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SCU Professor Dr. Washington visits UI to talk about race and hip-hop

BY CORY PORTER | NOVEMBER 06, 2014 5:00 AM

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The death of Michael Brown and the ensuing demonstrations and police reaction in Ferguson, Missouri, have raised many tough questions of race and race relations in America, with no easy answers. On Wednesday, one expert came to the University of Iowa campus with the courage to attempt a dialogue.

Ahmad Washington, an assistant professor at South Carolina State University, visited the UI to give a lecture at the Lindquist Center titled “Fight the powers that be … A critical discussion of the criminalization of Black masculinity with Black males through socially conscious rap music.”

Hubbard Group Chairman and UI Associate Professor Malik Henfield said the group was created as a way to retain undergraduate African-American students on the campus by providing various programming designed to promote a dialogue and an understanding among these students.

One of the staples of the group is the monthly black male forum, in which black male students, faculty, and staff will come together to facilitate a discussion about issues that are both pertinent to their lives and to the community at large, Henfield said.

The response has been great, Henfield said, as the group has, “been able to gather young men in such a way that this campus hasn’t seen on a consistent basis.”

Another function of the group is to invite speakers, such as Washington, to speak about larger issues affecting the African-American community.

Henfield wanted a speaker like Washington to come because of the relevancy of his lectures.

“Many [students], if you were to ask their interests … would identify as belonging to hip-hop culture and having it shape a lot of their thoughts and perceptions about the world,” he said.

Part of Washington’s work is to place it in the context of American culture and decipher its importance in order to teach and motivate students, which Henfield said he doesn’t see often.

“I thought that it [was] missing here on this campus, and he could help fill that void, even if for one week,” Henfield said.

A lot of his work, and much of what his speech focused on, involved moving away from the typical definitions and idea of race.

He said he wanted his students, and the members of the audience, to not, “reproduce and recycle these very old narratives about who students of color are, in particular African-American male students, so I want them to be cognizant of these historical events that shape and frame the life experiences of 21st-century African American students.”

He showed images and video clips of rappers who bucked common stereotypes of what hip-hop was and could be, including a video of KRS-One’s “My Philosophy=” in which the rapper says, “It’s not about a salary, it’s all about reality.”

UI freshman Jordan Burgett said he attended the lecture because, as an African American, he wanted to see different images of their culture and their music presented.

“I love hip-hop, and I feel that hip-hop can empower or enslave blacks depending on the way the subculture changes and evolves,” he said.


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