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Viewpoint: The hip-hop excuse

BY SANDER BREGMAN

Published November 3, 2013

This article addresses two topics: social justice and hip hop.

Let me start by acknowledging that I am a white male from an upper-middle class, primarily white suburb. I have been taught to be racist by our society without even realizing it. I can look back at certain comments I’ve made or thoughts I’ve had in the past and see them as racist. We are surrounded by more racism than we even realize; we don’t recognize that being racist can be as simple as making a joke or, in this case, throwing a party.

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the University’s chapter of Theta Xi fraternity’s party theme idea, giving the party attendees an opportunity to make fun of Black culture. I did not feel the need to write this until, in their apology letter, a member of Theta Xi claimed that they were inspired to do this by hip-hop music. Let me stop here and explain where I’m coming from.

For the past five years, I have been immersed into the world of breakdancing, otherwise known as hip-hop culture. The traditional term for a break-dancer is “b-boy.” According to the values of the b-boy community, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is or how much money your family has — you just have to have soul. This community and its art have helped me become who I am today, and I’ve loved every moment of it.

Hip-hop culture contains five elements: b-boying, rapping, DJ-ing, graffiti and the knowledge of this culture and one’s interpretation of it. Rap has taken on a new life within popular culture, and rap music can be very sexist — nobody is denying that. But rock ‘n’ roll can also be very sexist. Music can be sexist. Television can be sexist. The media promotes images, sounds and ideas that shape who we should be.

Just by existing in our society, we’re taught what boys should do and what girls should do. We learn what rich people and poor people should do. We’re taught about how black people should be and how white people should be. We’re all victims of our own ignorance.

Thus, if I do something racist, I can try to blame society. But I’m still the one to make those choices and execute those actions. If I try to blame anyone or anything else, it’s because I can’t accept the fact that I am racist. The same goes for blaming hip-hop.

These next two sentences are especially directed at the white people reading this: Diversity doesn’t mean “not 100-percent white.” It means that every race is represented and treated equally. Also, don’t be worried about being labeled racist — be worried about how your intentional or unintentional racism can hurt others.

But let’s get back to the topic at hand: the party. The point of this article is not to bash Greek life. I’d just like to point out that as soon as fall semester begins, thousands of freshmen are funneled into Greek life. In this setting, they are generally surrounded by other white, upper-class students and participate in the hook-up culture for their entire time at our school. There are also multicultural fraternities — predominantly Black, Latino, Asian or Indian. But I’m not talking about the multicultural fraternities, but rather the predominately-white fraternities. Many students will know what I mean when I say that typical members of the largely white fraternities and sororities rarely leave their social climate, cutting themselves off from the rest of the school.

This controversy indicates a much larger problem: Our society is still very racist, and most white people are unwilling to admit it. People are scared of the truth — we’re part of the problem. If we are part of the problem, we need to make changes in our lives to become part of the solution.

So if your fraternity does something racist, don’t blame hip-hop. Blame yourself for not taking the initiative to learn how to not be racist. Hip-hop culture showed me that race doesn’t have to matter, but that’s not where I learned about race. I learned about race at this school. Through classes, campus events and friends from different backgrounds, I have learned of these invisible lines between us.

These lines exist because it’s easier for us to stereotype than it is for us to look at each person as a unique individual. Each person is a unique individual, and in that sense, we’re all equal. But in a much more real sense, our society gives some people huge advantages over others based on skin color, family wealth, sexual orientation, gender, religion and a million other factors that are so easy to overlook. The University has taught me this.

Hip-hop taught me that we can all vibe out in the spirit of peace, love, unity and having fun. I wish others could develop this same perspective on hip-hop, but the harsh reality is that it's easier to point blame than it is to take responsibility for making this change. For people like the party planners at Theta Xi, rap can help to create strong negative stereotypes of Black people — particularly Black women. But they were racist before they listened to hip-hop. They were born into racism.

However, we can’t blame others for their ignorance. So this is now a call for anybody reading this article to rise up and take every opportunity to learn what racism is and how we can stop its presence in our lives and in our communities.

At this school, we’re supposed to be the Leaders and the Best. It’s time to start acting like it.

Sander Bregman is an Education junior.


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