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Rap as Resistance

Rap as Resistance

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Pacific Sociological Association
Popular Culture as Oppositional Culture: Rap as ResistanceAuthor(s): Theresa A. MartinezReviewed work(s):Source:
Sociological Perspectives,
Vol. 40, No. 2 (1997), pp. 265-286Published by:
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Sociologicalerspectives
Copyright?1997 PacificSociologicalAssociationVol.40,No.2,pp.265-286ISSN 0731-1214
POPULARCULTURE ASOPPOSITIONAL CULTURE:Rapas Resistance
THERESAA.MARTINEZ*
University ofUtah
ABSTRACT: Bonnie Mitchell andJoeFeagin(1995)build on thetheoryof oppositionalculture,arguingthatAfricanAmericans,AmericanIndians,andMexican Americans drawontheir own culturalresourcesoresistoppressionunderinternal colonialism. In thispaper,rapmusicisidentifiedasanimportantAfricanAmericanpopularculturalformthatalsoemergesasaformof oppositionalculture. Abriefanalysis ofthelyricsof politicalandgangsta rappersofthe late 1980s andearly1990s,provideskeythemesofdistrust,anger,resistance,andcritique ofaperceivedracistanddiscriminatory society.Rapmusic isdiscussed as music with amessageofresistance,empowerment,ndsocialcritique,andasaheraldoftheLosAngelesriotsof1992.
INTRODUCTIONThe Wattsriots of 1965alongwithmajorriots thatbrokeoutinCleveland,Newark,and Detroitshockedthenation and theworldintheirdevastationandtheirintensity(Baskinet al.1971,1972).T.M.Tomlinson(1970)interviewedBlacks in thelate 1960sinthe aftermath of theLosAngelesriots of 1965 andfoundthattheseinnercityresidents wereangrywiththeirlivingconditions somuchsothatriotingseemed anecessarymeans to call attentiontotheirplight.1 Recently,the Americanpublicreeled from theaftershocks ofyetanother series ofriotsinLosAngelesand othermajorcities across the nation inMayof 1992. Thissecondwaveofriotsseemed anunnervingrerun of theearlierviolenceinWatts,set tothe tune of 90'scomplexity(Sears 1993).Thepresentworkcomesin theaftermathof thesecondwaveofriotinginMayof1992,focusingon acontroversialpopularculturalformintheAfricanAmericancommunity:rap.Bonnie Mitchell andJoeFeagin(1995)arguethatnonEuropeangroups,such asAfricanAmericans,AmericanIndians,andMexicanAmericans,draw on their
*Direct allcorrespondenceto: Theresa A.Martinez,DepartmentofSociology, UniversityofUtah,Salt LakeCity,UT84112.
 
SOCIOLOGICALPERSPECTIVES Volume40,Number2,1997
own cultures toresistoppressionunderdominantideologiesand,inturn,influ-encethe dominant culture. Theirfamilies,theirspirituality,theirmusic,amongother cherishedaspectsofculture,becomeviable formsofoppositionalculture(Stuckey1987;Scott1990).Thispaper suggeststhatpoliticalandgangsta rapmusic artists ofthe late1980sandearly1990swereutilizinga bold form ofoppo-sitional cultureinprotestand condemnationofperceivedracialformation,insti-tutionaldiscrimination,and urbandecayin the inner cities. Themessageofresistance and socialcritiquewithin thevoicesof theserappers,infact,mayhavebeenan effective herald oftheLosAngelesriotsof1992.Insteadofseekingthecause of theriotingamongthe rioters(Sears 1993),politicalandgangsta rappersurgedthat Americafocus on innercity poverty,institutionaldiscrimination,andgovernmentalneglect2foroppositionalculturedoes notemergein a vacuum orwithout cause.OPPOSITIONALCULTURE:A RESPONSETO INSTITUTIONALDISCRIMI-NATION,RACIALFORMATION,ANDURBANDECAYOurnation'shistoryisalengthyandbloody storyofEuropeaninvasionandthesystematicdominationandsubjugationofnonEuropeanpeoples.The creationofwhiteEuropeanprivilegewasbroughtaboutbymeansofinvasionof theAmeri-casand thetakingofsocial,economic,andpoliticalpowerbyforceofmoreadvancedtechnologyandfirepower(Blauner1972).Michael Hechter(1975,1978)arguesthatonceprivilegewaswrestedbyforced,it becameinstitutionalized:"Thesuper-ordinategroup,nowensconcedas thecore,seekstostabilizeandmonopolizeitsadvantages throughpolicies aimingat the institutionalizationandperpetuationoftheexistingstratificationsystem"(Hechter1975:39).This stabili-zationofstratificationisinstitutionaldiscrimination-discriminationbuilt intotheexistingstructureof societalinstitutionssuch asschools,churches, banks,andhospitals.StokelyCarmichaelandCharlesHamilton(1967)stressthe institutionalracismimpliedtheeconomic, social,andpoliticaldominationof African Ameri-cansin theUnited States.Asdiscriminationcanpervadesocietalinstitutionswithorwithout theinten-tion ofindividuals,soalso isgovernmentcentralto thecreation,legitimation,andmaintenance of subordinationofnonEuropeangroups.Michael OmiandHowardWinant(1986)take thispointfurtherwiththeirtheoryofracialformation.OmiandWinant assertthattheUnited StatesConstitutioncountingAfrican slavesasthree-fifthsofaperson,the internmentofJapaneseAmericansduringWorld WarII,theexplicitdeclaration ofnaturalizationlaws that theonlywhiteimmigrantscouldqualify,and thedenial ofsuffragetowomen,are all historicalexamplesofgovernment'sroleininstitutionalizingdiscrimination.WilliamJuliusWilson(1987)suggeststhat historicandcontemporarydiscrimi-nation,suchas racial formationand institutionaldiscrimination,area decisivefactorin thecreationofan underclassintheurbaninnercity.Wilson describesmajorstructuralchangesinAmerica'smajorcities suchas thetransformationfromamanufacturing-basedto a service-basedeconomy,movementofmanufac-turingindustriesoutof centralcities,andtechnologicalinnovations,amongother
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