HARI In-House Blog

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Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther could walk
Martin Luther walked so Barack Obama could run

Barack Obama ran so all the children could fly
So I'ma spread my wings, you can meet me in the sky
(Jay Z)

Hiphop means saying what I want - never bite my tongue
Hiphop means teaching the young
(Dead Prez)


Is the Hiphop nation ambivalent about voting?  Why is the right to vote, something that our ancestors relentlessly fought for at great sacrifice, the one right many artists seem willing to abandon?

In order to understand more about this, we return to our 2010 interview with Cathy Cohen, Professor of Political Science at University of Chicago and author of the book: Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics.  In her interview she asks: “How do Hiphop youth make political sense of an environment in which more black youth than ever before are in college at the same time that more black youth than ever before are in prison?”

Her passionate questioning identifies some of the burning questions.

The boundaries of what counts as politics is always in dispute. What is the political world?  What is the politics of values, morals, and norms exhibited by and presented to Hiphop youth by their peers, by members of black communities, and by the larger society?   What does it look like to attempt to win acceptance into the mainstream white society by adherence to dominant norms?  How do we deal with the targeting of black youth and how does that effect how black youth think about themselves?  Are some black leaders contributing to the continued pathologizing and exclusion of young black people, lessening their political status?  Have such messages been internalized by black youth, promoting a disparaging view of themselves and other young people? 

We can and should ask many questions and point out clear disparities wherever we can.  This doesn’t make us weak.  Knowledge makes us strong. 

But let’s take a lesson from Rapsody.

I never really paid attention to politics or had a want to vote because I simply didn’t think my vote mattered nor did I have much trust in the process or establishment. President Obama changed that for me by giving me hope; hope that the power we possess as a unified people could overshadow the power of wealth by the few. (Rapsody 10/13/2016)

According the Fall 2018 National Youth Poll from the Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard Kennedy School, young Americans ages 18 to 29 are significantly more likely to vote in the upcoming midterm elections compared to 2010 and 2014. Overall, 40% of the polled youth reported they will “definitely vote” in the midterms.

“This is a generation with creative purpose to address the challenges they see,” said IOP Director Mark Gearan. “More than ever, young voters have shown they are ready to stand up and be heard. Our students have asked important questions at a historic moment in American history, and I think their work captures something special ahead of the election. Our candidates and political parties would benefit tremendously from paying close attention to what is now the largest bloc of potential voters in America.”

The narrative is changing and youth, like 11-year-old Jamarcus Hill, are leading the charge. The midterm elections are an opportunity to show up and show out because when they make excuses, hiphop makes it count!  

Ready to vote on Tuesday but not sure how it works? Visit www.vote.org to find your polling place, learn what’s on your ballot, and more. Also, check out this article from the Washington Post to learn more about the 2018 midterm elections.