Coloniality, Migrancy and Hip hop

This was a short paper I wrote. Thought I would share it with anyone who wants to engage with it. The professors in my MA program have no idea what I am talking about, so any insight, critique or encouragement would be greatly appreciated. Also, in the spirit of democratizing knowledge, if you would like access to any of the articles I cite, please leave me a comment and we can work out me emailing you the pdfs. Peace fam.

“I have the thickest accent ever

In the land that was stolen

from my great ancestors

So we represent

You cross borders that’s imaginary yet so real.” (Rebel Diaz 2013)

 This paper starts with a narrative account of the condition of migrancy, which is a reality for many people. The title “North” frames the hegemonic narrative of the “ global north” verses the exploitation and regulation of mobility of the “global south”. This will be the beginning of an ongoing dialogue in which I hope to explore concepts of migrancy (as a condition and identity), transnational networks/communities, and hip hop culture. This and subsequent papers on these topics will use a framework of decolonizing (forced) migration studies. I intend to use this framework in order to juxtapose a structural analysis of world systems as they relate to migrancy, against cultural expressions of resistance through the medium of hip hop. In order for this to be an effective analysis, I will begin by giving a theoretical overview of this framework. It is important to have a clearly defined vocabulary so both the author and reader are working from a common language. This first paper will provide the reader with a brief history of hip hop and its connection to migrancy. I will underscore the connection of migrancy to artistic expressions in hip hop culture, which create a poetics of resistance against domination and oppression that are often the shared experience.

Coloniality and Migrancy

Decolonizing theories are rooted in a socio-historical understanding of the legacy of colonialism in shaping world systems and hierarchies of oppression from the perspective of the ‘colonized’ (Castro-Gomez 2002, Grosfoguel 2011, Quijano and Westwell 1983, Fanon 1967, Galeano 2009, Smith 1999). Decolonizing perspectives are multidisciplinary, and shaped by the understanding that hegemonic authority over the production of knowledge is an active agent in oppression. These hierarchies of oppression are maintained through the coloniality of power and knowledge. The term ‘coloniality of power’ was introduced by Quijano (1983) and has become a common frame used in subaltern studies. Coloniality and colonialism are not synonymous terms, as Castro-Gomez (2002, pp 276) asserts, “Coloniality references a technology of power that persists today, founded on the “knowledge of the other.” ” This technology of power is often maintained through interrelated systems that contour the structure of society through systems of hierarchies, systems of knowledge, and systems of culture (Castro-Gomez 2002, Grosfoguel 2011, Galeano 2009, Smith 1999, Cervantez-Rodriguez and Lutz 2003).

One of the primary mechanisms of the coloniality of power and knowledge is the reproduction of difference through categories of exclusion (Castro-Gomez 2002, Villenas 2007, Grosfoguel 2011). These categories can be seen as the construction of “otherness”. They are often easily recognized within a socio-historical context, the creation of racial constructs lead to the exclusion of non-white peoples from authority over the production of knowledge and access to power (Fanon 1967, Galeano 2009). In some ways these categories of exclusion become less obvious within the current social order. Through the consolidation of colonialism and the formation of nation-states, we can begin to understand our current global system (Castro-Gomez 2002, Villenas 2007, Grosfoguel 2011). Which I argue is a system of global apartheid, where imperialism has largely been subsumed by corporate global capital and uses nation-states as the arm of legitimate violence as needed (Richmond 1994). Nations-states and concepts of inclusion and belonging in the form of citizenship will provide a starting point to think about migrancy.

When we begin to think about how we see categories of exclusion play out in front of us today, the construction of migrancy as an identity and the systemization of migrancy as a condition are examples of how these categories are experienced on bodies. Individual and community mobility are connected to our motility, our actual physical ability to move, which has been taking place since long before the social world was ordered by empire and colonialism (Castle, 2002, Galeano 2009). However, migrancy as a condition is the spatial, temporal, ideological/philosophical movements that take place across ascribed boundaries in which the coloniality of power and knowledge gets to determine those borders and what constitutes a transgression. Within global hierarchies of oppression, the condition of migrancy is connect to nation-states and categories of non(belonging); the regulation of citizenship, borders, identification processes, etc are all mechanisms by which power is exerted on peoples, defining whether they have rights and protections (Cerventez-Rodriguez and Lutz 2003, Castro-Gomez 2002). Migrancy as an identity is both ascribed from hierarchies of oppression, and manifested as a resistance strategy to domination. I use the terms (forced) (im)migrant very broadly, with the understanding that categories of “otherness” or exclusion create conditions that force us to migrate away from our common humanity. Migrancy has come to represent more than just the act of movement; it has become the form of life for those excluded from belonging. This form of life does not simply vanish once a border is crossed; the nature of hegemony is a near constant sense of displacement.

Understanding coloniality and migrancy through hip hop

These concepts of migrancy, the coloniality of knowledge and power, and resistance strategies are highly complex, and the medium of hip hop provides a powerful point of analysis. Because as Rose (1995, pp 19) argues, “Rap also draws international audiences because it is a powerful conglomeration of voices from the margins of (American) society speaking about the terms of that position.”

I want to be very clear that when I am speaking of hip hop culture, I am not speaking of the commodification of rap music that is tied into capitalism and globalization (Krims 2000, Rose 1995). Volumes and analysis have been written on these topics, and they are valuable to understand the way in which the coloniality of power absorbs innovation (culture) and mutates it to preserve hegemony (Krims 2000, Rose 1995, Chang 2007). My focus is on the emancipatory roots of hip hop and the origins of its resistance culture. This culture was birthed in poverty, in the African American, Puerto Rican, and Caribbean neighborhoods of the South Bronx in the 1970’s (Rose 1995, Chang 2007, KRS-1 2013). It was birthed from conditions of migrancy that have their roots in the forced movement of peoples during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, displacement of indigenous peoples, and by peoples living on the margins of hegemony.

Hip hop culture is often categorized by four elements turntablism or “DJing” (aural), breakdancing (physical), graffiti writing (visual) and rap music (oral) (KRS-1 2013). Hip hop culture extends beyond these elements; the culture has its roots in informal education, social and political ideology, and youth and community engagement. KRS-1 and Afrika Bambaataa, of the Zulu Nation, assert that hip hop’s core elements are informed by four principles; peace, love, unity and joy, which created a counter narrative to the oppression of the black community in the Bronx (KRS-1 2013). Its rhythms and music draw on reggae, soca, Calypso, funk, soul, blues and jazz among others. Lyrically it is a culture built on call-and-response styles of slave spirituals and “work” songs, Jamaican toasting, and the Griots, West-African folk poets (Rose 1995, Chang 2007). The musical and lyrical styles of hip hop emphasize the complexities of the identity of migrancy; categories of exclusion begin to bleed into one another, blurring the lines that divide. Potter (1995, pp 7) asserts “lines of race, gender, and social class are not the only ones hip-hop crosses; …it is increasingly clear that hip-hop has become a transnational, global art form capable of mobilizing diverse disenfranchised groups.” This creating of a common language, this narrative of understanding and recognition, is in essence of hip hop culture as a transnational resistance strategy.

Another way in which we can see the migration of hip hop culture as a transnational resistance strategy is in the form of youth and community engagement. Originally this engagement took place in the community centers and parks of the Bronx and Harlem. People (mostly young) would come together to listen and participate in the music, dancing and visual arts. These acts were the reclaiming of public space, and the reimagining of how social relationships could be structured in those spaces. In addition to the artistic elements of hip hop, much informal teaching, and sharing of ideas and resources took place in these spaces. As hip hop’s music began to move from a local product, which encompassed the racial, socio-economic, gendered experiences of emcees and DJs in the Bronx, to a national and then international form of expression, it carried with it the core values of hip hop which were a desire for unity, love and peace. Many collectives, affinity groups and communities organized around these values and built upon the idea that critical pedagogies need to be employed which were reflective of those on the margins (Freire 1970, Akom 2009). This was a direct resistance strategy to the coloniality of knowledge, which has used formal institutions to shape educational processes with the outcome of maintaining hierarchies of oppression. Those experiencing migrancy must challenge the dominant hegemonic narratives about space, place, knowledge and identity, as Smith (1999, pp4) argues, “to resist is to retrench in the margin, retrieve what we were and remake ourselves. The past, our stories local and global, the present, our communities, cultures, languages and social practices-all may be spaces of marginalization, but they have also become spaces of resistance and hope.” I will end this paper with a voice of hope from the margins; these hip hop lyrics express the imaginative possibilities found in the poetics of resistance.

“Create a new world so we can see better days

And I ain’t talkin’ ’bout no “New World Orders”

I’m talkin’ ’bout the world filled with people without any borders

Without any hatred, without any racists

A world without politicians to separate us” (Nate featuring Cyclonious 2012)

 Reference List:

Akom, A. (2009) “Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy as a Form of Liberatory Praxis”, Equity & Excellence in Education, 42:1, pp. 52-66, [Online] DOI: 10.1080/10665680802612519 (Accessed: 4 March 2014)

Castro-Gomez, S. (2002) ‘The Social Sciences, Epistemic Violence, and the Problem of the “Invention of the Other”‘, Nepantla: Views From South, 3(2) Pp. 269, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (Accessed 13 December 2013.)

Castle, S. (2002) ‘Migration and Community Formation under Conditions of Globalization’, International Migration Review, 36(4) pp. 1143-1168. JSTOR, (Accessed 16 October 2013.)

Cervantes-Rodriguez, A. and Lutz, A (2003) ‘Coloniality of Power, Immigration and the English-Spanish Asymmetry in the United States’ Nepantla: Views From South, 4(3) Pp. 523-560, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (Accessed 23 February 2014.)

Chang, J (2007) Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: a History of the Hip Hop Generation. Random House Group

Fanon, F (1967) The Wretched of the Earth. Penguin Books Ltd: London, New York

Freire, P (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd: New York.

Galeano, E (2009) Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. Serpents Tail: London (First Ed published 1971, originally published in English 1973).

Grosfoguel, R. (2011) ‘Decolonizing Post-Colonial Studies and Paradigms of Political-Economy: Transmodernity, Decolonial Thinking, and Global Coloniality’, Transmodernity, 1(1 ) 1-36 (Accessed: 12 December 2013)

Krims, A. (2000) Rap Music and the poetics of identity. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

KRS-1 (2013), “40 Years of Hip Hop Lecture at Fresno State University” Published by Igor Black, 2 October 2013.

Nate featuring Cyclonious (2012) New World. London (Nate Music).

Potter, R. (1995) Spectacular Vernaculars: Hip Hop and the Politics of Postmodernism State University of New York Press: Albany.

Quijano, A and Westwell, P. (1983) ‘Imperialism and Marginality in Latin America’ Latin American Perspectives, 10(2/3) Social Classes in Latin America, Part II: Class Formation and Struggle, pp. 76-85 JSTOR 14 December 2013)

Smith, L. (1999) Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Zed Books Ltd: London.

Rebel Diaz (2013) North. New York (Independent/Artist released)

Richmond, A (1994) Global Apartheid: Refugees, Racism and the New World Order. Oxford University Press: Toronto.

Rose, T. (1995) Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Wesleyan University Press: Hanover, NH.

Villenas, S. (2007) ‘Diaspora and the Anthropology of Latino Education: Challenges, Affinities, and Intersections’Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 38(4) pp 419-425 Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost, (Accessed 15 December 2013)









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