[Hood Sociology] Connecting Racism and Imperialism via Hip Hop


Hip hop has always been a space where critical topics and concepts are discussed by both the artists and their listeners. For the past few years I’ve followed a Toronto group known as the Freedom Writers.  They are in my opinion one of the best conscious hip hop groups out right now combining a radical critique of the industry and society with a great stage presence and flow (something lacking in a lot of conscious hip-hop music).

Last fall they came out with an album called NOW.  One of the songs on the album is called Arizona Bay. The song is  great example of the strong social critiques that hip hop and other music can create. Take a listen below:

The song combines an analysis of racism, capitalism, and imperialism to show how these systems feed off of each other and that the dynamics that animate the war in Afghanistan is not very different from the ones that animate the abuse of indigenous or black people in Toronto. This linkage of domestic racism and imperialism is something that sociology and other social sciences have by and large ignored for most of its history. The sociology of race and the sociology of imperialism/colonialism are two separate spaces that don’t share much in the way of perspectives. Take these lines as examples:

@1:02 “There’s war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, squalls from the oil spill will leave a spot. NO got flooded then and CNN cover them and everyone hovered to the TV just to watch.”

@1:46 “Welcome to the final countdown, hope you had fun, blame your fears on 9-11. Bin Laden’s blood smeared, Saddam got hung, citizens cheered, the price of gas sprung. Open shed tears for Ms. Johnson’s son, another jury hears, “we thought we saw a gun.” Thirty odd years, they had us on a run, sorry kids it appears hip hop is done.”

@ 2:21 “T-Pain got chains that weight a quarter ton, half the Haitian population can’t afford gum. OJ saw freedom while Egypt receives some, Natives want their share, we just leave them rum”

In all these examples we see them weave together events “at home” with those happening abroad. It lines up well with recent work critiquing the separation of the sociology of Europe and America from its imperialist past and present.

Check out the rest of the track and bring up any other interesting concepts that you heard or tells us about other songs that make strong social critiques that people should be aware of in the comments.

Hood Sociology is a RRC series that highlights the sociological imaginations of people not in the Ivory Tower. Using music, poetry, short stories, and video we show the powerful perspectives people develop about the world around them. Read the rest of the series here

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