Reviews

Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop: Wankstas, Wiggers, Wannabes and the New Reality of Race in America by B

Rebecca Onion

Just because Kitwana and other outside observers believe that youth in general should be rising up against its misguided elders, unfortunately doesn't mean that such a movement is underway.


Why White Kids Love Hip-hop

Publisher: Basic Civitas Books
Length: 222
Subtitle: Wankstas, Wiggers, Wannabes and the New Reality of Race in America
Price: $23.00
Author: Bakari Kitwana
US publication date: 2005-05
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How the fuck can I be white?/ I don't even exist.
-- Eminem

An acquaintance who came to a party held at my house a couple of years ago was standing by the side of the room, looking dazed and confused. When one of my roommates went over to try to get him to join the mix, he just shook his head and said: "I don't know about this party. So many white people, dancing to hip-hop." Suddenly all of us, bouncing up and down to Jay-Z, looked ridiculous. He ruined dancing to hip-hop for me for some years, because he encapsulated in one disdainful phrase the shame that many of us white hip-hop listeners feel. (He himself was white, but that didn't matter.)

For a long time, I didn't even want to admit to myself that I was a white kid who loved hip-hop. I didn't feel like I deserved it, somehow -- like my whiteness meant that I hadn't earned the right to feel thrilled when I heard Ice Cube's Predator. Other white kids, especially in college, didn't seem to feel the same shame, and I witnessed many late-night freestyling sessions fueled by dope and beer. Those guys weren't embarrassed, but I was embarrassed for them.

Unfortunately, Bakari Kitwana's book, for which I had high hopes, doesn't address the psychological ramifications of the white-kid hip-hop explosion, tending instead towards vast generalizations about the shifting state of race politics in America.

The most interesting parts of Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop are the interviews and profiles of white people who are prominent in hip-hop circles. "I remember being in tears after reading the book Sounder, because I thought it was so unfair what had happened to Black people," says Jeremy Miller, a Source executive (Kitwana once was the executive editor for the magazine). "My dad always made me feel bad that I had Black friends," says Lynne Ballard (her name was changed), a fan from the Bay Area. But quotes from author Billy Wimsatt fall into the usual-suspect category, and I learned more about my own assumptions and the possibilities of hip-hop from going straight to the source and reading Wimsatt's Bomb the Suburbs than I did from this book.

Elsewhere, Kitwana quotes Marcyliena Morgan, the director of the Hip-Hop Archive at Stanford, as saying: "The argument that hip-hop is not a Black thing actually weakens hip-hop. To say you love hip-hop is to say that you love Black things. People need to interrogate why they don't want to say that they love Blackness." Now, that is interesting, and a new concept to consider. This book would have been better off examining what circumstances do and do not conspire to create fascination with Black culture, and whether that fascination can be extended to sympathy and help.

"Rather than the source of the problems facing American youth, hip-hop, more than anything else, has prepared our youth to confront not only race but some of the crises facing the nation's young people," Kitwana writes. The sentence is stubborn as George W. Bush's press machine, refusing to back down in the face of evidence. Most hip-hop that white kids, outside of an educated minority, actually listen to is misogynist and consumerist. Kitwana tries to go through a series of analyses to prove that bling-bling hip-hop doesn't sell that much more than underground or conscious hip-hop, but I know what I see when I turn on MTV.

One of the reasons I liked Eminem so much (before his recent descent into mediocrity) was that he talked about white-people problems, giving poor white people a new voice. Some of his early songs, like "Rock Bottom", deal with minimum wage jobs and financial inequities, and bordered on political hip-hop that I thought might work to get white kids to "confront... the crises facing the nation's young people." So when Eminem came out with "Mosh", the earnestly anti-Bush single, right before the election, I thought that maybe it would work to get kids to actually vote. Obviously, it didn't work, or not well enough.

What Kitwana doesn't seem to want to let creep into his carefully hopeful book is the fact that kids listen to hip-hop to dance, to feel badass, to think about sex. Some of them get a message from it. Most of them don't. Some of that is not their fault -- the hip-hop they have access to is politically de-fanged for MTV -- and some of that is the natural result of being young and self-obsessed. Just because Kitwana and other outside observers believe that youth in general should be rising up against its misguided elders, unfortunately doesn't mean that such a movement is underway.


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