Why is it that white youngsters safely esconced in the outerlands of suburbia, (a magical place that their parents have fashioned just to protect them from the evil influences of
people of color, especially black people crime and blight), go on to betray their parents and all they’ve done for them by turning their faces toward the hip hop culture of black and latino youth?
Robert A. Clift, a young white man has created the film documentary “Blacking Up” to tackle this very touchy and multifaceted subject. He says he got the idea while he was a graduate student at Indiana University. While he was in his dorm one day he overheard the noise of a frat house that was having its “Annual Hip Hop battle”, so he presciently grabbed his camera and ran out to film the spectacle, which has since become a critically acclaimed PBS documentary. Here’s what he saw on that fateful day:
“…It was like the setting for the ending of “8 Mile,” except the racial dynamics were totally inverted. Instead of a mostly black crowd with a black emcee as the crowd favorite—and with the underdog, Eminem, overcoming the racial obstacles to beat the black emcee—the crowd was mostly white with a white emcee as the crowd favorite and a black emcee that was trying to win over the racial animosity of the white crowd. The results were also the opposite of the movie – not only did
the black battler not overcome the racialized sides of the audience as Eminem did, but played right into it, almost causing a huge fight and causing the crowd to jeer at him when he accused the white battler of wanting to be black. It got pretty tense. The crowd didn’t think it was fair for the black rapper to bring race into the battle. It was fine to talk about women and mothers and penises, but not about race.” (interview with Mediasaurs)
What’s interesting to me is not so much that a group of white kids on the all-white campus of Indiana University staged a “hip hop battle”. What IS surprising to me is Robert’s reading of the racial dynamics of the crowd of white hip hoppers. His statement is full of clues about the minds of white folks. Maybe this is why most white folks really don’t like talking about their deep seated issues with race, not even amongst themselves, as Mr. Clift admits. Maybe it’s that they are deeply afraid of their issues, or worse, they simply can’t understand their issues. But, as issues tend to rise to the surface just to spite us, Robert Clift revealed some of his stuff right here.
He says that “Eminem overcame racial obstacles to beat the black emcee” in talking about the movie “8 Mile”. In real life, there aren’t any real “racial obstacles” that white Americans have to overcome. They don’t exist. But the movie “8 Mile” managed to create this idea of a white man’s racial oppression? But what’s even more interesting in “8 Mile” is the white man’s triumphing over that oppression. Slim Shady overcame, y’all. (BTW, Eminem can rap. Everybody knows that. Enuf said.) I haven’t figured out how to read anything into that yet. Is it that blacks are more fair minded? Or is it that white people are really and truly fair minded, and not blinded by racism? Or is it that the content of one’s character, or skill is all that’s truly necessary to succeed?
But then snatching back with the left hand what he gave with with the right, Clift subtly accuses that lone black hip hop battler of not being as smooth in real life as Eminem was in his movie. Because brotherman didn’t choose to “overcome” the racialized sides in the college campus battle, “as Eminem did”, but played right into their racism by playing the dreaded race card, thus getting what he deserved in causing the white kids to want to fight him for unfairly bringing up race in the battle!
White kids rapping can be subversive, but it’s not inherently so. In many cases, it plays right into race, class, and gender hierarchies. But the question of when it is subversive and when it is not, of what the white hip-hop fan or performer means, politically speaking, is what the whole film is about. It’s central to the film. Is it, as you asked, subversive? If so, when? In what circumstances and why? (Robert A. Clift)
All that I’ve seen of the video is a couple of 2-minute long clips, but I get the feeling that Mr. Clift is an apologist for all white rappers, no matter where they fall in the white rapper continuum–whether they “pay homage” and have true rap skills, and deal with hatred from other whites, or they are simply racists who are mocking black culture. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.
There’s one last aspect of this entire thing. Those people like the Robert A. Clifts and Tim Wise’s who commodify “this thing” within the white culture of appropriation. Just in the telling of it, it becomes a commodity to be sold to an eager audience, whether that was the intention or not. I suppose it’s easier to hear about your issues from someone who will be kind and gentle, holding up a rose colored mirror, that casts a rosy glow upon fellow brethren. So I can’t really be mad at them.
- http://www.racialicious.com/2008/09/18/cultural-appropriation-homage-or-insult/ (racialicious.com)