Surface Level or Level Surface
As a white rapper and label manager it’s been easy to fool myself into thinking that white privilege doesn’t exist.
I’ve always felt that as long as my music and deeds represent in a genuine way, I’m doing my bit. It’s much more humbling getting my head around acknowledging that privilege and how it trumps my perception of what ‘doing my bit’ means. For example, I consider myself uncompromisingly anti-racist but as a white male, I benefit from racism. Like some fucked up Steven Bradbury scenario where I stand to gain if sections of our society have their opportunities obstructed. Stop. Think about that.
Having it pointed out that you have white privilege touches a raw nerve, especially for us white hip hop heads – we’re like the kid who covers his head and becomes convinced no one can see him.
In local hip hop, our prevailing perspective is that we represent the ‘little guy’ – a nod to our sense of egalitarianism. So we get offended and usually miss the point of what white privilege actually means.
I’m speaking from my perspective here but let’s cut to the chase – the majority of successful Australian hip hop artists share two features. We’re male and white.
Racism has become an ugly characteristic of the local hip hop experience – whether it be the subtle forms “I like your music cos it’s not about bling and bitches” (barely anyone doesn’t say that) to the more overt “I only like Aussie hip hop, fuck that n***er shit” (the comments section). There’s little to no overt racism in local hip hop ‘songs’ but there’s no shortage of straight-up boneheaded racism in our audiences. Why is that? Is it because our hip hop songs are for the most part indifferent to other people’s struggle? We care, but it’s not a problem we face when we walk out of the house, so it doesn’t become an integral part of what we communicate.
How many of us think saying “fuck racism” means job done? The mentality is that from time to time you draw a line in the sand and that publicly qualifies you as having a social conscience. A nice guy. Don’t forget that political song on your record. You can include me in that.
The concept that our privilege has an unspoken price is a bitter pill. Most of us earn between nothing or at best a small wage from music. I don’t even fully know what that price means for me but I do know we take the lifestyle and conveniently bypass the life. The latter contends with historical oppression and ongoing prejudice that we just don’t comprehend… as we beatmix the latest US rap slang into our lexicon.
And hip hop is regarded as one of, if not the most politically aware music genre in Australia. I don’t even want to get into what that says about other genres of music.
I hear Aamer when he says we should tread lightly. For me it’s an ongoing cause for sincerity and reflection. I don’t see this as white guilt; I think it’s an invitation to step up to being a genuine ally. Through action.
There is a disconnect in our music community between people who think they can work hard and make it, and those who can’t imagine it ever being an achievable goal. I’ve got a few practical thoughts on how we can step up. There’s a zillion more..
Artists with recognition need to book support acts beyond the latest MC with a song on triple J. A genuine music career takes time and requires opportunities. I watch tour after tour with the same handful of acts – no doubt reliable live performers that have worked their butts off – but it’s usually a combination of the same groups.
Artists with social media profiles (big or small) need to recognise their influence beyond a platform to get more ‘likes’. The ‘co-sign’ is a valuable thing, and it can open minds when it’s not the faces people expect to see. Inspire your fans.
What about a mentoring program similar to AIME where established artists give a leg up to aspiring artists from different backgrounds? When it works, it’s not one-sided, it’s a sharing of knowledge between both parties.
Don’t get it twisted, this is not about charity or well intentioned white people, it’s about recognising how good we’ve got it and paying respect to this great culture created by black excellence.
I believe that local hip hop is a community, more than an industry, and it has a great ability to lead on issues of equality and social justice. A lot already do, but if we really want a level surface consistent with a desire for social equality, we need this to be a surface level concern.