Hip-hop redemption

In Boston Judd Katz and his friend, Jon Gordon, are getting ready to graffiti on a summer night in 1999. Judd stands out in his Charlestown neighborhood in terms of his appearance, the way he talks and the way he thinks. From just one conversation with Judd, you would have no idea that he comes from a Catholic, white, Irish neighborhood notorious for its racial hostility.

Not too far away is a group of white neighborhood kids walking toward the store. Judd and his friend decide it’s time to get going. Dressed in baggy clothes with his baseball hat turned backwards, Judd and his friend move on. Turn your (expletive) hat around, said one of the kids. Judd said something back to the kid, and as he walked on, the same kid shouted, What do you think you are – black or something? Although angered by the comment, Judd continued on instead of getting into a fight.

Occurrences like this aren’t uncommon for white kids involved in hip-hop culture. Likewise, many black kids find themselves in a similar situation when they try to be white by dressing a certain way or using certain words. Often we don’t think twice when people criticize someone for acting in a way that may not be associated with his or her specific race.

Since when is race defined based on behavior, actions or language? Surely, there are stereotypical ways people in each race act. But stereotypes are exaggerated generalizations containing limited truth. A white person doesn’t have to be intellectual, use big words or wear preppy clothes. You don’t have to use slang, wear baggy clothes or act like a thug to be black. These requirements are so limiting and simplistic that they neglect many other personality types in a given race. Although people would like to think that there are corresponding behavioral traits, none exist. Behavior and personality are up to the individual to determine, not skin color.

Although it’s commonly written off as being a black thing and strictly a culture for black people, hip-hop embodies many complex issues involving race and their definitions. Ten years ago, common perceptions of hip-hop may have held true; non-blacks had a very limited interest and role in hip-hop culture. But today, the once clear racial boundaries are being blurred as hip-hop culture is becoming more diverse.

Although it may still be dominated by blacks and is clearly an important part of black culture, the nature of hip-hop has changed tremendously. Hip-hop is now a major component of American urban culture. Walk around D.C. on any given day and you can find people of all colors involved with hip-hop culture listening to music or speaking a similar lingo. The roles of different races are still being felt out, but the diversification of hip-hop is generally being accepted. People are realizing that hip-hop can successfully cross racial barriers and bring people together in multiple ways other than a shared interest in music.

If you are white and involved in hip-hop, you can easily be perceived as trying to act in the stereotypical black fashion. Many white suburban kids are drawn in by the descriptions of violence, street hustling, women and expensive jewelry and cars. As a result, they exaggerate their behavior and attitudes to the point where they come off as fake trying too hard to be a part of hip-hop culture that they see on MTV and BET.

But other kids like Judd Katz don’t have to make an exaggerated effort to be a part of hip-hop. These kids look past the surface level of the culture with a genuine interest in other aspects of hip-hop aside from flashy clothes and hardcore music. Among these kids exists an appreciation for the musical talent and lyrical content. Although lyrics addressing street life are still popular, these kids also listen to artists whose lyrics have more substance than commercial hip-hop.

What appeals to true lovers of hip-hop is its constantly changing aspects. No matter what part of the culture you look at, each component has room for flexibility. How you speak and the way you wear your clothes is up to you. Anyone can put their own spin on any part of hip-hop.

White people involved with hip-hop aren’t trying to be black. Rather, a lot of whites are just acting naturally helping to do away with the idea that white people must act a certain way. No one is trying to hide the fact they are white. Instead, they are adding another dimension to what it means to be white.

Hip-hop is beginning to embrace diversification. People are finally beginning to understand culture is based on shared behaviors, attitudes and mentalities. The simplistic, generalized definitions of what it means to be a part of a race don’t exist in the world of hip-hop. If only the larger society could learn from what hip-hop has to offer.

-The writer is a freshman.

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