‘Golden Age’ of African American culture
Do today’s image makers owe debt to past icons?
Gregg Reese OW Contributor | 3/8/2018, midnight
The most prominent, and possibly most convenient thing to hang the blame on is music.
As mentioned above, professional scholars come from a variety of backgrounds, bringing with them an assortment of viewpoints, and an indirect argument for the values of diversity. Now an associate professor at UCLA’s Department of African-American Studies, Scot Brown had the advantage of an up bringing in upstate New York, then pursued his higher education in that same local. This gave him a unique vantage point during the gestation of rap southward in New York City.
Like most Americans whose coming of age had its own individual soundtrack, his youthful tastes ran to the likes of the Fatback Band.
Brown remembers the transition from instrumentally based groups to emergence of rappers supported by an assortment of turntables and the like. This transition was abetted by the advent of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, which as Brown notes, dried up funding for the arts, and the supply of musical instruments in the inner city.
The economic build down
The fortunes of the Black community (as are all neighborhoods) are influenced by outside forces beyond their control. Scores of aficionados and critics have traced the birth of rap to the down turn caused by “Reaganomics” (alternatively dubbed “voodoo economics”), the drastic cutting of taxes (to theoretically to drive up revenues), thus facilitating the shift from instrument driven popular music.
Economics encouraged the embrace of the microphone and turntable in myriad ways. Due to the exclusivity of venues like Studio 54, Black and Latino youth found themselves priced out of the Disco craze. The urge for recreational fulfillment literally forced these minions to “take it to the streets.”
The proletarians of these already marginalized areas turned to electrical outlets in abandoned buildings and streetlights to power their impromptu parties. For lyrical content, they turned to the issues of oppression, police brutality, and above all, racism, subjects they were most acquainted with. In this way, hip-hop was politicized literally from the ground up.
As Brown points out, the act of plugging extension cords, microphones, mixers, turntables, and other equipment into the power lines (for free electricity) was in itself a political act.
Along the way, they covered a common topic in pop music: the frustrations of romance, and relations between men and women. For
whatever reason, in this genre the regular sugary love songs took a darker turn towards exploitation and victimization.
For Carolyn West, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington (Tacoma), this phenomenon is a corner stone of her research on the intersection of sex and violence in interpersonal relationships.
For West, sex and violence are intertwined, especially when the potent elixir of commercialism is combined. To explore these beliefs she’s penned articles like “The Serialization of Girls” for the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
In a 2008 volume titled “Lectures on the psychology of women,” she contributed a chapter with the provocative heading “ Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, and Their Home girls: Developing an ‘Op positional Gaze’ Towards the Images of Black Women.”