Keepin' It Real

By Chhun, Jonathan | Our Schools, Our Selves, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Keepin' It Real


Chhun, Jonathan, Our Schools, Our Selves


Sexual education with black youth

"I jokingly say that I'm in recovery from hip hop, it's like being in a domestic violence situation, your home is hip hop, and your man beats you up. "

- A black woman <7n the documentary Hip Hop: Beyond beats and rhymesj explains her mixed feelings towards hip hop culture, referencing the mlsogynistlc themes that have largely replaced positive messages of unity amongst black people since the 1990s.

Hip hop is widely popular across the globe, and is a dominant youth culture in North America. It seems hip hop, as it is portrayed in the media today, is the repetition of centuries old stereotypes about gender roles. Patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy are ideologies that seem to lurk beneath this multimillion dollar industry. But still, hip hop culture speaks volumes about the experiences of marginalization and oppression faced by black youth. It has also transcended the boundaries of race, ethnicity, gender, class and age. For these reasons, some scholars have argued that hip hop is a culturally relevant framework to educate and to discuss sexual stereotypes and sexuality with youth.

Some aspects of hip hop have been widely criticized, especially the rigid, gendered stereotypes associated with both women and men. The representation of women as sexual objects and "bitches" and men as "thugs" is damaging to youth's sexualities. There is also a side of hip hop that is known to promote community values and challenge conservative views and politics; it is often referred to as old school hip hop.

It is precisely this controversy surrounding hip hop that makes it an excellent medium to discuss issues such as sexuality, gender roles and STIs.

In the context of my studies in Sexology and my internship at Head & Hands, a Montreal-based non-profit community organization, I have created a series of sexual education workshops for black youth aged 12 to 17 years old. The following are some suggestions of subjects to include in sexual health education with black youth, as well as some myths and their answers.

The use of a hip hop song or video clip can be a great way to break the ice and to grab youth's attention. Some examples of artists that convey thoughtful messages include A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, The Roots, Lauren Hill, Lupe Fiasco, Jean Gray, etc. I have personally used, to great effect, a song called "You Never Know" by rapper Immortal Technique. Even though it contains some stereotypes, negative portrayals of sexuality and offensive language, the artist is keepin' it real by talking about adolescent love, sexuality and HIV/AIDS in a very touching manner. The rawness and emotion of this song instantly created a lively discussion about HIV/AIDS and the meaning of sex. It is important to point out and discuss the values expressed in any song, and use the controversy in them to spark youth's attention. The discussion format is highly encouraged and should focus on:

* Stereotypes: our responsibility to discuss and challenge them. Black youth are plagued by even greater stereotyping. The portrayal of women is often even more sexualized, without many examples of successful women. The black man is seen as a basketball player or a woman/money-hungry thug. There is a link between the strong internalization of stereotypes and the age of first intercourse, as well as an increased number of sexual partners, both factors contributing to the high levels of STIs among youth (see Peterson, 2007; Wingwood, 2003). …

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