Richardson – Hiphop Literacies

Elaine Richardson’s Hiphop Literacies examines African American Hip-hop past, present and future and clearly locates Hip-hop discourse within the Black discourse trajectory and secondary oral contexts within the United States and abroad. Richardson’s placement of Hip-hop discourse in these contexts is significant because it highlights the fact that although Black culture and discourse are enlisted at best and hijacked at worse through increasing globalization, the people and culture that they represent continue to be vilified and manipulated for profit both in the United States and abroad. Richardson sets the stage for the complex space that Hip-hop occupies by juxtaposing two quotes at the beginning of chapter 5: AAL in German Hiphop.

“The absorption of [African American Language] into Eurocentric culture masks its true origin and reason for being … a way of talking that has taken surviving African language elements as the base for the creation of self-expression in an alien tongue” (Smitherman, 1998: 216).
“Hip-hop and rap cannot be viewed simply as an expression of African American culture; it has become a vehicle for global youth affiliations and a tool for reworking local identity all over the world” (Mitchell, 2001:2).

This dual-reality that Hip-hop occupies is fairly harmless when, as Richardson points out, terms such as “chill” and “fresh” cross over into the mainstream and are appropriated by German hiphoppas. After all, Richardson also points out in Chapter 2, Cultural Vibrations, that language borrowing occurs quite frequently between African American Hip-hop and Jamaican Dancehall. However, when a term such as “nigger” which is “a controversial term stemming from the history of slavery, racism and White supremacy” (85) is used by German hiphoppa Kool Savas, the globalization of this homegrown  discourse can become problematic. “Though he (Kool Savas) might get a pass from the German rap crowd, intimate African American rappers, and perhaps American rap fans if/ when he is collaborating … currently his usage would be problematic with unfamiliar Blacks or a Black non-rap audience,” (86). Kool Savas’ staying power on MTV’s Hitlist Germany shows that German hiphoppas are “feelin his Germanized AAL/ Hiphop flow” (86), which translates into profit/ benjamins/ scrilla. This would not present a problem if in fact the examination of the global reach of Black youth culture resiliency and creativity resulted in us doubling up our effort to nurture and elevate the culture as Richardson proposes it ought to, but that is not the case.

Richardson presents another example of the rape of Hiphop flava. She calls the merging of Hip-hop and the video game industry a double-edged sword. While the gaming industry allows young people of color to profit off of their intimate knowledge of Hip-hop, it also distorts the culture and projects a narrow view of Black people that has historically had the effect of essentializing them. Richardson sites Adam Banks (2006) and others that argue that the video game design itself is rhetorical and “Blacks have been designed into positions of exclusion” (102).

In essence, to take comedian Paul Mooney’s famous line, “Everybody wants to be a nigger, but nobody wants to be a nigger,” a step further, it can be said that everyone wants to perform Blackness in order to get paid, but nobody wants real “niggers” to get the high score on screen or in reality as also shown in chapter 4 – Lil’ Kim and Women’s AAL Practices. Nigger, in this context, meaning “Rebellious, fearless, unconventional, in-yo-face Black man (or woman)” (Smitherman 2006).

In conclusion, Richardson gives an overview of the rhetorical language and literacy practices of Hip-hop and the tremendous impact it continues to have on language in the United States and around the globe. Gonzalo Frasca (2004) argues that “the game,” should be designed so players can explore complex societal problems, and question the values and assumptions of the games (104). Richardson’s Hiphop Literacies shows that the commercial Hip-hop “Game” and the way we as a society approach it could also use a makeover.

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Richardson – ‘She was workin like foreal’: critical literacy and discourse practices of African American females in the age of hip hop

In a semi-structured group interview with three middle-class African-American young women (one East Coast, 2 Midwestern), Elaine Richardson uses critical discourse analysis to explore ways that the young women negotiate stereotypical and hegemonic representations of black men and women. Richardson presents an analysis of her conversation with the young women about the video for Midwestern rapper Nelly and the St. Lunatics’ song “Tip Drill.” The controversial song and video portrays the commodified images of hypersexualized women of color and hypermasculine black men: ” The song could be considered a strip club anthem replete with signs of carnality and status, attractive young black women wielding their power signs – their beautiful shapely bodies…; virile men flashing their black men’s power signs – cash money…” (791)

Richardson’s primary question is: “How do young African American females negotiate stereotypical representations of African American culture, gender, labor, and sexual values in rap music videos?” (791) Through her conversation and critical discourse analysis, Richardson shows the “special knowledge” that the young women have about themselves, other black women and men, and their position in the racist, global, capitalistic system of the United States.

Richardson finds that the young women use Black and Hip-hop discourses, “smart talk” (Van Dijk 1997), and African American female literacies to understand and articulate their positions which are at times complicated and conflicted. One notable example of this is when one of the participants “represents” for the men in the video and their lived experience. “Representin'” as a part of Hip-hop discourse is a concept and practice that is “a part of the larger black discourse practice that emerged in the slavery experience and is akin to fictive kinship, wherein enslaved African devised a way of surviving, achieving prestige and creating a black human identity apart from dehumanized slave,” (797) Participants “BE” gives rapper Nelly the benefit of the doubt arguing that he would not talk to a woman of “class” the way he speaks to “Tip Drills,” women who are strippers, or opportunistic women that do not have class. This notion that implies that there is a category of black women unworthy of respect.

Richardson concludes that young people, like those in her study, are aware of the dominating forces that perpetuate stereotypes about African Americans, but they do not possess all of the necessary critical tools to “escape internal victim blaming for their predicament.” (806) She advocates for critical pedagogies that go beyond challenging to changing systems that allow for inequality, sexism, and racism. Of course, we can add a host of other “isms” based on social divisions.

Majors – “‘I wasn’t Scared of Them, They Were Scared of Me’: Constructions of Self/ Other in a Midwestern Hair Salon

Majors, Yolanda J. “‘I Wasn’t Scared of Them, They Were Scared of Me’: Constructions of Self/ Other in a Midwestern Hair Salon.” Anthropology and Education Quarterly. 35.2 (2004): 167-188.Print.

In this article Yolanda Majors applies the theoretical frameworks of critical discourse analysis, critical race theory, and Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) to ethnographic data from an African American hair salon in the mid-West. In her analyses, Majors shows the ways in which African American women use African American women’s literacies and Black discourse practices to individually and collectively negotiate and create meaning, construct and read social texts, construct their own counter-texts that challenge dominant narratives and beliefs, and create dialogic spaces for themselves to engage in these practices.

She uses data from the salon that features a narration from Darlene who assumes several roles – “counselor,” “teacher,” “master stylist,” and “storyteller.” Majors focuses on the ways that Darlene’s narration of a social text helps her to forge her own identity in the midst of a cross-cultural interaction. Darlene’s talk reflect’s her racialized, gendered, and social class position.

The dialogic interaction created between Darlene, her employees, and her clients as she tells her storyis in line with Mikhail Bakhtin’s (1981) view of dialogicality where readers are considered authors and reading is a dialogue between a previously created text and a reactive text created by the reader (182). On this point, Majors says,

Such a perspective transforms the traditional concept of reading into a contingent dialogic process, in which the reader becomes a border-crosser in doing her/ his imaginary scholarship in the process of reading. (182)

Majors asserts that her analyses provides a insight as to how educators can make room for the literacies and discourse practices that African American women use in community-based settings in “academic” settings as well:

The identities people construct through their adoption of these language varieties are viewed as impediments to their academic learning – as personal skins to be shed in acquiring passports to success. This illustration of Shoptalk disrupts such assumptions and offers a more grounded view of the role of language variation in achieving literate skills (Lee and Majors 2003).