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Hip hop and black culture examined

Ashley Charnley | Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The influence of hip hop on the perceptions of African American culture, especially in media, was discussed during a lecture entitled “Hip Hop Psychology 101” given by John Rogers III, director of orientation at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Rogers placed emphasis on the importance of looking back over the past and what has happened to ancestors and elders.

“When you look back over our history, and realize a lot of the things that have happened, it does give a lot of students pause,” Rogers said.

During his multimedia presentation, Rogers showed clips from cartoons, films and television to explain the promotion of racial stereotypes in these mediums through the years.

One clip was from a cartoon called “Lazy Town” that aired in the early 1930s. The African American characters are portrayed as lazy with exaggerated features. Rogers stressed the inconsistencies of these depictions.

“Slaves weren’t lazy, they couldn’t be lazy. Women would give birth to babies and had to go back out into the fields right after giving birth,” Rogers said.

These incorrect representations have continued into the hip-hop genre, he said.

Music throughout the decades has changed drastically according to Rogers. In the 1970s, African American music included the Sugar Hill Gang. In the 1990s, gangster rap began becoming popular. Now, African American music is “no holds barred,” Rogers said.

He related this idea to the use of the “N” word in our society. Rogers commented on the overuse of the word all over the world, and how its use in music can be more influential than people realize.

“Depending on where your head is, that word can cause death just like anything else. People say, ‘Well music doesn’t have that much power.’ Look, can’t you catch the Holy Spirit by listening to music in church?” Rogers said.

He showed examples of the word, not only in hip hop music, but on television as well. It is also used on store fronts in foreign countries to sell the hip hop style, Rogers said.

Another important fact about African American representation in the media, Rogers said, is that very few of the outlets in radio or television are owned by African Americans. Channels like Black Entertainment Television (BET) or MTV, which air black music and entertainment, use low quality music and lack diversity, Rogers said.

“There is something going on with our stations and the music getting to us, and the mainstream stations and the music getting to them,” Rogers said.

Rogers also explored the statistics in African American society. Twice as many black women graduate from college as men, he said. He also discussed the increase of divorce and single parents in this country for all races, and how that has negatively affected the black middle class. African American children raised in middle-class households “end up near poor,” he said.

To conclude the presentation, Rogers showed a slide show that illustrated the African American struggle from slavery, to the Civil Rights movement, to today’s portrayal of black culture in the media. Pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X went across the screen as music from the hip hop genre played in the background.

One of his closing slides had a quote from Dr. Maoshing Ni reading, “We are the physical and spiritual fusion of ancestors whose genes we carry. Knowing our history is a starting point in the pursuit of knowing yourself.”