Tuesday, 22 March 2011

"According to The Jetsons there's no Blacks in the future..."

So apparently blogs are meant to be topical and not just the out-pourings of a confused mind. That might present a problem to me, but here goes...

The recent mini-controversey over the ITV series 'Midsomer Murders' has prompted lots of people to come out with their well rehearsed positions on 'these things'. As yet, I've not heard anyone use the term 'White on White violence' to describe the show, but then this phenomenon also goes unnoticed in the real world. The simple point I'll make about it, is that you can get away with racial exclusion for 14 years without any problem here in the UK. But the moment you talk about it, you're in trouble. It's little wonder some White folks think talking about race is itself the problem. And, some of those White folks will inevitably be teachers.

As a teen in the eighties, Apartheid was still in effect and Mandela was still in prison. There had been uprisings in a number of British towns over police treatment of Black people. There was nothing unusual in Black and Asian people being abused on the streets, or the terraces at football matches and some of my schoolmates spent their time writing NF wherever they could.  Yet, one poetry lesson aside, there was no talk about race, racism or any related matter at my school. (We did watch a couple of horrific videos of the treatment of Jews inside Nazi concentration camps, but I don't recall any discussion about them.) I was being taught at school that it was not appropriate to talk about racism. Meanwhile,  Hip-Hop was talking about race, and I was beginning to join in the discussion.

The 'Midsomer Murders' discussion was framed by some people as being about how many people of colour live in the countryside, as if finding an all-white English village was proof that nothing untoward had happened. But people of colour are often written out of places (Remember Notting Hill!) or times. And not only the past...

"According to The Jetsons there's no Blacks in the future..."

This Masta Ace line from "Wake Me When I'm Dead", has long been one of those 'notable quotables' I'd throw out in any discussion of hot lines in rap. Ace is a hugely underrated MC ( the absence of his lyrics from the recent Anthology of Rap  illustrates just how slept-on he remains in some quarters), who I will write about in greater detail in the not-too-distant future. For now though I want to focus on this one line.

"According to The Jetsons there's no Blacks in the future..."

It's simple observation that hints at a deeper issue, not unlike "A rat done bit my sister Nell with Whitey on the moon"by Gil Scott-Heron, who Ace sampled on his debut album. Whereas Gil's anger is at US public spending, Ace has his sights on race and representation. Fertile ground for educators.

"According to The Jetsons there's no Blacks in the future..."

It has a structure that can be used again and again:
According to Midsomer Murders there's no Blacks in the country.
According to True-May only Whites can be English.

And it can be used in the classroom as part of a Literature or Media Studies project;
According to JK Rowling only White men are Wizards
According to the adverts only women do the laundry

So finally to today's task - Yep even Hip-Hop teachers set tasks sometimes. Why not create your own "According to... " and send it in? (Yeh, yeh that was a desperate bid for a comment on my blog). Or, if you're teaching, why not try using it in class? I think it's the discussion that follows - "Is that what they're implying? Why? Is this important?"- that opens up space for learning to happen.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Hip Hop Teacher?!

Ok, don't get it twisted.

The title of this blog is not some grandiose claim that I am  about to school you in the ways of Hip Hop. Nor is it a claim that I am 'The T'cha' within the culture of Hip-Hop - the title will always go to KRS-1 in my book.

Rather, this is a space for me to try and work out if there is any mileage in trying to understand my role as a primary school teacher in the UK through the prism of Hip-Hop. Why Hip-Hop? Who says it's a prism? Er, I don't know the answer to the second question, but I'll say a little about why I think Hip-Hop is important to me and what I do.

The way most people tell it, Hip-Hop and I both entered the world around the same time, albeit on opposite sides of the Atlantic.  Apart from the well-documented early tunes that reached the charts, I first heard Hip-Hop through the Streetsounds 'Electro' Series (shout out to Morgan Khan). Kids were starting to bring out the lino or use the school gym to break, and I admit to joining in without much success. I remember vividly at age eleven walking past a group of breakers, having finished my football training, and thinking 'they're practising just as hard as we were just now, but they don't have any adults organising them and showing them what to do.'

But it was the words in Hip-Hop that held the most fascination for me. I loved the idea of writing little stories that I could perform (usually to an imagined audience, but later to real people). Shortly after my purchasing my first album, 'Raising Hell' by Run DMC, I had two poems published in the local newspaper. Actually they were raps, but at fourteen I'd clocked that it might not be a smart move to admit that, if I wanted to have them published. So I tried to do Hip-Hop without confessing that I was doing Hip-Hop. It's only recently I've realised that this approach has been present regularly in my life, especially in teaching.

When I try to make sense of my identity as an educator, Hip-Hop seems to be there saying "Come on! You know I've been with you since back in the day. When are you gonna give me my props?"

Maybe it's time to come clean...