post-]modern production methods.”
Quotations (in sequence) from pages 55, 56, 59, and liner notes before the title page.

Engaging Preoccupation

A friend working on some Twitter research has created a visualization of Tweets containing the word “occupy.” Watching the barrage of names, emotions, attitudes, accusations, reports, insults could seep in like a bad dream, the social miasma of our times unfolding in real time. I find articulate voices making sense of what’s happening now among hip hop artists who are using their art to engage issues of social justice. At AJstream, Derrick Ashong asks Lupe Fiasco why the clear point of the Occupy Wall Street movement – ECONOMIC JUSTICE – is not translating to mainstream media.

Testing tolerance and endurance in Amherst, MA
Testing tolerance and endurance in Amherst, MA

Half a dozen tents were visible as I gazed out the third-floor window of Bartlett while waiting for discussion to begin in a course on postcolonial literature. My view of the tents was shrouded by pale yellow and brown autumn leaves that refuse to fall, despite the devastating snowstorm that recently wreaked havoc to the trees and, collaterally, the power grid. Or is it the other way around?

Occupy.

Occupation.

. . . “have sexual intercourse with” . . .

Gazing out the window this morning, I marveled at the surreality of the moment: students busily focused on an in-class writing assignment while elsewhere police chase protesters from city squares to college campuses and off of them, too. I wonder what mixture of fear and hope inspires the activists, considering ways I can provide support. My curiosity includes the mindset of bystanders and critics: those who cannot be bothered or see no point, and those who have a problem with the demonstrations of collective action, the insistence on public participation in the guts of democracy.

I remembered that there was something reassuring about people resuming normal routines as soon as possible after snowtober, even though it was also unsettling that most people’s response to disaster seems to be to continue going on in the way one always has.

Life and Debt with No Telephone to Heaven

“That was the worst of being a servant. The waiting around for cuffy-pretend-backra or backra-fe-true while your life passed, the people in the house assuming your time was worthless.”

Michelle Cliff 1987:  19

It is a random synchronicity that I am interpreting an undergraduate course in postcolonial literature while Occupy Wall Street unfolds in biographical and historical time. Nonetheless, I am struck (again) that the descendents of former colonizers are discovering major faults in the system. Now, many white middle-class lives are passing in thrall to a financial engine that eats culture, discarding and replacing human cogs at whim.

OWS: The Defining Symbol of this Generation?

“[Occupy] is bigger than the 2012 elections…this is something that’s going to grow and grow and grow. This is America, this is America bubbling up to the surface… This is something… that is earthquake…you know – seismic.”

Lupe Fiasco on The Stream

A friend working on some Twitter research has created a visualization of  Tweets containing the word “occupy.” Watching the barrage of names, emotions, attitudes, accusations, reports, insults could seep in like a bad dream, the social miasma of our times unfolding in real time. It is too easy to get lost in the public sphere as an impenetrable discussion zone of colliding billiard balls. A privileged few political themes crash and spin off each other in crazy, chaotic directions. I find articulate voices making sense of what’s happening among hip hop artists who are using their art to engage issues of social justice. At AJstream, Derrick Ashong asks Lupe Fiasco and Basim Usmani why the clear point of the Occupy movement – ECONOMIC JUSTICE – is not translating to mainstream media.

“This new generation that’s at Occupy Wall Street . . . coming out of high school now, they’ve got the Arab Spring, they’ve got, seen the election of Obama, people power, I think that my generation could learn a lot from the one that’s coming up, that I see out at the Occupies, I think that those people actually believe earnestly that they can change things.”

Basim Usmani, The Kominas

Navigating through the inertia of the force of old ideas requires calm thinking and the ability to reflect on multiple and diverse perspectives. I take heart from the intelligence displayed both by this hopeful generation coming up now and the results of last week’s elections, which the New York Times opined as

“…an overdue return of common sense to government policy in many states. Many voters are tired of legislation driven more by ideology than practicality, of measures that impoverish the middle class or deprive people of basic rights in order to prove some discredited economic theory or cultural belief . . . . It is not clear that [November 9th’s] votes add up to a national trend that will have an effect on 2012 or even the deadlock in Congress. But they do offer a ray of hope to any candidate who runs on pragmatic solutions, not magical realism, to create jobs and reduce the pressures of inequality on the middle class and the poor.”

Kick and Push (a.k.a. Muslim Skateboarding – Building Skateastan! Check out The Stream)

The challenge of this age is whether we – homo sapiens – can harness conversation about the many challenges, obstacles, and perspectives on these matters and turn our talk to collaborative, productive problem-solving. Rather than hard military aggression and police deployment, perhaps it is not too soon to be soft and yielding in order to cultivate collaboration.

Catalyzing Movement

The fourth piece, Lateralization by Cassandra Jackman…signaled a dramatic shift in the storyline of the show. Prior to this piece I had not yet noticed individual details of any of the dancers; it was as if I’d seen with soft eyes, taking in only the gestalt. Suddenly, a focal point emerged, casting the previous pieces into the realm of context. I began to marvel at how these young people had orchestrated their discrete works of art into a collective statement about empowerment, including even race relations and suggesting optimism for social change.

Dance Performance
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Cassandra Jackman is hot. If you are into dance and you haven’t yet heard of her, you will – of this I am sure.

Watching with Untrained Eyes

I had to be coached not to clap at the wrong time, to be appropriately attentive. I was exposed to dance (mainly ballet) as a kid and didn’t get it. Enjoyed an Alvin Ailey show at some point and knew there was something going on but didn’t pursue it.  Wire Monkey got me excited a few years ago. Going in, all I knew about UMass’ annual “Alive with Dance” show is that each number was an original work by graduating dance majors. These seniors selected their topics a year in advance, did research, created the choreography, auditioned and selected dancers from among their peers, designed the set and chose the accompanying music.  I was unprepared for the quality of every performer and absolutely blown away by what I experienced as the collective intelligence of the troupe.

A Visceral Experience

The first three dances washed through me like emotion. Color, motion and sound swirled and merged seamlessly, one piece into another. This was not a fluke: return viewings on the 2nd and 3rd night elicited similar responses.  With each show I realized there was so much I had not taken in, either not noticed at all or not been able to retain in the glut of stimulation. On the first night, during the fourth number in the first half of the show, all of a sudden I discovered myself wondering, “Why is that (big black beautiful) man naked?” (He wasn’t actually!) It was not that I hadn’t been paying attention – I was taking in all that I could! It was the surprise of his appearance that rippled my perception at a level of imagery below words.  Everybody needs to see this, I thought to myself. Something is happening here.

The Strategic Use of Body

The fourth piece in the first half of the show, Lateralization by Cassandra Jackman, highlighted an African/African-American couple. For me, it signaled a dramatic shift in the storyline of the show.  Prior to this piece I had not yet noticed individual details of any of the dancers; it was as if I’d seen with soft eyes, taking in only the gestalt. Suddenly, a focal point emerged, casting the previous pieces into the realm of context. I began to marvel at how these young people had orchestrated their discrete works of art into a collective statement about empowerment, including even race relations and suggesting optimism for social change. Parallels and a narrative became apparent in the second half. I almost came out of my seat during the final, closing number when Cassandra, cast in one of her classmate’s pieces, kick-starts a wild profusion of creative resistance to the masks so many people seem resigned to wear. It is as if she throws the switch that changes the game.

Starting with a Silent Bang

The audience’s pre-show hubbub quieted immediately to the Orwellian announcement about emergency exits and prohibitions on the use of technology.  A soloist is illuminated as soon as the curtain opens and begins to move. I found myself waiting, as if expecting something else to happen, and then realize this is it: the show has begun. One dancer becomes three, music swells, a welter of emotions, red leotards, steady rhythm, perpetual motion, different threads of story, expressions of life’s cacophony of light and dark, the soloist isolated behind a scrim, a graceful sense of mourning followed by the emergence of joy. Layer upon layer unfolds but all I really see is pattern and distinction, no details no brown or white only coordinated bodies.

Then the rain begins. Gentle. Persistent. The second dance resonates with the season of spring, moistening and warming the hardened remains of winter, offering salve for wounds not yet healed.  “We walk through the shadows our hearts cast on our minds.” Unless, that is, you are one of the perky pink girls who follows in the third dance – seemingly untouched by pain. Light and carnival-like, an assembly line of frivolous, interchangeable white girls provides an airy release from the poignant plunge of reality.  Give us the Scott Joplin illusion of that happy era between the World Wars!

Lateralization enters a consciousness already stretched to the edges of emotional exertion.  The fourth dance evokes the show’s beginning but with a twist. Like the show’s first scene, the soloist begins in silence. However, in contrast with the brightly illuminated first dancer, Tara Brown is shrouded in shadow, the outline of her body tracing lines of quiet force into empty space. Complication emerges swiftly: two small non-symmetric groups appear in vibrant turn. Their bold blue and striped black-and-white costumes and compelling motions fade into peripheral vision once the couple appears. Soon, Cassandra’s bold embodiment fixes my gaze.

A Catalyst for Movement

I needed to watch the show three times to grasp its structure.  No doubt there are well-established logics for sequencing a dance program of individual works. I’ve since learned some details about the motivations for a few of the pieces: taken individually my read is hopefully recognizable as a viable interpretation of each choreographer’s intent, even if I failed to grasp the exact details of their visualizations. I wonder how they imagined the accumulated narrative, with each discrete piece aggregated into a whole story . . .

The five pieces in the second half of the show parallel the first half’s four parts in a few interesting ways. After intermission Sabra and Faded and Alive present a mix of a varied emotions much as Trouver la Lumiere did to open the first half of the show. Then, the third number in the second half, It’s All About Me, I Mean You, I Mean Me, provides a contemporary commentary on the ‘50’s rendition of the Roarin’ Twenties. These sassy dancers move nearly always in unison, perfect clockwork functionaries keeping up playful appearances despite the harsh and cynical backdrops from Barbara Kruger depicting the ironies of what it’s like to live now.

Gimme Five by Angela Bennett was the most complicated piece. It moved the mechanical behaviors of technological living to the foreground, almost as a counterpart to the sociocultural perspective offered in Jackman’s Lateralization. The psychological fluidity of Cassandra’s piece is counterpoised by Angela’s representation of rote, routine, automatic surrender and recovery.  We watch humans copy copy copy each other, if not in mimicry than still in lock-step: one behavior triggering a reciprocal response in unvarying repetition as if this is the most to which humans can aspire.  Yet something does change in the end, the push-pull of exclusion/inclusion and competing desires for belonging/autonomy moves the singularity of our human being through time, enabling re-orientation should one choose.

I am fascinated by how the first eight dances of the show can be understood as a repeating cycle. The first four pieces in the second half of the show reprise the first four pieces from the first half. Do humans need to witness repetition in order to recognize the social pattern? Once the pattern is realized, the stage is set for the dramatic action of the ninth and final dance.

Un-Masking One Reality to Create Another

A huge benefit of watching the show three times was increasing respect for the quality of all the dancers. Although my attention was riveted by a few at first, each viewing brought more of everyone’s talent into view. My appreciation for these young performers has continued to grow as I’ve sought to find the right words to express their accomplishment. These UMass Dance Majors have embraced art’s highest calling: to use illusion in service of illumination. They have achieved this by disciplining their bodies to perform at the very edge of courage.

The closing dance, Lasciere Me Eliminato, is dense with detail. Most of the dancers begin with masks, only three without. But I don’t notice this until the third time I watch, my eyes rapt in amazement of the sophisticated synchrony of syncopated motion on display from every dancer. There is a struggle. Something prevents forward motion. They reach in yearning and are hauled back as if shackled. “Going nowhere” – this phrase from the soundtrack. One dancer’s mask is removed, re-tied around an arm. Randomly (it seems) the dancers align in precise configuration, there is a slight pause, then WHAM! Cassandra’s triggering move sends an instantaneous ripple coursing with precision through the line, masks come off and all that shit gets wiped away. Free! Free at last! I can almost hear the refrain as the mood turns to peace: quiet, solemn, and graceful.

That a brown person was cast to dance-kick this new gear into motion is likely not pure coincidence. There are white dancers throwing off their masks too, choosing to refuse the current state of affairs. Meanwhile, the three originally unmasked dancers were all white. Were they pulling the strings before? A small percentage controlling the rest? I would have to see the show again to assess that hypothesis.

In the end, one of those unmasked dancers finds herself masked. Alone on stage, there is barely time to adjust before she sees from her new vantage point – and gasps.

Alive with Dance 2011: A Catalyst for Movement

1st Half:

Trouver la Lumiere by Shirah Burgey
Inner Shadows by Sierra Boyea
Ready . . . Again by Sarah Goddard
Lateralization by Cassandra Jackman

2nd Half:

Sabra by Hannah Katz
Faded and Alive by Jonalyn Bradshaw
It’s All About Me, I Mean You, I Mean Me by Emily Jacobson
“Gimme Five” by Angela Bennett
Lasciere Me Eliminato by Kayla Skerry

Hip Hop’s Conversation about Consciousness

I learned of Carl Joseph’s suicide because I was facilitating a dialogue about identity and bullying at Renaissance High School on the second anniversary of his death. Tiffany is one of several dozen students from six high schools preparing to meet each other at South Hadley High School on April 30. Students from the different schools have expressed a mix of trepidation and excitement about getting past the stereotypes they hold about each other. Can these youth find reasons to bond with each other despite the stereotypes, rather than staying within comfort zones of familiar identification with people they already know or identify with as ‘the same as me’?

Dialogue: Identities and Bullying
western Massachusetts

shielding ourselves from the light?
shielding ourselves from the light?

This screenshot of a future technological wasteland is from Katy Perry’s music video, E.T., featuring Kanye West. A brief scene near the end includes two museum-style placards denoting a problematic relation between homo sapiens and other species sharing Earth. In 2011, what lenses are we using to block knowledge of extinctions coming within mere decades?

A complicated, evolutionary relationship unfolds over the course of Katy Perry’s song.  Listening past the dominating lyrics, fluctuations of volume mark incursions of alternate reality, loud bursts punctuating the sensual quality of the steady soft tones. The softer sounds persist, providing solid ground for the ethereal. It’s as if there’s a conversation within the music between the physical and the spiritual.

“What if we learn bad things?”

In the class I’m teaching on Media and Culture, several students recently attended DayGlow’s Escape Reality Tour. Some of them enjoyed themselves so much they are practically desperate to repeat the experience. I have to admit, it sounds incredible, a kind of collective audience culture that I know about by reference not personal experience. This generation’s style of celebrating the body with dance-and-party is in high form at remix concerts by performers like Girl Talk – who, I’m just sortof starting to wonder – may have taken the musical form originated by rappers & hip hop artists and are now pushing that envelope in their own directions.

I’m not a musicologist, so don’t take my unresearched hypothesis as fact. What really strikes me is a difference in tone and intent (technically, what linguistic anthropologists call “indexicality“) between white-skinned remixers and many of their brown-skinned inspirations. Again, my exposure is limited, but sample this youtube video taken during the DayGlow show at UMass which captures lead performer “STARKILLERS” emblazoned across the monster projection screen, and a pounding lyric repeats “SATISFACTION”  several times.

What’s going on? I juxtapose these (predominately white) college student’s talk about DayGlow with their selection of hip hop songs as soundtracks for individual midterm video projects. Ten of twenty-one, nearly 50%, of the songs selected come from the genre of hip hop. What themes (if any) are present within this music? Is there a coherent conversation, or do the lyrics and sounds represent essentially random and disconnected topics? Kenny Alfonso responds to an earlier blogentry, Hip Hop plays with structure, explaining:

Kanye, as well as many other artists, have been trying for years to portray their struggles to the world, and make it evident that just because someone is successful in the music industry, television industry, etc., doesn’t mean that they live the perfect life. While reading deeper into the lyrics of my favorite hip hop artists, I gained more respect for all of them, and realize that their lives might not be as eas[y] as everyone might think.

Kenny signals a painful fact: the ability to escape reality is a privilege.

Everyone needs entertainment

This past weekend, I attended a Gala Fundraiser in memory of a wannabe Morehouse Man who took his life two years ago in the nearby urban setting of Springfield. There were 350 people in attendance, including me and Tiffany.

excerpt from an essay by Tiffany Griffin
excerpt from an essay by Tiffany Griffin

She knew at least a dozen people there but kept me company throughout the evening, despite my nosiness about her texting (Hi Ashley!) and Facebook activities 🙂  Come on – I had to know if she was carrying an extra battery pack so she could stay plugged in!  She met another young person at our table; I returned from getting dessert to see them communicating nonverbally. “Are you showing her your rings?” I asked. “Something like that,” she replied.  Uh huh. Not for me to know!

Anti-bullying applies to everyone

I learned of Carl Joseph’s suicide because I was facilitating a dialogue about identity and bullying at Renaissance High School on the second anniversary of his death. Tiffany is one of several dozen students from six high schools preparing to meet each other at South Hadley High School on April 30. Students from the different schools have expressed a mix of trepidation and excitement about getting past the stereotypes they hold about each other. Can these youth find reasons to bond with each other despite the stereotypes, rather than staying within comfort zones of familiar identification with people they already know or identify with as ‘the same as me’?

Six $500 and seven $1000 college scholarships were given to the winners of an essay contest about the effects of bullying in their lives. In presenting the awards, Regina Jeames read a sentence from each student’s essay. First-place winner Peter Nassar writes that we need to “end the savagery.” “Bullying can follow you home,” warns Jason Dinnall. Quinn Hegarty emphasizes “dissolving isolation” while Benjamin Gelinas laments “wasted potential.” Kabrillen Jones admonishes: “Look into the eyes of our children.” The core challenge is articulated by Stephanie Collins: “It takes one person to stand up and say, ‘That’s not right.'”

What’s this got to do with Hip Hop?

Dancing – to hip hop – capped the official ceremonies at Carl’s Gala. Hip Hop is what young people are listening to – all kinds of youth, from diverse backgrounds and various motivations. The intensity of living out loud and taking things on as they come was in high evidence throughout the Gala. Nikki Minaj’s Go Hard music video ft Lil Wayne captures the sentiment (warning: potentially offensive lyrics):

“Yo SB I think its my time.

You know why?

My tears have dried and I know that

no weapon formed against me will prosper. And I

truly believe that my haters are my motivators…”

Sirdeaner Walker, Carl’s mother, is a fount of inspiration and goodwill. Her activism and compassion are evident in a series of interviews with 22News. Gwynnetta Sneed received overflowing praise for her vision and follow-through in creating the Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover Foundation and making the Gala happen. We got to witness her character in action, public misbehavior inviting public rebuke.  Members of my community also made me feel proud. I had been wondering about their involvement, not sure of the details of Carl’s story.

“It is considered a given in group and organizational life that issues are taken up by whatever group is most affected by them; however, often that group is then accused of taking up only these issues for reasons of self-interest rather than for the benefit of the whole” (Connolly and Noumair, p. 328 in Off White).

Near the end of the event, one of Sirdeaner Walker’s co-workers approached and thanked me, assuming I was a member of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. (I look the type, wink!) Her approach allowed me the chance to ask about GLSEN’s presence.

It turns out that GLSEN offered help . . . and their help was welcomed! This embodies the sentiment expressed by Susan Skaza in her essay about how to stop bullying by “simply being a good example.” Here are two communities – stereotypically riven by homophobia, heterosexism, and racism – joining together in a common cause to end bullying of everyone’s children, for any reason.

I  thought it was especially impressive when the Christian minister, Reverend Peter Sylver, said he didn’t know what God thinks about what people do when they go to sleep, but he knows what God expects of us during the day: radical love.

Radical Love

The Chinese fortune reads, "Opportunities multiply as they are seized, they die when neglected."
The Chinese fortune reads, "Opportunities multiply as they are seized, they die when neglected."

Whatever one’s spiritual beliefs, including agnostics and atheists, the savagery of bullying is only going to end when members of groups reach out, radically, across differences to forge new bonds on the basis of shared experiences or common values. Bullying is children’s version of grown-up violence. As long as adults continue to justify and promote brutal competition over planetary resources, children will act out what they see modeled. Radical love means embracing the foreign, accepting the alien.

This brings us back to Hip Hop. Katy Perry is pop, but for some reason Kanye decided she must have something to say to Hip Hop, otherwise he would not have contributed ‘bookends’ to her video. The layers of that conversation can be interpreted in many different ways. For me, what matters is the moment when conversation – the trading of verses – turns to dialogue.

Dialogue is the special form of communication in which participants are open enough to allow themselves to be changed by interacting with the foreign and alien other. Change of this kind is the ultimate evidence of radical love.

Hip Hop plays with structure

The Rihanna thing is intense. The mournful tones of the introduction frame an ominous future for young girls growing up in a body-centric world. Not that the prospects for men are so much better – read the lyrics. We are all under surveillance of one kind or another most of the time, it’s just that the surveillance is so unobtrusive we can ignore it. Ignore it routinely enough and you’ll forget it’s happening!

Amherst, MA

Boundaries or Identities?

Lately I’ve been wondering which comes first, or if this is a classic chicken-and-egg dynamic. Talking about whiteness raises interesting identity questions about belonging – to whom, when and where, how much. The privilege of being known on the basis of mind rather than body is one of the core features of whiteness: white people (like me) might notice attractive white people but would consider the physical as an extension of the mental. In contrast, white people (like me) might notice attractive brown people and stop there, as if the physical is the entire package.

You can see how this works by watching the strategic representation co-constructed by Director Hype Williams and Rihanna, as she is featured in the Kanye West video “All of the Lights” with Kid Cudi and a host of others: Charlie Wilson, John Legend, Tony Williams, Alicia Keys, La Roux, The Dream, Ryan Leslie, Alvin Fields and Ken Lewis. The reflection of whiteness back at itself is heavily dosed with gender, too.

The Rihanna thing is intense. The mournful tones of the introduction frame an ominous future for young girls growing up in a body-centric world. Not that the prospects for men are so much better – read the lyrics. We are all under surveillance of one kind or another most of the time, it’s just that the surveillance is so unobtrusive we can ignore it. Ignore it routinely enough and you’ll forget it’s happening!

My Hip Hop Education

I learn through interaction, talking about ideas and observing responses until I locate a stance that reflects the kind of ethos I want to project into the social world. Teaching allows me to test and assess some of the effects of acting consistently within that ethos, especially where it rubs against conformity. This semester, at least a third of the students in a Communication course on Media and Culture are proactively engaged in cultivating their own ethical stance in today’s fast-forward society. Together, we are all working to develop collective intelligence.

My hip hop education merged with my teaching in a surprising way. The cultural anthropologist and digital ethnographer Micheal Wesch – described as the “Head Honcho” by one of my students – commented on three videos submitted as midterm projects by students in my class to his call for “Visions of Students Today.” In one of his comments, it is obvious that he misunderstood something about hip hop, which I – roughly six hours ahead of Professor Wesch on the learning curve, haha! – was able to recognize.

Given a penchant for using my own mistakes to extend the learning process for myself and possibly others, I engaged:

Michael Wesch, thank you for joining our conversation! I am going to drag you into this lesson, too. An interesting coincidence of timing occurred with your comment to Jamar’s video “My Life, My Eyes, My World” and me learning about Hip Hop. I juxtapose our mistakes (!) to see if there is anything to be learned from them.

I shared all the gory detail with my students because it allowed me to provide them with an immediate and non-academic example of the communication phenomena of juxtaposition and articulation.

Juxtaposition and Articulation

In the All of the Lights video, Rihanna’s adult female body – the physical manifestation of her person – is juxtaposed with rousing lyrics and an exciting musical beat in a saccade. The combined visual and auditory stimuli articulates the dark female body as an object of desire. Because the body is foregrounded, considerations of mind fade from consciousness.

always in motion

When I first came upon Beyonce, [in that There-and-Then context], I was figuring myself out as a woman. She was girl/woman/sexy/curvy. Then I came across Alicia Keys, who is seductive and very strong.

Her songs are about love and loss…Alicia gives nothing of herself away.

Vernal Equinox

Full Moon Stories

On the night before Equinox I met The Milkman, a non-brown person appearing strange in rural Central America, now sharing lessons with me from Zen Buddhism.  Senor Leche shared a specially strategic communicative move with me from his years of arduous spiritual training, emphasizing:

“They hit you with a stick until you get the nose insertion technique correct.”

I was impressed by how long he could hold the pose. “Practice,” he encouraged me. “Years of practice.”

The Rihanna thing?

The Rihanna thing is a quick reference to an earlier conversation about Beyonce and Alicia Keys.

When I first came upon Beyonce, [in that There-and-Then context], I was figuring myself out as a woman. She was girl/woman/sexy/curvy but still a side character. Then I came across Alicia Keys, who is seductive and very strong.

Her songs are about love and loss…

Alicia gives nothing of herself away.

Alicia is the actor in her videos and the guys are decoration.

Make your move.

Word, word… twice in a lifetime.

“Alright.
I have
lyrics.” [study]

So says Talib Kweli
performing with
Jane Doe, Wordsworth, Punchline, and Mos Def of
Black Star.

Hi-Tek is the guy who
provides the
music in the back.”
[acknowledgement]

Making It Real

Tribute.


All grown up and ready to lead, shake it up!

Make it real – compared to what?

Getting shot at, it’s all left up to us.

The hip hop generation, our generation

We’ve got the longevity, educated enough to know

No time for sorrow, gotta share all the love

Love the way it should be.

Not let our minds get trapped in time.

We can change how the world turns.


A remix of lyrics from songs performed by John Legend and The Roots, from the album “Wake Up!

Credits:

Salamishah Tillet, Digital Booklet, Wake Up! Sept 2010.

Eugene McDaniels “Compared to What”

Leon Moore “Our Generation (The Hope of the World)”

Mike James Kirkland “Hang On In There”

Lincoln Thompson “Humanity (Love The Way It Should Be)”

Bill Withers & Ray Jackson “I Can’t Write  Left  Handed”

Billy Taylor & Dick Dallas “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”

John Stephens “Shine”

Ahmer ?uestlove Thompson “Wake Up Everybody”