ANDERSON: T.I. demonstrates marginalization’s double-sided coin
Opinions Column: A 'Popped' Culture
Clifford Joseph Harris Jr., globally known as T.I., is the self-titled “King of the South.” He is known to white mainstream radio for hits like “Live Your Life,” “Dead and Gone,” and of course, his guest feature of Justin Timberlake’s “My Love.” He is known to black America for a long compendium of anthems such as “Bring ‘Em Out” and “Top Back."
Although his more recent records have toned down the level of violence, T.I. nonetheless came into our hearts as the hard-hitting Southern rapper whose name you better keep out of your mouth. Until his last two singles, the “King,” like many other mainstream rappers, has never conspicuously spoken out against the institutional and systemic forces that have bogged down the black community. Now, thankfully, he is tackling police brutality and our faulty justice system head on in his two new songs “We Will Not” and “Warzone.”
While using one’s status and influence to stand up against injustices should always be applauded, it is equally important to be cognizant of how we all, even those of us who are angry at the system and desire change, still contribute to cycles of oppression.
Sometimes oppression is naturalized to a point where we don’t realize we’re committing it ourselves. By using T.I.’s signing of the walking minstrel show that is Iggy Azalea as an example of how we can be blind to our own corroborations of marginalization, we can appreciate the value in analyzing our own decisions. There are two forms oppression — the overt and the covert. T.I.’s lyrical protest is against overt forms of oppression against black people, while giving Azalea a spot on his label was so covert he did not even notice it himself.
Celebrities like Azalea who insult, trivialize and fetishize black culture and black characteristics, then market her backwards interpretation of blackness to an audience comprised of young fans who do not realize they are internalizing a misrepresentation, are problematic. When the culture of a people is belittled to gyrations on a stage, a stereotypical “blaccent” and insincere, trash-can-lid lyrics, the people associated with that culture are also trivialized.
Trivialization is a very important contributor to the process of Symbolic Annihilation, which describes the lack of, under and mis-representation of a group in the media. Once this false representation is swallowed by an misinformed population, it makes room for justifications when multiple members of this community are prohibited from socio-economic advancement, when they are not equally protected by the law, when the schools in their neighborhoods are falling apart and the local, state and national government do not seem to care. Music associated with white Americans, i.e. rock and country (both of which are heavily rooted in black culture) do not speak volumes about white people. This is because there is always a double standard when it comes to black people in America. If a white punk rock artist smashes a guitar on stage, no one sees all young white males as brutes. When a black rapper takes to a stage, their words and actions tend to reflect all rap musicians and all black people. This is logical given that white owned record labels have aided in the re-establishment of the image of the black male as the societal deviant in the white mainstream consciousness (which still lasts today), by way of signing rappers that fit the “thug” stereotype of the white-imagination and who solely rap about misogynistic, hyper-masculine and materialist themes.
Which brings us back to T.I., a rapper who has broken from the aforementioned stereotypical mold, but is, in a twisted irony, also a black label owner laying the foundations for a person who is very much so aiding the marginalization of black people.
So if mainstream white-owned-label-rap can be seen as a distorted, homogenized display of the actual rap community, then Azalea is rap music twice removed. She is the copy of a copy, a misrepresentation of a misrepresentation. And since most listeners of music are not likely to do their rap-research, Iggy, for all intents and purposes, is hip-hop and thereby a representative of black culture. This is a disturbing amalgamation that, as previously stated undermines a culture and a people. Her existence as a “rapper” is a joke — a sad joke that is proliferated by the very man attempting to condemn systematic oppression.
No, T.I. is not the arbiter of all things black, and I am sure when he signed Azalea he was not piecing together the thought process presented in this article, but it shows that we all need to be careful about our decisions and how they might be disadvantageous to certain groups. These small, seemingly innocuous choices are the building blocks of marginalization that pile up over time and impede progress.
Michael Anderson is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies with minors in Africana studies and digital communication, information and media. His column, “A ‘Popped’ Culture,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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