Black Americans have never been a monolith, politically or culturally. Since the days of slavery, black Americans of various socio-economic levels, religions, and political persuasions have existed in communities across this nation. During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, blacks constructed a united front to combat and defeat U.S. apartheid. It would be a mistake, however, to construe this political pragmatism as evidence that there was a general political consensus among blacks. Proponents of integration/assimilation and supporters of "Black Power" were at loggerheads, advocating competing visions of liberty in a post-Jim Crow society.
The hip-hop generation, or more specifically, those black Americans born between 1965 and 1984, is a unique group insofar as they are the first to be raised in an ostensibly integrated society. This group is physically and psychically removed from the monumental issue of legal segregation. Moreover, unlike their elders, the hip-hop generation is simultaneously contending with critical issues such as AIDS/HIV, police brutality, criminal-justice inequities, and their own economic viability. In the absence of one focal concern to galvanize around, the hip-hop generation publicly displays its multiplicity of ideas, personas, and political beliefs. Hip-hop culture and its most commercialized element, rap music, have become vehicles to freely display the "good, the bad, and the ugly" of young black America.
New Political Realities
Today, the real or imagined battles between the civil rights generation and the hip-hop generation have a great deal to do with the former clinging to policies and programs that highlight their best days instead of promoting a new political agenda for black Americans. In a Village Voice article discussing the absent voice of so-called black leadership on post-9/11 civil rights issues, writer Thulani Davis states, "the black public is still unaware of any leaders, organizations, or coalitions proposing an African American agenda for the 21st century....We are still stuck in a cycle of reaction that is often all about sound bites and seldom about jobs, education, shelter, and constitutional rights."
Similarly, in some circles it has become a popular mantra to attribute the electoral losses of civil-rights era politicians to "our side" forces, rather than to their records. In reality, many of these politicians have remained in office for decades virtually unchallenged, having ridden the wave of being the first black elected official in heavily black communities. While many older black voters rewarded these politicians for their early tenacity and activism, many younger blacks, knowing only about what is currently occurring (or not) in their communities, feel no such loyalty.
In Alabama, five-term incumbent, Earl Hilliard, was defeated 56 percent to 44 percent by a 34-year-old lawyer, Artur Davis, in the June 2002 Democratic primary. Hilliard was the first black man elected to Congress from Alabama since Reconstruction. In his essay, "The Maturation of the Black Vote," Alabama doctor Audra Robinson states, "This race should have been about the deplorable conditions of the counties that make up the district. This race should have been about espousing new ideas to improve the overall status of the blacks who make up the majority of this district. Instead, it became a referendum, pitting the Civil Right's Era against the Gen-X/Hip-Hop Era." Robinson continues by saying, "Amazingly, [Hilliard] continues to blame his loss on the "outside influence" on the race. Never mind the fact that his district has languished in squalor during his entire Congressional tenure."
Hip Hop Culture Left Adrift
Much of the Black Nationalist rhetoric of rap music takes its cues from the Black Power Movement. However, unlike the Black Arts Movement, which was the cultural arm of the Black Power Movement, hip-hop …