There is nothing so terrible as activity without insight.
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
One of the classes I’m taking this semester, as an elective for my religious studies minor, is Hip Hop & Spirituality. For the past week, I’ve been eardrums deep in Nas, Common, and lesser known acts such as Goodie Mob, Buckshot, and Little Brother. I’ve also been reading Noise and Spirit, a collection of essays about the “the Religious and Spiritual Sensibilities of Rap Music” edited by Macalester College Religious Studies Professor Anthony B. Pinn.
Pinn likens rap music to the spirituals sung by African Americans upon encountering the new world; just as slaves used spirituals as “a way of humanizing a dehumanizing environment,” some rappers use their rhymes to make sense, for themselves and their audience, of the hostility they face still today. Through the use of phrases and words unique to the African American experience, much of rap music contains a “coded transcript” that speaks only to those the message is intended to reach.
Those are my notes in a nutshell. What’s not in my notes is the tangential discussion we had in class about stereotypes. Being a college class in Midwest America, we aren’t a very racially diverse bunch; in a class of 25 or so students, there are probably six African Americans. Thankfully, they are a vocal minority, willing to openly discuss sensitive subjects amidst a sea of white faces. We talked about the things we say about those of other racial heritages when we are among our own kind. Things we’d never say publicly, in mixed racial company, because such comments would be misconstrued, feelings would be hurt, and tempers may flare.
File this under: Things I Never Knew Black People Wondered About White People . . .
Why Do White People Smell Like Wet Dogs When They Come Out of the Rain?
I now know there is a book which poses the exact same question.
But prior to 11:00am on Thursday, January 15, 2008, I had never heard this one before. Ever! At first, I laughed. Surely they were making this up. But the woman who brought it up wasn’t smiling. She was dead serious. I can’t say whether she really believed it to be true or not, but the point hit home.
I attended a racially diverse high school on the far south side of Chicago. I have had many dear African American friends over the years. I think I still do. And I got to thinking . . . Have I been an offensive, smelly animal all these years and not even realized it? Was I even supposed to? Am I the unwitting butt of an inside racial joke?
Perhaps all this illustrates the validity of Pinn’s assessment of Hip Hop culture. Perhaps our discussion wasn’t as much of a tangent as I first thought. And, just perhaps, I’ve still got a lot to learn . . .