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Saying it like it is

08 September 2013, 13:33
I'm just about sick and tired of convoluted language complicating matters that are meant to be easily accessible to masses. Being in academics, both as a teacher and a student for many years now, has lead me to become disillusioned with the state of writing. So much the more that my studies are focalised  around English Literature and Language and Communication studies. My thinking is that language and ideas should always, always, always be accessible to everybody who reads it. Is this not the very purpose of our communicating with one another?

The elitism that comes with a privileged tertiary  education within the South African society seems ludicrous to me. I have been aspiring to be a hip-hop writer and activist in order to claim language, criticism, debates and discussions as the realms of a collective social conscious which speaks memory and lived realities as truths. Yet, within the academic sphere, language that relies on experience and not older established canons are viewed as esoteric, and very much the business of the unread, unschooled, miseducated or dubiously unacademic. 

I say "bahumbug" to all of this bourgeois nonsense. Recently, I had undertaken self-studies into hip-hop culture using my academic resources as a means to make it a legitimate source of knowledge. I realise this is ironic as I am fighting a battle against this very school of thought. The very first article I am able to obtain is entitled:  "'Are You an African?' The Politics of Self-Construction in Status-Based Social Movements."

A few things stand out to me: firstly, why does race need to be the very defining point within a culture that has transgressed racial inequities through its very message of self-awareness and social evolution of human rights? Is this what the voice of hip-hop has been denigrated to? Secondly, I realise that we evolve within a society and are often socialised into an ethos, but I have difficulty swallowing the notion that the construction of the "self" is pedagogy to the status base we establish when being part of or subscribing to certain social movements. 

Almost religiously, every article i have tried to analyse has latched on to the notion of race as a means of defining and justifying the existence of hip-hop. Furthermore, the use of language, with its taint of tertiary institutionalised elitism is if such high stature that one would forgive me for going to fetch a kitchen stool to stand on in order  to reach it. Is it so much to ask of academics to make information accessible to masses who are otherwise not privy to our brand of a lingua franca?

Allow me to take you on a journey of academia that speaks about hip-hop culture but says a whole lot of nothing:

"Our study extends [a line of ] inquiry by investigating how status-based movements shape processes of self-construction among members. Specifically, we argue that social movements shape participants’ beliefs about who they “really” are and what they are capable of becoming and, in turn, these beliefs about the self create openings and obstacles to mutual recognition and progressive social action."

Here, the academics are basically saying people's beliefs are defined by the groups they belong to and these groups tell them who they "really" are and what they can become. This then identifies them as part of the group with all the positives and negatives that come with it. Put in simple terms, i think many individuals would have a problem with this statement, but because of verbosity, the intellect of the authors are less likely to be challanged.

Here's another example of a controversial statement that this article argues as truth about hip-hop:

"Our analysis is based on comparative, ethnographic study of two distinct, racially progressive social movements. The first is an offshoot of the anti-death penalty movement known as “pro-black abolitionism.” The second is a subgenre within hip hop music. It is referred to as “underground,” or “conscious” hip hop, and is characterized by its critical race politics and Afrocentric cultural sensibilities. In this article, we have chosen to focus on white activists in race-based movements they are not directly implicated in. Doing so allows us to investi- gate the significance of race, particularly whiteness, for how status movements define their members and, in turn, how participants strategically situate their claims about the self in the movement and beyond."

Did you notice all the referrals to colour lines and ethnocentric notions on politics and sensibility? Probably less so because the language confuses!

Here's a screamer that narrows hip-hop down to politics and economic realms of society:

"In contrast, underground hip hop is a cultural movement that endeavors to balance political sensibilities with market-driven concerns. Here, participation requires little in the way of formal commitment and is open to anyone with knowledge of and access to the scene. Membership is diffuse and loosely structured. Although underground hip hop does not primarily rely on traditional organizing strategies, we argue that it is nonetheless a movement— one that forges collective identity and generates political action through cultural performance."

Have you noted that the authors believe that little "formal commitment" is needed to belong to "this" group, effectively othering hip-hopsters and isolating the culture to the liminal fringes of society? 

It is not only our right as citizens of an informed society, but also our responsibility to educate ourselves in the esoteric and elitist verbosity of the academic. It is through these powerful institutions that important issues such as culture, freedom of speech, and our societies livelihoods are discussed and determined. No longer can we afford to allow language to be used with impunity, as the silence that these statements make about our collective consciousness is tantamount to condoning every word that they say about us. Language, by very definition in communication, is to involve an exchange of information and ideas. Perhaps we should consider this on the level of equality so it is easily accessible to all.
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