The crawls facing young blacks, also referred to as the “hip hop generation,” Is one that is multifaceted and contains various layers. Young Blacks today are being faced with a number of challenges within their community and within society as a whole. These challenges include, rising unemployment, racial profiling, high levels of incarceration, the AIDS epidemic, an increasing generation gap, as well as a growing education achievement gap.
When coupling these many challenges with the glorification of drugs, violence, money, and the degradation of women that Is often remoter within the hip hop culture, the future of young blacks In today’s society remains at-risk and in crisis. Therefore the question remains, how do we address the crisis facing African American youth today? There is no doubt that the answer to this question will not easy. We must first determine, who is this so-called “hip hop generation,” and look at the history and emergence of this generation of young people within African American culture.
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We must then explore how this generation was shaped. What are the events and occurrences that have shaped this generation and contributed to the crisis this generation now faces? This includes an examination of the society, culture, politics, and pop culture of the sass’s and sass’s, which the “hip hop generation” grew up in. Once we examine and understand those issues that have fashioned this young generation of African Americans, we can then begin to explore solutions to the crisis that has negatively affected many of today’s black youth.
Although the challenges are many, so are the possibilities of overcoming the crisis many young Black people face. The solution Involves the African American community, as well as society as whole coming together to face the challenges this generation is battling. It involves an examination of public policy and a strong look at our government. And finally, it involves a serious critique of the hip hop culture and pop culture that have such a large influence on African American youth today. Who makes up the “hip hop generation,” and who does this demographic consist of?
The term “help hop generation’ Is used mostly to describe the generation growing up In the sass’s and 1 buffs. Many have termed this group of young people as “Generation X. ” However, when speaking specifically about young Black people, for many the term “hip hop generation” was much more fitting. One of the first coiners of the term was Baker Kitting, head editor of The Source: the magazine of hip-hop music culture and politics, during the sass’s. Kitting defines the generation as those born between 1965-1984, basically those growing up In “post-civil rights Black America” (Sultana, 2002).
Although hip hop music, culture, and politics have changed quite a bit over the almost 20 year span that makes up the “hip hop generation,” many of the issues and challenges facing this generation of young people have remained consistent. As Kitting noted, “individuals may point to different defining vents, but all share a crystal clear understanding of coming of age in an era of post- segregation and global economics” (Kitting, 2002). Essentially, the “hip hop generation” consists of Black youths that are aware of the progress that has been the struggle that remains for young African Americans living in today’s society.
Despite the progress made during the sass’s Civil Rights Movement, young Black people are still faced with new forms of racism such a racial profiling and redlining. Additionally, they must deal with large disparities in employment and education in comparison to their white counterparts. The reality of such challenges have left Black youths feeling marginalia and unconnected to society as a whole, as they struggle to deal with the crisis before them. Let us now examine the challenges and issues that have impacted the coming of age and of the hip hop generation, and contributed to the crisis they face.
Unlike their parents, who would be considered part of the “Baby Boomer” generation, the “hip hop generation” was shaped by events and public policy occurring after the civil rights movement. The segregation and Jim Crow laws that were part of the coming of age for the baby boomer generation, was not experienced by the hip hop generation. Instead, the hip hop generation’s coming of age was influenced by more subtle forms of racism and discrimination, such as racial profiling. The emergence of racial profiling can be heavily contributed to the Reagan administration’s well known “War on Drugs” beginning in the sass’s.
This public policy debacle had a very large hand in birthing racial profiling practices that still exist today. Racial profiling is based on the idea that most drug offenses are committed by minorities (Harris, 1999). Contrary to what many may believe the majority of drug traffickers are not mostly Black. In an UCLA special report Harris noted that, “according to the government’s own reports, 80% of the country cocaine users are white, and the typical cocaine user is a middle class, white suburbanite. But law enforcement tactics that concentrated on inner city drug trade were visibly filling the Jails and prisons with minority drug law offenders, feeding the misconception that most drug users and dealers were Black and Latino. Thus a ‘drug courier profile’ with unmistakable racial overtones took hold in law enforcement. (Harris, 1999) This “drug courier profile” served as the basis for unwarranted stops ND searches of vehicles driven by people of color as well as the unwarranted stops and searches of Black people in malls, airports, and even on the streets.
This practice of racial profiling led to a disproportionate number of young Blacks being arrested and imprisoned during the sass’s and sass’s. A study by the Justice Department showed that at the state level the number of Blacks incarcerated for drug offenses increased 707% between 1985 and 1995, compared to only 306% of Whites (Kitting, 2002). By 1996 62% of drug offenders admitted to state prisons were Black, compared to 36% that were White. This disproportionate number of young Blacks being incarcerated has tremendously affected the hip hop generation in a major way.
The staggering number of young Black that are incarcerated, has led to a negative image of crystallization as related to Black youth. Since so many Black youth are imprisoned, it is easy to assume that they must also be the ones committing the most crimes. Thus more minorities are arrested, convicted, and Jailed, feeding into the aforementioned “drug courier profile,” resulting in more arrests of minorities, and perpetuating the stereotype that most crimes are committed by Black people (Harris, 999). As this cyclical pattern continues, it is also strengthened by the media’s unfair portrayal of Blacks as criminals.
According to Kitting (2002), a 2001 study “found that Being that many Americans depend on the news as a source of information, they are continually being misled about young Black people and their association with crime. In addition to the disproportionately high incarceration of young Blacks, there is also a disproportionately high number of Black unemployed youth, contributing to the crisis among those in the hip hop generation. In the article, The Black-White Jobless Gap, Simms and McDaniel report that only one in three of Blacks between the ages of 16 and 24 have a Job, while only 16% of Whites are unemployed (Simms and McDaniel, 2010).
These disproportionate figures can mostly be attributed to the lack of education or “achievement gap” that exists between young Whites and Blacks. Unfortunately, many young African Americans in the sass lacked the education needed to compete in a growing global society, and unfortunately this cycle continues, as statistics show that 20-30% of Black males drop out of school prior to graduation (Encourage, 1997) Therefore, they were forced to low-skilled, low-paying bobs, which were few and far between.
Those growing up in the hip hop generation simply did not have the opportunities their parents had as unskilled workers, having the opportunity to work in the steel, rubber, and automotive industries. By the time the hip hop generation began to enter into the workforce, many of these industries had dried up. According to Dry. Pedro Encourage (1997), studies have shown that Black males in particular are widely viewed as “less desirable employees and therefore are substantially less likely to be hired in most Jobs. The rise of unemployment only led o a rise of poverty among many hip hop generations, thus contributing to the growing normalization and disenfranchisement of Black youth. As feelings of normalization grew due to racial profiling, the crystallization of young Blacks, and the lack of employment opportunities, many young Blacks began to turn to a life of crime. With no viable employment aspects, many youths turned to the underground drug market as the only way to survive as poverty in many inner cities continued to increase.
This led to an increase in gang activity and drug trade. Unfortunately, many African American youths felt they could do better financially in the drug trade than in mainstream society (Kitting, 2002). The street gang mentality spilled over into the prison population of young Blacks. As more Black youth were incarcerated, there was a rise of prison gangs. Soon the difference between Black street gangs, Black prison gangs, and Black youth culture in general was difficult to differentiate, thus contributing to the crystallization of young Blacks.
Soon the line was indistinguishable even for hip hop generations, leading many young Black youth to associate criminality with Blackness (Kitting, 2002). This can largely be attributed to the changing face of hip hop music and culture. As hip hop culture evolved (more specifically) rap music, the glorification of “gangster life” became more and more popular. Aspects of gang and prison life quickly made its way into rap lyrics, and as hip hop culture became more commercialism, this gangster mentality eventually made its way into mainstream society, thus influencing more and more members of the hip hop generation.
In addition to rap music and lyrics, the emergence of Black “hood films,” which perpetuated drugs and violence, were on the rise between 1991 and 2001 (Kitting, 002). Unfortunately, many of these films Just perpetuated the stereotypes already such as Boys in the Hood, and Menace to Society, while praised for shedding light to many of the issues affecting everyday inner city Black youth, are also criticized for the excessive and graphic violence they portray.
Many of these movies only contribute to the alienation of young Blacks in society. Seeing violence and crime as the only way of life (as portrayed through these movies) only leads to a sense of acceptance of violence and criminal behavior as part of the Black youth culture. In addition to the crises situations caused by incarceration, unemployment, lack of education, and glorification of violence, there is also a noticeable discord between male and female Black youths that contributes to the crisis among the hip hop generation.
Rap music and “hood films” have not only contributed to the normalization of Black youths from society, but have also contributed to the rift or “Battle of the sexes” between young Black males and females. Degrading terms such as “Hoe,” and “Pitch,” have repeatedly been used to describe African American women in hip hop culture. The film “New Jack City’ is a prime example of the degradation of women, as women in the movie were viewed as “less valuable than drugs and money’ (Kitting, 2002). Women are continually disrespected and degraded throughout the film.
Additionally, this type of mentality is ever present in numerous rap lyrics that continually depict young Black women as “hoes,” “creekers,” and “tricks. ” Many of the negative sentiments between young Black women and young Black men of the hip hop generation came to a head in 2004 during Seaplane College’s protest of rapper Knells “Tip Drill” video, played regularly on BET’s late night died program, Uncut. (Watkins, 2005). The video is filled with images of women simulating sex, dancing naked, and overall being degraded by men. Knells “Tip Drill” video caused an uproar on the campus of Seaplane University in Atlanta.
The women of Seaplane staged a protest against the video that gained national attention. Even more importantly, the protest exposed a much deeper rift between young Black males and females of the hip hop generation. It brought to light the divide ever present divide between the sexes as women struggled to fight the “women-hating inclinations” associated with hip hop music and film (Watkins, 2005). Unfortunately this hatred and contempt toward young Black females from young Black males spills over into youth Black culture, thus adding yet another facet to growing crisis among Black youths. So, where do we go from here?
How do hip hop generations begin to reverse the crisis that has affected them for so long? I believe the answer is hip hop. Just as hip hop has the ability to negatively impact image and treatment of young Black men and women, it also has the ability to positively impact the lives of young Black Americans and Black culture in general. It has been argued that music is one f the most influential instruments in shaping the country. Even politicians have turned to musicians to help their political campaigns, recognizing the large impact artists within the music industry have on mainstream society.
Hip hop has proven to be a part of that impact and influence found within the music industry. As Kitting noted in his book, The Hip Hop Generation (2002), Rapper Chuck D of the group Public Enemy went as far as to describe rap music as the “the Black CNN. ” Hip hop proved during the sass’s that its presence was real and was being felt across America as it came an accepted and acknowledged as part of American pop culture, and not Just youth culture to a national audience, it also sets the tone for Black youth culture. Kitting, 2002). With such National and Worldwide acceptance, one can only conclude that such a phenomenon has the ability to affect change. Just as Hip hop culture has had a hand in contributing to the crisis facing young Blacks, it can also have a hand in repairing the plight of Black youth culture. As Kitting (2002) suggests in his book, “a united front could challenge the rap industry to finally resolve the issue of hip-hop’s responsibility to Black cultural integrity. Instead of Just a handful of “conscious” rappers like Common and Queen Latish, more artists must step up their lyrical content so that socially responsive lyrics are as prominent in rap lyrics as those degrading lyrics that perpetuate the racial stereotypes that plaque Black youth culture today (Kitting, 2002). In addition to industry leaders and rappers, Black youth culture and society as whole must step up and begin to hold rappers accountable for their lyrical content, Just as the women of Seaplane College did with Knells “Tip Drill” video.
Rappers and filmmakers will never accept responsibility if we do not hold them accountable for their degrading lyrics and stereotypical feature of young Black people in their music and films. We must also not forget that politicians must also be scrutinized and examined closely as they introduce new forms of legislation and public policy that also contribute to the disenfranchisement of young African Americans. Public policy initiatives such as the sass’s “War on Drugs” and mandatory minimum sentencing that only contribute to the crisis facing young Black people must be criticized and protested against Just as much as degrading rap lyrics.