Part 3: From South Africa to the United States: The Continuity of Black Consciousness Movements
Legendary emcee and producer Shaheen Ariefdien and Dr. Rico Chapman continue to 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 with iMixWhatILike host, Dr. Jared Ball
JARED BALL, HOST, i MiX WHAT i LiKE: Welcome back, everybody. I’m Jared Ball. This is another addition of i Mix What i Like here at The Real News Network, where we’re continuing our conversation with Dr. Rico Chapman and Shaheen Ariefdien. And in this segment, we’re going to be talking with them about the continuing comparisons between the black consciousness movement and the black liberation struggle here in the United States, particularly after Mandela there and after Obama here. And if you’ve missed them, please go back to The Real News Network and check out our previous segments with Dr. Chapman and Shaheen Ariefdien.
Fellas, welcome back to the program.
DR. RICO CHAPMAN, ASSOC. PROF. HISTORY, JACKSON STATE: Thanks.
SHAHEEN ARIEFDIEN, SOUTH AFRICAN RAPPER: Hey. Thanks.
BALL: So let’s pick up on that. Just as I said there in the intro, Shaheen, in some of your lyrics with Prophets of Da City, you’re talking about–particularly in the song “Never Again”, there are references sort of praising the black consciousness and anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and praising Nelson Mandela. But as we’ve heard over the years, since Mandela’s release in the so-called post-apartheid moment, there has been a lot left undone, and too many of the same pre-apartheid relationships continue, whether it’s 87 percent of the land still in the hands of the 13 percent white minority, the control of the economic system in the military still controlled, often, by the white minority. The resources often do not make it to the townships and to the black oppressed communities, much like before. How do you all think about that? How do you all address that? Or what are your thoughts now as we move this far away from post-apartheid, so-called, and after the passing not too long ago of Nelson Mandela?
ARIEFDIEN: Right. I think there’s two things. One is: when we have these icons that we look up to and pull them up to a point where they are free from scrutiny, I think that’s very dangerous, whether it’s from what’s happening to [Bill Cosby (?)] now to Mandela in terms of the decisions that he has made. He was seen as this kind of messiah figure, and there were really, really bad decisions that were made that we actually feel the effects of right now. So I think that’s the one thing.
The second thing is for us–and when I say us, I’m speaking from many members in the hip-hop community–as being that we–our analysis of racism and white supremacist ideology didn’t take into account the role capitalism plays in that, and then, by extension, also patriarchy. And so, when it was okay, yeah, we have the right to vote and we are the majority and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, this is freedom–. The song “Never Again” was written the day of the Mandela speech. So there was all this euphorias, all this excitement, and all kinds of expectation. You know? And as time grew and went too long, you started to see, okay, South Africa actually went from a market-driven but kind of welfare state of the RDP to the GEAR policy that’s, like, straight-up neoliberalism. And what happened was you had the replacement of white CEOs with black /feɪstəs/, some growth of a black elite, and, like you mentioned in the beginning of this segment, old white money. And old white foreign money especially still controls Africa to a large degree, that neocolonial relationship [is so very, very strong. (?)]
BALL: You know, the only–just real quick, the only value that I found in the film Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman, was the scene where he’s in the car and the sister asks him, why are you going so far out of your way to make friends with this white football team? And his response was because they still control the economy. And I thought that that one line was all the value I saw in that film, but it was–I thought it was a powerful statement, and one that I thought got lost in a conversation about that film and a lot of the conversation about postapartheid South Africa.
Rico, the same thing here. There’s been–we were talking off-air about some of my own personal struggles with attempts that we’ve seen in academia and other spaces of people to draw these one-to-one connections between Barack Obama and the black power movement in this country, where, as I see him as the–as Shaheen mentioned, the neoliberal imposition of a black-faced politician onto a very similarly focused white capitalist establishment, imperial establishment. What is your sense of that, particularly as we’re taping this the day after Darren Wilson was not indicted for killing Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri? How do you see the similarities in what happened or has not happened in South Africa post-apartheid and what is or is not happening here in the United States post-Obama in this so-called post-racial moment?
CHAPMAN: Right. Just to follow up on what Shaheen mentioned in terms of the African masses really getting starstruck, it seems as if conditions have gotten worse in terms of police brutality, and especially here in the United States and wherever. We can also shoot that across the water to South Africa when the miners got gunned down by the police. So even though we’re in this–.
BALL: Right. The Marikana mine. Right. That’s right.
CHAPMAN: Yeah. We’re in this so-called post–so-called post-racial moment. And that’s just a myth, because this balance that’s been handed down to us by this white power structure still exists. And you just mentioned Darren Wilson being found not guilty. I mean, that’s just a prime example [crosstalk]
BALL: Well, he wasn’t found not guilty, ’cause he didn’t even get to trial. They didn’t–they decided not to indict him. I just want to make that point clear. Right. Right. Right.
CHAPMAN: Yeah, thanks, thanks for that. So, I mean, it’s clear that we still have a lot of work to do in terms of racial relations. And I think it’s a power dynamic. You know, power concedes nothing without demand, and you can’t demand anything with your hands out.
And I agree in terms of President Obama. I mean, he just serves a position. It’s–we can’t compare him to a Marcus Garvey, who was, like, a nation-builder, you know, or those organizers in South Africa, say, a Robert Sobukwe, who actually built political parties. But he’s going into a political system and he’s just a figurehead. So I think we’ve asked–we’re asking a little bit too much out of this particular president.
But, in any case, I think the parallels between South Africa and the United States, in terms of race relations, in terms of how we see ourselves as a community, we have some victories, but for the most part we still have a long way to go in terms of our employment rates, our responses with this police brutality, also our own hangups with black-on-black crime.
So, going back to black consciousness and the black liberation struggle, it was always about ideology, it was always about a psychological awakening like I mentioned earlier, black man, you’re on your own kind of stuff, as Biko said. And once we get that idea that we have to go it alone, pretty much, we can expect a white supremacist power structure to be sympathetic to the needs and wants of the African masses. And that’s my spin on it, that’s my take on it. Of course, I can be wrong.
BALL: So let’s, in this last few minutes that we have, go back to where we sort of began with your work and this look at hip-hop’s relationship to political struggle or hip-hop activism, as some continue to call it. Here in the United States there is this tremendous commercial imposition on the art form that prevents many of the more politically minded or overtly radical artists from being heard. But we have seen hip-hop somewhat respond positively in a good way to what’s been happening in Ferguson, what’s happened with Eric Garner in New York, and other instances of police brutality, whether it’s J. Cole’s song, or Talib Kwale going out there, or the consistent sort of political messages of Wise Intelligent and Rebel Diaz, among others.
What do you two–what could you both tell us about particularly hip-hop in South Africa today and its relationship to the ongoing political struggle there, and maybe its own response to what’s been happening to the African Diaspora outside of the continent? And, Professor Chapman, let’s start with you and get your final thoughts on this topic.
CHAPMAN: Well, to be honest, a lot of the hip-hop heads on this side don’t follow South African hip-hop as I think we should. But there are pockets of quote-unquote–and I hate to use the word conscious rappers, because there is that box again that Shaheen mentioned.
But I think what our article does, what our book chapter does: it begins to shed a light on–on the global hip-hop arena and how we do have a global fight, and hip-hop has a responsibility to make known some of our struggles. And I think here in the United States there is beginning to be a slight shift in the content of hip-hop, from my perspective, even though we still have the mainstream hip-hop that’s taking precedent in the media.
But on the underground level, I think there has been a strong shift towards more content relevant, more struggle related, more liberation movement themed music. And I was listening to–who was–oh, “Evil Knievil”. Banner did his latest single, “Evel Knievil”, where he addresses some of these issues. I think T.I. did a song about Trayvon and Mike Brown just recently.
So I think there’s a shift. And a lot of these rappers who were mainstream are getting older now. So some of the content is not relevant for their lives. So that may be part of it as well.
But I think there is a shift in the music, and if we follow South Africa and build this network, I think we can have a global understanding of what’s going on with our people worldwide.
BALL: Well, that’s certainly what’s up. And even Kendrick Lamar has said recently he wants to step up his game and be more like Marvin Gaye in terms of his relationship to the community and the broader world, we can only hope, one can only hope, ’cause I surely don’t want Marvin Gaye to–you know, his name only be brought up today, in content, in relationship to the cultural appropriation of Robin Thicke.
But, Shaheen, give us your concluding thoughts on this. What could you tell us?
ARIEFDIEN: A few things. I think that there’s this interesting thing about [how your public’s conceived of. (?)] I think there are so many different schools of thought. And the U.S.’s impact in terms of the industry, in terms of a whole bunch of other things, can also be felt in South Africa. So there are emcees who are concerned about being popular only, who don’t believe they want to be identified as being political or whatever else. And there are folks who want to get involved on the ground, etc., etc.
The way I see it is hip-hop is made by human beings. Human beings are complex. And hip-hop isn’t this kind of magical sphere and tool that possesses any inherent quality for revolution. It’s aggressive. It has a resistive vibe to it. But it’s not necessarily progressive, it’s not necessarily down for revolution, although these words get used and thrown around in songs all the time. I think it’s the human beings that hold on to it, and it depends on what we do with it.
So, for argument’s sake, I love this quote where it says class consciousness is knowing which side of the fence you’re on. Class analysis is knowing who’s there with you. You know? And you could probably say class struggle is knowing what the tools are that’s going to be effective that you’re going to use. You know what I mean?
And so, to just [spit (?)] about oppression and all of those kinds of things, I don’t necessarily see that as being the be-all and end-all of struggle, because the state uses those things.
I went to a protest last night, you know, and you had cops there, and people probably had to get a permit to protest, and they were given a time period, by what time they needed to disperse, and whatever.
And so, very often what we say can become like a valve, an outlet system to let it out of your system so you can go back to the same old the next day. So, for me, those words need to be accompanied by actions, and those actions and words need to be accountable to a movement, and a movement that is anti-imperialist, that is extremely critical of capitalism, that will not reproduce the kinds of hierarchies and oppressions that we often find happens, you know, where LGBT brothers and sisters and family and other marginalized groups can have a safer space and feel at home in our movements as well.
And so I think that healing has a huge place in our movements and in our music and the kinds of identities that we’re constructing as well. There’s this need to just rush out and do things without doing any kind of introspective work as well, and how we are reproducing this system, and how we are complicit in the day-to-day running of that system, that it’s easier to just go, yeah, the man, and yeah, this white supremacy, and whatever. We support those companies, we support those channels, we buy–it’s Black Friday in a few days’ time. Black money is going to go out of people’s pockets. You know what I mean? So I think it requires a lot of other kind of work. And just spitting about things are not enough.
CHAPMAN: Well, look here, no better last words than those. Unfortunately, that will have to do it for this edition of i Mix What i Like here at The Real News Network.
Dr. Rico Chapman, Shaheen Ariefdien, thank you both very much for joining me on this segment.
CHAPMAN: Thanks, Jared. It’s been great.
ARIEFDIEN: Thanks a lot, Jared.
BALL: And thank you for joining us here at i Mix What i Like on The Real News Network. And as Fred Hampton used to say to you, we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody.
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