Jared Ball hosts legendary emcee and producer Shaheen Ariedien and Dr. Rico Chapman discuss the histories, similarities and mutual impact of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa and the Black Power Movement here in the United States.
JARED BALL, HOST, IMIXWHATILIKE: What’s up, world? And welcome to iMixWhatILike here at The Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball.
Despite the every effort of continuing colonial relationships to deny it, hip-hop has always been a brilliantly diverse, multi-elemental threat to the people in power. From its Pan-African origins here in the United States to its emergence in every other part of the world, hip-hop continues to signify still incomplete freedom struggles of the people who still vibrantly create the art. I’m talking about the originators of hip-hop–black folks.
Hip-hop, when not suppressed by a global commercial apparatus, continues to be the art the late Amiri Baraka called for, the kind that conks Klansmen and erases racists–or, as Max Roach famously noted, it is in hip-hop that you can still hear the revolution in drums. From Dead Prez to Wise Intelligent to Rebel Diaz, hip-hop’s lyrics and beat have become the rallying battle cry and call to action for many generations.
Today on iMixWhatILike, our focus is hip-hop and politics in Azania, popularly known as South Africa, and comparisons between the black consciousness movement there and the black liberation movement here in the United States.
Our two guests for this conversation are Shaheen Ariefdien and Dr. Rico Chapman.
Shaheen Ariefdien is a legendary MC and producer from the equally legendary Azanian hip-hop collective Prophets of Da City. He is also an author, scholar, and activist who joins us from his office in Toronto, Canada.
Also joining us is Dr. Rico Chapman. He’s an associate professor in the Department of History at Jackson State University. His research interests include the linkages in the struggle for justice by students throughout the African diaspora, particularly in Mississippi and South Africa, where he has studied and taught.
The two are co-authors of Khoi Hop: Hip Hop, Youth Activism and the Dilemma of Coloured Identity in South Africa, which is to be a chapter in a forthcoming anthology on hip-hop activism.
Welcome, fellas, to the program. Thank you for joining us in our inaugural edition of iMixWhatILike here at The Real News. We appreciate your time.
DR. RICO CHAPMAN, ASSOC. PROF. HISTORY, JACKSON STATE: Thank you.
SHAHEEN ARIEFDIEN, SOUTH AFRICAN RAPPER: Thank you.
CHAPMAN: Thanks. Thanks for the invite.
BALL: Nah, no problem, man.
So let’s get started. Could we talk a little bit about this article? Tell us specifically what you deal with in this chapter, who are the Khoisan, and what is there–what you describe as their revivalist movement.
CHAPMAN: Okay. Shaheen, I’ll let you go ahead with it.
ARIEFDIEN: Okay. So, essentially what we looked at was movements in postapartheid South Africa and how that’s linked to indigenous identities. And because of the way apartheid was structured and the way race was constructed, indigenous identities and collectives were thrown in a mix called Coloured. So if it didn’t fit into the neat white box and it didn’t fit into the black African box in the way that the Dutch and then the British and then the Afrikaners imagined that to be, if you had this weird kind of category named Coloured that in many ways had nothing to do with color, because Coloured meant from light-skinned to dark-skinned and they had very specific markers–.
So, for us, we wanted to look at hip-hop’s involvement in boosting a movement and even creating an indigenous identity out of the fragments left by colonialism, apartheid, and neoliberalism and how that’s used to construct an indigenous identity.
BALL: Could you just say another word or two about who exactly comprises this group called Coloured? Because a lot of us in this country in particular, and myself specifically, we often make what is probably not quite a fair equivalence between those of us who are so-called mixed in this country and Coloured in southern Africa. And as you said, the Coloured category ranges a broad spectrum of complexion and also specific groups and identities. But could you say a few more words about who actually comprised this Coloured group?
ARIEFDIEN: That’s really difficult. I mean, the kind of soundbite is that under apartheid it was a buffer class. It consisted of this kind of buffer class that meant not only not white, not black, but inferior to white, slightly superior to black African. And so we do comprise of every collective identity, from people who were enslaved since the 1600s to migrant workers from Angola and Mozambique during the turn of the 19th century, to the indigenous people, the Griquas, the Khoi, the San–and the San is a problematic term for a lot of folks who identify as that, because they see it as a derogatory term. So it’s a whole collective of people from the African continent, and even different parts of the world, that white supremacists or the followers of white supremacist ideologies couldn’t really box them in.
BALL: Right. Some years ago on a trip to Zimbabwe, I met with some folks from the so-called Coloured community, and it was a bit shocking to see not only again the range and complexion, because people that we’re familiar with in this country who would be identified fully as African-American or Africans in America or black are described as Coloured in southern Africa.
And this issue of the buffer group, if we could, just say another word or two about that, because one of the horrifying that was recounted for us during that trip, for my trip, at least, to Zimbabwe, was that the so-called Coloured community was intentionally created where white Europeans or European descendents would intentionally impregnate African women to create this group of people that would become a buffer between themselves and what they always assumed was the pending African revolution. Was this also similarly the case in South Africa?
CHAPMAN: Jared, can I chime in [crosstalk]
BALL: Sure. Please do. Yes. Absolutely. Please.
CHAPMAN: I just want to state, in our book chapter, in the book Hip Hop and Social Change–it is out, it just came out, just recently.
BALL: Okay. Good. Good.
CHAPMAN: But we state–we did state in our unedited version explicitly that we were not very supportive of the use of the term Coloured. But in the final version in the book chapter, it doesn’t come across that way. So I just wanted to put that out there in order to help guide this conversation, because we don’t necessarily support the use of the term Coloured. However, we use it for context and for clarity in our book chapter.
BALL: And what is your preferred term or phrase to refer to this group commonly described as Coloured?
CHAPMAN: I mean, Coloureds are Africans, pretty much, huh, Shaheen? I mean, it’s–.
ARIEFDIEN: Yup, yup, yup.
BALL: No, I mean, certainly to my Pan-African sensibilities, that’s exactly how I feel about the situation here as well. But that’s something that isn’t always made clear or accepted, both in and out of academia. So yeah.
But–yeah, go ahead, Shaheen. Please.
ARIEFDIEN: Yeah. Coming back to your question, I mean, the instant that you mentioned now, that it was purposefully created, I think a couple of things. First of all, there’s no purity. You know? So we have to start there as well. The whole notion of purity is a racist kind of thinking. That’s not useful at all. So that’s the one thing. The second thing is that when you look at enslaved people, political prisoners, from, let’s say, places like Java, Jakarta, parts of Malaysia, and so on, right, and then you have people who were enslaved from Madagascar, what came to be known as Angola, etc., etc., all thrown together, so a culture, if you will, by the oppressed under Dutch rule at the time existed. And so Coloured during Dutch rule meant anything not white. So there were no divisions in terms of the buffer group.
The buffer group really started making its impact, getting British colonialism and imperialism, when they were concerned that when you look at the indigenous population, you look at the enslaved population and political prisoners who were there, the possibilities for uprisings–and if you just look at what happened in other parts of the world, that they needed to find a way to create a divide-and-rule kind of situation.
Now, that wasn’t necessarily let’s rape or let’s have as many affairs or whatever with women of color; it was just redefining and flipping it in a way where it’s like, uh, let’s see. You come from Southeast Asia or somewhere else, but you also have Khoi or indigenous ancestry. Ah, we’ll make you Coloured. Coloured will be this very narrow specific thing. Do you know what I mean? And it was also influenced by policies at the time, which meant that when a bubonic plague broke out, the British were very, very, very smart in using that to their advantage, ’cause what they said was, we’re going to set up these kind of quarantine camps, right, that limited movement. And people who were not labeled Coloured had to go in there. So you also had movement from those people in terms of protecting themselves against further exploitation, further marginalization, and essentially being forced into concentration camps to go, yeah, we’re Coloured, we were told we’re Coloured. Do you know what I mean?
So the environment that was created and the policies that were created really forced–made that category more suitable to the needs of the British imperialists, and then later the Afrikaners, who took it a whole other step further, where it was, okay, let’s actually take this crazy category and split it up even further. So they’ll take a pencil and put it through someone’s hair, and if it could easily go through or it could not go through, that will automatically designate you to your racial group. And that could literally split up families, because where you lived, where you could work, and access to resources that you could have access to were determined by your racial classification. So I think that to a large degree had to do with this kind of redefining what this thing Coloured was. Yeah.
BALL: No. It’s interesting. I mean, even at one point in time, though viewers might not believe it at this point, I actually passed–or, depending on your perspective, failed–the pencil test. Back when I had hair, the pencil did not fall out, ’cause we were, as part of a group that’s trying to see who would be classified as what when we were–.
ARIEFDIEN: So you didn’t make it has Coloured?
BALL: So I–so I would have–.
ARIEFDIEN: Your future here is over, man.
BALL: But what I think what is interesting about what you just said is the way–and, Rico, let’s bring you into this as well, because in looking at the comparisons between what’s going on in southern Africa and here in the United States, these imposed categories–and, Shaheen, I really like your point about there being no purity–these imposed categories do separate people not only from their geographic–you know, indigenous geographic locations, but also from their own families. I mean, it changes–you are literally categorized separately from your mother or your father. And that is something that I think is something that has occurred in variations here in the United States as well.
Before we double back to Shaheen and talk about the rise of hip-hop a little bit, the development of hip-hop in southern Africa and its relationship to the political struggle there, can we just stay with this broader comparative look, Rico, and talk a little bit about what you see as the similarities or differences or dissimilarities between the black consciousness movement in southern Africa and the black liberation struggle here in United States?
CHAPMAN: Okay. And I think there are more similarities than there are differences. And I look at student activism in both countries, right, and what I look at is the response to white supremacy, white oppression. And I’ll give you an example. On college campuses, particularly at HBCUs, there has been, historically, somewhat of an invasion of white hegemony, especially in the ’60s and ’70s. And on one campus particularly, especially Jackson State University, where I teach now, there were a couple of students who were killed in 1970. So the students were peacefully protesting the war in Vietnam, and the police were called. Stones began to be thrown. And the police responded with shots.
And the same happened in South Africa. And I know it sounds ironic to say a historically black university in South Africa, but the University of Fort Hare, a historically black university, the same thing happened. There, numerous times, students would boycott classes over tuition increases or the patriarchal attitudes of the white administration. The police would be called in. And at one point, students got killed through gunshots. So, when black students protest, historically the response has been violence on the part of police.
And organizationally what came to aid not just black students but people of African descent were organizations like the South African student organization founded by Steve Biko. Here it would be the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, of course, led initially by Ella Baker and founded by students. But these two organizations in different countries had similar aims and objectives. Out of SNCC grew the black power movement, and, of course, out of SASO grew the black consciousness movement. And this is a worldwide black-is-beautiful phenomenon, I would think. It’s more ideological. It’s more psychological. It’s a do-for-self. Steve Biko would say, black man, you’re on your own.
So this was also happening in the States. And I think black consciousness fed off of the black power movement in the United States, and to a degree vice versa.
So our struggle, this liberation struggle, began to be worldwide, not just isolated in the United States, not just isolated in South Africa, but black consciousness in South Africa, black power in United States. I mean, I think the African masses began to see this global unity, and I see more similarities than differences.
And, of course, how does the white power structure, how does white supremacy respond? Biko being assassinated in 1977 and, of course, the numerous assassinations here in the United States. Medgar Evers would be one in ’63, followed by Malcolm X in ’65 and MLK in ’68. But even the lesser-knowns, I mean, it’s just interesting to see that dynamic taking place again.
BALL: No, absolutely. There are, unfortunately, too many similarities in these struggles throughout the Pan-African world. I mean, even there was a Civil War naval battle between the North and South fought off the coast of South Africa, part of the–to strengthen the white supremacist regime, and then also to battle over who was going to get the access to that regime’s stolen wealth. And, of course, the comparisons and linkages continue even onto this very program, because the use of iMixWhatILike comes from a tribute, an honorific to Steve Biko, who used to write, I Write What I Like. And as we started talking about hip-hop and mix tapes, we adopted iMixWhatILike as the phrase, but with the very intentional purpose of continuing that idea, that black consciousness struggle in media work in the 21st century.
Alright. Dr. Rico Chapman and Shaheen Ariefdien, thank you for joining us for this segment of iMixWhatILike at The Real News Network.
CHAPMAN: Thank you.
BALL: Alright. And join us for part two of this segment of iMixWhatILike and The Real News Network on hip-hop and politics in Azania and here in the United States.
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