‘Rap and White Gaze’ addresses racism


Desteny MaraghReporter

Assistant philosophy chairperson and professor, Chelsea C. Harry, hosted an event called “Rap and the White Gaze,” where the realm of rap was explored through the eyes of a white listener and connoisseur.

H.A. Nethery, associate professor of philosophy at Florida Southern College, was the guest speaker.

The informal Q&A followed a presentation by Nethery on rap music and critical whiteness studies.

He professed his love for rap and how it has impacted his life.

Nethery said “it is both possible and impossible to appreciate rap music as a white fan.”

“On one hand, it is impossible for me to have the experience that rappers illustrate in their songs and thus it is impossible to fully appreciate the songs without access to those experiences.”

He said rap offers white people a gift that exposes the opaque white-racist self through the inducement of double consciousness within the white listener.

Nethery is not only a professor, but has had countless peer-reviewed presentations and even written books on racism and rap.

His first experience with the genre was in the fourth grade, when he was living in the predominantly white town of Urica, Cali. He was gifted a copy of NWA’s “Straight Out of Compton” record.

That was my first real point of access with Black people,” said Nethery. “As I grew older, I was interested in the paintings of tragic lives that were told through rap.”

Nethery said after listening to the trauma-filled stories that rappers told, he was able to gain racial awareness.

He said he always considered himself a non-racist or ally, but he did not become an anti-racist until much later in his life.

Nethery’s presentation focused on what it means to be a white person and be a fan of rap music and culture.

To engage in rap music, Nethery said, there is a required “direct-self-reflection on my own complicity within the systems of white supremacy.”

Nethery said rap music has origins in oppression and the disgusting and brutal treatment of people of color.

In this sense, “rap music is an expression of lived experiences of being the target of a world structurally dominated by white supremacy,” said Nethery.

A pivotal point in the presentation occurred when Nethery played a clip from a Kendrick Lamar concert. The video shows a young white woman called on stage to recite the lyrics of a popular song called “m.A.A.d city.”

The video was a test to see if the young woman would recite the lyrics without repeating the n-word.

The woman said the n-word, her first attempt before being called out by the artist.

Her defense of using the word was, “I only sang it how you wrote it.”

After defending herself and being booed by the audience, she admitted her wrongs and recited the song again without any mention of the word.

Nethery called this an example of “white appreciation of rap music gone horribly wrong.”

The young woman’s initial response, Nethery said, is a way to decrease her burden of the use of the word and push the blame onto the artist, rather than taking ownership of her mistake.

Overall, Nethery says the color of his skin limits him from having the same experiences as people of color so he can not appreciate hip-hop of that color, only a superficial experience.

Harry said she organized this event because “there have been several exceptional social justice events on campus already, and I wanted to offer students a specifically philosophical approach to BLM and critical theories of race.”

Harry wanted someone who could encourage students to “think about how we can use critical race theories to interrogate them in everyday life and to challenge systemic racism in our culture.”

Photo credit: Desteny Maragh

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