Brand new video for an older poem courtesy of Patrick Pegg. Full text after the jump. I usually like to let the poems or songs speak for themselves, but a few background points on this one:
1. I’m trying to walk a pretty fine line in this poem. The argument that hip hop is a rainbow-colored racial utopia isn’t true. And the argument that white people have no place whatsoever in hip hop is an increasingly abstract, academic one. Both of these arguments, however, are easier to stand behind than what I’m trying to actually say. I think it’s important to recognize the facts on-the-ground, while at the same time being careful not to excuse anyone or cop pleas; we have to understand the history of cultural imperialism, and we also have to know how that history interfaces with what is happening right now. The ending of the piece is intentionally layered/muddy.
2. White privilege as a symptom of white supremacy plays out in many different spaces. When I was more actively doing social justice education/facilitation stuff, a common argument among students was that white people lose their privilege when they become the minority, or visit another country, or whatever. Part of this poem is pushing back against that idea. Even in hip hop, a culture created by and still driven by people of color, white privilege plays out– that’s kind of a central message in this piece. It’s also about pushing the “privilege framework” a little further and complicating the idea of “allyship.” The key line in the poem, for me, “what is the difference between acknowledging your privilege and acting on that acknowledgement?”
3. My perspective in this poem is also complex– I’m speaking as a white MC, while also speaking as a mixed-race, white-presenting MC; beyond that, I’m speaking as a practitioner. While the racial identity stuff might get more attention in this poem, that last point is really important to me. I think it’s important for practitioners (active, involved MCs, DJs, b-boys, b-girls, etc.) to be driving these conversations, not just think-piece writers and bloggers.
4. The title is confusing, yeah. I have a SONG called “The Invisible Backpacker of Privilege” too; plus the older version of this poem was called “Confessions of a White Rapper.” I decided to use the former title for both the song and the poem– partly because I just think it’s more clever (“backpacker” being casual slang for underground hip hop fan, and the whole title riffing off Peggy McIntosh’s “invisible knapsack metaphor), but also because I wasn’t super comfortable with the old title– didn’t want it to push into “isn’t it so novel and amazing that white kids rap?!” clickbait territory.
5. Finally, this poem isn’t on the new album, but it is a great introduction to the ideas and themes explored on it. Reminder: the release show is 3/3 at the Whole Music Club in MPLS (free and all ages!), and here’s something special: the full tracklist featuring song titles and guest vocalists:
A pocketful of props, a quick pound and a handshake
A free mixtape, a highway through a landscape
as far from the Bronx as heaven is
Moment of uncertainty, moment of clarity, moment of hesitance
A bio with a spark a truth,
a couple sharpies, Party Music and The Carter Two
Labcabincalifornia, Illmatic and Headshots,
A couple handbills left in the back of a reststop,
A rhymebook, a sticker with my name on it
stickin’ through the rain washin’ all the other flyers down;
hoodie up, fitted to the side, bottled water, last minute to decide
setlists, rep this: livin’ for the rhyme
but moreso for what that rhyme represents:
forty-five minutes of our lives to connect
Broken hearts over breakbeats, live and direct
from the belly of the beast, strivin’ to get free…
The Invisible Backpacker of Privilege; OR: Confessions of a White Rapper:
1. KRS-ONE says there are nine elements of hip hop, a solar system of art, and fashion, and innovation orbiting an inferno. Some promoters will book me over a black rapper because they don’t want to attract the wrong element.
2. It is easier for me to get a buzz going because most bloggers, radio DJs, publicists, music journalists, videographers and booking agents are white. And I don’t even really identify as Caucasian; I’m mixed. But that usually doesn’t fit on the flyer.
3. Listeners, who are often white, and identify with me because of it, actively seek out meaning in my music, rather than just looking for a good beat to dance to. And I will readily admit: I am very talented. But is that talent the reason you bought my album, the reason you came to my show, the reason you want this interview? I will never know.
4. I can code-switch on a dime. We developed warp technology years ago and will leave this solar system as soon as we find a more fashionable one.
5. My music can be perceived as rebellious because it’s hip hop, but safe because of my skin. Fans and listeners get to engage with an oppositional culture without ever leaving their racialized comfort zones. Tarzan is the king of the jungle. Tom Cruise is the last samurai. Michael J. Fox goes back in time and invents rock and roll in 1955.
6. The thing about stealing is that it’s addictive. A little here. A little more. And we all know it’s not wrong to steal to feed your starving family… and white kids in America are hungry.
Whose food are they eating? Whose food are you eating? Whose food am I eating?
7. Maybe white people don’t belong in hip hop. But white people don’t really belong in America, when you think about it. So these questions remain: what is the difference between acknowledging your privilege and doing something about that acknowledgment? How do we move forward? How do we define progress? Who is we? Who should be we? Who deserves to belong in the category we?
8. When I say one small step for man, you say one giant leap for mankind. Just remember whose planet you’re standing on.
9. The code of the white rapper is this: know the history, build community, put people on. And if they ever make you a monument, scratch your name out. Break it. Spit on it. Burn it.
We are not tourists, but we are also not the native inhabitants of this land. Aliens. Invaders. Put your hands up. Put your fucking hands up.