Recently I received a Snapchat from my friend Taylor of a Spotify playlist. Normally I wouldn’t have given it much thought, but the description of the playlist made me furious. Both Taylor and I were equally annoyed at the way a Hip-Hop playlist was being marketed to solicit listeners. The racist undertones behind the playlist description caused me to think about the appropriation of Hip-Hop culture by outsiders who mock, morph, and monetize it without compunction. Racism nowadays is stealthy in its attempts to thrive and spread through covert means. Something as trivial as a playlist can become the subtle breeding ground to reinforce racist ideology.
“Sometimes, you’d like to a badass gangsta selling crack, but you got a job and no gun.”
This is the deceptively sinister description of the Hip-Hop playlist we were both left to contend with. Forget the fact that “crack” is no longer the drug of choice for dealers like it used to be in the late 1980s and early 90s. Forget the fact that “you got a job and no gun” is code for you’re not an unemployed Black or Latino male and there for you do not require one. Lets look at what this tagline really entails, which besides racist ideology, is the concept of voyeurism. The message being conveyed is that you can cast your whiteness aside for a while and step into the realm of Blackness where you too can “sell crack” and become a “badass gangsta” from the comfort of your own home. When the playlist is done, you can discard your ghetto persona and resume life without having to deal with the complexities of urban life. To say this mode of thinking is a problem would be an understatement. Every word within the tagline was carefully crafted to conjure up specific images and feelings of Black and Latino males as criminal and other.
Too often our music, images, and our culture gets appropriated and exploited by those on the periphery who are entertained by our stories of despair, misguided energy, and criminality the same way Romans lined the coliseum to see blood and gore. Voyeurism has become the preferred method of contact for those on the periphery who are comfortable making contributions to the exploitation of Black and Latinos. I live in Harlem where I was taught from an early age to turn my head away from the double-decker buses lined with white people taking photos of “niggers in their natural habitat.” There is nothing wrong visiting different cultures and taking pictures with the natives, but when your actions are in collusion with maintaining a stance of superiority that not only objectifies, but attempts to reduce whole populations of people to the status of animal, I think therein lies the drawback. A group of white people taking bus tours of what was a predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood in Harlem as if on a safari, is just that…a safari! White people can get close to the “danger” without having to actually confront it head on.
The danger of voyeurism in Hip-Hop and ultimately the Black and Latino community is the cultural appropriation and racism involved. The same cultural appropriation that allowed Marky Mark (Mark Wahlberg) to pose with a half naked supermodel in the early 90s while “saggin’” allows him to be a voyeur. Racism then dictates that anyone not white who sags their pants is a “thug” “criminal” and should be subject to fines for indecent exposure. Why is it then that low-rise jeans for both men and women not held up to the same code of ethics? Is it because these jeans are monetized and marketed, where regular saggin’ is not? I don’t know for sure, but it does make me wonder the intersections of race, voyeurism, and cultural appropriation affects the psyches of those within Hip-Hop as well as those on the periphery. Hip-Hop has an undeniably broad based appeal and because of this appeal, those who do not understand the culture have co-opted it to make it more palatable to those on the fringes of the culture in hopes to exploit it for profit. What started from my friend leisurely listening to Spotify, turned into both her and I realizing that racism is alive and well even within the confines of something a trivial as a music app playlist.