Tricia Rose in Ypsilanti

01.30.11 | Comment?

© Jim MacKenzie

So now here we go with an actual serious post here on schoolcraft wax. Tricia Rose, historian and American studies scholar, gave a wonderful talk at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, MI on January 17, 2011 in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. She is a former professor of mine from when I was an undergraduate student at NYU from 1995-99. My friend and I adored her and took every class that she taught. She is the author of Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (1994). Rose and this book changed my life. She’s brilliant, both in print and in person. And this woman can speak. She is an incredible teacher, passionate and dedicated. In recent years, she has also begun to speak publicly on shows like Rachel Maddow and Tavis Smiley. All in all, I’m academically in love with Tricia Rose.

In her talk, she focused on issues of justice, race relations, and human rights. She framed her talk with the following questions, all in terms of civil rights and race relations in the United States:

Where are we?
Where do we go from here? (quoting MLK, Jr.)
How do we get there?
How can King’s vision help us reach these goals?

I am writing from my own notes and memory. I will quote her directly when I am certain that what I wrote down actually coincided with her statement precisely. But there is no video of her talk up yet and I want to write this now. I will paraphrase otherwise. All of the ideas here belong to Rose, not me. If you don’t see quotation marks, it doesn’t mean I’m usurping her ideas, it just means I can’t actually quote her.

Rose explained that we are in an incredible contradictory moment: “everybody’s rhetoric is equality,” but there’s widespread disagreement on why inequality remains. In the search for the reasons behind the continued persistence of social inequality, there are two sides, generally speaking. One side recognizes that inequality exists at a structural level in the United States, and seeks to address social inequality through political and social change. The other side disagrees that inequality can be found in political and social systems, and instead, sees the inequality as a behavioral, personal issue. It must be “their” fault.

What the hell are we supposed to do with that contradiction?

For starters, Rose suggested that we get past the scarcity model of oppression. “I’m more oppressed than you.” “My discrimination is more important than yours.” Once we get into this hierarchical arrangement of oppression, “communities disintegrate.”

Another excellent point that Rose made is that Dr. King has been tamed. His courage has become underrated. He is depicted as a soft, gentle philosopher. He was a radical, a fighter. Not simply a tame man who sat around thinking, hoping for peace and love. Further, he was not a proponent of being colorblind. He proposed that we should not judge a person based on their skin color, not that we should ignore color, race, difference altogether. Undertaking colorblindness as a possible reality is actually a “fictitious neutrality” that cannot possibly exist; it simply hides white power, power that still inherently and automatically remains in the hands of whiteness. Colorblindness makes whiteness invisible to which all other colors remain visible. It’s not okay to just let this go without interrogating it in our daily lives.

Rose then began to discuss hip hop, and she’s got the expertise! Her knowledge and passion are so dope and her ability to speak vibrantly and eloquently about it all is so inspiring. She briefly addressed hip hop of the late 1970s and early 1980s as a music that elevated dance and play over self-destruction. There was strong self-value in this music. What hip hop culture has become, however, is a 
“prison industrial complex of culture,” perpetuating self-destruction. Her most recent book, Hip Hop Wars, addresses this very issue. She describes contemporary hip hop as being based on the “hip hop trinity,” which consists of gangsters, pimps, and hoes. This is the formula for success; I agree with her completely. “To not enter into this narrative is to be faced with obscurity.” Rose explained that people think Black suffering is entertainment. Audiences in general feel this way, not just white audiences/consumers. And this hip hop trinity is based almost entirely on consumerism and a capitalist obsession with acquiring things and displaying wealth. And in this narrative of wealth on display, the way in which it is acquired is by terrorizing lower income Black communities. Extreme, uncensored sexism is wholeheartedly embraced and promoted in this hip hop trinity, as well.

We’re all pretty comfortable with this, and that comfort is only made possible through a powerful disconnect between social inequality and the explanations as to why it exists.

Rose concluded her talk with a discussion of local social movements. She explained that in order for local communities to sustain movements for social change, whatever that change needs to be, there are two kinds of love needed. Rose acknowledged that it might be awkward or odd for an academic speaker to talk of love as a solution. The two kinds of love, expressed on individual and collective levels, are affirmational love and transformational love. Affirmational love in order to lift people up on a mass scale; and transformational love as a commitment that no matter what we’re doing, we can always do better. With this love and support, our social justice movements will weather whatever happens. Attack change with a joyous spirit in order to create the kind of community that will be sustained.

Rose is incredibly inspirational in so many ways. Her approach to teaching and interacting with students is so warm and welcoming. She shares knowledge and information freely because it is clear to her how important it is to continue to educate people. And she remembered me! And she likes Jean Grae.

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