(1) Individual Empowerment/Voice
What do all of these criticisms have in common? A widespread passiveness within marginalized communities. “My problem is that I’m peaceful,” Fiasco admits. Combining non-confrontational tendencies with deep societal concerns only results with conflicting inner dialogue. Yet “a rebel in your thoughts ain’t gonna make it halt,” Fiasco says. “I think the silence is worse than all the violence. Fear is such a weak emotion.” A pattern of self-censorship develops after repeatedly backing down to fear and eventually, you become familiarized to the inner conflict. That's why it's so important to connect to a community that asks, “What do you really mean? What do you really think and feel and want and need?”
Travis talks about this safe space in terms of development outcomes; “the best developmental outcomes for youth and their communities come from creating opportunities to engage and act in the settings which youth feel comfortable, a sense of belonging, and empowered to make direct contributions”. It’s true; I silenced my own social concerns for years, despite having similarly minded friends. It was a combination of all of these factors mentioned by Travis; a sense of belonging (made complete with 300 passionate students and faculty in one room), opportunities to engage (workshop group talks on many diversity issues), and opportunities to contribute (keynote speaker and media activist Taz Ahmed offering to let me contribute to her blog) that allowed me to engage in social issues publicly and to begin identifying myself as an activist. Many individuals who care about social issues never get to have this environment or community to nurture their inner activist. Without the space to create a confident voice for social reform, the diversity-conscious begin to live in a bubble of self-imprisonment. “I’m locked inside a cell in me,” Fiasco says, “I know that there’s a jail in you. Consider this your bailing out, so take a breath, inhale a few.”
Voicing your positions on societal issues don’t have to happen all at once and doesn’t have to happen from a platform or podium either. However, accessing personal freedom does involve crossing comfort zones and finding reassurance either in yourself or a community with shared values. When faced with second thoughts on expanding your civic engagement, ask yourself if the goal is one of long-term engagement or short-term escapism. Immerse yourself deeply enough into the qualities of your culture and community that empower and invigorate you, and their inherent inequalities will become intolerable enough to act. “Study all of what life has to offer, learn every day, and learn from everything,” and you will no longer be able to separate that of which you care about from that of which you do (Travis, 2016).
(2) Community Movement
Another prominent theme in these songs, following voice, is the reorganization of community structures and approaches to self and community improvement. Change is inevitable in society but that doesn’t mean growth is universal. When change is left to happen organically, the stronger agents in the community have more say over the direction of the change, while the weaker agents are likely to lose progress. For this reason, you see so many community organizations with “ideas like disruption, disobedience, energy, and tangible results prominent in their strategies, where the underlying sentiment is that the status quo is no longer acceptable and that present conditions must be changed” (Travis, 2016).
Marginalized communities have to work against the organic change that occurs in their society to avoid being further marginalized. This often happens by forming organizations and coalitions on the regional level. A new approach with these groups is to “integrate strategy and tactics from prior generations with a millennial voice and style for today’s unique challenges”, an example of utilizing both the wisdom of elders and the energy of youth, as mentioned earlier (Travis, 2016). Another strategy is to address the separated activists and create solidarity between movement leaders by building a “platform where they can support each other’s work, share victories, reach out for resources, and just create a globally connected group of amazing people doing really good work” (Travis, 2016).
The last theme in these songs is the missing solidarity between communities. Def Jef objects to this division in verse three of “We’re All in the Same Gang”; “One and the same, everyone came in the same chains” and Fiasco furthers this sentiment with “Complain about the gloom but when’d you pick the broom up?” Little progress is made as an individual voice yet activists continue to fight their battles, frustrated, in silos; one in racial discrimination, perhaps, while another fights for transparency in Trump’s new administration and yet another fights against environmental degradation. Combined, every activist is fighting for universal equality and freedom. Yet according to Raphael Travis in The Healing Power of Hip Hop, “While there is tremendous overlap across civic-minded initiatives, there has also been a divergence in the meaning of engagement.” Differences in social causes, activist approaches, and articulated goals serve to separate rather than conglomerate a community of progressive minds who want to free others like themselves. They want to see more of their community take up the “broom” for their cause while they themselves fail to take it up for causes other than their own. “Don’t you know we’ve got to put our heads together?” rapper Michel’le asks. “Make the change ‘cause we’re all in the same gang.”
A “same gang” mentality would create the loudest petition yet, combining the “wisdom of the elders and the young people’s energy” (Travis, 2016), the foundation of racial movements with the pace of the LGBT movement, and the legislative knowledge of policy reformers with the media influence of videographers, journalists, and social platform users. Like hip hop artist Common says, “No one can win the war individually”. We live in an era of split-second communication spanning countries. We seed movements with hashtags and take journalism into our own hands with the internet’s virility. The tools are available and the activist community has never been larger. “It’s time we evolve and get together and solve it” (We’re All in the Same Gang).
Stages of Awareness (Combining the Elements)
These three factors of change—individual empowerment (voice), community movements, and solidarity—are integrated into three stages of awareness. “First is an awareness of the self, which facilitates identity development” (Travis, 2016). This is the place of individual empowerment where one finds their safe space and becomes part of that community.
“In the second stage, alongside community organizing and its related strategies, is social awareness, a precursor to actual solutions for increased equity and justice.” This is the community movements factor, where empowered individuals become an empowered group, strategizing toward one cause.
“The third stage is global awareness and connection to the struggles of other communities”. In other words, the factor of solidarity, where empowered groups unite in recognition of their common goal of freedom and equality.
While global awareness is the ultimate goal, activists and change-makers can begin contributing at any of these stages of awareness. The fight for reform and change needs leaders creating safe spaces for individuals to find their voice as much as it needs people to create communities of the empowered and then uniting the empowered communities. A combination of all of these leaders will create the “inter-generational, self-reflective, and solution-oriented” dynamic needed to reshape communities (Travis, 2016).
[Recorded by L. Fiasco & S. Grey]. (2011). Words I Never Said [MP3]. Alex da Kid.
[Recorded by T., B., D., T., A., I., et al.]. (1990). We're All in the Same Gang [MP3]. Dr. Dre.
Travis, R., Jr. (2016). The healing power of hip hop. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC.