Solillaquists of Sound/ representations of African Americans in the Media

I’ve been following this group, Solillaquists of Sound for a while now. They have 3 cds out, but my favorite is their second one, “As If We Existed,” released in 2006. They have an amazing mix of unique beats, good flow, and incredible female vocals. They could be classified as politically conscious hip-hop, making statements about civil rights, alcohol abuse, and different choices people make about their lives. They’re sick…here’s my favorite song on the cd, check it out:

Tracklist:
1. Pledge of Resonance
2. Property & Malt Liquor
3. As If We Existed
4. Mark It Place
5. Ask Me If I Care
6. Black Guy Peace
7. Choices
8. Berlin
9. Beautiful Catastrophe
10. Ur Turn
11. All Too Common
12. Our 2 Cents

Download it here:
http://rapidshare.com/files/121343447/So.Illaquists_-_As_If_We_Existed.rar

Unrelated, I (Rebecca) have been thinking a lot about mainstream America’s portrayal of African Americans throughout history and want to rant about it/ hear everyone’s opinion on the subject. I took two classes this semester that really made me analyze critically how blacks in America are represented – a theater class about gender, ethnicity, and culture in American dance, and a decal on Tupac.
In the theater class, I learned a lot about minstrelsy in 19th century America that I was not aware of. Particularly, learning about the reasons for creating and perpetuating black face and the stereotypes surrounding it was interesting and very relevant to today. Southern white landholders supported minstrelsy because it justified/backed up slavery. The stereotype of the happy, silly “sambo” slave made slaves look like they enjoyed being owned and working for their masters, and the freed “zipcoon” made freed African Americans look greedy, foolish, and not smart enough to survive in the business world of the North, or in other words, be free in the first place. Thus, whites started perpetuating these stereotypes to counteract the emancipation movement. They found them funny and after time, truthful. Thus when African Americans started performing in minstrelsy and vaudeville they had to perpetuate these stereotypes of their own race in order to get business. They had to put on blackface themselves and pretend to be foolish and dumb or violent and greedy, or any of the other stereotypes, so that white audiences would watch them. This minstrel legacy, in my opinion has had an extremely negative effect on the representation of African Americans throughout the rest of America’s history..
I found connections to hip-hop in the Tupac decal I took. I already knew most of the information that was taught, but it resonated deeply with what I was learning in the theater class. While much of gangsta rap is extremely violent and misogynistic, early gangsta rap like N.W.A. had a deep, justified, political undertone. While “Fuck tha Police” is violent, they were not arguing for violence for the sake of violence like much of gangsta rap is today, but arguing against discrimination and racial profiling. But when gangsta rap was appropriated into white mainstream culture, especially when huge corporations got involved, this political undertone was removed, and a stereotype much like minstrelsy’s “zip-coon” was perpetuated. Any rapper who wants to get radio-play nowadays has to compromise their message and fit into a pre-made gangsta sterotype who is violent, greedy, and like the zipcoon, unfit for the business world. But white mainstream America buys into it because they are both intrigued and frightened by it. Mainstream America has a view of African Americans that is extremely racist and stereotypical, however much we claim that we are living in a world that is a lot less racist than it used to be.
While I have been formulating these ideas for many months now, they came to a head last night when I was watching the movie Rush Hour at my friends birthday party last night. This is a great movie, don’t get me wrong (Jackie Chan is the shit), but I noticed that virtually the only black man in the movie, the black cop Carter, played by Chris Tucker, was stereotyped much like the “Sambo” stereotype perpetuated by minstrelsy. He is portrayed as foolish and dumb most of the way through the movie, and saves the day mostly through his good intentions and a lot of good luck…
I was surprised, seeing the movie in this new light, with how the script and directing made him look so dumb…walking into the Chinese restaurant and actually asking for the bad guy instead of figuring out a way to sneak up on him…I mean come on. I know it’s supposed to be funny, but I think its disgusting how it’s accepted to perpetuate these age-old stereotypes…
I really want to know if anyone else has noticed this..it seems so obvious to me after thinking about it for a while…what does everyone else think? Sorry this turned into a really long post but it’s really been bugging me.

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8 responses to “Solillaquists of Sound/ representations of African Americans in the Media”

  1. gabbyzuko says :

    quality post, Becca.

    I think you make a good point on the subject of “Sambo” vs the “Zipcoon” and how they’re still perpetuated today. Indeed, the “ignorant black” stereotype is still portrayed throughout the media without signs of slowing down. My gf put me on to “30 Rock” the other day and I was disheartened to see Tracy Morgan filling the role of typical Uncle Tom. Read his wikipedia character description and you’ll quickly understand:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracy_Jordan

    Even when shows are put in the hands of black hands, they often turn out awry. Look at Damon Wayans’s “My Wife and Kids.” It started out great in the first season but soon after, the children transform into complete idiots. First, they replace the original daughter, “Claire,” with an older, lighter-skinned “Claire” and then son, “Michael” ends up a young baby-daddy.

    WTF

    On the subject of Chris Tucker’s role in Rush Hour, it was the duty of the media to portray him as a lucky idiot. Mainstream America has a hard time comprehending the intellectual Black Man. They’d much rather see such a character “shake and jive” than possess any sort of depth. This dynamic is especially bad when Tucker is played opposite Jackie Chan. Although equally based on stereotypes (“Model Minority” vs “Undeserving Underclass”), it is as easy for America to believe in a loyal, intellectual Asian detective than an equally able African American cop.

    It reminds me of the Mos Def line, “The white boy’s doing it well, it’s Success/When I start doing it well, it’s Suspect/”

    Again, I think you brought up a really good point. Thanks for the contribution. Keep doing your thing, girl.

    Long live Cosby. Bring back Arsenial.

  2. dancergrlbecca says :

    You make some really good points Gabe.
    I’m so angry about this. While the majority of America would claim they are not racist they still consume these stereotypes in movies, music, and TV. Not to seem stuck up or anything (ok this sounds really stuck up) but the majority of America strikes me as so ignorant!
    That Tracy Morgan thing is terrible!! What is really sad is that often I feel like most of the people who end up filling these stereotypes don’t start out that way, and because of their media portrayal/pressure from agents/producers/etc, end up actually becoming the stereotype they portray. Take Tupac for example. He started out trying to help the youth of the ghettos with his “Underground Railroad” program, read tons of intellectual books, had the New African Panthers….etc,
    and ended up..well you know. It seems like he was forced into his role by Suge, who took the thug + politics persona of his music and turned him into a straight up gangsta. It seems like most of the East-West Coast beef was Suge-Puffy beef. Most people don’t know how smart Tupac actually was, or that he was planning to start his own record label before he was killed.
    It’s such a tough dilemma for African Americans because if any artist wants to share his views with the world he can’t….he (or she) either has to CHANGE his persona (on screen and often off..) or settle for popularizing his views within a smaller underground arena. This has made me really sad for years, but it wasn’t until I was learning about minstrelsy at the same time that it started FUCKING PISSING ME OFF. like serrrrrriously America….w.t.f…

  3. owen says :

    yea you guys are completely right about the ignorance, its been happening forever.has alot to do with the money/power hungery. truth is unseen by most people. I love SoS they know whats up… Im glad your getting mad. i think for things to really change each own has to realize these evils. then people will be on your level and be pissed aswell. MLK knew what was up… the earth has potential to be holy

  4. Chris says :

    I noticed that this article is years old, but also the recent reply above. I just wanted to point out that I completely agree with everything said here, and also point out that it’s not just African Americans that have to deal with these issues. Don’t single yourselves out and place this stigma on you alone. By doing that, you’re putting a stereotype on yourself. Stereotyping isn’t something that white people do on their own. Every race in the world is bound by stereotyping everything around them in one form or another. Getting mad won’t help.

    Slavery has been a part of every society since the beginning of societal based human interaction. Since the beginning of man. Please don’t single yourselves out. Research the thousands of different cases of slavery that go back thousands of years and educate yourselves on that, just to give yourself some perspective on the whys and hows. Why did people do this? How could people do this?

    If you research back to before black slavery in North America, you’ll see that black men owned black slaves in Africa. Black men own black slaves in Africa today. It’s not something that can be fixed by getting mad, or getting even. Humanity will always cycle through this horrific type of culture and the only thing that any one person, or any one movement can do is rise above it and educate themselves on why certain types of people come into power, and why that power is so corrupt.

    I’ve never agreed with that type of corrupt power and I never will. I see it everywhere today and it’s sickening. I’m a white man, but I can promise you, I’m not that kind of white man. And not every white man is.

    Peace.

  5. Chris says :

    Btw, I love SoS. I saw them live in my home town and the crowd was so amped by the energy and the flow of the words with the beats and synth stringing everything together in perfect harmony. I remember Alexandrah asking that no one smoke while they performed, and everyone was so accommodating. It was in Louisiana at a small poetry reading bar called The Spanish Moon. The crowd was small, but let me tell you something, it was all white people. And everyone was amped up and enjoying every vocal and beat laid down, and I know that race wasn’t an issue for anyone. We were all having a great time. Why can’t it always be like that?

    The more anyone focuses on race and the negativity of it, the more it’s going to stay in the forefront. Race shouldn’t be an ISSUE, should it? It should be something to be proud of, but not something to propagate negatively or cause separatism. Sure, those things will happen, and people will be that way, but it doesn’t mean I have to be. People are people. We all have our own minds and hearts and individuality, and those are the things about people that we should notice.

    As soon as you focus on stereotypical things, you’ll find yourself falling into the stereotyping type of person by pointing out the stereotypical things that people do. If you read the original post in this article, you’ll notice that in all of the things that the article is pointing out about African Americans being stereotyped, the author is stereotyping whites and Asians in the process. It all works both ways.

    We’re all just people.

  6. Chris says :

    Oh, and instead of pirating SoS’s music. If you truly like what they have to say and how they say it. Buy it. I bought the CD autographed by the group and I never opened it. I purchased it twice just to listen to it. 😀

  7. Rebecca says :

    Yo thanks for reading our blog – original poster here! You made some really interesting comments. First, just wanted to point out that you may be stereotyping yourself….I’m a white Jewish female, of course I know about slavery of other races..! I’m not black, I think it’s interesting you thought so…

    ok but forreal, I wrote this after my freshman year of college. I was immature, going through self discovery, realization about society, etc, and I think I came off as enraged because I’m angry that this stuff is talked about more, that I had to realize these issues as an eighteen year old rather than being taught about them earlier. And I think its very important to talk about them. I think rather than stereotyping white Americans as being racist, the correct way I should have stated this is that American institutions are racist. There is no denying it and the only way to combat this is to talk about it and make people aware because its too large of a problem in our society to get rid of overnight. The comments that you made seem unrealistic to me – race does matter whether we want it to or not. Too many people are disillusioned that racism does not exist in our society today. Mainstream media is fraught with it, and we are conditioned to think what is presented to us in this media….its a huge problem! Yes I agree that focusing on racism too much may perpetuate the problem, and that talking to people of different backgrounds and taking them as just people first is very important! But I think you need a balance of both – thinking about society critically cannot be done without thinking about racial politics.

    And for the record I bought all three sollilaquists of sound cds. love them so much.

  8. Rebecca says :

    oh shiiiiiet and apparently they had an older album that i hadn’t even listened to..so four albums…excuse me while i shut myself in my room and listen to this for dayyys.

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