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.
A woman in an Indian surrogacy hostel. Photo: Getty
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The Handmaid's Tale has already come true - just not for white western women

Why, if the fate of the fictional Offred is so horrifying, is the fate of real-life women in surrogacy hostels causing so little outrage?

When anti-choice Republican Justin Humphrey referred to pregnant women as “hosts”, I found myself wondering, not for the first time, whether everything had got “a bit Handmaid’s Tale.”

I’m not alone in having had this thought. Since Donald Trump won the US election, sales of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel have spiked and we’ve seen a plethora of articles telling us how “eerily relevant [it] is to our current political landscape.” In an interview during Cuba’s international book fair, Atwood herself said she believes the recent “bubbling up” of regressive attitudes towards women is linked to The Handmaid’s Tale’s current success: “It’s back to 17th-century puritan values of New England at that time in which women were pretty low on the hierarchy … you can think you are being a liberal democracy but then — bang — you’re Hitler’s Germany.”

Scary stuff. Still, at least most present-day readers can reassure themselves that they’ve not arrived in the Republic of Gilead just yet.

For those who have not yet read it, The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of Offred, who lives under a theocratic dictatorship in what used to be the United States of America. White, middle-class and college-educated, Offred once enjoyed a significant degree of privilege, but now belongs to a class of women whose sole purpose is to gestate offspring for high-status couples. Much of the shock value of the story comes from the contrast between Offred’s former life – in which she had a name of her own - and her present-day existence. If this can happen to someone like Offred, it is suggested, surely it can happen to any of us.

Or so that is what a white, middle-class reader – a reader like me – might tell herself. Recently I’ve started to wonder whether that’s strictly true. It can be reassuring to stick to one narrative, one type of baddie – the religious puritan, the pussy-grabbing president, the woman-hating Right. But what if it’s more complicated than that? There’s something about the current wallowing in Atwood’s vision that strikes me as, if not self-indulgent, then at the very least naive.

In 1985, the same year The Handmaid’s Tale was published, Gina Correa published The Mother Machine. This was not a work of dystopian fiction, but a feminist analysis of the impact of reproductive technologies on women’s liberties. Even so, there are times when it sounds positively Handmaid’s Tale-esque:

“Once embryo transfer technology is developed, the surrogate industry could look for breeders – not only in poverty-stricken parts of the United States, but in the Third World as well. There, perhaps, one tenth of the current fee could be paid to women”

Perhaps, at the time her book was written, Correa’s imaginings sounded every bit as dark and outlandish as Atwood’s. And yet she has been proved right. Today there are parts of the world in which renting the womb of a poor woman is indeed ten times cheaper than in the US. The choice of wealthy white couples to implant embryos in the bodies of brown women is seen, not as colonialist exploitation, but as a neutral consumer choice. I can’t help wondering why, if the fate of the fictional Offred is so horrifying to western feminists today, the fate of real-life women in surrogacy hostels is causing so little outrage.

I suppose the main argument of these feminists would be that real-life women choose to be surrogates, whereas Offred does not. But is the distinction so clear? If Offred refuses to work as a handmaid, she may be sent to the Colonies, where life expectancy is short. Yet even this is a choice of sorts. As she herself notes, “nothing is going on here that I haven't signed up for. There wasn't a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose.” In the real world, grinding poverty drives women of colour to gestate the babies of the wealthy. As one Indian surrogate tells interviewer Seemi Pasha, “Why would I be a surrogate for someone else if I don't need the money? Why would I make myself go through this pain?"

None of the feminists who expressed shock at Justin Humphrey referring to pregnant women as “hosts” have, as far as I am aware, expressed the same horror at surrogacy agencies using the exact same term. As Dorothy Roberts wrote in Killing The Black Body, the notion of reproductive liberty remains “primarily concerned with the interests of white, middle-class women” and  “focused on the right to abortion.” The right not just to decide if and when to have children, but to have children of one’s own – something women of colour have frequently been denied – can be of little interest of those who have never really feared losing it (hence the cloth-eared response of many white women to Beyoncè’s Grammy performance).

As Roberts notes, “reproductive liberty must encompass more than the protection of an individual woman’s choice to end her pregnancy”:

“It must encompass the full range of procreative activities, including the ability to bear a child, and it must acknowledge that we make reproductive decisions within a social context, including inequalities of wealth and power. Reproductive freedom is a matter of social justice, not individual choice.”

It’s easy to mock the pretensions to pro-life piety of a pussy-grabbing president. But what about the white liberal left’s insistence that criticising the global trade in sexual and gestational services is “telling a women what she can and cannot do with her body” and as such is illiberal and wrong? “Individual choice” can be every bit as much of a false, woman-hating god as the one worshipped by the likes of Humphrey and Trump.

One of the most distressing scenes in The Handmaid’s Tale takes place when Janine/Ofwarren has just given birth and has her child taken from her:

“We stand between Janine and the bed, so she won’t have to see this. Someone gives her a drink of grape juice. I hope there’s wine in it, she’s still having the pains, for the afterbirth, she’s crying helplessly, burnt-out miserable tears.”

Right now there are women suffering in just this way. Only they’re probably not white, nor middle-class, nor sitting in a twee white bedroom in Middle America. Oh, and they’re not fictional, either.

The dystopian predictions of 1985 have already come true. It’s just that women like me didn’t notice until we started to be called “hosts”, too.

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.