18th African American Latino/a American Adult Education Research Symposium. (2010). DeKalb: Northern Illinois University. "Rey Ty" by reyty1

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									  18th African American Latino/a American Adult Education Research Symposium
    Theme: “The Harlem Renaissance for the 21st Century: Invoking the New”

                                                             April 24, 2010

                                                   Northern Illinois University

                                                       Table of Contents

President Barack Obama’s Policy Rhetoric and Action:.............................................................................. 5
Hancock: The Reblaxploitation of the Modern Day Superhero................................................................ 12
And Justice for All! The Contributions of the African Diaspora to the Enrichment of Critical Theory: 
Postcolonial Theory and Critical Race Theory ........................................................................................... 26
Re‐Presentation: From Old to New ........................................................................................................... 32
Hip‐Hopping and Rapping with 50 Cent, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Eminem, and Immortal Technique: 
Cultural Renaissance for Whom and at Whose Expense? ........................................................................ 38
Club Cultures of the 80's: The Influence of Chicago House Music and the Black Gay Community ......... 44
What are the Cultural, Economic, Political and Social influences of the  Chicago Black Renaissance? .. 51
The Harlem Renaissance Revisited ............................................................................................................ 57

                   President Barack Obama’s Policy Rhetoric and Action:
                                 Which Side Are You On?

                                   Rey Ty & David C. Daniels


Statement of the Problem
        African Americans have been historically silenced from the time they were brought in to
the U.S. as slaves. Aside from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s and Malcolm X’s rise to
prominence in the civil rights movement, Barack Obama’s rise to the U.S. presidency is a major
landmark in U.S. civil rights history. The problem, though, is that an analysis of Obama’s
contributions to current history is difficult due to partisan bickering.

Research Purpose and Questions
        There are debates about the Obama presidency. The goal of this paper is to examine
Obama’s presidency. The questions raised are: What are major historical landmarks that advance
the struggles of African Americans in the U.S. that made the Obama’s ascendancy to the U.S.
presidency possible? What are the key policies and actions of President Obama? To what extent
do Obama policy rhetoric and action reflect conservative, libertarian, liberal, or critical race

Framework of Analysis
         The framework that guides this research is ideology, a set of values and beliefs about the
proper aim and scope of government, balancing between order, liberty, and equality (Janda,
Berry & Goldman, 2009). This paper focuses on conservatism, libertarianism, liberalism, and
critical race theory, while reactionary and Marxist ideologies are briefly identified. As they have
different ideological preferences, people differ in their ideas about government. Conservatism
supports private businesses but oppose government programs, regulations or legislation
regarding wages and working conditions. Libertarianism opposes all government intervention in
society, except the protection of life and property. Liberalism supports government intervention
in helping the disadvantaged in society by providing social services. Stressing the need “to
detect, critique, and then challenge ideological manipulation” (Brookfield, p. 13), critical theory
focuses on the rights of minorities, women, and other disadvantaged groups in society. Critical
race theory (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001, p. 2) is a critique of legal reasoning and legal
institutions to transform “the relationship among race, racism, and power.” Critical race theory,
through interest convergence analysis, seeks to unpack the racial assumptions made through the
tyranny of the centrality of white privilege, so that the true interests of racially oppressed
members of society can be more clearly illuminated in the light of day (Crenshaw, Peller, and
Thomas, 1995).

Research Method
         Using document analysis as the research data collection method, the findings consist of
classifying data in such a way that similar sets of data are arranged and compared across
ideology. Arguments about the Obama presidency are classified according to the ideology

embodied in the texts under investigation. A taxonomy composed of key words of the key issues
with which each ideology is concerned is presented here.


    Civil Rights Landmarks in U.S. History That Made the Obama Presidency Possible

Legacy of Racism
        African Americans have lived through centuries of discrimination in the U.S. Colonies
set up slavery which the U.S. Constitution accepted. Slaves were called other persons in the
Constitution. Article 1, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution affirms that congressional
representatives are apportioned among the states based on their respective numbers which were
obtained by adding the total number of free persons “three fifths of all other Persons.” From
1619 during which “the first slaves were brought to Jamestown, Virginia, until 1865, when the
Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution” banned the practice, “slavery was a way of life in the
United States” (Dye, 1999, p. 546). The “Quakers, free African Americans, and militant white
reformers—worked to end slavery” (Faragher, Buhle, Czitrom, & Armitage, 2001, p. 228). In the
Dred Scott v. Sanford case (1857), the Supreme Court ruled that “a slave who had escaped to a
free state enjoyed no rights as a citizen” and added “that Congress had no authority to ban
slavery in the territories” (p. 139). The Civil War did not terminate racism. But after the Civil
War, the Thirteenth Amendment prohibited slavery. Overruling the Dred Scott decision, the
Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to Blacks and “[g]uaranteed equal protection of the
laws” (Lipsitz & Speak, 1989, p. 133). The equal protection clause becomes the guarantor of
individual rights. It was “originally intended to protect the newly freed slaves after the Civil War
(1861-1865)” (Sidlow & Henschen, 2007, p. 105). In the South, Jim Crow laws use the separate-
but-equal doctrine set up under Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) to segregate totally all facets of life,
requiring separate housing and public facilities: from entrances to rest rooms, water fountains,
schools, and movie theaters. In the North, legal segregation was not pervasive but migrant Black
workers were ghettoized. Some whites were involved in physical violence against blacks, such as
rioting, burning black neighborhoods, and “the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) terrorized African
Americans…, lynching…them” (Edwards III, Wattenberg, & Lineberry, 2004, p. 140).

Ending Segregation
        Seeking access to the courts to challenge racial segregation in education, the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) assisted Blacks in challenging
state laws that deny them access to Whites-only universities. In Brown vs. Board of Education of
Topeka, Kansas (1954), “the Supreme Court reversed a half-century-old precedent and declared
public school segregation unconstitutional” (Burns, Peltason, Cronin, & Magleby, 1998, p. 115).
It overturned Plessy v. Ferguson when it rejected the separate-but-equal doctrine, ruling that
public-school racial segregation violates the Fourteenth Amendment. In Brown v. Board of
Education (1955), the Court ordered desegregation and busing, transporting African American
students to White schools and vice versa in order to stop de facto segregation.

Social Movements
       Committed to the recognition of the rights of African Americans, the civil rights
movement started with the arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955 for not sitting in the “colored section” of

the bus, which led to Blacks boycotting city buses in Montgomery, Alabama. Influenced by
Gandhi’s civil disobedience against injustice, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “and the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which he led, moved to the forefront” (Patrick, 2001,
p. 78). King emerged as the leader of the movement, which swelled to include Black and White
student activists who mobilized politically to mount voter registration campaigns for Southern
Blacks. However, some Whites and the KKK violently opposed the movement. In 1963, Police
Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Conner “unleashed police dogs and used electric cattle prods
against the protesters” in Birmingham, Alabama (Schmidt, Shelley & Bardes, 2003, p. 155)
during which King was jailed and wrote his “Letters from a Birmingham Jail.” Due to the lack of
progress toward equality for Blacks in the North, Malcolm X and other leaders of the Black
Nationalist or Black Power movement in the 1960s, who believed in “black separatism and black
pride” (Henschen & Sidlow, 2004, p. 108) led a parallel social movement that struggled for the
empowerment of African Americans.

Civil Rights Acts
          Thanks to the vigor of the civil rights movement, the U.S. Congress passed the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 which was “the most far-reaching” (McClenaghan, 1997, p. 556). It
prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, voter registration, public schools and
employment based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. The Civil Rights Act of
1968 prohibited discrimination in housing, forbidding steering, block busting, and redlining. The
Voter Rights Act of 1965 banned discriminatory registration tests, authorizing federal
registration and administration of voting where discrimination happened. It helped to “end
formal and informal barriers to African-American suffrage” (Edwards III, Wattenberg, &
Lineberry, 2004, p. 145). Despite all the positive developments in the legal protection of civil
rights, de facto discrimination, though illegal, still continues in practice, especially in
employment, housing, and other aspects of social life. “[D]e jure equality” is not same as “de
facto equality” (Berman & Murphy, 2003, p. 491). Full equality is still not a universal condition
of life in the U.S. However, the civil rights movement inspires Asian Americans, “women,
Hispanics, gays, the elderly, and the physically disabled” to fight for equal rights by bringing
about “favorable legislative acts and judicial decisions” (Patrick, 2001, p. 78).

                                     The Obama Presidency

Role of Individuals and Masses in History
         Many historical events cited above converged to make an Obama presidency possible,
aside from Obama’s own brilliance. While African Americans have suffered slavery for
centuries, they have resisted and struggled against slavery and all types of discrimination for
centuries. If Obama himself did not rise as the president of the U.S., sooner or later, an “Obama”
will rise to the occasion, as a result of the convergence of several historical factors. How far an
“Obama” could go also depends on many factors, including structural constraints, exertion of
one’s agency, as well as confluence of historical events and accidents. As of this writing,
Obama’s most important policy rhetoric and actions are based on his call to action in his
inaugural address and his first state of the nation.

Obama’s Policy Rhetoric and Actions
         In his inaugural address, Obama (2010a) admitted that the U.S. is in crisis. The
economy is in decline. The country is at war. Homes have been lost. Jobs lost. Businesses
crushed. Healthcare is too expensive and Obama pushes hard for healthcare reform. Education
fails many. Obama spoke of hope and unity, stressing equality and the pursuit of happiness.
There is a need to focus on science, technology, and alternative energy. He called for expanding
the gross domestic product and extending opportunity of prosperity, not as an act of charity but
to benefit the common good. Safety, patriotism, liberty, and prosperity are not mutually
exclusive. Obama criticized fascism and communism. The U.S. respects religious and racial
differences and common humanity. International relations are based on mutual respect. The U.S.
helps poor countries and defeats terrorists. In his state-of-the-union address, Obama (2010b) laid
out broad goals, not specific plans, and promised, domestically, a better economy, jobs, health
care, and gay rights in the military; and globally, to fight poverty and AIDS. Obama did not
specifically mention Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr., domestic poverty, Pakistan where Al Qaeda is,
the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

Relative Autonomy of the State?
          Is the state an instrument of the ruling classes? Do the most economically powerful and
politically dominant classes have the power to exercise as well as use and control the state as a
means to reproduce the social relations? Are the interests of the economically powerful classes
and the politically powerful classes harmonized? In short, do politicians advance the interests of
big business? Then again, regardless of the ideology of politicians, is the state subject to the
systemic limitations so much so that laws always end up guaranteeing capitalist accumulation
and reproduction? Is change from above based on the initiative of the state, as Obama
envisioned it, possible? Can the state be an instrument to advance the interests of the
underprivileged classes? Facts based on past historical events suggest that only in rare
circumstances have all competing classes—peasants, landlords, workers, and capitalists—fall on
their knees before the state, under an all-powerful despot (Marx, 1959a; Marx, 1959b; Engels,
1959). In his State of the Union speech, Obama asserted that he preferred to work
democratically, rather than doing changes alone. Obama attempts to make the state relatively
autonomous, making it embody the general interest and stand above partisan interests in order to
prevail over the separation between civil society and the state. He tries to stand above
partisanship and be relatively independent of big-business interests. However, the test of the
pudding is in the eating. How do the plutocrats and oligarchs react?

              Data Interpretation—What You See Depends on Where You Sit

        Obama’s policy rhetoric and action reflect conservative, libertarian, liberal, and critical-
race perspectives to varying degrees. He did not only want to be a populist leader, appealing to
the broad masses of the poor and middle-class folks, but also appeal to the Republicans and big-
business capitalists, whom he hoped to reform. Obama is confronted with the immense power of
Wall Street and the Congress. Indeed, Obama is overstretched, ending up not being able to please
one side fully. Ideologues of each camp criticize Obama for not upholding strictly to their tenets.
The Obama administration recycles the old elites from the previous administration, which serves
the vantage point through which this administration views the current crisis, which differs from
the point of view of poor people. It bails out Wall Street companies, the plutocracy that wields so

much economic and political power. In Bill Moyer’s Journal on PBS, Rev. Jeremiah Wright
(2010) said that he speaks the way he does as a pastor, while Obama did not say good things
about him in Philadelphia. Obama is a politician who plays the political game and has to respond
to the sound bytes of corporate media, as he speaks and needs to appeal to a political audience.
Using critical race perspective, Cornel West (2010) spoke about Obama on many occasions. He
critically supports Obama to end the conservative rule and a weak Democratic Party, saying that
Obama is subject to all the scrutiny to which all presidents are subjected but he must be guarded
against racist and personal attacks. While the right and the neoliberals give advice to Obama,
West on the left “criticizes” Obama to help and “push” him, “out of love to him and to poor
people” to the progressive direction and not post-racially “take his base for granted.” Using the
interest-convergence analysis, Smiley asserts that Obama necessarily diverges from a
specifically racial agenda, as his presidency cannot only lead from the Black or African-
American perspective.

             Table 1: Ideologies and What Obama Stands for—A Balancing Act?
Spectrum                      Left of                           Left of
               Left           Center                            Center:                         Extreme
                                           New Liberal                         Right:
             Classical        Critical                        Libertarian                        Right:
                                               (or                           Conservative
Issues       Marxist         (Legal &                          (Classical                      Reactionary
                               Race)                            Liberal)
            -Revolution     Reform to     Reform to          Reform to      Status Quo         Revive
                            benefit       benefit the        benefit                           Bygone
                            women &       poor               individuals                       Practices
            -Radical        -Cultural     -Equality of       -Individual    -Patriotism,       -Bygone
            structural      &             outcome            freedom        security, order,   moral values
            change          ideological   -Level the         -Equality of   property           -Role of
Specifics   -Interests of   change        playing field      opportunity    -Big               religion &
            the             -Counter-     -Big                              government for     physical
            proletariat     Hegemony      government                        security &         punishment
                                          for the poor                      property
            -No armed       -Some talk    -Primary           -No to         -Time line to      -No special
            revolution      about but     focus on           torture &      pull out of Iraq   status for
            -No to          not stress    health care &      secret         -Attack Al         religion
            communism       Blacks        programs for       detention      Qaeda in S. Asia   -No to
                            -Climate      the poor           -Respect all   -Big               fascism
                            change &      -Immigration       religions      government         -No to
                            green         -Education         -Middle-       support for Wall   physical
                            energy        -Jobs              class homes    Street bailout     punishment
                            -Gay          -Raise wages       -Small         -Homeland          -No to
                            rights in                        businesses     security           fascism
                            the                              -Freedom       -Tax cuts


         People espousing different ideologies diverge in what they want from government: order,
liberty, or equality; hence, they are in conflict with one another. Conservatives support big
government intervention to boost order and security. Libertarians want government not to
intervene in the personal lives of people to ensure liberty. Liberals support government role to
help the poor. But critical theorists, critical race theorists, and people who believe in progressive
change see Obama acting but not aggressively enough to advance the interest of the
disadvantaged. Critical race theorists see Obama as avoiding dealing with Black issues as much
as possible. Revolutionary Marxist Carl Dix (2010) sees Obama not working for revolutionary
change at all. At the end of the day, democratic rule is class rule. Just like most people, Obama
does not carry consistent ideological rhetoric and action. Hence, Obama’s rule is mixed. While
trying to assert the relative independence of the state insofar as health care reform is concerned,
he is fighting against the omnipotent economic plutocrats and political oligarchs. One’s view of
Obama’s achievements depends on one’s expectations of his actions as well as the convergence
of several factors. What you see depends on where you sit. To whom does Obama listens the
most? That’s the side he is on. We are left with more questions than answers.

        In conclusion, this paper recommends that educators, instead of being defensive or
accusatory, must lay down clearly their positionality and provide a schema that systematically
provides alternative explanations that welcome dialogic debates.


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Delgado, R. & Stefancic, J. (2001). Critical race theory: An introduction. New York: New York
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                Hancock: The Reblaxploitation of the Modern Day Superhero

                                          Gary Johnson

        Research of masculinity (particularly heterosexual masculinity) as a form a social
construction has been a recent phenomenon (Brown, 2000; Connell, 2005; Duneier, 1994). The
topic of masculinity is often ignored and taken for granted as a natural stable gender identity.
Gender identities are not fixed and absolute. Initially, writings on masculinity were in opposition
to femininity and classed as the problem in the way of positive change, but it is now
acknowledged that men also have gender identities (Guttmann, 2003).
        Men experience social pressure to conform to hegemonic masculine ideals about being a
man. Hegemonic masculinity, as defined in western European culture, historically implies a
certain autonomy over and mastery of one's environment (Staples, 1982). Masculinity is
hegemonic in that its stability comes through as a structure of dominance and oppression in the
gender order as a whole (Brown, 1999). The cultural male norms stress values such as courage,
aggression, adventure, mastery of technological skill, as well as considerable amounts of
toughness in mind and body. Competitiveness is central to masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity
questions how particular groups of men inhabit positions of power and wealth and how they
legitimize and reproduce the social relationships that generate their dominance. Ultimately, the
difference between hegemonic masculinity and other masculinities is not only control of women,
but also the power over other men and representation of that cultural epitome as universal. Men,
who fail to conform to this ideal of masculinity, often find themselves marginalized, powerless,
and inferior.
        Concepts of masculinity as well as the related notions of male identity, manhood,
manliness and men’s roles are not defined by male physiology. Instead, they are defined by
culture. There is a performative aspect to masculinity in that masculine relations are contextually
bound by actions and behaviors (Donaldson, 1993). Because masculinity is a social construct,
grounded in performance or action, women can be considered masculine as well as men thought
of as feminine. Male identity in the twentieth century is perceived in extremes: warrior or wimp;
man or mouse (Connell, 2005). At one end of the spectrum is the masculine ideal with muscles,
sex appeal, and social competence. At the other end of the spectrum is the skinny, weak, socially
inept failure. Though these spectrums may appear far removed, they exist side by side actually
defining the other in mutual opposition. So, within masculinity, there is dichotomy.

Black masculinity
        Through hegemonic masculinity, men define power and control through economic
productivity, competitiveness, ability to amass material goods, and authority over other men.
This concept of power is no less a mandate for black men than it is for white. Black men buy into
the hegemonic persona of masculinity, yet they often lack the jobs and resources to conform
(Alexander, 2006). The dominant culture denies black men the norms of prescribed masculinity.
Therefore black males’ stature and identity is lacking within the dominant culture. This translates
into lack of dominion in the workplace, which in turn produces weakened patriarchal roles
within households. Black men are not defined as breadwinners. This lack of a control and
authority domination, which is influenced by hegemonic cultural terms, develops into a
hypermasculinity among black men. Thus, typical masculine values become rigid prescriptions

for toughness, sexual promiscuity, manipulation, thrill seeking and willingness to use violence to
resolve interpersonal conflict. Physical pain is something that must be numbed or ignored for the
sake of performance (Alexander). Masculinity is manifested in the sexist attitude toward women,
phallocentrism, homophobia, black male and black female relationships as well as interracial
relationships (Donaldson, 1993). Since society denies black men other symbols of masculinity,
hypermasculinity has become a partial substitute for achievement in other areas (Staples, 1982).
        Contemporary images of black masculinity continue to challenge hegemonic
constructions of whiteness. As visual forms of masculine patriarchal authority are rewritten and
reproduced, aspects in black expressive performance were developed (Grey, 1995). Black
heterosexual masculinity is represented in the popular imagination as the basis of masculine hero
worship. Examples can be seen in the case of rappers and athletes through their naturalized and
comodified bodies and in black gang members through symbols of menace and threat (Saddik,
2007). Served as the symbolic basis for fueling and sustaining panic about crime, family and
middle class security while they displace attention from the economy, racism, sexism and
homophobia. These images of hypermasculinity are perpetuated particularly within the context
of blaxploitation films (Singer, 2002).

Origin of Superheroes
         The concept of superhero can be traced to many ancient civilizations that feature
pantheons of gods and goddesses with superhuman powers, as well as demigods and heroes such
as Heracles and Perseus. Later, masked heroes such as Zoro featured what became such
superhero conventions as secret identities (Cooper, 2004). Many myths occurring throughout the
ages and across cultures have extremely similar main motifs, either a hero with exceptional
strength or abilities or as an everyman or ‘one of us’, a figure marked, at least at the beginning of
the story by flawed abilities and attitudes presumably shared by the audience.
         Comicbook superheroes are a contemporary version of mythological characters (Gordan,
1998). The superhero in the comicbook can trace its ancestry back to Greek, Roman, Nordic and
many other mythologies of ages past. The producers of Hancock give homage to Greek
mythology throughout the movie. Throughout the movie there is mention of Hancock’s
immortality. During his hegemonic transformation Hancock donned a superhero custom with the
symbol of the Eagle, which was the symbol for Zues. Later in the movie, Mary gives brief
mention of being Hancock’s sister and later being married. Hera was the wife and older sister of
Zeus, making Mary the Greek god Hera. Hancock gave mention of Mary being crazy which
draws similarities to stories of Hera being crazy. As heroes/heroines of the Greek and Roman
myths satisfied man’s desire for an invulnerable guardian or protector, comicbook superheroes
are a modification of this monomythic theme that expresses man’s need for feeling control in his
life in spite of his vulnerability and mortality, filling the same role as the legendary mythological
heroes, the gods and demi-gods, warriors and knights of the past (Cooper).

Blaxploitation Superheroes
         Blaxploitation is an American film genre of the 1970s that featured African-American
actors in lead roles and often had antiestablishment plots, portraying stereotypical black
characterizations of race and hypermasculinity, and glorified violence (Mitchell, 1992). This
particular visual perception of black masculinity is defined by an urban aesthetic that has a
nihilistic quality and aggressive posturing.

        In the late 1960’s, during a lull in American films, came a new genre of movies geared
specifically toward Blacks and their newly generated disposable income. This genre
blaxploitation, served to bring black stereotypes originating in minstrelsy, into a modern day
media context (Ross, 2004). Blaxploitation films featured black artists within roles of the
hypermasculine and hypersexual in the context of urban ghetto life. In a manner similar to
minstrelsy era, blaxploitation films sought to portray “authentic” characteristics within black life
as stereotypes of the ghetto centered on drug dealers, pimps, and hustlers (Mitchell, 2007).
Blaxploitation films featured funk and soul music to further authenticate stereotypes of black
culture. In a similar visual fashion, black comic book superheroes soon followed. For the first
time in the late 1960’s, a black superhero played a central role in a comic book. Like their film
white counterparts, superheroes such as Black Panther, Brother Voodoo, and Luke Sage fought
against criminal elements within the ghetto. These comic books reiterated the stereotypes of
        Superheroes in comics and movies are fertile ground for stereotyped depictions of race
and masculinity (Singer, 2006). Pre-adolescent fantasies of superhuman abilities are undeniably
ingrained in anyone who might pick up a comic book (Brown, 1999). Additionally, superheroes
provide powerful representations through which individuals can learn to negotiate their lives
(Harris, 2006). In order to allow children to easily assimilate messages in comic books,
stereotypes from films are stripped down into their raw representations. Comics rely upon visual
representations in which characters are continually reduced to their appearances. At the most
obvious and symbolic level, comic book masculinity characterizes for young readers a model of
gender behavior (Gordon, 1998). These classical super hero depictions of masculinity are
perhaps the quintessential expression of our cultural beliefs about what it means to be a “man”.
Raw representations are shown in the form of the hypermasculine, with regards to brute strength,
homophobia, and sex appeal (Katel, 2007). By stripping down the visual representation, the
meaning of the image is amplified in a way real images could not achieve. This allows not only
for one to focus on what is intended but also easily identify with the visual image. This trend
presenting hypermasculinity within black superheroes continues today.
        America once again taken up in the odd nostalgia of 1970s American popular culture in
the form of music, art, and film is now overflowing with the similarities of that decade
(Davenport, 2004). In recent years, the clothing, hairstyles, and even television shows of the
1970s are being recycled and modified in various forms (Varny, 2002). As with other forms of
pop culture, films of the popular blaxploitation genre are being resurrected. Black superheroes of
the 21st century follow in the form of contemporary blaxploitation (Brown, 2001). Superheroes,
such as Blankman, Meteorman, Spawn, Blade and others, portray images of black masculinity
through the context of blaxpoitation. Hancock is a modern day superhero who mimics the form
of superheroes portrayed in earlier blaxploitation media (Brown). Through an examination of the
movie Hancock (2008), this paper will analyze representations of race and black masculinity
portrayed within the context of blaxpoitation superhero films.

Who is the Hancock Character??
       Hancock, directed by Peter Berg, starring Will Smith, Jason Bateman and Charlize
Theron, is a film about a black superhero John Hancock (Smith) who was not well liked by the
people he saved in Los Angeles. During Hancock’s pursuit of criminals, millions of dollars in
property damage routinely occurred. Through the course of saving a public relations specialist,
Ray Embrey (Bateman) offered to help improve Hancock’s image. Ray convinced Hancock to

turn himself into the authorities for outstanding subpoenas. When the crime rate rose following
his incarceration, Hancock was needed. With a new attitude and new superhero costume from
Ray, Hancock was released from jail and made a triumphant return by rescuing a wounded police
officer and foiling a violent bank robbery.
         Hancock, applauded for apprehending the bank robbers and saving hostage lives, became
popular, as Ray predicted. Hancock later discovered that Mary (Theron), Ray’s wife, also had
superhuman powers. Mary eventually revealed that she and Hancock are still married (even
though she is married to Ray) and lived for 3,000 years with their powers. She also explained
they are the last of their kind and are meant to be paired together. When later intervening in a
liquor store robbery, Hancock was shot and wounded. Visiting him at the hospital, Mary
explained that when a pair of immortals is physically close to one another, they begin to lose
their powers and become mortal. Throughout history, as Mary and Hancock lost their power,
they were continually attacked. The most recent attack occurred 80 years ago in an alley in
Miami. As a result of the attack, Hancock’s skull was fractured which caused amnesia. To save
his life at the time, Mary deserted him, allowing him to recover from his injuries.
         After Mary’s explanation, the bank robber Red Parker (Eddie Marsan) and two other
criminals, who Hancock encountered when imprisoned, raided the hospital. Mary was shot as she
tried to defend Hancock who, in turn, eliminated the two henchmen but was further wounded in
the process. With Mary dying, in order to allow both of them to heal, Hancock used the last of
his strength to flee from the hospital so that their parting would allow them both to heal.
         The Hancock script originally titled Tonight He Comes, about a twelve-year-old fallen
superhero, was written by Vincent Ngo in 1996 (Flemming, 2005). For the next eight years, as
the script floated around Hollywood, George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Leonardo
Di Caprio were considered for the lead role. Vince Gilligan rewrote the script in 2005
(Flemming). After the rewrites the personality of the lead role took a decidedly different turn, in
that the portrayals of the Superhero role were decidedly black in nature. Dave Chappelle was
seriously considered for the lead role before executives finally decided on Will Smith as the
superhero (Bowles, 2008). This decision to move away previously sought after white actors, such
as Matt Damon or George Clooney, and cast Will Smith thrust the film into a category that tied it
to the 1970’s film genre blaxploitation. Will Smith is no stranger to roles in blaxploitation media
having played in the TV series Fresh Prince of Bel Air, where black stereotypes and connections
with blaxploitation permeated throughout the show. Even without acknowledging the racial
makeup of the character in the starring role, the movie is proliferated with black masculine
stereotypes that could cause one to instantly realize the role is of a black superhero. Producers
of Hancock took care to promote details of black stereotypes such the liquor Hancock drank.
         During the late 1960’s, companies such as E & J Gallo Winery started marking cheap,
low end fortified wines, which were generally used for the purpose of becoming intoxicated and
were marketed toward impoverished ghetto areas predominately populated by African
Americans. The more popular brands were Night Train and Thunderbird. Many referred to this
type of alcohol as hooch, bum wine, or ghetto wine (Elder, 2004). To give the film increased
“credibility”, film representatives approached E & J about using Thunderbird as Hancock’s
alcohol of choice. E & J declined, so the film made due with a generic name (McClintock, 2008).
The film company’s pursuit of Thunderbird as the label on Hancock’s liquor bottle shows a
concerted effort to portray “authentic” masculine and racial stereotypes in Hancock.
         Though there are numerous contributing factors, images of black masculinity and black
culture re-infiltrated American culture largely as a result of the commoditization of hip-hop

culture as well as the ubiquity of rap music and the MTV videos that sell it, or more specifically,
the result of the popularity of the urban gangster and the embodiment of “gangsta rap” of artists
such as Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Tupak Shakur (Dyson, 1996). As
blaxploitation films used soul and funk music to lend to the “authenticity” of the movie, Peter
Berg used Blues the contemporary black genre of Hip- Hop to lend the same “authenticity”
within the context of blackness for the movie Hancock.
        Scenes in Hancock that related to drunkenness or laziness, such as Hancock unconscious
on a park bench or sitting in a bar drinking, instituted blues music. During action scenes, as when
Hancock fought crime rap music played. A scene in which Hancock was imprisoned featured Ice
T’s hit Colors, a song identifying black males within the context of gangs. During a prison scene
in which Hancock shoved one man’s head up another man’s rectum, the theme song from
Sanford and Son was heard. This built a connection between the blaxploitation style comedy
series and the blaxploitation humor in Hancock. As in blaxploitation movies of the 1970’s,
Hancock used black music to lend credibility and “authenticity” of black masculine portrayals.
        As in blaxploitation films, Hancock proliferated stereotypical images of hypermasculinity
such as violence, hypersexuality, and homophobia. Unlike Superheroes such as Superman and
Spiderman, who fought criminal masterminds, Hancock was reduced to fighting petty criminals.
In a manner similar to blaxploitation films, the locale of Hancock’s superhero antics was the
ghettos of Los Angeles. Going into the 21st century, there has been a resurgence of production of
African American films in blaxploitation style, which now often utilize rap or hip-hop music for
both aesthetic and thematic purposes. Consequently, this paper must now critique black
masculinity and its reflection in film during the new millennium.

Construct of black masculinity in Hancock
        To fit within the cultural patterns of masculinity men must have exemplars who are
celebrated as the epitome of masculinity and as heroes (Connell, 2005). Slavery and racism have
prolonged negative gender impact on black identity, thus contributing to the difficulties related to
sense of self and cultural identity evidenced in black men (Booker, 2000). The construction of
young black male identity continues to be more strongly influenced by outside forces of
hegemonic perceptions than from within black culture. Lack of male role models in the
community plays a part in young adolescents searching for those whom they can respect (Gause,
2008). Hancock, throughout the movie, attributes his bad decisions to his lack of knowledge
regarding where he comes from and the absence of role models in his life.
        White superheroes such as Superman, Batman, and Spiderman not only have full
knowledge of their identity and cultural background, usually this cultural or familial identity
plays a monumental part in shaping their superhero character and determining aspects of their
masculinity. For example, Batman’s father shaped the way his character dealt with fear; indeed
his whole identity surrounding the bat came from his sense of self. His motivation to become a
superhero was shaped by his parents’ murder and a need to bring their killer to justice. Also, his
parents shaped Superman’s identity, as well as his reasons for being on earth.
        In contrast, Hancock had no recollection of who he was. There was no identity to shape
his superhero masculine character. Because of this lack of identity, character representations are
portrayed in a different manner than white superheroes. Gone was the superhero costume.
Hancock threatened and cursed people for simply looking at him. He grabbed women’s behinds
and degraded people. These actions were different from ideas regarding superheroes set up by
the hegemonic power structure therefore; the populace of Los Angeles reacted unfavorably

toward him. Even his name, John Hancock, signified his lack of identity. He used this generic
name to sign out of the hospital. This illustrated his lack of self-knowledge, which is reminiscent
of slaves entering this country, taking a random name, eradicating their true cultural identity, and
assimilating into the larger hegemonic culture.
        Hancock’s lack of identity prevented his superhero character from truly forming and
evolving. He had no role models to help shape and understand his powers. This lack of identity
caused Hancock to access social cues from a larger hegemonic structure, which didn’t always fit
with his existence. This lack of black masculine identity, due in part to the absence of
appropriate role models, may cause other black males to adapt media portrayals of masculinity as
the “ambassador for African American manhood” (Ladson- Billings, 1994, p. 97).
Hypermasculinty of black males comes from insecurity and a lack of awareness about a feminine
side, thus leading to eradicating the portrayal of any femininity from one’s personality (Chan,
1998). Through the lack of identification with that feminine side, femininity is associated with
softness and weakness. This weakness therefore must be eradicated from the masquerade of
black maleness.
        White superheroes tend to be associated with alter egos (i.e. Superman/ Clark Kent, Bat
Man/ Bruce Wayne, Spiderman/Peter Parker). These alter egos impose their softer, intelligent,
and vulnerable side, which may be labeled as wimpy or less masculine. Hancock’s personality
was presented with no alter ego or softer side. This perception added to the notion of the
eradication of the feminine within Hancock’s black masculine identity. Further, Hancock’s alter
ego and restraint did not come from his identity. Instead, the character of Ray Embry embodied
the notion of intelligence and restraint. These character roles illustrate a clear contrast between
hegemonic and black masculinity.
        One contrast is the public display of masculinity. Within hypermasculinity, only babies
cry. One’s manhood depends upon the amount of pain endured without complaining. During a
conflict, Hancock tossed an 8-year-old neighborhood bully into the outer atmosphere and caught
him when he came down. Michelle ran away crying, and Hancock replied, “ Stop Crying” “punk
ass!” “Go home.” Physical pain is something that must be numbed or ignored for the sake of
performance. Being tough is about being a man and is part of the requirement to enter into the
realm of manhood. This type of masculinity leads men into neglecting their health. Masculine
mystique indoctrinates men into acknowledging an illness only when it becomes disabling; often
they do not follow prescribed treatments. Sports and the military are two areas in which black
men have been allowed to express their manhood through toughness. When hurt, Hancock
attempted to ignore and hide injury. This toughness had to be constantly maintained in front of
strangers and the dominant culture. It was through this toughness that a man was able to control
others through fear. This toughness often manifests itself in violence.

       The essence of masculinity is performance. And the essence of the performance has
grown increasingly violent. -Jackson Katz, (1999)

        The greatest tragedy in the ghetto is watching people become accustomed to the prospect
of a bleak future, or worse no future. In this climate, displays of strength and aggression are
prized (Cooley, 2004). Violence and even murder are honorable. The most violent and defiant
person obtains the highest rank. The person who pushes the limit and is willing to go to jail earns

the most “props” because he's willing to put his life on the line to fight for what he believes in
(Abdel-Shehid, 2005).
         Creation of stereotypes in regards to the performance of violence within black
heterosexual masculinity was used in policy debates, television news, and popular film
representations to link signs of whiteness, family, crime. This whiteness places black masculinity
outside of the normal conceptions of mainstream moral and class structure (Miller, 1998). Media
representations of poor black males (e.g., Rodney King and Willie Horton) serves as the
symbolic basis for fueling and sustaining panic about crime, and middle-class security while they
displace attention from the economy, racism, sexism, and homophobia (Gray, 1995). Media
representations with connections between blackness and violence are rampant in Hancock. It is
interesting that the only persons of note from lesser-represented cultures are criminals. Violence
is the only way Hancock is able to get respect. During each attempt to use intellect or use other
means to resolve confrontations, Hancock is perceived as weak. Even Michelle, the child bully,
fails to respect Hancock until an act of violence is committed. In prison, though everyone has
knowledge of Hancock’s superpowers, only when he commits sodomy in putting one prisoners
head into another’s rectum does he receive respect. Where criminal masterminds only challenge
other superheroes, the general public challenges Hancock at every turn. Where other superheroes
have a mutual respect with the common man, only through violence and fear, does Hancock
achieve respect. Being accepted as a black man, particularly a black superhero meant that one
could not show any type of weakness.
         Another example of black males unwillingness to use other methods to resolve conflict
without violence was when Ray’s son being bullied came to light. Hancock’s immediate
reaction was to tell the “boy”(in which Mary (Rays wife) takes offense) was to fight. Hancock
comments “ make sure he can’t use that thang for nothing but a flap to keep the dust out of his
butt crack”. Ray and Mary stated their belief that violence is not the answer to conflict
resolution. This example illustrates the difference in black hypermasculinity and the hegemonic
view of masculinity.
         Many young black men have resorted to violence to prove their masculinity (Smith,
2007). Black masculine socialization involves creating violence to prove to others that we are
men. The movie plays a hand in conditioning white men and women as well as some black
people to be afraid of developed images of black males that are not representative of all blacks
(Kaufman, 2002). In compulsive hypermasculinity, typical masculine values become a rigid
prescription for toughness, sexual promiscuity, manipulation, thrill seeking and a willingness to
use violence to resolve interpersonal conflict (Ferguson, 2001). Though violence and dominance
is a majorative component in the discussion of black masculinity, one must include
hypersexuality in the discussion.

        Lack of control and domination, which is defined by hegemonic cultural terms, results in
a hypermasculinity among black men in which manifest in sexist attitudes toward women,
phallocentrism, homophobia, black male and black female relationships as well as interracial
relationships. Since other symbols of masculinity have been denied to black men, hypersexuality
has become a partial substitute for achievement in other areas (Staples, 2006). The area of
hypersexuality was exemplified when Hancock took a woman home for a one-night stand. His
home was not a bat cave or a house made of crystals or even a decent apartment but a broken
down trailer in the middle of nowhere. During the climax of sex, the woman trashed about in

utter ecstasy screaming loudly. At the point of ejaculation, Hancock threw the woman off him
because of his super sperm, which was so forceful it blew holes through the roof of the trailer.
The woman was then shown in a ravished state. After the sexual encounter, Hancock was talking
to the woman while she was in the next room getting dressed. She then snuck out of the window
and fled. In the absence of an emotional or relational connection, their interaction was only
sexual in nature. The woman committing the one-night stand was black. Any white women
associated with Hancock were either repulsed by his behavior or caused him to loose all powers.

          Hancock’s Kryptonite
          No ethnic boundary is more sexualized and critique in US society than the color line
dividing blacks and whites (Reid, 1988). From the earliest days of European settlement in North
America, and the arrival of Africans on the continent, we can find frequent sexualized
descriptions and visual imagery of Africans (Nagel, 200). Detailed early accounts and pictorials
of Africans as untamed, hypersexualized, and such accounts were equally convenient
justifications of enslavement and exploitation of Africans by Europeans and later Americans
(Hartman 1997, Jordan 1968). The Ku Klux Klan used white female vulnerability to black male
sexual aggression as a cover for white men to reassert their control over black men (Ferber
1998). In the twentieth century black sexuality remained a preoccupation of white America with
lynchings and castrations of black men and the arrests of both black men and women for sexual
misdeeds (Cohen 1997). The fear of the sexual comodification of black men in film started with
Birth of a Nation directed by D.W. Griffith in 1915 (Jacobs, 2003) and extends itself to manifest
in contemporary black superheroes. Weaknesses manifest themselves in white superheroes in
such forms as Superman in the form of kryptonite, venom negating Spiderman’s senses
Daredevil not able to tolerate loud noises and Green Lanterns aversion to the color yellow. The
producers of Hancock made the black superheros only weakness that of a white woman. When
he spends any time with Mary (Theron), they both loose their superhero powers and invariably
get attacked. Only when separated are they safe. This plot sends a clear message as to the
dangers of interracial sexual relationships. Ultimately all is right with the world when Hancock is
far away and Mary is with Ray. Although black/white ethnosexual relationships are a somewhat
less contentious today than it was a century ago, and despite increasing rates of black/white
intermarriage, the color line is still a dangerousa nd contro-versial intersection, with vocal critics
of miscegenation speaking out from both sides of the US racial divide (see di Leonardo 1997,
Hodes 1999, Wallace 1990: 9-10) and where black male sexuality is still defined as dangerous
Within regards to black masculinity one must acknowledge by in large it is heterosexual in
nature, which both “reveals and promotes desire for women” (Staples, 2006, p.152). There is
little to no room for discussion of homosexuality within these black masculine spaces.

        The ultimate fear within the hypermasculine is not fear of women but of being ashamed
or humiliated in front of other men or being dominated by stronger men (Leverenz, 1986)
Homophobia is defined as an irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against
homosexuals, or as unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward homosexuals and homosexuality,
fear of or contempt for lesbians and gay men, as well as behavior based on such a feeling (Herek,
2004). Ultimately, we are afraid of other men. Homophobia is more than the irrational fear of
gay men, more the fear we might be perceived as gay. The word “faggot” is not voicing fears of

homosexuals, but used as a label for ultimate contempt for anyone who seems sissy, not tough,
uncool (Leverenz, 1986).
        When Hancock met with publicist Ray Embry to discuss Public Relations strategies, Ray
showed Hancock three superheroes on comic book covers to discuss costumes. Shown the first
cover and asked his thoughts, Hancock replied, “Homo”. With the next he replied, “Homo in
red”, and when the third superhero costume was shown with flowing blond hair, Hancock
replied, “Norwegian Homo”. This contempt is not for the possibility the superheroes may be
homosexual, but instead signifies his contempt for the hegemonic superhero perceptions as being
weak and feminine.
        Within the prison system, sexual penetration of other men is not about affection; rather it
involves domination over and feminizing of the men who are penetrated (Gause, 2000). Hancock
demonstrated this feminization of another man when he threatened and then forced one man’s
head up another man’s ass. This act illustrated ultimate domination over another male human
being. When Hancock discussed the concept of turning the other check to Ray’s son, Hancock
exclaimed “don’t turn that one (point to the boys butt cheeks) and don’t let him punk you.” In
this case, the homosexual reference to anal sex referred to being a sissy or feminized. It was not a
statement denouncing the actual homosexual act.
        Homophobia in men is correlated with insecurity about masculinity (Kimmel, 1994)
People who express homophobic thoughts and feelings do so not only to communicate beliefs
about gay people, but also to distance themselves from this class and its social status. This
reaffirms their roles as heterosexuals in a heteronormative culture; therefore, this is an attempt to
prevent being labeled and treated as gay people. This interpretation alludes to the idea a person
may posit violent opposition to "the other" as a means of establishing their own identity within
majority group which provides social validation.

Rehabilitation and Conformity
        Figures of black hypermasculinity consistently appear in the popular imagination as the
logical and legitimate object of surveillance and policing, containment, and punishment (Cooper,
2006). Discursively this black male body brings together the dominant institutions of white
hegemonic masculine power and authority-criminal justice system, the police, and the news
media-to protect white Americans from harm (Corrigan, 2006). Even black superheroes are
subject to the power of this hegemonic institution. Hancock was denounced as a degenerate. He
was asked to turn himself in and go to prison. Peter Parker (Spiderman) goes to college, Bruce
Wayne (Batman) goes to a remote land, while Hancock is sent to prison for rehabilitation.
         This transformation was seen in the clothing Hancock wore. Before prison, Hancock was
adorned in baggy street clothes. After released from prison, he wore a traditional superhero
costume, which visually demonstrated his acceptance of hegemonic view of expectations for
superheroes. Due to his lack of personal identity, Hancock was forced to accept dominant
cultures. This hegemonic acceptance was evident musically as well as visually. Hancock
entered prison to the song Colors, by Rapper Ice T, which reiterated the values perceived in
black gang masculinity. Every song preceding Hancock’s imprisonment expressed in
blaxploitation fashion the “authenticity” of blackness. Once Hancock left prison, theme music
changed and began bearing a resemblance to theme music from Superman. This completed the
transformation into white patriarchic cultural expectation of not only what a superhero should be
but the essence of what a man should be. It was only through prison transformation that the
public accepted Hancock.

         Black men remain unaware of life options due to a lack of vocal role models of
masculinity and through the continuance of a racially biased society. This not only occurs in
Hollywood representations but also evident within black families (Boyd, 1997). Boys take social
cues of masculinity from hegemonic masculine portrayals. One example is stereotypical
portrayals of black superheroes in comic books. These characters are reduced to raw visual
representations in order to allow children to easily absorb messages before they have the
cognitive ability to critique representations. These comic books stories represent black
masculinity in the blaxploitation style. They utilize rap or hip-hop music for both aesthetic and
thematic purposes. Additionally, they show black masculinity in the form of the hypermasculine,
with regards to brute strength, homophobia, and sex appeal. The movie Hancock is no exception,
as a contemporary film version of superheroes such as Blade, Brother Voodoo, and Luke Sage, it
utilizes stereotypical portrayals of black masculinity as authentic representations. These
representations of race and masculinity derive from a culture driven by media fantasies of sex,
violence, and power; a culture where material wealth is the highest measure of self-worth; a
culture that defines "manhood" by the ability to provide economic survival for one's self and
family. In this culture, the very means of achieving "manhood" are systematically and
institutionally kept out of the grasp of many black men (Belton, 1995).
         In relation to blaxploitation superheroes, it is important to examine these racial
representations in contemporary film. Additionally, there is a need to connect the problems of
black men to a larger "crisis of masculinity" in American culture (Henry, 2004); however, by
framing a discussion regarding the dilemma of black men only in terms of race does a disservice
to the issue at hand because it minimizes or altogether ignores the influence of class, gender, and
sexual preference upon the cultural constructions of masculinity. Black men imitate the sexism
of White men, but they lack the power to oppress. Their inability to achieve this, leads them to
strike out in frustration against those weaker than themselves. Emphasizing the physical as a way
of dealing with issues has become a problem within the black community leading to an emphasis
on violence and hypersexuality. By drawing on deeply felt moral panics about crime; violence,
gangs, and drugs, those in power have attempted, often successfully, to turn dominant
representations of black male bodies into a contested cultural field (Brown, 2001). Hancock, as
well as other black superheroes, imaginatively rework and rewrite the historic masquerades of
the black heterosexual, hypermasculine, hypersexual, insensitive, detach, and cold-bloodedness
into new realms of fascination and fear. The emphasis of brains over brawn as a fundamental
problem solving technique in many hegemonic portrayals of superhero masculinity should be
applied to portrayals of black masculinity particularly within reductionist hypermasculine
portrayals of superheroes in film and comics.


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   And Justice for All! The Contributions of the African Diaspora to the Enrichment of
             Critical Theory: Postcolonial Theory and Critical Race Theory

                           Rey Ty, David C. Daniels, & Thomas Pongo

         In the 1960s, critical theory swept the industrialized Western Europe. Critical theorists
exposed and deconstructed the power of the dominant capitalist White male. However, a
problem arose as most of the authors were Judeo-Christian White Western European males and
voices of people of color, including those of the African Diaspora, were not included. Currently,
critical theory is mainstreamed as one of the competing perspectives in the dominant discourses
yet writings by people of the African Diaspora are mainly tucked in Black Studies or suggested
         This review will provide the contributions of various authors to critical theory and voices
of authors of the African Diaspora will be highlighted. The four research questions that were
posed are: 1) What are the major characteristics and contributions of critical theory to theory
building? 2) What are the key features of the critical postcolonial theories of the African
Diaspora in the Caribbean, 3) Western Europe and the African Continent? And 4) What are the
chief elements of the critical race theory of the African Diaspora in the U.S.?
         This collaborative research is a critical survey of literature, quoting original sources as
much as possible, in English and other languages, such as French. It discusses the contributions
of the founders of critical theory and digs deeper by searching for critical theory beyond the
hitherto marginalized but now mainstreamed theories of Judeo-Christian White men. It presents
the views of people of the African Diaspora who have extended the dialogue and debate about
human and social emancipation. For this purpose, this research presents an integrate review of
literature stretching from traditional theory to critical theory, postcolonial theory, and critical
race theory.

Critical Theory
         While traditional theory is disinterested and therefore uncritical, critical theory is
interested in realizing radical social transformation for human emancipation. Defined loosely,
critical theory refers to perspectives that critically view both human sciences in particular and
society in general. However, strictly speaking, critical theory refers to authors of the Institut für
Sozialforschung (Institute for Social Research), originally based in Frankfurt; hence, it is also
known as the “Frankfurt School.” Horkheimer (1972, p. 210; 1976, p. 220) argued that critical
theory aims to “transcend the tension and abolish the opposition between the individual’s
purposefulness, spontaneity, and rationality,” as well as “those work-process relationships upon
which the society is built.” Habermas (1990, p. 9) critiqued the “project of modernity” as based
on “objective science, universal morality and law, and autonomous art according to their inner
logic,” for “the rational organization of everyday social life.” Adorno and Horkheimer (1997)
claimed that Enlightenment ideas repress and violate difference and otherness, asserting male
domination over nature, human beings in general, and women in particular. Both Adorno and
Horkheimer were opposed to Auguste Comte’s positivism—a form of empiricism—claiming that
it does not realistically portray social realities. Horkheimer (1972, p. 183) is critical of blind
obedience to “instrumental reason,” the scientific method and uncritical approval of empirical
results. Horkheimer (1972) stated, “it is naïve and bigoted to think and speak only in the

language of science,” rejecting rational science as the basis of valid knowledge on which
arbitrary capitalism is constructed.
         Concerned with a radical change of existing social set up, critical theory is opposed to the
system-maintaining traditional uncritical theory. Critical theorists envision a future society
composed of free people, made possible with technical means already at hand. Marcuse (2002, p.
xli) said that “specific possibilities exist for the amelioration of human life and specific ways and
means of realizing these possibilities.” Adorno (2000, p. 176) said that there is “no ethics…in the
administered world” and “the premise of ethics is the critique of the administered world.”
Adorno (1974, p. 57) added, “People thinking in the forms of free, detached, disinterested
appraisal were unable to accommodate…the…violence which in reality annuls such thinking.”
         Critical theory has its roots in Marxism. Marx (1967, p. 217) insisted we be critical, “not
anticipate the world dogmatically” but be engaged in “relentless criticism for all existing
conditions,” while being “afraid of its findings” and “of conflict with the powers that be.” Marx,
a materialist, was critical of Hegel who was an idealist philosopher. In his Contribution to the
Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx (1994) explained that his criticism of Hegel’s
philosophy of state and right is a critical analysis of the modern state and its reality. Traditional
theory considers knowledge as neutral. However, critical theory argues that by treating
knowledge as neutral, traditional theory is engaged in the reproduction of the economic
structures and cultural hegemony of the dominant groups in the status quo. Marx & Engels
(1967, p. 647) noted: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the
point is to change it.” Marx and Engels, who were lifelong co-authors, developed their ontology
based on dialectical historical materialism. In A Reader in Marxist Philosophy, Marx’ co-author
Engels (1973, p. 204) wrote:

       According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in
       history is the production and reproduction of real life. More than this neither Marx nor I
       have ever asserted. Hence, if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element
       is the only determining one, he transforms that preposition into a meaningful, abstract,
       senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the
       superstructure--…juristic, philosophical…, [and] religious views …—also exercise their
       influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in
       determining their form. There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the
       endless host of accidents…, the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary.

         There are differences between classical Marxism and critical theory. Clearly, based on
the foregoing quotation, classical Marxism identifies the world and existence as primary and
independent of consciousness, which is derivative. However, classical Marxism clarifies that
consciousness and the other elements of the superstructure can influence reality. Critical
theorists—and most people using critical theory who came after them—mistakenly claimthat
classical Marxism is economically deterministic, contrary to the original words of Engels cited
above. Critical theorists wrongly believed that they had “rejected the economic determinism of
orthodox Marxism,” which Marx and Engels never asserted, “yet carried on the Marxist tradition
of critiquing society” (Griffin, 2003, p. 30). On the whole, critical theory is a critique of
ideology, which exposes and gives explanations for people who consent to representations that
do not serve their objective interests but legitimize the dominant class in power. Both classical
Marxists and critical theorists share a common focus on analyzing power, knowledge production,

hegemony, oppression in society, and problems with capitalism. However, they differ in their
ideas on how to bring about social change. Classical Marxists wage revolutionary and
ideological struggles, while critical theorists seek to create a more participatory and democratic
society. If classical Marxism dialectically upholds changing conditions as the basis of changing
consciousness, critical theorists argue that restructuring society begins with a change in human
consciousness, which is in opposition to classical Marxism. Classical Marxists noted that the
Marcuse claimed that the source of “revolutionary transformation” is “man’s consciousness” or
“man’s imagination” (Kirilenko & Korshunova, 1985, p. 50). Critical theorists emphasize the
importance of human agency in changing social structures. Classical Marxists reject and seek to
replace capitalism, while critical theorists accept capitalism as a fact of life.
        Foucault (1980, p. 122) asserted that “the State consists in the codification of a whole
number of power relations,” adding that “truth isn’t outside power or lacking power” (p. 131).
Explaining that as culture is an industry, Adorno said that the capitalists administer the world
where consciousness is manipulated. Adorno and Marcuse claimed that capitalists have
ideological control over people’s emotions and needs and the latter are not cognizant of their
exploitation and alienation. Horkheimer (1972) asserted that, in a capitalist society, the profit-
seeking economic power holders do not respond to the real needs of the people but create false
needs. Claiming that the mass media numbs sensitivity to repression, Adorno (1978, p. 245)
observed that “the pre-formation of people’s minds has increased to a degree that” leaves no
“room for an awareness of it” by “the people themselves.” Asserting that the dominant class
controls language in order to perpetuate power imbalance, Marcuse (1976, pp. 310-311) said that
“the meaning of words and ideas” are “established by the publicity of the powers that be, and
verified in their practices.” Uncritical acceptance of the social order leads to legitimizing
oppression, reinforcing the roles of the oppressed. According to Adorno (1978, p. 256), “the
cross-section of attitudes represents, not an approximation to the truth, but a cross-section of
social illusion.”
        Critical theory dispels the taken-for-granted ideological illusion and provides social
agents an opportunity to be engaged in the “development” of a society based on self-
determination and “freedom” (Marcuse, 1969, p. 3). For Habermas (1990), the communicative
process is the foundation for transformation. Marcuse (1978, p. 8) said that “aesthetic
transformation” can be achieved through “a reshaping of language, perception, and
understanding” in order to “reveal the essence of… the repressed potentialities of” human beings
“and nature.” For Marcuse (as cited in Bottomore, 1989, p. 38), the hope for social
transformation springs from “the outcasts and outsiders, the exploited and persecuted of other
races and colors, the unemployed and the unemployable.” When people’s consciousness is
raised, they then use critical theory as a tool for action that promotes human and social liberation.

Postcolonial Theory
        While the founders of critical theory have indeed advanced knowledge by challenging
traditional theory, they only expressed the voices of Judeo-Christian White males. Postcolonial
theory moved one step further by presenting voices of people of color as well. Postcolonial
theorists are found in Africa, the Caribbean, West Asia (more commonly known as the Middle
East), and Europe. While there are many more authors, only postcolonial theorists of the African
Diaspora are presented here. Aside from English, postcolonial theorists wrote in many different
        Whereas critical theorists responded to the legacy of both traditional theory and classical
Marxism, postcolonial theorists responded to a lack of ability of heretofore existing theories to

explain their social realities which lie outside of Europe. People of the African Diaspora face
alienation under colonialism and have to face racism continually, as a result of which, they—
along with others—have sparked the development of postcolonial studies. Questioning the
inherent cultural bias in scientific research that devalues Black civilizations, Diop argued that
archeological and anthropological evidence proved that “Ancient Egypt was a Negro
civilization” (1974, p. xiv) and that “all races descended from the Black race, according to a
filiation process that science will one day explain” (p. xv).
         In response to French colonialism in Africa, Césaire (1972), Damas (1938), and Senghor
(1967) appropriated a pejorative term and turned it into one of pride, negritude, which is a
system of social and political thought, which seeks interaction with other cultures on equal
footing. In Discourse on Colonialism, Césaire (1972, p. 26) criticized European and U.S.
colonialism, racism, and decadence, exclaiming that “the barbarism of Western Europe” is “only
surpassed…by the barbarism of the Untied States”. Referring to colonialism and post-
colonialism, Nkrumah (1964, p. iv) talked about the “armed struggle…against the forces of
reaction and counter-revolution,” saw the sharp “class struggle in Africa” and “exposed the close
links between the interests of neo-colonialism and the indigenous bourgeoisie.” In Black Skin,
White Masks, Fanon (1967a) recounted the impact of imperialism on the subjugated peoples.
Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth (1967b), which chronicled the atrocities that French troops
committed in Algeria, inspired movements for “national liberation” (pp. 196-197) against
colonialism. Explaining the reason for which the colonized wage revolution against the violence
of the colonizers, Fanon (1967b, p. 28) wrote: “Their first encounter was marked by violence,”
adding that “the exploitation of the natives by the settler—was carried on by dint of a great array
of bayonets and cannon.”

Critical Legal and Race Theory
        Critical legal theory (CLS) and critical race theory (CRT) trace their roots to critical
theory. Noted Crenshaw, Gotunda, Peller & Thomas (1995, p. 108):
        Critical scholars derive their visions of legal ideology in part from the work on Antonio
        Gramsci, an Italian neo-Marxist theorist who developed an approach to understanding
        domination….In examining domination as a combination of physical coercion and
        ideological control, Gramsci articulates the concept of hegemony, the means by which a
        system of attitudes and beliefs, permeating both popular consciousness and the ideology
        of elites, reinforces existing social arrangements and convinces the dominated classes that
        the existing order is inevitable.
Critical legal theory extends the underlying thinking of critical theory based on the Frankfort
School to Legal Theory, while critical race theory is a racialized response to critical theory. Both
CLS and CRT claim that law is not a neutral arbiter of contested issues in human relations.
Rather, law is inherently political (Crenshaw, Gotunda, Peller & Thomas, 1995, p. xvii):
        The faith of liberal lawyers in the gradual reform of American law through the victory of
        the superior rationality of progressive ideas depended on a belief in the central
        ideological myth of the law/politics distinction, namely that legal institutions employ a
        rational, apolitical, and neutral discourse with which to mediate the exercise of social
        While critical legal theory applies critical theory to law, critical race theory focuses on
race. Critical race theory asserts that powerful interests in society oppress, but the oppression, as
far as African-Americans are concerned, is based on centrality of white privilege.

        The failure of the CLS scholars to address racism in their analysis also renders their
        critique of rights and their overall analysis of law in America incomplete. Specifically,
        this failure leads to inability to appreciate fully the transformative significance of the civil
        rights movement in mobilizing black Americans and generating new demands. Further,
        the failure to consider the reality of those most oppressed by American institutions means
        that the CLS account of the hegemonic nature of legal thought overlooks a crucial
        dimension of American life itself--the ideological role of racism itself” ( p.110).
        Both CLS and CRT claim that law is not a neutral arbiter of contested issues in human
relations. Hermeneutically, the basic difference is that, on the one hand, critical legal theory
maintains that U.S. law is in fact a political system of thought and action which is meant to
protect the entrenched elite. On the other hand, critical race theory argues that U.S. law is in fact
a system of protection of the centrality of white privilege which subjugates African-Americans to
a dominant system of thought and action based on white privilege.

         The construction of social theory has come a long way, thanks in part to the contributions
of people of the African Diaspora. In opposition to traditional positivistic theory was born
revolutionary Marxism. Not satisfied with both uncritical traditional theory and classical
Marxism, critical theorists revised Marxism to meet the needs of advanced industrialized
Western societies.
         Critical theory has implications to educational practices. Educators need to learn to be
aware of “the predominance of ideology in their everyday thoughts and actions and in the
institutions of civil society” (Brookfield, 2001, pp. 20-21). This paper concludes that educators
must discuss authors of the African Diaspora not only in Black Studies courses or just ‘suggested
readings,” but also integrated and mainstreamed in all other areas of study. Blacks and non-
Blacks would benefit reading them. In addition, instructors and learners must go beyond English
and learn other languages, such as Swahili, Arabic, other African languages, French, and
German, so that literature hitherto untapped can be read—and read in the original languages in
which they were written.

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Adorno, T. (1978). Sociology and empirical research. In P. Connerton, (Ed.), Critical sociology
        (pp.237-257). Middlesex, U.K.: Penguin.
Adorno, T. (2000). Problems of moral philosophy. (R. Livingstone, Trans.). Stanford: Stanford
        University Press.
Adorno, T. & Horkheimer, M. (1997). Dialectic of Enlightenment. (J. Cumming, Trans.). New
        York: Continuum.
Bottomore, T. (1989). The Frankfurt school. London: Tavistock Publications.
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        key writings that formed the movement. New York: The New Press.
Damas, L. G. (1938). Retour de Guyane. Paris: Gallimard.
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Diop, C. A. (1963). The Cultural Unity of Black Africa: The Domains of Patriarchy and of
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                              Re-Presentation: From Old to New

                                         Tekkahmah Curry

        With the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States, questions
amassed from everywhere; should the election of Obama signify the end of Affirmative Action?
Has Dr. King’s dream been fulfilled? Are we now living in a post racial society? Surely, the
election of the first Black president to the United States is significant given this nation’s racist
past and persistent racial inequities; however, it would be unwarranted to assume that President
Obama’s election represents an end to the societal ills that have persisted since this nation’s
inception in one form or another.
        The purpose of this analysis is to explore issues associated with the candidacy and
election of President Obama, in terms of identity consciousness and the connections to Alain
Locke’s New Negro. The Harlem Renaissance was a time in Black heritage and culture that
epitomized consciousness (both self and social), pride, literary and artistic expression, purpose
and community. The position taken within this analysis is for resurgence in the ideals of this era.
The purpose of undertaking such an analysis is to highlight the current need to uphold the ideals
of the Harlem Renaissance in the 21st century.
        During both the campaign and election of Barack Obama many attempts were made to
determine not only what his candidacy and subsequent election would signify for this nation, but
also what would the election of the first Black president represent for Blacks. In an effort to
explore this notion of representation Gates’ (1988) distinction between representation and re-
presentation is referenced as a means to direct the discussion and implications of the first Black
        Reflecting on how accomplished Frederick Douglass was in relation to the Negro race
during the nineteenth century, Gates (1988) posed the question, “in what sense could Frederick
Douglass be representative’?” Gates contended that Frederick Douglass was not representative
by mean, mode, or median, instead he was the representative colored man in that he was the ideal
re- presentation of Black Americans in order to reconstruct their public, reproducible images.
Gates explains:
        Douglass was the representative colored man in the United States because he was the
        most presentable. And he was most presentable because of the presence he had
        established as a master of voice…Douglass, then, was the most representative colored
        man both because he represented black people most eloquently and elegantly, and
        because he was the race’s great opportunity to re-present itself in the court of racist
        public opinion (Gates, 1988, p.129).
        The distinction between representation and re-presentation here is that the former implies
being symbolic of the whole, or an average part of the entire entity. Whereas, the latter refers to
the process of creating, that is (re)constructing the whole. During the campaign stages and after
the election of president Obama, issues associated with race found there way into the court of
public opinion. It is within these confines that the following question is posed within this
analysis; In what sense is President Obama representative?

                                              Identity Politics
       Arguably the appeal of Barack Obama as a candidate, laid in his attempts to be unifying
as opposed to fitting into any one category. Wingfield and Feagin (2010) suggest that Obama’s
constant re-iteration of not being a collection of red or blue states but the United States was a

means to convey that he is not simply a Democrat’s candidate and more importantly, he sought
to be the American president, void of political categorization. Similarly, Wingfield and Feagin
(2010) suggest that Obama was positioned to be a candidate running for the presidency who
happened to be Black, as opposed to the Black candidate. They argue that Obama was unlike the
presidential attempts of Jackson and Sharpton which signified the old guard of Black politicians
who ran on civil rights platforms.
        In spite of attempts to be seen as a unifier, issues of race and identity surfaced; questions
of whether Obama was Black enough or too Black were posed. Walters (2007) explained that
Obama set out to be a universalist as opposed to defining issues in race-specific terms. In doing
so, Walters argued, this created an issue of “cultural fit” for some, referring to how closely
Obama’s defined issues reflected the needs of the Black community. He furthers argues that by
not using race specific issues this garnered the trust and confidence of those outside the Black
community. Walters (2007) based his contention in much the same logic as Wingfield and
Feagin (2010) stating that the political platforms of Jackson and Sharpton arose from the margins
of America, namely because they were highly visible and rooted within the Black community. In
contrast, Obama’s race-neutral approach positioned his platform within the center of the
        During the democratic primaries the issue of race took center stage as the Reverend
Wright controversy ignited, which was the impetus for Obama’s most salient attempt to unify,
the More Perfect Union speech. Obama (2008) explained,
        This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years.
        Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naive
        as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with
        a single candidacy -- particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own

        After the election of President Obama some were quick to assert that the nation’s first
Black president represented a move into a post-racial era, an interesting assessment given the
most overtly racially laden political election in recent history. One was hard pressed to tune in to
any election coverage that did not provide race based polls and assessments of voters. On
November 24, 2008 Eric Francke writing for Massnews an online publication, wrote an article
entitled, With Election of Obama, Can We finally End Affirmative Action? Francke exclaimed:
        The election of Barack Obama to the presidency is an historic moment whose
        significance has not been unnoticed… There are African Americans on the Supreme
        Court, throughout Congress and the Senate, our Secretary of State, among other high
        positions in government and leaders in business. So if there is no limitation in this
        country on what an African American can do, and, by their own merits than can achieve
        financial and political success, why then do we still have Affirmative Action? (Francke,
Similarly, in an article entitled, Affirmatively Over: Obama Election Signals End of
Affirmative Action in America, Jack Owenby commented:

       Finally, the collective spirit of the nation can move beyond the politics of race into an era
       of ideas. This election marked a positive shift in minority collaboration and participation
       in America’s identity. With Hillary Clinton nearly winning her party’s endorsement,
       Sarah Palin becoming the VP pick for the opposing party, and Barack Obama’s election

       to the most powerful office in the world, we have unquestionably entered a new era in
       minority relations… Affirmative action remains the chief mechanism of government
       sanctioned racism in our country. In light of the recent events, and in the interest of
       universal equality, the policy should be eliminated. (Owenby, 2008)

       Certainly, the positions of both Francke (2008) and Owenby (2008) are antithetical to
how Obama viewed his own candidacy as stated in the above excerpt from his More perfect
Union speech. The notion that the election of the first Black president represents a nation that has
transcended race as a factor is a bold assumption, namely because it suggests that all structural
impediments to racial minorities upward mobility have dissipated. To highlight the boldness of
such a claim, take for example the abolition of Slavery via the thirteenth amendment in
December 1865, applying this bold logic, one would assume that in February 1865 Blacks were
viewed and treated as equals within society and its institutions? The reality is that there is a one
hundred year difference between the thirteenth amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Certainly, there were steps and gains along the one hundred year journey towards voting rights;
however let us not be mistaken it was one hundred years.

        In what sense then, can we say President Obama is representative? Certainly the election
of the first Black president represents to this nation that change is possible; however to invoke
the same sentiment as President Obama, the fallacy is that change occurs in one election cycle. In
making the case for the persistent need for Affirmative Action in the age of Obama, Shuford
(2009) remarked,

       it also bears noting, at the risk of stating the obvious, while it is true that Obama’s victory
       shattered the ultimate political glass ceiling, he, black or otherwise, is not your ‘Average
       Political Joe’… Obama is the graduate of two Ivy League schools, Columbia University
       and Harvard Law School, where he graduated magna cum laude. At Harvard, he served
       as the first African- American president of the Harvard Law Review. Obama is also the
       author of two best-selling books, Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope. He
       was a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago…During his tenure in the
       Senate, Obama was the sole African- American. ( p.505).

       Citing national disparities between racial minorities and their White counterparts in the
criminal justice system, educational system, employment and wealth, and housing, Shuford
(2009) presents the following argument:
       Simply put, America’s promise of a fully inclusive society has not materialized. In light
       of all the relevant evidence, America has not fulfilled Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream
       of a truly equal society. While Obama’s election qualifies as a down payment on equality,
       much more remains to be done. (p.523)

        Again, relying upon Gates (1988) assessment, can we say President Obama is
representative of Blacks in the 21st century by the mean, the mode, or the median? It follows then
that another sense of representation obtains here. It is important to be clear that in stating that
President Obama is not representative of the average Black person within the United States in the
21st century, this is not synonymous with saying that he can not represent the needs of Blacks
within the United States.

        Re-presentation. Re-presentation denotes construction or creating. There is no better
example of this idea than the New Negro Movement of the 1920’s. The term the “New Negro”
dates back to a time after the Civil War when Negros set out to dismantle or reconstruct the
stereotypical imagery of them promulgated by Whites. This term has been popularized by Alain
Locke, a seminal figure in the Harlem Renaissance. In the New Negro Locke (1925) explained:
         American Negroes have been a race more in name than in fact, or to be exact, more in
        sentiment than in experience. The chief bond between them has been that of a common
        condition rather than a common consciousness; a problem in common rather than a life in
        common. In Harlem, Negro life is seizing upon its first chances for group expression and
        self-determination (p.3).
        For Locke the progressing class differentiation of his time made it both unwarrantable
and impossible to treat the New Negro en masse, therefore, the New Negro Movement was to
represent the diversity of Negro Life. Locke and his contemporaries believed it was not only
important to turn away from the old Negro, representative of the aunties, mammies, and uncles,
but necessary if the Negro was to shake off the psychology of imitation and implied inferiority
towards self-respect and self-dependence. Locke argued that the Negro has been treated as
something to be argued about, as opposed to a human being in the mind of Americans. Locke
(1925) argued that for too long the Negro had tried to subscribe to the positions from which his
case was viewed by others instead of being in control of his own image.
        For Locke (1925) the New Negro was a necessary and sufficient means to an end. Napier
(1998) explained, “Locke realized that a reconstructive image of themselves was necessary if
blacks were to develop empowered social identities” (p. 94). It is within this notion of the New
Negro that the idea of re-presentation takes shape and can be extended to President Obama.
        In any assessment that determines whether someone or something is a representation of
an entity, there is first a presentation upon which any assessment can be made. Defining
President Obama as a re-presentation is a more appropriate sense of representative in that his
presentation provides an empowered social identity to the image of Black. Thus President
Obama is representative in much the same way Frederick Douglass was, in terms of his
presentation as a master of voice and his ability to represent Blacks most elegantly and
eloquently. Whereas taking the structural disparities into account that plague a substantial
amount of Blacks in this country, President Obama’s accomplishments and success are not the
average experience of Blacks within this country. Therefore, President Obama is representative
in that he is an ideal re-presentation.
        From old to new.
        The New Negro movement became known as the Harlem Renaissance a time in Black
heritage that symbolized many things yet highlighted community and self expression. The
guiding ideals of the Harlem Renaissance can be best expressed by Locke (1925), who defined
two objectives of the New Negro and his subsequent movement. He defined the outer objectives
to be the ideals of American institutions and democracy. Locke (1925) explained that,
         Democracy itself is obstructed and stagnated to the extent that any of its channels are
        dosed. Indeed they cannot be selectively dosed. The choice is not between one way for
        the Negro and another way for the rest, but between American institutions frustrated on
        the one hand and American ideals progressively fulfilled and realized on the other (p.6)
Locke(1925)The inner goal of the New Negro according to Locke (1925)

       Negro to-day wishes to be known for what he is, even in his faults and shortcomings, and
       scorns a craven and precarious survival at the price of seeming to be what he is not. He
       resents being spoken of as a social ward or minor, even by his own, and to being regarded
       a chronic patient for the sociological clinic, the sick man of American Democracy (p.5).

         The significance of the above objectives relate to this analysis in that they highlight the
ideals of the Harlem Renaissance. Focusing on democracy and openness of American institutions
and the importance of self- expression, intellectual and community consciousness, the ideals of
the Harlem Renaissance stressed the importance of understanding self in relation to society. For
Locke this meant forging empowered community from the bottom up, “It is in the man furthest
down who is most active in getting up…In a real sense it is the rank and file who are leading,
and the leaders who are following” (p.3). The implication is that these stated objectives laid a
relevant framework for the work Locke believed necessary to be done in his time yet they remain
just as relevant today in the 21 century. Thus resurgence in these ideals is necessary.
         The election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States sparked many
questions concerning the significance to not only the nation but Blacks in particular. Given the
structural disparities along racial lines, an exploratory analysis was undertaken to assess in what
sense could president Obama be representative of the vast majority of Blacks who are affected
by such disparities. Clearly, the post-racialist employ a bootstrapping method to the structural
disparities facing minority populations, namely Blacks. The bold suggestion that the election of
the first Black president proves that there are no limits to what Blacks can do relies upon a logic
ascerting that President Obama succeeded, thus, but for all Blacks pulling themselves up by their
bootstraps they too can succeed. Therefore, the fact that there are disparities among Blacks and
their white counterparts in societal institutions amounts to Blacks not taking initiative to pull
themselves up by their bootstraps.
         It was necessary to show the fallacy inherent within the logic of a post-racial perspective.
The distinction between representative and re-presentation was important to situate the
significance of the election of the first Black president within both a historical and contemporary
context. The issues of identity associated with the campaign and election of president Obama
were closely connected to Alain Locke’s notion of the New Negro and as such a position
expressed within this analysis was a need for resurgence in the ideals of the New Negro
Movement, more popularly known as the Harlem Renaissance.


Barack Obama (2008) More Perfect Union Speech. Retrieved from
Eric Francke (2008). With Election of Obama, Can We finally End Affirmative Action? Retrieved from
 Gates Jr, H.L. (1988). The trope of a new Negro and the reconstruction of the image of the Black
        Representations, 24, 129-155
Jack Owenby (2008). Affirmatively Over: Obama Election Signals End of Affirmative Action
        in America. Retrieved from http://aowenby.wordpress.com/2008/11/07/affirmatively-over-
 Alain Locke (1925) The New Negro. Retrieved from

Napier, W. (1998) Affirming critical conceptualism: Harlem renaissance aesthetics and the formation of
       Alain Locke’s social philosophy. The Massachusetts Review, 39(1), 93-111.

Shuford, R.T. (2009). Why affirmative action remains essential in the age of Obama. Campbell Law
       Review, 31, 503-533.
Walters, R. (2007). Barack Obama and the politics of blackness. Journal of Black Studies, 38( 1), 7-29.
Wingfield, A.H. and Feagin, J.R. (2009).Yes we can?: White racial framing and the 2008 presidential
       campaign. Routledge.

 Hip-Hopping and Rapping with 50 Cent, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Eminem, and Immortal
         Technique: Cultural Renaissance for Whom and at Whose Expense?

                                             Rey Ty

         Research Problem. From having silenced voices in the period of slavery in colonial
history, Black singers of the African Diaspora in the U.S., the Caribbean islands, and Latin
America have created or are prominent in different genres of music that have captured the minds
of people around the world. However, this study reminds readers to avoid “[r]acial stereotype,”
(Sardar & Van Loon, 2002, p. 82), such as wrongly assuming and generalizing that all “Blacks”
are “entertainer” and “high achievers” as “actors, singers” and “dancers” (p. 83). Today,
mainstream and independent African American musicians have created a cultural renaissance in
music enjoyed in most places around the world. Specifically, their voices in hip-hop and rap are
not only heard but are also copied by Asians, Latinos, and Europeans (Perkins, 1993). However,
a problem arises, as there is a multiplicity of divergent voices and the messages apparently are
neither positive nor liberating.
         Research Questions. This research answers the following questions: What are the key
features of hip-hop and rap music? How are they a reproduction of the dominant culture and
grand narratives as well as a cooptation by the hegemonic power structures that further deepen
stereotypes about Blacks in America? How are they a construction of new counter-hegemonic
power structures?
         Importance of the Research to the Practice of Adult and Community Education.
         People studying literature and culture tend to investigate them ahistorically and
apolitically. Literary and cultural criticism tends to be address works of art formalistically
divorced from their settings. Enjoying music because the music sounds good is not enough. The
message is equally, if not more, important. Hence, this study problematizes the separation
between the cultural foreground and the historical and political background. Educators need not
only to consider using culture and music as instructional and learning tools, but must also situate
them within their historical and social contexts. The reason is because the effect of music on
human beings in general and learners in particular is direct. Lévi-Strauss (1969), who is known
for his work on structural anthropology, argues that music performs intellectual and emotive
function. To admirers, they get instant gratification. To detractors, they are annoying to say the
least and repugnant at worst. On another level, music provides content, which either supports or
rejects the status quo with which listeners are bombarded.
         Perspectives. The study of popular culture, to which hip-hop and rap belong, falls under
popular culture studies, for which post-modernism provides useful tools. This paper uses various
strands of post-modernism to answer the research questions. Conservative postmodernism
guides the analysis of the second research question; and, critical progressive postmodernism, the
third. . Foucault (1972) investigated the structure of power and knowledge, claiming that the
criteria of knowledge are defined by who and what are included or excluded. In short, there are
multiple, overlapping series of excluded and legitimated histories. This study investigates which
power structures and voices are legitimated and which are excluded in hip-hop and rap music,
the latter express their resistance to power.

        Research Process. The research method consists in the critical analysis of selected
songs. Literacy criticism refers to the “art or science… devoted to the comparison and analysis,
to the interpretation and evaluation of works,” (Cuddon, 1991, p. 207) in this case, of hip-hop
and rap music. This paper does not pretend to be a comprehensive overview of hip-hop and rap.
Rather, it identifies themes across a continuum.

Hip-Hop and Rap
         Content. Hip-hop historians state that, as a response to systematic structural violence,
such as destroying communities, hip-hop culture and rap songs express the angst of the real lives
of disenfranchised poor Blacks, Puerto Ricans, and Jamaicans living in “ghettos” in the Bronx,
New York (KRS-One, 2009; Perkins, 1993; Powell, 2003). The music expresses the
contradictions and sufferings in the real world, talking about drugs, drive-by shooting, and a
feeling of no way out. In the movie Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2005), 50 Cent playing himself said:
“Crack meant money, money meant power; and power meant war.” As a consequence, many
hip-hoppers and rappers reveal a vestige of toughness. Fat Joe (in Hurt, 2007) said “to be hard…
is one of the flaws of being in the ‘hood.” Dr. Jelani Cobb (2007) of Spelman College said that
hip-hop deals with the history of Black men in the U.S. who deny frailty as a psychic armor. For
this reason, anti-sexist activist Jackson Katz (in Hurt, 2007) said that many hip-hoppers and
rappers portray the image of physical power, toughness and invincibility to show worthiness of
respect, unlike people with enormous economic wealth who can assert their power in other ways.
         Now, most U.S. listeners are European Americans: working-class and spoiled suburban
White folks who put on an image and are mouthing off undirected rage detached from their own
social realities. White folks who listen to hip-hop and rap are outsiders looking into the mythical
and stereotypical lives of the others: predatory Black men who move from poverty to the bling of
nice cars and huge necklaces (Kitwana, 2006). Corporate America penetrates the youth market
through the hip-hop culture, selling everything from compact discs (CDs), pop soda, loose pants
that fall down, and sneakers. It decides what songs can be marketed, promoting a particular kind
of hip-hop and rap. One the one hand, mainstream hip-hop and rap music legitimizes the
hegemonic powers and culture when it speaks with one voice with the grand narrative or when it
serves as an escape from the hard realities of daily life. It is a market that projects a fantasy
world of what the good life is like, portraying the abundance of women, the blings, and the
parties. On the other hand, alternative or underground hip-hop and rap music questions and
destabilizes the status quo when it promotes counter-hegemonic power structures and discourses.
         Style. According to the Harvard Dictionary of Music (Randel, 2010), hip-hop, to which
rap belongs, was born in the 1970s in the Bronx, New York, among African Americans who
were influenced by Caribbean and Latino immigrants. Rapper Africa Bambaataa coined the term
hip-hop in the mid-1970s. But its roots are found in sub-Sahara West Africa where griots, who
are traveling singers and poets, have vocal styles to which rappers’ styles are similar. Recent
antecedents are Jamaican toasting and dub recording of the 1960s and 1970s (Randel, 2010).
Many other types of music are precursors and are in the DNA of hip-hop and rap music: disco,
funk, R&B, jazz, and rock. In addition, hip-hop and rap fuse with other genres of music, such as
metal. Today, popular culture moves toward hip-hop and rap music, which is now a mainstream
multi-million dollar industry. Hip-hop is the umbrella genre of music which has singers, while
and rap is its sub-genre which has emcees (MCs) who speak in verses that frequently rhyme and
disc jockeys (DJs) who remix music. Hip-hop and rap music is truly trailblazing, as it rejects the

convention-governed structures, patterns, and procedures of music making, including those of
the standard popular songs (Rose, 1994). Most types of music have musical instruments or voice
or both. But hip-hop and rap have more. Aside from a singer or rapper and music, hip-hop and
rap music is a collage of the following elements: vinyl-record scratching, sampling, remix,
collaboration, improvisation, echo effects, and speaking in verses. Many of these practices derive
from the DJ culture. There are many sub-genres, fusion genres, and regional scenes in the U.S.,
not to mention in the world. Hip-hop and rap music has morphed to become reggaeton and
merenrap in parts of the Spanish-speaking Latin America. When hip-hop and rap music started to
be very profitable, lawyers came into the picture. A major issue in hip-hop and rap music is
intellectual property rights. Tunes that artists played and recorded previously are used, sampled,
and remixed into the recordings of other artists. Clyde Stubblefield’s drum beats are the most
sought after samples. The original creators, from whom the sampled bits and pieces of recording
were extracted, are not acknowledged in compositional credits and they do not profit from any
royalties arising from sales. As copyrights laws are infringed, lawyers step in. Now, hip-hoppers
and rappers are more cautious in copying beats, as beats are copyrighted and they are liable to
copyright infringements and criminal prosecution.

Music as the Consolation of the Opiated
        Rap and Rage. When major companies—the hegemonic economic powers—bought up
hip-hop and rap record labels, the lyric contents started to change. Cultural critic Dr. Mark
Anthony Neal (1998) said that only a certain level of Blackness flows through the air waves:
hardcore thugs performing hip-hop with booty shaking in the background. As rappers want to
land a record deal, they mouth want corporate America buys and sells. Themes that emerge
reinforce stereotypes which are commodified. Rappers in this category internalize, glorify, &
perpetuate dominant structure & culture: Black men feminizing other Black men, confrontation,
domination, drugs, gay bashing, gun play, hard-core thugs, homophobia, hyper-masculine
posturing, intra-Black animosity, instilling fear in other men, machismo, misogyny, money,
objectification of women, power, sex, sexism, shaking booties, stereotypical masculine
standards, and violence. Cultural critic Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, rapper Tim’m West, and former
Vibe Magazine Emil Wilbekin (in Hurt) said that ironically while hip-hop culture is
homophobic, yet it’s homoerotic, portraying images of very masculine, muscular, shirtless,
greased up men who are very “thug.” White men in suits make business decisions on what music
will make money and therefore what music to sell. However, Black record executives need to
step up to the plate with respect to the stereotypes conveyed in songs.
        Gangsta rappers internalize the messages that the dominant powers and culture
perpetuate: sexism and violence (Cole & Guy-Sheftall, 2003). The dominant culture in the U.S.
is hyper-masculinity: Hollywood perennially produces films that objectify women as well as
promote violence. Black male rappers are self-conscious of their victimization; hence, they talk
about racism, police brutality, and Black male incarceration, for which reason they advance
Black male supremacy to reveal a desensitized and tough persona, possibly due to insecurity.
Black gangsta rappers denigrate Black women, homosexuals, and each other (Black men). Black
women are objectified and commodified and, therefore, become prey to both White male and
Black male supremacy. Gangsta rappers use words that are demeaning to people of color and to
women. They use such words as “nigger, bitch, ho (whore),” and “icing cops” (Appignanesi &
Garratt, 2000, p. 140). Gangsta rappers “celebrate violence towards women, the police and
sadism, chauvinism, gang feuds, drug deals, sexual and black-on-black violence” (p. 140). The

songs of many gangsta rappers reflect their lifestyle. Snoop Doggy “has been indicted for
murder” (p. 140). Tupac Shakur “was arrested for shooting two off-duty policemen in Atlanta”
(p. 140). Flavor Flav of Public Enemy “was arrested for allegedly trying to shoot a neighbor in
New York” (p. 140). Public Enemy’s Chuck D (in Hurt, 2007) said: “BET is the cancer of black
manhood…, because they one-dimensionalized us and commodified us as a one-trick image.”
         True, gangsta rappers sing of the life of “dispossessed ghetto dwellers” (Appignanesi &
Garratt, 2000, p. 141). However, their listeners are mostly “white suburban adolescents,” known
as “wiggers” or “wannabe white niggers” (p. 141) who identify with manhood and courage. The
problem with gangsta rap is that it reinforces racist ideology and racial stereotypes, such as: due
to their “cultural identity,” “black people” are “trouble maker[s]” (Sardar & Van Loon, 2002, p.
79). Gangsta rappers legitimize hegemonic myths and reinforce stereotypes by chanting them to
social groups in society who then internalize them, such as drive-by shootings, poverty, rise to
fame, and oversize jewelry. Many rappers have been imprisoned or killed (Toop, 1991).
         Escapism. Many of the popular crossover and fusion hip-hop hits are escapist. People
who suffer from oppression, poverty, and hopelessness sigh for release from their conditions and
flee into escapist hip-hop and rap songs. Music is a painkiller to help them forget their misery,
thereby diverting their energies from changing their present circumstances. In Jay Sean’s hit
songs, Down (2009) and Do You Remember (2004), performed in collaboration with Lil Wayne
in both and Sean Paul in the latter, they openly chant verses about having fun and bring back
good memories, despite being down and in the midst of an economic depression, singing that
you “don’t need to worry” and “everything will be ok,” respectively. For the same reason, Black
Eyed Peas’ number one hit song in the Top 40 Charts, I Gotta Feelin’ (2009), likewise is an
escapist song, promising that “today’s gonna be a good day.” The ideological distortion and false
consciousness hide and contribute to the reproduction of social contradictions that serve the
ruling-class interests. Inverted consciousness and inverted reality appear as real.
         Some hard-rock rap groups, though, offer some social commentaries, such as Linkin
Park. Its songs, for example, are full of social critique, though not hard-hitting. In broad sweep,
they talk about the truth, lies, regret, mercy and divide—mostly abstract concepts. Their music
videos, such as What I’ve Done, however, show images of Ku Klux Klan, meth, oil price hike,
traffic, pollution, wildlife, famine in Africa, super-thin White women, obesity, nuclear explosion,
drought, civil rights protests, police brutality, war, and chemical weapons. However, their
messages are too general and too subliminal to be considered serious political militancy.
Music as a Tool for Liberation
         Corporate America goes not give record deals to rappers who talk about critical issues
The majority of hip-hop and rap music are either escapist or conforms with the stereotypes that
the hegemonic powers legitimate. But some hip-hop and rap music raise consciousness and rebel
against established powers as well as deconstruct issues related to class, gender, and color
(Cross, 1993; Walser, 1995). Artists in local communities who create hip-hop and rap music can
be rich resource for educational purposes. Singer Chuck D. said that rap is the “CNN for black
people,” that promotes black history, pride, and self-help (Randel, 2003, p. 705). Immortal
Technique is a rapper who seriously studies the history and material conditions of poor people,
especially Blacks and Latinos. He challenges class domination, asserting that color analysis,
though necessary, is not sufficient. There is a need to revisit and reinforce class analysis as

   Table 1: Grounded Classification of the Social Imagination in Hip-Hop and Rap Music
         Left:                    Center:                                   Right:
Counter-Hegemony                 Escapism                       Rage & Hegemonic Power
Afro-centrism,        Sad Reality    Painkiller        “Issues:” Black male “Non-Issues:”
change, class,        Escapism:      Escapism:         incarceration, glorify Homophobia, hyper-
consciousness         Social         Cars, fun, good   victimization of         masculinity,
raising, gender,      commentary     time, love,       Black men, racism,       misogyny, power,
social & political                   money, party      police brutality         profanity, sex,
militancy                                                                       violence, wealth

         Summary. Hip-hop and rap music began as an underground urban folk movement but is
now mainstreamed. It was the voice of poor people but now hegemonic economic powers
appropriate it. It is path-breaking in style, but has hidden and overt social messages, reflecting
the society which produces it. It started as consciousness-raising but later became a fantasy to
which people can get out of poverty. As the hegemonic economic power holders—big business
interests—came in, they make decisions on what music will be mass produced and seen on music
videos. The ideas that dominate in society are the ideas of the ruling class. The problem is
structural and systemic. Some musicians are adjusted to greed, bigotry, and fear: they defend the
values of the ruling class. But others challenge and question those beliefs. This study shows that
polysemy and polyphony characterize hip-hop and rap songs, as they can be classified in a
continuum, with porous boundaries. While rappers focus on predominantly one set of themes in
the continuum, they also deal with issues on other sets of the continuum, namely: one, there are
songs that echo the hegemonic culture that promote violence, patriarchy, power, and misogyny.
Two, there are songs that are escapist and act as opium to lighten the misery with which people
face in their daily existence. Three, there are songs that are critical and promote a counter-
hegemonic structure and culture. Clearly, hip-hop and rap music ranges from the “critical,
prophetic mode, to the violence-ridden, misogynist mode” (West, 2004, p. 181).
         Music that was once in the margins is now not only standard but also institutionalized.
Big business plays a role in selecting songs which become mass produced and commercialized.
Economic power legitimizes music that will not rock the boat. Hence, songs that are mass
marketed are those that either opiate the people or reproduce the hegemonic culture that
promotes the stereotype that Black men are power hungry, violent, misogynous, and criminal.
Songs that have great difficulties penetrating the mainstream radio waves or television are those
that promote counter-hegemonic structures and cultures. Composers and lyricists who do not
want to be sold out to big-business interests would rather not go the commercial route but
produce their recordings in alternative ways. They do this by producing their own compact discs
(CDs) or making their songs directly available to listeners online, either for free or for a fee.
         Implications of Applying the Findings to Practice and Theory. This paper concludes
with recommendations for adult educators. Music is a powerful tool to convey a message.
Educators can use music, including hip-hop and rap music, to link back to and talk about social
realities. Young learners are listening to hip-hop and rap anyway. Music can be used to struggle
against violence, classism, racism, sexism and homophobia. Educators can use hip-hop and rap
as instructional and learning tools, engaging learners in dialogues about class, gender, color,
culture, stereotypes, fatalism, and actions that promote justice and lasting change. The way to
real happiness is to free ourselves from the life that made us desire rage-filled or escapist music.


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   Club Cultures of the 80's: The Influence of Chicago House Music and the Black Gay

                                         Charnell Thomas

The Beginning of House Music: Disco Roots
         The Harlem Renaissance inspired many Black artists and musicians. Today those artists’
skills reign within the Black culture. From the early 1920s until today, Black music performed
by Black artists transform people through empowerment, culture, and identity. Such songs can
be referenced as romantic, political, funky, soulful, high energy, and/or inspirational. All these
elements are connected to genres that are celebrated in the Black community creating social
change and self-empowerment as a collective whole. By the late 1960s, underground music
became very popular within the Black gay community. Unlike today homosexuality was not
publically displayed without tension. Black gay males and females created social and safe
environments for themselves in “low-key” or underground places. Like the Harlem Renaissance,
Blacks and Black gays began to celebrate another genre of music called Disco through social
gatherings in underground places of New York. Music was the main attraction in these
underground spots which brought the gay community together. During this era the DJ also
became prevalent to the entertainment scene, in which I will highlight later within this paper.
         As the worlds of DJs and gays meshed underground parties began to populate in New
York. By the early 1970s Underground Dance Music (UDM) became a term that addressed this
phenomenon of underground social gatherings among the Black gay community. In the context
of social dancing in New York, according to Kai Fikentscher (2000), “underground is a complex
term, with historical, social, cultural, and political implications- UDM relates to the ascribed and
perceived marginality of its patrons, the attribute of underground highlights the role of race,
gender, and sexual orientation as expressed through stylistic means that are cultivated largely
outside of the awareness of the American mainstream” (p. 13). The term underground within
this context is not seen as hiding or becoming embarrassed of mainstream criticisms on
homosexuality but to make safe spaces for Black gays. During this period safety was extremely
important because this was the time that gays and African American communities were
overcoming racial and sexual tension. The Harvey Milk campaigns and Gay Liberation
movements were emerging for gays while the Civil Rights movements were ending for African
Americans. Blacks, Latinos, and gays around the world were in the midst of political
movements that promoted human rights. So, in order to create safe zones for these groups,
underground clubs/discotheque became social institutions that fostered safe spaces and freedom
for pure entertainment among Blacks gays.
         Origins of underground clubbing consisted of Disco music that presided over an era of
dramatic social change (Brewster & Broughton, 2006). Disco was an African American creation
refined and popularized by DJs at underground clubs for Black gay men in the late 1960s
(Fikenstscher, 2000). However, around 1970 it crossed over to white gay male clubs and became
a mainstream phenomenon by 1974 (Fikenstscher, 2000). June 28, 1969 The Stonewall Riots
was a part of the Gay Liberation movement which marked the birth of gay pride (Brewster &
Broughton, 2006). At the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan a police raid occurred where Black and
Latino gay men were abruptly removed from their safe space they harvested. Events such as this
grew tiresome for this community. On this night patrons began to revolt and rebel against police

force that invaded their safe space. Disco became an outlet for Black gays. “Disco was
revolutionary, freedom, togetherness, love, dirty, spiritual, thrilling, powerful, secret,
underground, dangerous; it was non-blonde, queer, hungry, it was emancipation” (Brewster &
Broughton, 2006, p. 136).
        In the mid-70s Disco had become mainstream that sparked other cultures to participate in
what was created from gay and black culture. Much of the music began with Black singers and
entertainers (Fikenstscher, 2000). Club entrepreneurs saw this phenomenon financially lucrative,
so disco clubs began to generate all over urban communities that extended to Blacks, Whites,
gays, and heterosexuals. With the influence of mainstream and societal changes in Black
communities, Black gays had no longer participated in “safe spaces” that they had created. By
1975, according to Kai Fikentscher, the lifestyle of gay men in New York focused on three
things that is disco, drugs, and sex; at this point gay life in the city was assertive to the point of
being aggressive and very public which was setting the tone of popular culture for all of the
country, straight as well as gay” (p. 99). Meanwhile underground clubbing has taken its backseat
to mainstream demands. Disco club promoters saw an opportunity to capitalize on a
community’s safety net where the outcome became phenomenal between different ethnicities
and genders that intertwined through music and dance.
The Maestro, the Presenter, the DJ: The Disc Jockey Contributions
        The DJ has become this phenomenon in the House Music movement for numerous
reasons. The DJ creates the party, he/she heightens the club-goers interests, and he/she dictates
the direction of the party. Brewster and Broughton (2006) suggest the DJ is today’s lord of the
dance. They distill musical greatness; they select a series of exceptional recordings and use them
to create a unique performance, improvised to precisely suit the time, the place and the people in
front of them. Brewster and Broughton also goes onto say, “ a DJ is a presenter, today the DJ
use records as building blocks, stringing them together in an improvised narrative to create a set,
a performance of their own in which the aim is to generate a cohesive musical atmosphere in
most cases making people dance” (p. 17).
        In the late 70s DJing was a fully formed craft (Brewster & Broughton, 2006). Disco has
had it few shares of DJ pioneers that have helped create a new genre of Disco and Chicago
House Music. To name a few, sited in Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, David Mancuso at the
Loft in New York provided the blue print for night clubbing. Nicky Siano at the Gallery who was
a bi-sexual DJ that brought everything together for the first commercial club scene in New York;
and Francis Grasso at the Sanctuary who turned an old German church into a gay and drug
infested party place. Authors Brewster and Broughton says “the typical New York discothèque
DJ is young, Italian, and gay that were taking over the city’s nightlife” (p. 164). Along with
Siano emerging from the Gallery was part-time DJs Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles whom
are best friends, Black, gay and mentees of David Mancuso. Larry and Frankie decided to move
on to other clubs as their DJing careers had advanced, Larry at the Paradise Garage and Frankie
in Chicago at the Warehouse.
        Approaching the 80’s at The Paradise Garage Disco has reached higher heights with
Larry Levan as the primary DJ. From 1977 to 1987, “the Garage was the crucial link between
disco and the musical forms which evolved from it” (Brewster & Broughton, 2006, p. 293). The
Paradise Garage club members were Blacks, Anglos, Jews, Spanish, gays, and straight
(Fikentscher, 2000). The club logo was a male club dancer holding a tambourine and whistle
around his neck. Larry Levan synergy as a DJ allowed club goes feel the music he was bringing
into the set. People energy level builds and the interaction between the deejay and crowd

intensifies (Fikentscher, 200, p. 64). It is DJing that is an emotional improvised art form
(Brewster & Broughton, 2006).
“It’s House”: Chicago House Music
        At Disco’s peak in New York and all over the United States, in Chicago a radio DJ Steve
Dahl hated Disco so much he launched the “Disco Sucks” campaign. Also at this time, the
increased awareness of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) epidemic which was
formerly known as Gay Related Immunodeficiency Syndrome (GRIDS) too inspired Dahl and
his followers to protest against Disco music. According to Brewster and Broughton (2006) they
rallied around the overtly homophobic ‘Disco Sucks’ slogan and fought the evil faggot music by
haranguing club DJs whenever it was played” (p. 290). They go on stating Dahl ranted over the
airwaves “Disco music is a disease, I call it disco dystrophy- the people victimized by this killer
disease walk around like zombies, and we must do everything possible to stop the spread of this
plague” (p. 290). July 12, 1979 at the White Sox stadium Comiskey Park in Chicago or aka
“Disco Demolition” noted in the Chicago Tribune, Dahl inspired baseball fans reduced
admission if they decide to bring a disco record for collection. More than 10,000 discs were
collected and at half-time blown up with fireworks inside a container. According to Lil Louis
(2010) “I wasn’t there but at this time I was a big DJ in Chicago which we heard this event
coming and decided to protest. This was a significant event because it marked the beginning of
House Music. To further my protest was to make more Disco records. I didn’t have a band or an
orchestra. I had a keyboard, and I can remix songs.” So the protest by Steve Dahl did not stop
the sounds of disco being played, what grew from this event was a new genre of Disco known as
Chicago House Music.

        Between 1977 and 1981 reigns the Godfather of Chicago House Music, Frankie Knuckles
at the Warehouse. Frankie Knuckles played Disco music that appealed to the Black gay
community. Frankie Knuckles “cared about the styles, he was technical, all beats matching, kind
of perfect music” (Robert). According to Harry, “Frankie Knuckles was beautiful because he
was more sophisticated because he can get down and dirty but not like let me pick something out
the crate and see what I can do with it, he was mythical with his skills, he played the music
dissect it and then go into something nice and smooth which was nice.” Due to his presence in
Chicago and mythical sounds at the Warehouse the concept of “house” music was generated by
this phenomenon. Brewster and Broughton (2006) suggest the word ‘house’ came from the
Warehouse, referring to the music played there, the DJing manipulations which Frankie
introduced and the underground vibe the club endangered. By 1981 Disco was declared dead
according to Brewster and Broughton (2006). House Music in Chicago had become so popular
that newer DJs began to hit the scene, social clubs were forming among high school students,
club promoters were working hard to spread the word, and music stations created special
segments dedicated to House Music.
        Alongside Frankie Knuckles as one of Chicago’s premier DJ’s, Lil Louis had also grown
popular into the House Music industry. According to Lil Louis “there are a few creators of
House Music; although we didn’t call it House Music, House Music came later on by my co-
creator Frankie Knuckles.” Kris Kempster (1996) implies Lil Louis had already been
experimenting with pause-button edits on a cassette deck before Knuckles had arrived in
Chicago. The difference between the two, “Frankie had a gay movement and I had a straight
movement that start merging” reported by Lil Louis. While these two sectors were brewing,
another pioneer of Chicago House Music takes a completely new spin on Disco and R &B in
1982 that was Ron Hardy at the Music Box. Ron Hardy stole the hearts of Chicago club-goers.

Both club-goers that were interviewed suggest Ron Hardy is the Godfather of Chicago House
Music. He started and created House Music because of his raw talents, style, and musicality
which set the tone for House Music. While Frankie emphasized Disco music and Lil Louis
R&B, Ron went to another level in order to please his club members. This other level is called
House Music. According to club-goer Robert, “Ron Hardy is the Godfather, the King of House
Music.” Club-goer Harry says “Ron Hardy was the man and always be the man for he would
bump a track for 15-20 minutes with one record; he would take a nice song and make it better.”
Hardy’s music was about “bombshells and surprises, an onslaught of sound reaching climax after
funky climax- he upped the energy levels using anything at his disposal” (Brewster and
Broughton, 2006, p. 321).
         So what is Chicago House Music? According to Harry, “it’s disco, it is not that stuff
played on the radio station B96, not your everyday music, different groups made different things.
What I consider House Music is stuff you don’t hear everyday, it is obscured disco music, it is
more of a culture, the way they played the music.” Lil Louis says, “House Music is a mar riot of
things, it is a culture more than anything, it’s a haj-paj of a gay movement and straight
movement.” Robert implies “House music an institution, a movement, something that was
embraced by the African American community, typically gay African Americans as an outlet,
more than music, the way we dressed, dancing house, dressing house, a style more than a type of
music.” Not only did this genre of music embraced by club-goers created energetic sounds but a
style and culture of its own. In the 80’s club- goers had trendy hairstyles both men and women,
their clothes were considered preppy, and a demeanor that everyone knew they were ‘house.’
Where Harry attended high school, he and his friends were labeled as preppy fags. On the other
hand, a person being ‘house’ was considered a house-head. Those that did not buy into House
Music thought House Music was gay music. Club- goer Harry and DJ Lil Louis are both
heterosexual African American men, where as Robert is an African American gay male. Both
Harry and Robert described themselves in the 80s as house-heads. House-head is a concept
illustrating house as a style. According to Robert:
         The term is given to someone who eats, sleeps, and lives for House Music. Typically, a
term assigned to individuals who would have partied during the early 80s and late 70s. Not
someone who just went to the club, not someone who buys or like the style of music. But when
you think of music you can’t think of any than House Music. When you buy music you only buy
House Music. People including myself consider themselves musically versatile. I only spend
my money on House Music. In that respect I am truly a house-head. You can base house-heads
on how they live, people who only buy and listen to house music, people who spend their
Saturday nights only in places where they play House Music. House-head, House Music, and
clubs that catered to house-heads were no fights, no disagreements, and no one cared who dance
with whom or how they were dancing. No one thinks about anyone sexuality. These are true
house-heads because we don’t care! We are at the party to have a party, to listen to the classics,
DJ playing new things that take us through, that’s it then go home. We are not there to size-up
anyone else, pump up anyone else or any other type of drama you find at clubs these days.
         The club environment also contributes to the house culture. The Warehouse was seen by
the wider Chicago club world as marginal, it was a club for Black gay people (of both sexes)
with a Black gay DJ where Frankie’s music was written off as ‘fag music’ (Brewster and
Broughton, 2006). On the other hand, at the Music Box all ethnic groups and sexualities existed.
Like the Paradise Garage in New York people from all ethnic and sexual backgrounds clubbed
together for identity was not an issue. If you danced alone, men with men, women with women,

or man and woman together no one cared stated by Robert. Both club-goers described the Music
Box was like dancing in a cave. Although there were stage lights and smoke that filled the air, it
was extremely dark and dingy relatively dancing in a cave. Also reported by club-goers you
heard the music blocks away from the club. There were long lines of people, young and old, that
waited to get into the Music Box. People would arrive 12am and partied until 7am, and on
special occasions the club would last for 36 hours of non-stop music. High school students from
Chicago, primarily the south-side, would sneak out the house at 11pm to meet up with friends at
the nearest bus terminal in order to get to the club. Harry mentioned there was no city curfew so
police officers did not stop to ask their destination. Harry reported he would tell his mom that he
staying at his great-grandparents home sneaking out their bedroom window to meet up with
friends heading for the Music Box then sneak back into the widow around 7 am as if nothing
occurred, for him and other high school students this was routine.

         Club-goers described the club environment as unexplainable. They said everything went
on there from falling out onto the floor to having sex and drugs on the dance floor. It has been
reported that sex would be carried out behind the speakers (Bidder, 2001). Harry said he avoided
the bathrooms because people would snort cocaine or heroin, whereas Robert stated some people
would smoke marijuana next to you on the dance floor. At the Music Box described by Robert
this was their sanctuary. Dancers were able to emotionally connect to the DJ as if they were in
church. Robert implies, “you can equate it to the Holy Spirit in church, it is that intensity you
feel when your choir is singing that one song, that one line, that one expression which puts you
in the state of frenzy this is called House Music.” When dancers would connect with the music
that was playing typically someone would fall out because the spirit would hit you. “The music
gets so good that you don’t know what to do with yourself, to where any of your dance moves
don’t make sense to you, to the point where you fall out on the floor and just scream and just
don’t know what to do, people passing out wasn’t unusual,” according to Robert. Derrick May
states, “I never seen people especially black people completely on another planet everybody was
going nuts, it was as if they hand gone to church like they’d just been possessed” (as cited in
Bidder, 2001, p. 22). Frankie Knuckles compares it to church as well stating “when you have
three thousand personalities in front of you it becomes one personality, so the time the preacher
gets everything going or that choir gets everything going at one particular point, when things
start peaking that whole room becomes one, and that’s the most amazing thing about it” (as cited
in Brewster and Broughton, 2006, p. 312). As a result, the Music Box opened it doors to
everyone. Everyone celebrated music at the hands of the DJ. The environment of the club
welcomed diversity, spirituality, and expression of dance through House Music.

        Overall, House Music began in Chicago at the Warehouse descending from Disco.
However, Ron Hardy at the Music Box put the stamp on Chicago House by incorporating his raw
energetic and fast pace beats as a DJ. Since the beginning of Chicago House, the genre has
incorporated into several styles such as Acid House and Techno throughout the Unites States and
United Kingdom. Derived from the Black gay culture of Disco, Chicago House became a
phenomenon in the 80s that created a newer culture among Black gays and heterosexual
teenagers. Teens would leave their homes at 11pm until 7am without their parents’ knowledge
clubbing where Chicago House music was played. Teenagers from all over the city developed
their own trend of dressing and hair styles that were considered preppy. Since they had adopted

their own style and music that was created by gay Black men, they were considered ‘preppy
fags’ by mainstream society. Although, negative connotations were attached to people who
clubbed and dressed ‘house’ it did not stop this generation of house-heads from attending 36
hours dance parties and changing their style in being ‘house.’
         House dance clubs all over Chicago was loved by people who loved the music. People
identities were not an issue. People danced with everyone where judgment was suspended. At
House dance clubs this was their sanctuary. The music was hypnotic. Dancers would become
emotionally and spiritually attached in which tears were shed because the music touched their
souls. Sex and drugs did occur in some clubs; however, it was an option to participate in such
activities. The DJ would spin records that got dancers worked-up in a frenzy. The DJ became so
powerful that he transformed the dancers- he sparked a movement with his DJing skills. He
became a presenter, he was a promoter, and inspirational in the clubs. The House DJ and House
scene was so prevalent that this phenomenon hit the radio airwaves in Chicago. Radio stations
created segments known as Saturday Night Dance Parties for listeners that did not attend clubs.
Again, this phenomenon sparked several generations that has taken a nation by surprise.
         Like the Harlem Renaissance, Chicago House was created by Blacks that promoted song
and dance from its African roots. Chicago House touched souls of Blacks by incorporating
music artists from the Harlem Renaissance, Gospel, Blues, and R&B. Chicago House Music was
known for its powerful messages that supported liberation and freedom of expression for Blacks.
Since the Harlem Renaissance Blacks developed various styles of music that played into the
lifestyles of Blacks allowing the music to become an extension of that person’s life. It was
through music by Black artists that poured into the hearts of Blacks releasing an outcry for the ill
treatment of Blacks in America. Henceforth, in the 80s Chicago House Music became the genre
that connected the struggles of our ancestors. It encouraged freedom, culture, and identity for
Blacks as a whole.


Bidder, S. (2001). Pump up the volume. London: Channel 4 Books.

Brewster, B. & Broughton, F. (2006). Last night a dj saved my life: The history of the disc
jockey. London: Headline Book Publishing.

Ebehart, C. (2005). The Unusual Suspects: Once Upon a Time in House Music. Chicago: Windy
City    Media.

Fikentscher, K. (2000). You better work: Underground dance music in New York City. London:
        Wesleyan University Press.

Kempster, C. (1996). History of house. London: Sanctuary Publishing Ltd.

Unknown. (1979, July). Steve Dahl's Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park. Retreived from

  What are the Cultural, Economic, Political and Social influences of the Chicago Black

                                         Patricia Johnson

          Birth of Chicago’s Black Belt, and the Influence of Mass Media & Politics
        Between 1875 and 1895, as Chicago took its steps towards industrialization, the black
population increased from 5,000 to 15,000; by 1910 the black population of Chicago had
increased to over 42,000 among 2.1 million inhabitants. So in 1910 the ranks of the black
community organized into its own neighborhood and institutions in an area called the Black Belt,
a narrow strip of land on the south side of Chicago. The Black Belt was bounded by 18th Street
to 39th Street; State Street on the east and the Rock Island Railroad tracks and LaSalle Street on
the west. Chicago’s black population increased dramatically between 1890 and 1920, when many
blacks would move north to find better jobs and to escape the widespread racial violence of the
south. In 1920 the black population of Chicago had increased to over 80,000, and a second,
smaller black community had organized on the west side of Chicago.
         Unless they were used as strikebreakers, most blacks were restricted from industrial and
skilled labor jobs. Despite the restrictions, a middle class and a small, formally educated, elite
class emerged as the black community established businesses, churches, women’s social clubs,
gambling houses, theatres, and dance halls. for example, the west side black community
developed its own institutions, including a hospital, training school for nurses, lodges, a bank, a
YMCA settlement house, and branches of the National Negro Business League, the NAACP, and
the Federated Women’s Clubs.
         In 1905 Robert Abbott founded the Chicago Defender newspaper. Abbott, who
graduated from Hampton Institute in Virginia, earned a law degree from Chicago’s Kent College
of Law in 1898. Unable to practice law in because of racial discrimination, Abbott turned to the
trade he had learned as a student at Hampton--printing. With an initial investment of $25, he
wrote, printed and began selling his four-page weekly newspaper door-to-door. The Chicago
Defender was unique among other black publications of the time. Abbot sought out the black
masses rather than only the well-educated black readership. The newspaper combined
muckraking and political reporting with sensational stories about scandals, prostitution, gambling
rings and murder. But the Chicago Defender had its biggest influence in its role as advocate and
advisor for blacks still in the South.
        Since the Chicago Defender was located in the North, it could safely report stories that
Southern black newspapers could not, for fear of retribution. The Chicago Defender could
expose the daily horrors that characterized the South, including the lynching, police brutality and
white exploitation of the disenfranchised black population. In a response to the lynching of
blacks by white mobs, the Chicago Defender once advised: “When the Mob Comes and You
Must Die, Take at Least One With You.” Defiant statements like these earned the Chicago
Defender intense loyalty among blacks and anger among white Southerners who sought to
prohibit its sale and distribution throughout the South. By 1916 the Chicago Defender had
become the best-selling black newspaper in the United States, and had begun encouraging blacks
to leave the South for the prospects of economic opportunity and the relative freedom that the
wartime economy made possible in the North. And blacks responded. Due to the newspaper’s
encouragement, hundreds of thousands of blacks migrated North, in a population shift that would

be known as the Great Migration. Many blacks turned to the Chicago Defender for assistance in
making the trip north and then adjusting to urban life. The paper reacted by organizing clubs that
provided lower cost rail fares for migrants and directed new arrivals to jobs, housing and social
service agencies.

                                       Political Participation
         In 1871 John Jones¸ considered the first black public official, was elected county
commissioner. He was followed by J.W.E. Thomas became the first black state representative
from Chicago in 1876. The first black newspaper, the Conservator, was founded in 1878. By
the end of the 19th century, the black elite had begun to speak out forcefully against racial
injustice. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the most outspoken member of the Afro-American Council and
co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909, risked
her life to expose the evils of lynching and spoke worldwide about lynching and other social
         In 1915 Oscar De Priest, son of former slaves, became Chicago’s first black alderman.
De Priest lived in Ohio and then moved to Chicago, where he worked as a painter and a
decorator. By 1905 he owned his own painting and decorating business and by 1915 De Priest
capitalized on the Great Migration that brought tens of thousands of blacks to Chicago’s South
side, by opening a lucrative real estate business. De Priest later became active in politics,
delivering black votes to Chicago’s then powerful Republican Party. He was rewarded in 1904
when he was elected as a cook County commissioner, a post he lost in 1908. In the following
years he would throw his support to both black and white candidates, Democrats and
Republicans, and in 1915 he became Chicago’s first black alderman, representing the
Republicans. Throughout the 1920’s De Priest continued selling real estate and practicing
politics, eventually becoming the leading black power broker for Republican Mayor William
(“Big Bill”) Hale Thompson. When one of Chicago’s incumbent Republican congressmen died
during the 1928 election campaign, the Republican committee chose De Priest to replace him. In
1929 he became the first black in Congress, serving for 28 years. While in Congress, De Priest
launched several unsuccessful measures related to race; among his successes was a bill that
prohibited the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal Work Program, from discriminating in
hiring. He also increased Congress’s appropriation to Howard University and sent black
appointments to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy at
         De Priest’s years in Congress saw the abandonment of the Republican Party by African
Americans in favor of the Democratic Party. Although De Priest would survive the Democratic
elections of 1930 and 1932, in 1934 he was defeated by a black Democrat. He would later serve
as a Chicago alderman from 1943 to 1947.

                                  The Business of Black Beauty
       The history of black hair and beauty culture is both rich and complicated. It reflects the
complexities of African American’s connections to both African and American cultures. As
blacks adopted hair styles and beauty techniques that reflect European standards of beauty, there
were times when African American hair and beauty culture was associated with assimilation into
the American culture. When African slaves were brought to the Americas, they encountered
standards of beauty that privileged fair skin, straight hair and thin features, in contrast to African
dark skin, curly hair and wider noses and mouths. Some slaves became proficient in European

beauty care techniques by serving as barbers or beauticians for their owners and some free blacks
in both the North and South made their living as hairdressers for white customers. For their own
beauty and grooming rituals, however, most African Americans chose to refer to African
traditions, which included braiding hair in traditional African patterns and using berries and
herbs for skin-care preparation.
        After Emancipation, the demand for professional hair and beauty care within the black
community began to grow. The Chicago’s Black Belt was no different. Some hairdressers would
work out of their own homes, either full-time or part-time as a means to earn extra income;
kitchen beauticians were one of the most established categories of African American
entrepreneurs. As the number of commercial establishments grew, barbershops and beauty
parlors became increasingly important in the economic and social structure of black
communities. Because their workplaces were gathering points in many black communities,
many salon owners later become community leaders. Many hairdressers would become known
for the wisdom they dispensed with their services, assuming the role of town griot.
        The rise of professional shops coincided with a rise in commercial beauty products and
treatments designed specifically for African American hair and skin. For much of the late 19th
and early 20th centuries, however, many of the new products seemed designed to make African
Americans more European in appearance. Madame C.J. Walker was the most well-known female
African American entrepreneur to developed special hair care products and styling techniques for
black women. Touted as the first self-made American woman millionaire, her empire included
perfumes, toothpaste, soap, powders, and rouge in addition to shampoo, hair dressings, and hair
pomades. Most of her fortune, however, was made from the Walker System, a hair straightening
technique that used hot combs to meet her customers’ demand for straighter, smoother hair.
        The Beauty Culture would continue to evolve and professionalize into big business in
Chicago. Other black migrants such as Anthony Overton, Annie Turnbo Malone, and Marjorie
Stewart Joyner would leave their mark on Chicago’s Beauty Culture as well.

                        Art, Music, Film and Sport in Chicago’s Black Metropolis
        The prosperity of the 1920’s produced a cultural rebirth comparable to that in Harlem,
New York. For example, the painter Archibald Motley was nationally recognized for his
portrayals of city life. Educated at the Art Institute of Chicago, Motley made a shift from the
strong respectable images of southern folk landscapes he was painting to the more urban
depictions of black migrant transition.
        Of all the African Americans who were making so called “race pictures,” Oscar
Micheaux dominated this era. Like so many black migrants, Micheaux had many talents--
filmmaker, novelist, businessman and pioneer homesteader. However, he is best known for his
dramatic films about African American life. Micheaux’s first creative work was the 1913 novel,
The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer. This novel followed the adventures of a self-made
black settler caught between his love for a white woman and the perceived demands of his racial
identity. Micheaux’s next novel, The Homesteader (1917), had a similar theme. In 1919,
Micheaux turned his attention to movies. He filmed The Homesteader himself, and renamed his
business the Micheaux Book and Film Company. He would go on to produce, write and direct
more than thirty films over the next three decades. Body and Soul (1924) featured singer and
actor Paul Robeson in his first American appearance on-screen. The first African American
feature-length sound film, The Exile (1931), was a Micheaux creation. Many of Micheaux’s
films have been lost. His known surviving films include Within Our Gates (1919), Body and

Soul (1924), and God’s Stepchildren (1937). Micheaux’s works explored individual characters’
struggles against prejudice within the African American community as well as in opposition to
outer racism.
         The African American community also nurtured a prolific jazz scene that included a New
Orleans ex-patriate, Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton. In 1921 cornetist Joseph “King” Oliver also
arrived from New Orleans, where his band fused a polyphonic style with the melodic traditions
of Chicago’s cabarets and dance halls. Louis Armstrong developed his solo, improvisational
style with King Oliver and his own Hot Five Band. Pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines with Jimmy
Noone’s orchestra was also popular at the time. Vocalists Alberta Hunter and Ethel Waters were
featured singers for these groups.
         The Blues and Gospel are unique African American music forms that traveled from the
South by way of the Great Migration. The Blues emerged during the troubled times of the post-
Reconstruction South, when Southern blacks experienced political disenfranchisement, economic
subordination and systematic physical violence. As it moved from the South to the North, the
Blues shifted from simple rural blues to rhythmic and rollicking urban blues. The Blues had an
important influence on jazz. As African Americans rose to prominence in popular culture, the
Blues reshaped the vernacular music of the U.S. and the entire world. In making the move from
the South to the North, the Blues followed regional lines. The most important line of movement
was from the Delta to Chicago, a route taken by such musicians as Broonzy and guitarist Muddy
Waters. Gertrude “Ma” Rainey and Bessie Smith are the two most important female, classic
blues singers.
         Gospel music rose in Northern urban areas, primarily in Chicago, where pianist and
composer Thomas A. Dorsey played a key role in formalizing the style. After a period in which
many Northern blacks aspired to a white middle-class religiosity, the emergence of Gospel music
represented a return to distinctly African American religious values. Gospel music was the
musical counterpart of the changes in religious life that were catalyzed by the Great Migration.
It built upon the revival songs of late 19th century white evangelicals such as Ira Sankey. The
lyrics of the revival songs differed sharply from the early black spirituals. Where the spirituals
addressed collective hardships, revival songs were much more individualistic in style. The
revival songs focused more on sentimental language and on Jesus’ role as a personal comforter.
By the late 19th century white evangelicals began using the term gospel songs in referring to this
nondenominational revival music. Although African Americans embraced the lyrical
conventions of the gospel songs, they made gospel music their own, incorporating improvisation,
blues harmonies, and a strong feeling of swing.
         Charles Albert Tindley was the first African American to compose and publish gospel
songs, His 1916 collection, New Songs of Paradise, included 37 of his gospel compositions. In
1921 Tindley gain prominence, when the National Baptist Convention selected several of his
gospel songs for inclusion in its songbook, Gospel Pearls. Tindley was an inspiration for
Thomas A. Dorsey, a prolific composer who is universally known as the “father of gospel
         Georgia-born Dorsey was a blues pianist who igrated to Chicago as a young man.
Dorsey gained early success in the mid-1920s as a pianist and bandleader for blues singer
Gertrude “Ma” Rainey. It was during 1921 that Dorsey began composing sacred songs in the
white revival song tradition. It was a combination of opportunity and personal tragedy that
caused Dorsey to turn from his lucrative popular music career. In 1932, Dorsey was appointed
director of the Pilgrim Baptist Church’s newly formed gospel chorus. His musical destiny would

be sealed later that year when in August his wife, Nettie Dorsey, died in childbirth and his infant
son diee the following day. Out of the depths of his grief, Dorsey would compose what is
arguably the greatest of all gospel songs, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” This song would
resolve Dorsey’s inner conflict between his career as a blues pianist and his call to write sacred
music. From that time forth, Dorsey devote his life to disseminating blues-infused gospel music.
        The realm of sports and recreation is an important stage where the realities of society are
reinforced, magnified, or at times directly challenged. Chicago’s Black Renaissance was
uniquely situated as a geographic place and time on the rise of the Black “sporting life” as coined
by Baldwin (2007). Sports and recreation became one of the theatres where the intersections of
race pride, class conflict and the culture of sport would reconstruct Black urban life.
        Heavyweight John Arthur “Jack” Johnson was the first African American boxing
champion to capture national attention. This southern migrant from Galveston, Texas, began his
boxing career as a child, but as a glove-fisted professional, would live out his public life in
Chicago. Because of his race, Johnson was at first not allowed to challenge white champions.
But eventually white sportswriters would pressure boxing promoters to pit Johnson against
Tommy Burns. They fought in December 1908 and Johnson won. The victory made Johnson a
hero among blacks, but enraged whites. Johnson flaunted his victories and was regularly seen in
public with white women. In 1910, promoters prod former boxer Jim Jeffries out of retirement,
with the hope of returning the title to white America. Instead, Johnson’s easy defeat of Jeffries
sparked race riots in several cities.
        While denied the chance to play major league baseball, African Americans created their
own league, the famed Negro Leagues. Chicago’s team was known as the Chicago American
Giants, a member of the National Negro Baseball (NNL) League. This team developed as the
first sports organization to capture higher revenues than the White Sox or the Cubs. The signing
of Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 not only opened doors for African
American Players, it also signaled the end of the Negro Leagues. More than any other sport,
baseball fans and mavens relish the argument over who was the best fielder, hitter or pitcher of
all time.
        Although not a single player came from Harlem, and the team was based in Illinois, the
Harlem Globetrotters began as the Savoy Big Five, playing in Chicago’s Savoy Ballroom on the
South Side. The origin of the Harlem Globetrotters is a debatable narrative, with distinctions
falling upon racial lines. The “official” creation myth implies a narrative of racial patriarchy,
where team owner Abe Saperstein changes their name to the Harlem Globetrotters in 1927. The
Globetrotters were one of the most innovative teams in basketball history. Led by players such
as Marques Haynes, Willie “Sweet Willie” Oliver, Al “Runt” Pullins, and Reece “Goose”
Tatum, for decades the Globetrotters excelled in club play, becoming so dominant that they
began to experiment with new ways of winning. They became master ball handlers and deceptive
passers. Haynes embarrassed opposing players with his dribbling skills and Tatum followed by
humiliating them with comedic antics.

        This paper sought to situate a selected history where ideas and events were embodied
through a collection of artists, athletes, scholars, politicians, entrepreneurs, cultural producers,
and the consumer patrons who supported their work. The Great Migration served as a catalyst to
the rebirth of black life and its potential for opportunity, particularly in Chicago. The visions and
desires of black migrants, sharecroppers, domestics, clerks and other common folk to integrate

with the black intellectuals of the time, produce a new black world---a world where knowledge
was produced in ways that suggest lessons for future generations. This black world was a
distinct period of community building, class formation and cultural conflict over a variety of
desires for a better future. I encourage readers of this paper to contribute their interpretations of
the cultural production that is the Chicago Black Renaissance today.


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The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia, (pp. 731-733) Bloomington, IN: Indiana
University Press Retrieved March 15, 2010, from Gale Virtual Reference Library via Gale:
Ashe, A. (1988). A hard road to glory: A history of the African-American athlete,
        1619-1918 (Vol. 1). New York: Warner Books.
Baldwin, D. (2007). Chicago’s new Negroes: modernity, the great migration and black
        urban life. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Bennett Jr., L. (1993). Before the Mayflower: A history of Black America. (6th Ed.).
        New York: Penguin Books.
Chicago Defender. (2008). In W. A. Darity, Jr. (Ed.) International Encyclopedia of the Social
Sciences, (Vol. 1). (2nd ed., pp. 501-502) Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA Retrieved March
15, 2010, from Gale Virtual Reference Library via Gale:
Ogren, K. (2007). Jazz. In Encyclopedia of American Urban History, (Vol. 1). (pp. 395-397)
Sage Reference Retrieved March 15, 2010, from Gale Virtual Reference Library via Gale:
The Great Migration of African Americans. (2007). In R. Sisson, C. Zacher, & A. Cayton (Eds.)
The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia, (pp. 1295-1296) Bloomington, IN:
Indiana University Press Retrieved March 15, 2010, from Gale Virtual Reference Library via
Gale: http://go.galegroup.com/ps/start.do?p=GVRL&u=cpub_main
The Southern Urban Negro as Consumer. (2004). In C. Rose (Ed.) American Decades Primary
Sources, (Vol. 3). (pp. 135-140) Detroit: Gale Retrieved March 17, 2010, from Gale Virtual
Reference Library via Gale: http://go.galegroup.com/ps/start.do?p=GVRL&u=cpub_main

                              The Harlem Renaissance Revisited

                                       Ann Marie O’Brien

        What we now call “the Harlem Renaissance”, flourished during the early 1920s until the
onset of the Depression (Watson, 1995). It was then known as “the New Negro Renaissance”, or
as Alain Locke would prefer to call it the New Negro Movement. Many others called it the
Harlem Renaissance, though some felt this neglected Chicago, Detroit, and other cities that saw
cultural ferment in the 1920s.
        The word, “new”, was an avant-garde word. In the 1910’s when one spoke of “the New
Woman” or “the New Art”, it signified a consciousness that blurred the boundaries between
aesthetics, politics, and life style. In like fashion, “the New Negro” movement was more than
literature; it included race-building, and image building, jazz, poetics, progressive, or socialist
politics, racial integration, the musical and sexual freedom of Harlem nightlife, and the pursuit of
hedonism. “Renaissance”, was used only slightly less than “new” among the avant-garde, as a
term that expressed a cultural blooming in a young nation (Watson, 1995).
        Watson identifies the Harlem Renaissance as a literary and intellectual movement
composed of a generation of Black writers born around the turn of the century who produced a
body of literature, which paved the way for succeeding generations of Black writers who
invoked the Harlem Renaissance as the roots of their cultural tradition (Watson, 1995). Sterling
Brown, a lesser- known Renaissance writer identified five themes emanating from the
movement: Africa as a source of race pride, Black American heroes, racial political propaganda,
the Black folk tradition, and candid self-revelation (Watson, 1995).
        Indispensable to the movement was a supporting cast of editors, patrons and hostesses—
both Black and White—who promoted the movement and trained a spotlight on its
accomplishments (Watson, 1995). Adding to the literary phenomenon were jazz musicians,
producers of all-Black revues, and Uptown bootleggers. While African-American literature—
especially poetry—drew a small readership, a much larger portion of the population responded to
the call of Harlem’s nightlife. At the height of the movement, the New Negro movement and
what was called Harlemania sometimes fused, and the Harlem Renaissance is still recalled in the
public imagination as a golden era of jazz, poetry, literature, art, Prohibition liquor, free love,
fashion, Broadway revues and night clubs (Watson, 1995).
        Anne E. Carroll in her essay Getting the Full Picture (Tarver and Barnes, 2006), points
out that there are a multitude of texts that demonstrate the broad cultural dimensions of the
Harlem Renaissance, including novels, volumes of poetry, illustrated books, magazine issues,
and anthologies. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, includes more than four
hundred pages of poetry, fiction, essays and memoirs in its section of texts from 1919 to 1940
(Tarver and Barnes, 2006). Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African
American Literary Tradition sets written texts along side samples of African American oral and
musical traditions. The section of the anthology on the Harlem Renaissance opens with
discussions of the blues, gospel, jazz, toasts, sermons, and folktales. It also includes transcripts
of lyrics by the most well known performers of the period, essays calling for political and social
change, followed by essays debating the purpose and possibilities of representations of African
Americans in literature and other forms of art. Only then does the anthology present its selection

of poems and fiction written in the 1920s and 1930s (Tarver and Barnes, 2006). A 1997
exhibition catalogue, Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance, includes movies,
paintings, music, photographs, graphic designs, sculptures, as well as books published in the
1920s, illustrating the connection between the arts during the movement (Tarver and Barnes,

         The Harlem Renaissance was driven not only by artists and writers, but by economic and
sociological forces of the early twentieth century. It was shaped by urbanization, emigration,
and employment trends from the end of World War I through the Depression, where Harlem
flourished during Prohibition of the 1920s, and descended into poverty in the Depression of the
1930s (Watson, 1995).
         According to Harris and Molesworth, Washington D.C. was in many ways the center of
the Black bourgeoisie in America but Harlem was something new. It offered a diversity of
people with a considerable array of personal origins—from throughout the African Diaspora, and
especially the Caribbean islands—and this led to a variety of classes and sensibilities (Harris and
Molesworth, 2008). The social energies of the new race capital were vibrant and complex due to
migration to northern urban centers by southern Blacks on a large scale in the first two decades
of the new century fueled by poor conditions in the South and a severe labor shortage up North.
         African- Americans first started moving into Harlem in 1905. Hundreds, than thousands
of stable high-rent paying families started moving into Harlem through the 1930s. Thousands of
the new New Yorkers came from Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, and elsewhere from all parts
of the South giving Harlem a southern flavor. Of Manhattan’s 60, 534 African-Americans in
1910, only 14,300 had been born in New York. Somewhat later, many of Brooklyn’s African-
American upper class, clannish, long-established families with substantial incomes from
preaching, retailing, and catering, began selling their homes and moving to Harlem (Watson,
         Rent parties every night were a special passion of the community. They were a function
first of economics. Their existence was avoided or barely acknowledged by most Harlem
writers. With the exception of Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman, almost no one admitted
attending a rent party (Lewis, 1981). Steven Watson describes a rent party as an impromptu
gathering where less affluent Harlem residents paid anywhere from a dime to a half-dollar to
attend. The parties were staged in apartments to raise the monthly rent before the furniture was
thrown out on the street on Monday morning, the regular practice of many landlords. The lights
were blue and red, the music was played by pickup bands, and songs were belted out by amateur
torch singers while boiled pigs feet and hopping John, ham hocks and cabbage was served up in
the kitchen. Wallace Thurman called the rent party “as essential to ‘low Harlem’ as the cultured
receptions and soirees held on ‘strivers row’ [sic] are to ‘high’ Harlem (Watson, 1981).
         These were times when, Willie “the lion” Smith recalls, when “the average Negro family
did not allow blues, or even raggedy music, played in their homes” (Lewis, 1981). Nathan
Huggins is amazed that Harlem intellectuals did not take jazz seriously. While they mentioned it
as a background descriptive of Harlem life and important to the definition of the New Negro,
they still viewed it as a folk art and an unrefined source for the new art (Huggins, 1971). Yet,
after a sedate parlor gathering and after the cabarets closed, poets and writers (even a NAACP
official) would follow musicians to one of these nightly rent-paying parties. Rent parties started
anytime after midnight and continue well into dawn. Willie “the lion” Smith called them

“jumps,” “shouts,” or “struts” where for a quarter, “ you could see all kinds of people making the
party scene; formally dressed people from downtown, policemen, painters, carpenters,
mechanics, truck men in their workmen’s clothes, gamblers, and entertainers of all kinds. The
parties were recommended to newly arrived single gals as the place to go to get acquainted.” At
more elaborate struts, about 3 a.m., Willie the Lion, James P. Johnson, Claude Hopkins, Fats
Waller, Corky Williams and even Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington arrive palm-slapping and
tuning up. Some musicians hired booking agents to handle this after-hours volume (Lewis citing
Smith, 1981).


        Many of the people in Harlem, Lewis writes, rose to go to work in the morning before the
last white revelers had stumbled home. The great majority of Harlem never saw the inside of a
nightclub and would not want to for religious or moral reasons. Most of Harlem was sober and
hardworking. According to Lewis, those who had the money to roam the streets and nightclubs
to the crack of dawn, probably represented under 10 percent of the total. Yet, many of Harem’s
most memorable nights took place in houses and apartments and no other community has left
such a copiously detailed printed record of its daily society life. Almost to the hour, Lewis
writes, it is possible to reconstruct most of it. And it is certain, from the format, quantity and
data, that it was the flashy, party—giving aspect of the news that sent Harlemites to their
newsstands. Reading the Age, Amsterdam News, Tattler, and by spring 1929, Dunbar News was
a prerequisite to a confident stroll down Seventh Avenue (Lewis, 1981).
        The New Negro Movement was dependent in the beginning on Black community
periodicals. Each publication represented an organization—The Crisis was started by W.E.B. Du
Bois in 1910 and represented the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Du Bois wrote the classic work, The Souls of Black Folk ten years before he founded the
magazine, The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races. Du Bois was a founding member of the
NAACP. The magazine had a large middle class readership of 95,000 circulation at its peak in
1919. Opportunity founded in 1923 expressed the politics of the National Urban League, and
the New York Age was founded in 1881 and was the mouthpiece for Booker T. Washington. The
more radical wing of the Black movement were represented by papers such as The Messenger
founded in 1917, The Emancipator, and The Challenge. At first, these publications were the
only forum for Black writers (Watson, 1995).

                               Leaders of the Harlem Renaissance

        There would not have been emergency loans, temporary beds, professional advice and
Downtown contacts for the score of unknown painters, sculptors, and writers pouring into
Harlem without the assemblage and management by a handful of Harlem notables of a
substantial white patronage (Lewis, 1981). Langston Hughes identified three of this key group in
The Big Sea: “Jessie Fauset at The Crisis, Charles Johnson at Opportunity, and Alain Locke in
Washington, were the three people who midwifed the so-called New Negro literature into
being.” There were three others according to Lewis, James Weldon Johnson, and Walter White
of the NAACP with their social and political connections and Casper Holstein, whose gift of one
thousand dollars, made the 1926 Opportunity awards possible.

         Jessie Fauset served as literary editor of The Crisis from 1919 until 1926, the years when
Du Bois was caught up in the Pan-African Congress movement, attending gatherings in Brussels,
Paris, Lisbon, and London (Lewis, 1981). During the pivotal years of the Harlem Renaissance,
she nurtured its young writers declaring that “the portrayal of Black people call for Black
writers.” She recognized the promise of Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Countee Cullen and
Langston Hughes when Countee and Langston were just barely older than high school students
(Watson, 1995).
         James Weldon Johnson was recruited by Booker T. Washington to write editorials for the
New York Age, but W.E.B. Du Bois soon lured him to the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1920, Johnson became its chief executive officer.
Johnson became the mentor of Walter White, a younger NAACP leader and author of The Fire
in the Flint, one of the first books of the Harlem Renaissance. Through his contact with
Republican politics, Columbia University, and diplomatic posts, Johnson was socially well-
connected and traveled easily in white company. He became linked to the fashionable
Downtown crowd through Carl Van Vechten, the former New York Times music critic and the
publisher, Alfred Knopf. He developed alliances with prominent Jewish philanthropists Julius
Rosenwald and Joel Spingarn (Watson, 1995). In 1922, he published an anthology The Book of
American Negro Poetry and three years later his anthology of The Book of Negro Spirituals
became a best seller. In the introduction to the poetry anthology, Johnson wrote “ The world
does not know that a people is great until that people produce great literature and art. …And
nothing will do more to change the mental attitude and raise his status than a demonstration of
intellectual parity by the Negro through the production of literature and art.” (Watson citing
Johnson, 1995).
         Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life focused on Black culture. Its peak circulation
(11,0000) never reach the scale of The Crisis but its influence in the Harlem Renaissance was
just as great (Watson, 1995). The Crisis was founded in 1923 by the National Urban League and
edited by Charles S. Johnson, a former ghost speech writer for Booker T. Washington, and a
sociologist from Chicago who as associate executive secretary of the Chicago Urban League
wrote The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot in 1922. He saw one
area where no exclusionary law had been laid down regarding a place in the arts. Lewis writes
that there was a small crack in the fissure of racism, it afforded high visibility and low
vulnerability. Johnson saw the door to Carnegie Hall and New York publishers was ajar. Each
book, play, poem, or canvas by an African American would be a weapon against old racial
stereotypes. Johnson was certain that “if these beliefs, prejudices, and faulty deductions can be
made accessible for examination, many of them will be corrected.” Most important to the New
Negro Movement, he opened Opportunity to the diverse literary voices of beginning writers. He
knew that without the white printing establishment, Harlem’s fledgling movement would remain
a strictly local phenomenon (Watson, 1995).
         Regina Anderson and Gwendolyn Bennett, Jessie Fauset’s friends, gave Charles S.
Johnson the idea to stage a celebratory dinner as a way to honor Jessie Fauset’s new novel,
There is a Confusion and to announce the prizes that Opportunity would bestow on promising
Black writers. Such dinners and awards became popular and commonplace in Harlem in the
1920s. On March 21, 1924, the dinner was held at the Civic Club, with a crowd of about one
hundred Black and White cultural leaders in attendance (Harris and Molesworth, 2008). Alain L.
Locke, Howard University professor, was the evening’s master of ceremonies.

          Locke in the evening’s program celebrated the new generation to depict Negro life
(Watson, 1995). From Locke’s perspective as a professor at Howard University, he sensed a
gathering momentum of talented young Black writers. He wrote one of them in the early 1920s,
“We have enough talent now to begin to have a movement and to express a school of thought.
He defined his role in the Harlem Renaissance as “a philosophical mid-wife to a generation of
younger Negro poets, writers, and artists” (Watson citing Locke, 1995).
         Johnson used the occasion to arrange for Locke to meet with Paul Kellogg, founding
member of the American Civil Liberties Union and editor of Survey Graphic magazine. A
special edition of the magazine that Kellogg edited would be devoted to Harlem. Kellogg
needed a guest editor and he offered the position to Locke (Harris and Molesworth, 2008).
Locke would praise the “talented tenth” in the Harlem issue but there would also be an emphasis
on the role of the larger audiences, and the constituency made up of the younger generation
(Harris and Molesworth, 2008).
         The issue’s contents drew upon poets, illustrators, and essayists, but it was firmly
governed by Lock’s cultural agenda. He wanted to wed the roots of the African-American folk
spirit to the literary voices of the modern age, and to consolidate the position of Harlem as the
world’s race capital. The Survey Graphic appeared in March 1925, sold out two printings, and
became the most widely read issue in the magazine’s history with an estimated readership of 42,
000. Eight months later, Albert and Charles Boni published an expanded version of the
magazine as a hard cover book (Harris and Molesworth, 2008).
         The book was called The New Negro and was widely acknowledged as the fledgling
movement’s first manifest. Du Bois called it the best Negro book in the past ten years. Locke
identified the African roots of Black art and music, but he emphasized the young generation of
writers whose spirit would drive the Harlem Renaissance. “They are the first fruits of the Negro
Renaissance,” Locke wrote, “Youth speaks, and the voice of the New Negro is heard” (Watson
citing Locke, 1995).
         So important to the New Negro movement were these six that the movement floundered
when they directed their energies elsewhere. Casper Holstein was kidnapped in 1928, and held
for ransom. Jessie Fauset left her position at The Crisis, and wrote her last novel in 1933.
Locke returned to Howard University and focused on adult education after 1935 for the rest of
his life. The Opportunity folded in 1928 when the Carnegie foundation that sponsored it told
Charles S. Johnson that the magazine had to be self-supporting. Charles S. Johnson left Harlem
in 1928 to become the director of social sciences at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee,
where he became the first African-American president in 1947. James Weldon Johnson followed
him there in 1931 to teach English (Watson, 1995). The Crisis and Opportunity with less income
stopped publishing literature.
         According to Harris, the Harlem Renaissance died between 1935 and 1939.
With the beginnings of the depression in 1929 and the advent of World War II in 1938,
publishers and philanthropists supportive of Black literature greatly declined (Harris, 1989).
New social realities, forms of domination, distortions, and misconceptions required revising the
focus of emancipatory articulations. Proletarian art and literature as tools for liberation,
particularly liberation from cultural and racial oppressions, was considered the next phase the
New Negro movement.
         For the next thirty years, Helbling writes, interest in the Harlem Renaissance was at best
a private concern. However, in the political and cultural ferment of the 1960s and in the
deepened interest in ethnic and racial identity that marked those years, according to Helbling,

both the Harlem Renaissance and Alain Locke became central to the sense of the past and the
concerns of the present. Two important studies, in 1967, Harold Cruse’s The Crisis of the Negro
Intellectual and in 1971, Nathan Huggin’s Harlem Renaissance, helped to initiate contemporary
interest in the 1920s and the recovery of a generation of Black men and women only dimly
remembered (Hebling, 1999). In 1987, Houston A. Baker, Jr. wrote Modernism and the Harlem
Renaissance which saluted The New Negro as “a broadening and enlargement of the field of
traditional Afro-American discursive possibilities.” In Baker’s view, The New Negro was a
central text, “summoning concerns not of a problematical folk but rather those of a newly
emergent race or nation—a national culture” (Hebling, 1999).


Harris, L. 1989. The Philosophy of Alain Locke. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Harris, L. and Molesworth. C. 2008. Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher.
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Helbling, M. 1999.The Harlem Renaissance: The One and the Many. Westport, CT:
Greenwood Press.

Huggins, N. 1971. The Harlem Renaissance. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lewis, D. 1981. When Harlem was in Vogue. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Tarver, A. and Barnes, P. C. eds.. 2006. New Voices on the Harlem Renaissance: Essays on
Race, Gender and Literary Discourse. Cranberry NJ: Associated University Presses.

Watson, Steven. 1995. The Harlem Renaissance: Hub of African-American Culture, 1920-1930.
New York: Pantheon Books.


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