An authority on hip-hop culture offers a knowing primer on the state of young black Americans.
Freelance journalist Kitwana is an astute observer of the “hip-hop generationers,” defined by him as black Americans born between 1965 and 1984. Their experiences and views, he affirms, differ greatly from their baby boomer parents and older siblings, whose lives were shaped by the civil-rights and black-power movements. Hip-hop generationers came of age in a post-segregation, more materialistic world, where illusions about racial justice are often mocked and young people see money as the only absolute. The emphasis on attaining wealth is understandable, says the author, in an era of globalization, when good jobs flee overseas and unskilled work no longer offer the means of earning a livelihood. Black youths face more intractable forms of racism than their parents: draconian drug laws and sentencing policies have placed one million African-Americans behind bars, a coarsened culture offers them only “gangsta” images in film and music, and real-world events such as the attacks on Rodney King and Amadou Diallo are constant reminders of their vulnerabilty. These pressures, says Kitwana, assault the very fabric of black life. A chapter entitled “Where Did Our Love Go?” visits the gender war that manifests itself in rap misogyny and stems from young black men’s angry perception that they stand little chance of attaining fulfillment or rewards in American society. He discusses the nihilism inherent in rap music and gangsta films but also cites ways in which both media can disseminate positive images and ideas. The author does a superior job of depicting the hip-hop generationers’ worldview and convincingly explaining why young African-Americans do not share their parents’ optimism. Chapters spelling out a hip-hop political agenda are less compelling, and the profiles of young “hip-hop” activists such as Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. feel tacked on.
Kitwana’s analysis may be overly pessimistic, but his candid overview deserves a hearing.