My love of hip-hop stems from the theory of (to poach the words of Rage Against The Machine) giving a voice to the voiceless. Hip-hop is an avenue for particular individuals and communities to be heard and, on some level, interject the brains of consumers with the "truth" behind our current political state, particularly within the United States. Lyrics of hip-hop artists are not edited by the Murdoch's and the Fox's of the world, but are on some level by the Interscopes, BMIs and other record labels (but that is a whole different argument).
The whole purpose of hip-hop is synthesis, to synthesise material that, in its current form, is not consumable to the average ear. And yet (as previously highlighted by comedian Dave Chappelle) it is surprising what you can "say" when you rhyme, add a beat, and make people move their body in tune. Such artists as Dead Prez, Talib Kwali, Pharoahe Monch and Lupe Fiasco (pre Lasers) are amongst my favourites. These artists spread the word as to the hypocrisy of race relations within the U.S, the ongoing disparity between conditions administered to the black versus white, low and high socio economic groups, and how this translates to your average hip-hop consumer.
If we analysed the lyrics of such artists, what would become of these individuals should they decide to remove the beat, the rhyme and simply lead with the text and subtext? When ignoring the colour of their skin, would these individuals be considered terrorists of capitalism and white society within the U.S? Or would they be considered freedom fighters? Advocates? Poets?
Such artists spark questioning as to the disparity between black and white communities, in a language that is both accessible and appealing to those often denied a contribution. With the abolition of slavery so came new laws and legislation to further penalise and enslave vis-à-vis incarceration. American activist Angela Davis suggests the history of slavery in the U.S has a strong correlation between punishment and labour, and therefore subsequently labour and race. Davis states punishment was designed to maximise labour, thereby inadvertently connecting labour and race. Taking this concept and applying it to the Australian context, it appears as not much different from us ‘whities’, and our indigenous Australian counterparts. This idea of punishment by race has been systemically applied within the Australian criminal justice system towards those of Aboriginal race. During colonisation, Aboriginal people were viewed as a threat to the use of land by colonisers, and therefore capitalist economy and labour productivity, and were thus removed. This dispossession has continued throughout particular areas of the Australian criminal justice system, resulting in regular contact between Aboriginal communities and behaviour deemed “criminal”, and therefore punishable.
Particular sentencing strategies (such as mandatory sentencing in the Northern Territory), lead to incarceration and cycles of poverty, as those who are incarcerated are further dispossessed and extradited from society. Many families reproduce the cycle of wealth through gifts and inheritance, meaning those who are incarcerated are not given this opportunity. Initially incarceration depletes monetary funds. When incarcerated, individuals face trauma, despair and potential death. Deaths in custody occur through available hanging points, miscommunication or lack of response in regards to medical assessments and related data, lack of education (and therefore preparation) of how to deal with those at risk, such as the mentally ill, and also failures in following instructions or procedures. If you survive all of this, then during post release, employment is difficult to find, let alone well-paying employment. This then further inhibits the ability to build up finances to pass on to family members, creating an ongoing cycle of depravity, and therefore poverty and struggle. As a result of financial stress, post incarceration creates even further exclusion from “normal” mainstream society.
On the whole, incarceration is a destroyer. From colonisation through to today, indigenous communities have been targeted for incarceration, echoing the African American situation in the U.S. According to Alice Green’s report, from the Center for Law & Justice (February 16, 2012) in New York, black individuals made up 16% of the population, yet 64% have been convicted (and thereby aren’t allowed to vote under U.S legislation). A Prison Policy Initiative statistics as of June 30, 2004, derived from a U.S Census, highlight this disparity. Per 100,000 of the prison population, “Whites” made up 393, whilst “Blacks” were 2,531. Yet according to the 2010 Census, white Americans comprised 66.2% and Black Americans comprised 8.1% of the population.
These numbers do not add up, and are a testament to what dire circumstances we are living in.
In 1979, with the implementation of the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program in the U.S, a loophole made prison slave labour possible. Such companies currently utilise this to maximise profit at the expense of others misfortunes. Companies include The Gap clothing, K-Mart, Target and Victoria’s Secret lingerie. One can only presume this inevitable profit making corporate relationship between exploitation and incarceration, is not far from Australia’s shores (if not quietly here already!).
As Dead Prez say,
“Why is it that Black people and everybody like us live in the kind of poverty and misery that we live in? Everywhere I look around me are nothing but poverty and misery, on the one hand. And yet, what I'm seeing is that everywhere there's wealth and riches in the world it's in the white community somewhere, whether it's in Europe or whether it's right cross the street from where I was born”. (Dead Prez- Police State)
How can these levels of exploitation occur in today’s society? Why is this so… I ask myself so frequently. And it seems as simple as the fact that those who have power refuse to relinquish it, gripping so tightly by all means necessary, disabling those without power to ever attain, as a block, such freedoms. Another example of this is evident currently within the demise of the U.S fiscal system. The 1% is in control and creating legislation to continue and uphold their power. And yet, so here has the implosion began…
The main attitude here is such that (as stated by a friend of mine), upon mentioning my distaste for Sydney, as there is too obviously a disparity between the rich and the poor, my lovely friend replied, 'But I’m in the rich, so, who cares'. And isn't this how we got into this mess? When you are born into less opportunity, this perpetuates less opportunity, and if you are born into opportunity, it is certainly much easier to stay afloat or succeed further than it is to fall from grace.