Beyond the Bling: True Hip-Hop Culture

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“Think of a person who represents hip-hop,” said founder of Hip-Hop for Change Khafre Jay. “Raise your hand if that person is female,” Jay said, and of over three hundred kids, only a small handful put their hands in the air. “Raise your hand if that person is white,” Jay said, and got a similarly small response. “Now raise your hand if that person wears bling.” As hands all over the audience began to raise hesitantly, his point became clear: today’s definition of hip-hop culture, the one that has been fed to us by the media, is limited and inaccurate.

On Thursday, Oct. 26, the sophomores and juniors attended an assembly led by Khafre Jay, the founder of Hip-Hop for Change. Jay’s nonprofit uses grassroots activism to educate people about the real meaning of Hip-Hop culture as well as socio-economic inequality.

“I enjoyed that assembly,” junior Erin Hong said. “I thought he had a really interesting viewpoint.”

Jay, an African-American from Hunter’s Point in San Francisco, not only runs a nonprofit, but also raps about the bias that he faces daily. However, he didn’t start by rapping about social issues; his first raps were imitations of what he would see and hear on TV and the radio, things that were meant to sell more than to represent, Jay said.

“I was rapping about cars I didn’t have, girls who didn’t like me, money I didn’t see,” Jay said.

Jay told personal stories, many of which left the audience speechless.

“People with babies, most of them, grab their babies when they pass me,” Jay said. “Some of them pick their babies up and walk across the street.”

Hong said his personal examples brought the issue of discrimination to the surface, making it real for the first time for many students.

“He made us understand that these are situations that happen to people all the time,” Hong said.

Jay shared a shocking statistic: 30 percent of kids in Oakland are diagnosed with PTSD, a higher rate than veterans who fought in Afghanistan.

“People think it’s because our neighborhoods are bad,” Jay said. “Our neighborhoods feel pretty comfortable. It doesn’t feel comfortable outside our neighborhoods.”

Jay asked whether the audience thought there was more segregation in the 60s than today, and when most of the audience raised their hands thinking that the 60s were worse, he told them they were all wrong. Jay said that the discrepancy between how students see hip-hop and how Jay sees hip-hop is because of the media.

“Right now three companies own 90 percent of the depiction of my culture: Time Warner, Sony, and Universal,” Jay said. “Would you want the media controlling how your entire race looks?”

Jay said that what most Americans see in the media is a misrepresentation of his definition of hip-hop culture, which is more about peace, love, unity, and fun.

“We don’t see other people as part of our community, as our brothers and sisters,” Jay said.

Another shocking story Jay told was one that he said makes him cry. Jay described the doll test, an experiment in which you have a child pick between two dolls, one black and one white. No matter what the child’s race is, the white doll is chosen as the pretty doll, the smart doll, the better doll.

“That story made me really sad,” sophomore Audrey Call said. “Especially if the kid is black.”

However, the presentation wasn’t entirely depressing, Call said. Jay left the audience with some advice, after someone asked what measures students could take as individuals to combat inequality.

“If you consider yourself white, learn what your people went through, because ‘whiteness’ is a loss of your cultural identity,” Jay said. “If you don’t understand how important your culture is to you, you can’t understand how important culture is to somebody else.”