The vision of the Hip Hop generation

Hip Hop is heir of slave rebellions, abolitionist, civil rights and Black Power movements and the si

Any conversation about Hip Hop is likely to be peppered with references to the negativity of rap lyrics and the large amount of bling seen in rap videos. Hip Hop is conceived by a large amount of people to be a culture of gangsters, pimps and crack dealers.

From civil rights groups to mainstream politicians and the media the Hip Hop generation is seen as the embarrassing child of the civil rights movement an apolitical degenerate generation of nihilistic thugs.

The finger is pointed at Hip Hop to be the cause for gun crime, teenage pregnancy, anti-social behaviour and gang culture. So when we stepped forward and created our organisation Hip Hop Generation and proclaimed to be harnessing the power and embracing the spirit of Hip Hop we knew we would be in for a hard time.

Many told us that we should change the name, that it was too controversial, however we were strong in our convictions that Hip Hop was both positive and the culture that most spoke for and to youth of African descent - the descendants of slaves - and their modern day struggles for money, power and respect in the inner cities of the Western world.

Hip Hop Generation UK was formed in 2005 with the aim of harnessing the power and embracing the spirit of Hip Hop as a tool to organise and mobilise a new political constituency who we refer to as the “streetz” to change the game.

The inspiration for the creation of the organisation came from the same titled book written by African American political philosopher and former editor of The Source magazine Bakari Kitwana, the work of Russell Simmons and Dr Benjamin Chavis at the Hip Hop Summit Action and the politics of the Hip Hop Political Convention in the US.

Kitwana’s writings would set the foundation for the intellectual backdrop of our organisation and provide the organisation with its name. The Hip Hop Generation written by Kitwana is a socio-economic-political analysis of the generation of African diasporic youth who have grown up in a time when the most prominent global youth cultural phenomenon is Hip Hop a phenomenon so powerful it has become generation defining in the same way that civil rights did in the1960’s.

In his text Kitwana attempts to develop a clear, cogent political agenda our aim is to build upon that work and create a clear political agenda and implement it, to move from theory to practice. We have seen attempts to do this in the US with the work of HSAN who have registered approximately 4 million voters and toured multiple US cities turning out thousands of Hip Hop youth with support from the likes of Jay Z, TI, Kevin Lilles & Erykah Badu to empower them economically through their financial literacy tours. We have also seen this through the work of the Hip Hop Political Convention a bi-annual convention first convened in 2004 that aims to develop a Hip Hop political agenda and voting block.

Right now we are struggling to bring a new analysis of Hip Hop to the table, one that makes clear the difference between Rap and Hip Hop and their connection, identifies the core essence and philosophy of Hip Hop. An analysis that places Hip Hop within its true place as the heir of the slave rebellions, abolitionist, civil rights and Black Power movements of the 20th Century and the single most significant ‘Black’ cultural phenomenon of the 21st Century.

Our vision is to mobilise a new generation to continue the struggle of our forefathers, to create a new sect to deal with the old problems, to usher in a new era of a new modern 21st Century Hip Hop led “Black” politics, to create the most powerful global Hip Hop movement the world has seen and change the world in our lifetime.

Anthony Thomas is the founder and CEO of Hip Hop Generation. He is a philosopher,organiser and entrepreneur. He is a director of London Citizens and the Black Londoners Forum.
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How gendered are this year’s most popular Christmas present toys?

Meet the groups fighting back against the gendering of children’s toys over the festive season.

You’re a young girl. You go into WH Smith’s to pick out a colouring book for Christmas. You could buy the Girls’ World Doodling and Colouring Book, a "gorgeous gift for any girl". In this, the pictures range "from flowers, fans, feathers, to birds, buttons and butterflies". Or Colouring for Girls: Pretty Pictures to Colour and Complete, where you can colour in "beautiful birds, seashells, cupcakes, pretty patterns and lots more". The counterpart Boys’ Colouring Book has a range beyond buttons and feathers: "Planes, trains and automobiles – plus the odd alien spacecraft".

In the run-up to Christmas, this kind of gendered marketing is rife, particularly finding its way into the predominantly pink colour scheme of girls’ toys.

Take Amazon’s page "2016 Toys for Girls": a pink icecream trolly set, a pink light-up tablet, pink building blocks, pink and purple friendship bracelets and so on.

There are several groups taking action against the "pinkification" of children’s toys. One of these is Let Toys Be Toys, a group that targets large supermarkets with the aim of reducing the gendered marketing used on children’s goods.

The Let Toys Be Toys blog focuses on specific examples of targeted gendering within shops, catalgoues and online. A particularly revealing example of how prevalent this has become in recent years is in two pictures published from the Argos catalogue, one from the Seventies, and one from nowadays. The eye-wateringly pink page from now makes the 1970s page look dour by comparison. The lack of change over four decades of what kind of products are marketed at girls is equally striking:

Despite the efforts of campaign groups such as Let Toys Be Toys, the prevalence of gendering within the highest-rated children's gifts for 2016 is staggering.

Look no further than the Ultimate Christmas Gifts Guide from Toys R Us. One of the most immediately obvious examples is the way in which the pink/blue colour schemes are used to market identical products. This is repeated again and again:

This identical drawing board is uniquely packaged to the binary colour codes that are so common within children's toys stores.

The same applies with this keyboard, where the young girl and boy are pictured almost identically, save for the coordination of their clothes to the colour of their toys.

The message is a hugely limiting one: one that allows little movement away from the binary of pink/blue. The effects of this are longstanding. A recent poll from YouGov shows that "only a third of parents approve of boys playing with Barbies". The data goes on to explain that "while most parents approve of girls playing with toys marketed to boys, a minority of adults approve of the opposite".

Images like this were the inspiration behind Let Toys Be Toys, back in 2012. The campaign began on Mumsnet, the forum for parents, on a section called "AIBU", which stands for "Am I Being Unreasonable?". One parent posted the question: "Am I being unreasonable to think that the gendered way that children’s toys are marketed has got completely out of hand?" The heated discussion that followed led to a sub-section with the founding memebers of Let Toys Be Toys.

This aside, Let Toys Be Toys has made signifcant progess since it began. It targets large stores, focusing on gendered signage both in store and online. In their four years, they have campaigned for signs like "girls' toys" and "boys' toys" to be removed from retailers such as Boots, Debenhams, Morrisons, Toys R Us and TK Maxx. It is the go-to hashtag on Twitter for examples of the often shocking gendering of children’s toys.

"This is ostensibly about toys, but what we’re really talking about is gender stereotypes that shape our children’s worlds in an apparently very unassuming way," says Jess Day, a Let Toys Be Toys campaigner. "It seems very innocent, but actually what we’re doing is giving children very clear instructions about how to be a man and how to be a woman."

These clear instructions work beyond colour coordination: where girls are sold the image of the pink "girly girl", for instance. This is evident in children’s fancy dress costumes. Early Learning Centre’s (ELC) children’s fancy dress range imposes very rigid gender roles. To give examples from the current christmas range:


Credit: ELC

Again, the predominant colour sceme is pink. The roles offered are mainly fairies and princessess: generally make-believe.

“I found it really interesting that there were almost no ads showing girls doing anything," comments Day. "Physically they were very passive. The only physical activity we saw girls doing was dancing. They weren't really moving around much."


Image: ELC

By contrast, young boys are offered the possibility of pretending to be a firefighter, a policeman or a doctor, among other practical, professional roles.

This year's Toys R Us Christmas advert follows on from this, with girls mainly dressed as princesses, and boys dressed as knights and kings. Much like the pink/blue colour scheme that we see all over children's shops, these fancy dress costumes create an unnatural binary. They send out a message that restricts any kind of subversion of these two supposedly polar opposites.

What's more, the subtext is one that is deeply rooted in expectations, building up a picture where careers such as that of a policeman and fireman come more naturally to boys, who have been socialised into these roles from childhood through fancy dress costumes of this type. Instead, girls are later forced to learn that most of us aren't going to become princessess, and none of us fairies – and so the slow process begins to unlearn these expectations.

There are certainly groups who try to counteract this. Manufacturers such as the toy brand IamElemental aims to break down the gendered distinctions between boys' toys and girls' toys, by creating female action figures.

“We always say that we are not anti-doll or anti-princess, but that if you give a girl a different toy, she will tell a different story," says Julie Kershaw, a member of the organisation. "As the mom of two boys, I always say that it’s just as important to put a strong healthy female action figure in a boy’s hand as it is a girl’s”.

Like the campaigners behind Let Toys Be Toys, IamElemental sees children’s toys as the starting point.

“We want kids – both girls and boys  – to internalise these messages early and often,” says Kershaw. “While there are certainly biological differences between girls and boys, gender-specific toys are not a biologically dictated truth. Toys are not “for girls” or “for boys”  – toys are for play; for exploration and creative expression.”

This attitude is ingrained in a child’s early years. Only through reconfiguring the gender sterotypes of the toys we buy for our children can we begin to break down their expectations of how to behave in age. We challenge you this Christmas to avoid these highly gendered products. Below are our three favourite Christmas presents for children this year, for girls AND boys, as approved by Let Toys Be Toys:

Mini Table Tennis (£7.99)


From: The Little Toy Box

Djeco Intro to Origami - Animals (£3.99)

From: Rachel's Toy Shop

Seedling Make Your Own Dino Softie! - Dino(sew)or Kit (£5)


From: Gifts For Little Ones