The Editor’s Corner
Hakim M. Rashid, Ph.D.
Professor of Human Development and Psycho-Educational Studies
The word “Sankofa” to the Akan people of West Africa has been translated as “to reach back and get it.” It has become a kind of mantra for awake Africans in the West to keep a knowledge of history in the forefront of consciousness. I reflected on Sankofa as I read the varied and various manuscripts published in this special issue of African American Learners Journal. We have the benefit of over three decades of Hip-Hop’s presence as a cultural phenomenon in America, and throughout the world. The articles presented in this issue allow us to reach back and get a nuanced perspective on the historical, social and political forces that have shaped Hip-Hop’s presence in today’s world.
At a personal level, my co-editor Gloria Boutte’s discussion of the international reach of Hip-Hop allowed me to “reach back” and reflect on a couple of experiences that brought home its global impact. In 1994, while serving as a Fulbright Scholar in Saudi Arabia, my then six year old son came running into our house and said that one of the little boys he was playing with had called him a nigger. Of course I immediately had him take me outside and show me the little boy. The little Pakistani boy smiled and told me that he had said to my son “you’re my nigger”, and that it was a phrase that he had picked up from a rap music album. I proceeded to give the little nine year old what I hoped was a developmentally appropriate history of the N-word, and asked him to think about that history whenever he heard the word. His eyes got big, and he swore he would never use the word again!
Fast forward to the summer of 2010 when I participated in a Fulbright Summer Seminar in China. The group of American college professors that I was touring China with was on a bus watching a DVD of a Chinese-American rapper from California freestyle in Mandarin Chinese. My American colleagues and I were moving to the beat, while our young Chinese hosts were translating the song’s content. I wondered whether the young brothers and sisters back home had any idea of Hip-Hop’s global footprint, and if they did whether the message change in any way. A few years earlier my son had introduced me to Immortal Technique, Mos Def, and some other artists with positive, politically conscious messages in their music. I had lamented about the demise of consciousness raising Hip-Hop, and he was reassuring me that all was not lost. Although I was generally aware of the cooptation of Hip-Hop that had taken place over the past three decades, it took the Phelps-Moultrie piece in this issue to fill in the gaps in terms of names of perpetrators and specific time frames for the massive cultural theft that took place. This, I believe, is the value of this special issue. It will serve as a comprehensive reference for those who seek to understand both the historical and contemporary presence of Hip-Hop as an agent of socialization. It will further serve as a resource for the training of educators who are sincerely interested in the educative value of Hip-Hop. The authors and editors of this special issue are to be commended for the depth and breadth of their contribution.