On Tuesday, October 12 Stockton University held its 18th Annual Fannie Lou Hamer Symposium with guest speaker Dr. Bettina Love. The discussion focused on music and social justice in the African-American community.
Dr. Love used the history of hip-hop to show how African-Americans connect themselves to their African roots.
Showing a detailed timeline of hip-hop and African-American music in America from National Geographic in 2007, Dr. Love pointed out that the rhythms and drums used in African-American music originate from West Africa where tribes spoke over the beat to share folklore, discuss politics and events, and teach community traditions.
This is where slave era music, which Dr. Love noted was not a type of genre, developed.
“That art that they gave us is a driving force in this country, particularly this country, for democracy,” Love said. “There is no democracy without Black folks.”
Enslaved people also used their hair, quilts, and food as a means to survive and bring justice. Coded messages also existed in their songs.
“Wade in the Water” is an example of this coding. Those fleeing to freedom would know to go into the water to remove the scent dogs were tracking, and to follow the river’s current rather than swim against it.
“We don’t talk about who they were, their humanity, their beauty, their creativity, and what they used for freedom,” Love continued. “That’s not their language, not their religion, not their land, but what do they do? They use it for freedom.”
Music like Janelle Monae’s 2015 song called “Hell You Talmbout ” in which chanting, drums, and name-calling are used to protest and remember victims of police violence. This is another example of African-Americans still using music for justice and connecting themselves back to their West African roots.
Dr. Love also said that civic duty is innate in the African-American community, and that there are two types of civics.
The first, and most commonly discussed, is voting, volunteering, and knowing the Constitution. These are what Dr. Love called “low-hanging civics.” Anyone can take part in these.
What she called the “real civics” is building something out of nothing, building a community, and finding new ways to love and create in the face of racism, violence, and trauma.
“I argue that to be Black in this country, to be Brown in this country, to be Native American in this country, is a civic project.”
Dr. Love used voting as an example of the African-American community’s constant fight, and civic duty. African-Americans faced intimidation, grandfather clauses, poll taxes, literacy tests, and currently face the removal of absentee ballots and drop-off boxes, the change in voting hours, and so on.
Historically, African-Americans have also protested to earn the rights to an equal education, and the use of fountains, facilities, and diners.
“Think about what Black folks have been fighting for in this country,” Love said. “We have been fighting to be human.”
Dr. Love said we must see the community’s ingenuity, art, and spirit in order to bring real justice. To see the story of pain, and trauma is to see only half the story.
“The other half is how we fight, how we love,” she added. “The other half is our humanity. The other half is how we resisted, and if you don’t know that half then you can’t do the work of justice.”
We must also have what she called a radical dream and imagination. Everything the African-American community has accomplished, she argued, started with a radical dream of freedom and justice.
“What Black people have been able to do in the most hideous conditions is imagine a new world.”
Dr. Love also said we must see our lives as entangled with one another.
“No one on this Zoom created racism,” she said, “but what’re we going to do? You might not have created it, but you benefit from it so what’re we going to do?”
“How are you going to understand that your citizenship, your humanity, is tied to mine?” she continued.
Along with imagination and dreaming, Dr. Love said we must use our creativity and boldness to confront the issues we face and recognize the possibilities within African-American art.
“The work is seeing the possibilities that Black art and Black creativity has created, and then moving towards that in a way which honors Black creativity [and] honors our ancestors.”