Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop: a Review
by LaMar Gibson
Bakari Kitwana (the author of The Hip-Hop Generation) delivers a new and different analysis of Hip-Hop culture, specifically, and race in America, generally, by questioning if the stereotypes that are perpetuated about white Hip-Hop kids are actually fact. Kitwana addresses the authenticity and motivation of white youths participating in Hip-Hop. His discussion of how to build a strong political coalition amongst the Hip-Hop community, regardless of color, is in an innovative, non-traditional manner that is neither accusatory nor soft in its examination of Hip-Hop in the 21st century.
So will white kids find that they are only posers or, even worse, cultural thieves in the same vein as the generation that stole rock ‘n’ roll? Will they feel like my roommate (a white male) did when I first told him of the title? He replied, “I don’t know if I want to read this. I might find out something negative about myself.” I don’t believe so; instead they should have a better historic perspective with which to contemplate their involvement in Hip-Hop culture.
The first assertion by Kitwana is that assuming white kids want to be Black is incredibly broad, overly simplistic and quite inaccurate when examined. This is dispelled by the following argument: while Black culture has always been marketed as “cool,” the area that is carved out for young white males is far more attractive. So what’s so appealing about Hip-Hop?
In order to answer that the reader is given a detailed timeline that serves as a foundation to understand the space that was carved out for the white kids of Generation X and Y to inhabit. The timeline begins in the 1970s and includes among other variables: a rise in prescription drug use among middle class children and the institutionalization of the civil rights movement.
The rise in prescription drug use among the middle class is a subject being investigated more and more as the number of commercials for cure-by-pill increases. A staggering fact is stated in the text: in 1990, 900,000 children were using Ritalin but by the year 2000, 5 million children had been prescribed the drug. This practice of placing middle-class children on the track of drug usage at an early age is equivalent to the decades-old policy of placing “under-performing” Black children on the special education track. The result is that youths of both groups seek to rebel against dominant institutions. In Hip-Hop, white kids apparently saw a vehicle through which they could fight back against policies that have been set in place to favor wealthy white males only.
The institutionalization of the civil rights movement helped to usher in a different perspective of Black culture, which this nation had never before witnessed. Children of Generation X were the first generation to grow to maturity in a society where Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and others have become established as contributors to American history on par with white historic figures like Abraham Lincoln and Ben Franklin. Kitwana is not naïve in believing that these Black leaders have become as revered, but as he writes, “this repositioning of African-American culture…raised national awareness of Black American culture, at least superficially.” Due to the inclusion of the Civil Rights Movement and its icons in the history books, as well as the creation and celebration of Kwanzaa, Generation X has become the first generation to be born and mature in a society that actually acknowledges the contributions of its Black citizens.
The political potential of the Hip-Hop generation, black and white, is saved for investigation in the last chapter. It is exceptionally interesting considering the hum around Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama. While writing about this “Hip-Hop voting bloc,” Kitwana brings up the issue of how to move a Hip-Hop political agenda and if it can be accomplished without the help of white Hip-Hop kids.
He argues that it cannot be accomplished without their help as long as “young Blacks remain a minority in a majority-rule government.” According to the author, the Black Hip-Hop community must discard pre-conceived notions of white Hip- Hop kids and allow this population to earn entrance into this culture in order to unite and change the racism upon which America has been built.
However, organizers of the Hip-Hop voting bloc must beware of whites that seek to advance their own agendas or are agents of the two dominant political parties and merely seek to pimp the vote of the Hip-Hop generation. MTV’s “Rock The Vote” and P. Diddy’s “Vote or Die” campaigns are seen by Kitwana as necessary to motivate an increase in Generation X voting but inevitably they have still been used by both Republicans and Democrats to cultivate more and more voters for their own partisan needs. National movements such as the HSAN (Hip-Hop Summit Action Network) as well as local organizations and other grassroots groups are cited as progression towards a unified Hip-Hop political agenda that includes providing alternative political parties that appeal to more young Americans.
Kitwana’s assessment of white kids in Hip-Hop is not searing or heavyhanded upon the white population. It does raise questions that anyone interested in race or Hip-Hop should consider but does so in a way where dialogue actually can be formed from its claims and not used as a hammer with which to beat another population over the head.