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Using Hip Hop to empower Black males in the face of F.E.A.R.

By November 8, 2019June 14th, 2021No Comments

Born out of the intense desire to communicate the struggle of Black Americans, hip hop has served as a vehicle to bring into focus the oftentimes invisibility of oppressed individuals. As hip hop artist Chuck D once noted, “Rap comes from humble beginnings of rebelling against the status quo.” Represented as both an art form and a general way of being in regards to posture and style, hip hop offers an outlet for one’s emotional, relational, and spiritual experience. For Black male specifically, it has provided an opportunity for re-definition and self-determination. Grappling with the injurious posture of being the perpetual Other, hip hop allows these Black males to loosen the shackles of negative stereotyping and predetermined cultural expectations as well as assert his reality related to racism and discrimination. In addition, hip hop provides an avenue for healing via the processing of challenging experiences, emotions, and relational conflicts. There are  three ways that hip hop can be utilized to address the psychological conflict experienced as part of the “Othering” construct: elevation of consciousness, therapeutic healing, and self-definition.

Hip hop artist, Common, once noted that, “Hip Hop is supposed to help you elevate, or go higher”(Hip Hop, n.d.). As Black males seek to overcome the psychological impact of being the perpetual other, hip hop provides a mechanism for consciousness elevation. Instead of a general acceptance of the negative characteristics associated with Black masculinity, hip hop engages Black males in a conscious raising process by offering alternatives to quantifying and expressing the Black male experience. By sharing their experience in written, oral, or musical form, Black males are able to expose other Black males as well as society as a whole to the overlooked components of the Black male experience such as spiritual connectedness, interpersonal synergy, and emotional attunement. By exposing Black males to these concepts, an awareness of the complexity of their experience is raised by contributing to increased flexibility in the expression and performance of Black masculinity. Hip hop empowers Black men to promote this cultural awareness by providing the platform and the necessary tools for effective communication. Another area where Hip Hop has been used is as an avenue for therapeutic healing.

There is an African proverb that states, “There can be no peace without understanding.”   Due to the challenges in reconciling their lived experience with that of being the perpetual “Other,” Black male identity represents a “warring soul” struggling with denial, acceptance, and unintegration [disintegration}At the root of this struggle is a lack of understanding for the Black male about who he is, his capabilities, and potential contributions to society. Without this understanding, these Black males are unable to live in a space of identity reconciliation and are instead regulated to a posture of integration and F.E.A.R. Hip hop provides an opportunity for the Black male to process and give voice to his struggle. As noted by McPhail (1998), as Black males recover from the consequences of chronic racism and discrimination, they must engage in a holistic integrative process of their racialized masculinity. Given the stigma around the use of mental health services by Black males, Hip Hop allows the Black male to take on the role of a pseudo-therapist as he externalizes his inner dialogue and negotiates his lived experience with his community and society (Scott et al., 2011).

From the rise of negative Black male archetypes such as Buck, Sambo, and Mandingo, to their current manifestation in the media, Black males have been chronically regulated to the posture of the “Other” through the medium of attributed identity. Attributed identity here refers to the imposition of society’s perception of Black masculinity and the subsequent belief by society, as well as other Black males, that this perception is fact (Parker & Moore, 2014). This phenomenon has the dual impact of reinforcing societal perceptions as well as limiting the Black male’s ability to self-define. For example, it is a common misperception that young Black males in the school system are only capable of deviant behavior. Given this perception, teachers and administrators are primed to look for confirming evidence of deviancy as opposed to the cultivation of a positive scholastic identity. With the continual reinforcement of this perception through generalization and limited cultural competency, the idea of the deviant Black male comes to be seen as fact. There are significant consequences for Black males in regards to the imposition and internalization of an attributed identity (e.g., low-self-esteem, learned helplessness). Within this context, hip hop can be utilized to empower Black males to providing a space for self-definition.

Through the adoption of a new name and persona, Black males directly challenge society’s misperceptions of Black masculinity by telling the story of their lived experience from their perspective. Furthermore, by having the opportunity to retreat into the storyline of their music, Black males experience a brief reprieve from the chronic culturally assaults to their racialized masculinity. As they engage in intricate wordsmithing, these Black males relocate their social positioning from that of the marginalized “Other” to a place of agency and affirmation. Furthermore, through a self-constructed narrative via the content of Hip hop lyrics, Black males experience an integration of consciousness that challenges rigid or unstructured expressions of Black masculinity (exacerbated by the presence of F.E.A.R). Inherent, in this integration is a resolution of the double consciousness as identified by W.E.B. Dubois, where these individuals acknowledge the “Othering” experience facilitated by society but successfully negotiate a self-defined performance and expression of racialized masculinity.  Given the challenges facing Black males in regards to the ability to self-define their experience and potential, Hip Hop can offer a mechanism through which Black males can transcend the stereotypical chains designed to limit their existence. Within the narratives generated through Hip Hop music, Black males can reclaim the essence of their racialized masculinity and offer an alternative to the pre-prepared Black masculinity story generated by society. Break the chains Black male, reclaim your essence, and let Hip Hop be your tool for self-determination.

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