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03.06.07 02:52 PM

Panelists Debate Hip-Hop's Effect

I was waiting to post this one until I had a photo of the panel, but no one on the panel, including myself, seems to have a copy. I've also been working hard to contain the excitement I experienced last Tuesday while sitting next to the wondrous mind and person who is Cornel West.

I'm also deeply appreciative of Larry D. Lyons reaching out to me and putting me on this panel with Professor West, Dr. David Malebranche, and performance hip-hop artist Shante Paradigm.

Panelists debate hip-hop's effect

By Lisa Bendele
Princetonian Senior Writer

Hip-hop culture may promote black power and masculinity, but it may also hurt the black community's conceptions of health and sexuality, four panelists said last night.

Speaking in McCosh Hall, the panelists debated whether hip-hop promotes homophobia and misogyny during a discussion titled "Hip-Hop and Homophobia: Exploring Bisexuality, Masculinity and 'the DL.' "

The panelists were religion professor Cornel West GS '80, FastCompany.com senior editor Lynne Johnson, Emory assistant professor of medicine David Malebranche and Shante Paradigm, a singer, songwriter and actress.

Though they agreed that hip-hop has played an important role in shaping black culture, they were divided over whether it promotes homophobia in black communities.

Johnson, who grew up in the Bronx during the early years of hip-hop, described the movement as "a party and a revolution all at the same time." Though still devoted to the hip-hop of the past, she said she dislikes the messages of hate she sees as dominating contemporary hip-hop culture.

"I'm so invested in hip-hop," she said. "I see it as an agent for change. We just haven't gotten there yet."

Johnson has blogged about hip-hop for about five years and said that blogging has shown her the darker side of hip-hop. "I've been called the 'hip-hop feminist blogger,' " she said, "and I've had someone call me 'Lesbo-Johnson' because of the positions I take."

Malebranche said that though he has long loved hip-hop, he has gained new perspective on how the movement has hurt the black community.

"I remember sitting under my covers [as a child] with my radio with me, with the light from the flashlight, while trying to scribble down the lyrics," he said.

As a doctor, Malebranche said he now sees how hip-hop directly affects the health of the black community by promoting unsafe sex and the spread of HIV.

"I'm troubled with what [hip-hop] has turned into," he said. "I treat patients living with HIV. The impact of [hip-hop] is affecting the health of the blacks in this country."

Malebranche described the down-low, or "DL," as a term about secrecy. The "DL" is often used to describe married men cheating on their wives with other men.

The speakers also discussed hip-hop as a means for blacks to respond to white hostility toward them.

"You have this black masculinity that mimics white masculinity," Paradigm said. "[Hip-hop] is another version of white masculinity. You have all this energy toward the white, patriarchal system, and you have everyone trying to grab at all this power. It's a very destructive drive."

West explained that he considers hip-hop a means for blacks to fight back.

"[Blacks] are trying to get beyond white supremacy," he said. "Just like we had with the gospel and the rhythm and blues, we need to have courageous hip-hoppers take this risk."

The event was sponsored by the Black Graduate Caucus, the Black History Month Committee and the LGBT Center.

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