My Master of Social Anthropology Dissertation

Discussing my work on Power FM’s #AcademicDigest

I have written. I have read. I have edited and deleted everything and started again. I have cried. I have agonised. I have procrastinated. I have carried this work with me to London, to New York (twice), layovers in Cairo and Dubai – while doing other important work, always staying in to write at least one paragraph – and finally, when it was complete, I presented it in Mumbai. I have crossed into new years with this work. I have become an author in a completely new genre while doing this work. I have taken my time and given so much of myself for it to be here today and I’m just so grateful for the community that loved me and held me through this work.

It has not been loaded onto the Wits University database yet.

Here’s to the end of the chapter titled: “Lebohang studies and completes a Masters degree – can you believe it?” I wasn’t prepared for how long and demanding this journey would be and the creativity I would summon to distract myself from doing it *enter children’s book and a whole new life as a literary figure* and the many steps it takes until it’s officially done done but we are finally here now. (I consider this the official end because the graduation ceremony is optional.) This research has been such a ride. I really got to know myself anew and witness my entire political beliefs do a 180° transformation. I got to sharpen my instincts as a researcher and to trust the guidance of my intuition. It’s also been very hard being on the opposite side of people’s moral stances and being addressed like a delinquent here and there. So it has been immensely affirming to recieve feedback from people who really get it. My convictions may make the work controversial but as long as I remain true to my personal ethic of thinking and writing about black womanhoods in ways that are respectful and dignified, I’ll be okay. When I approached the women with whom I worked in this dissertation, I promised that I would not reproduce the trope that the media loves; the lie that black women are either so hypersexual or so poor that they have to sleep with men for money. I’m not interested in that. I am interested in exploring adult women’s consensual romantic practices with their partners and the logics that inform their desire to only date men of particular financial and social standings, with the context of a neoliberal society. While I do consider the vulnerabilties and violence that these women could encounter, I am more interested in the pleasures and joys of their lives. I do not want to constantly represent black women’s lives as marred by struggle when there is a plurality of experiences and when we are out here living and loving happily, too. Continue reading “My Master of Social Anthropology Dissertation”

The Syllabus: An Introduction to Essential Hip Hop Scholarship

Quiet as it’s kept, Hip Hop has had an immeasurable impact on my personhood. I’ve always been fascinated with the powerful self-affirmations that constitute rapper’s braggadocio bars. From Notorious BIG to The Score era’s Lauryn Hill and Rah Digga, my queen Lil Kim and even Jay Z, growing up while hearing how “I’m the best/ baddest/ hottest/ freshest/ dopest/ illest” on repeat has done some amazing things for my confidence and my insistence that I can make my dream life an everyday possibility. Through Hip Hop, this masterful tradition of weaving words, I continue to build and believe in the best ideas about myself.

As a baby Anthropologist, my life involves the deepest appreciation for knowledge production, particularly the scholars who respectfully theorise Black people’s vernaculars and art into the archive. Through the fruits of their intellectual labour in writing our herstories and stories, it is our collective hope that future generations will not have to endure the racist and existential drama that claims that we “didn’t have texts or science or complex political structures or knowledge”. For women and queer people especially, we hope to counter the lies of erasure that claim that “women made little contribution to Hip Hop” or that “there are no queer people in Hip Hop”.

Over the next few weeks, I will explore what Hip Hop means to me and, of course, I will use my words. To start, I’ve compiled some critical texts in Hip Hop scholarship to highlight women as producers, consumers, scholars, political agents and critical thinkers of the culture. I hope you read and engage with this work as we all open our minds and learn more about how difference has played such an important role in making the culture what it is.

1. Hip Hop Feminism

Read this because it is a discussion of the political sensibility that emerges from a generation that grew up with Hip Hop, an art form that has been simultaneously affirming yet marginalising, especially for women and queer people. Hip Hop Feminism aims to go beyond the gains of feminism’s second wave by doing the additional work of interrogating norms and the intersecting ways that representations and images are constructed in order to empower women to participate, critique, counter, enjoy and claim full ownership of the culture.

Peoples, Whitney A. (2008) “Under construction’: Identifying foundations of hip-hop feminism and exploring bridges between Black second-wave and hip-hop feminisms.” Meridians 8:1, 19-52. Read it here.

2. The Role of South Africa in the Origin of Hip Hop.

Read this because the work and life of South Africa’s Poet Laureate, the late Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile is examined to illuminate the golden, diasporic thread that runs between Hip Hop’s founding, through The Last Poets engagement with Prof. Kgositsile’s poetry as a freedom fighter exiled to the United States. Of course, Prof. Kgositsile was not just a brilliant intellectual and writer, he is also the father of Earl Sweatshirt. I have had the pleasure of reading and listening to Dr Phalafala, who is also his biographer. I love that she has taken it upon herself to document his immense contributions to scholarship and Hip Hop music.
Uhuru Portia Phalafala (2017)Black music and pan-African solidarity in Keorapetse Kgositsile’s poetry“, The Journal of South African and American Studies, 18:4, pp. 307-326. Read it here.

3. The Aesthetics of Black Women’s Sexuality

Read this because one of the most contentious debates is whether the misogyny inherent within Hip Hop is responsible for the hyper-sexualisation of women and the extents to which women’s agency in our own sexualised representations contribute to aspects ranging from the full ownership of our bodies, commercial viability and further marginalisation.

White, Theresa Renee. (2013) “Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott and Nicki Minaj: Fashionistin ’Black Female Sexuality in Hip-Hop Culture—Girl Power or Overpowered?.” Journal of Black Studies 44.6, pp. 607-626.

Read it here.

4. Queering Hip Hop

Read it because in the same way that supposedly straight women have an equal stake in Hip Hop, it is necessary to know that queer people have contributed to this culture too. We know that Hip Hop is dynamic and multidimensional, so it cannot only emerge from black heteromasculinity with straight women as its relational figures. Hip Hop is comprised of many fluid and intersecting sexualities. According to Rinaldo Walcott (2013),

…a case could be made plausibly that hip hop is queer, always has been, and always will be... I would argue that it is precisely in the context of a straightened out hip hop that a queer sociality and definitely a homosociality animates some of hip hop’s most excited moments as the soundtrack of contemporary urban life and beyond.

Walcott, Rinaldo. (2013) “Boyfriends with Clits and Girlfriends with Dicks: Hip Hop’s Queer Future.” Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International, 2:2, vol. 2 pp. 168 – 173. Read it here.

5. Representations of Women in South African Hip Hop Videos

Read this because it is a comparative analysis of how women are represented in a selection of music videos by Hip Hop Pantsula, Slikour and Zuluboy – artists who have been recognised as making music that acknowledges the disparities in society and would therefore be assumed to portray women in a progressive manner.

Nyirenda, Zgagula (2014) “Analysis of gender construction in South African hip-hop music and videos”. MA Thesis. Read it here.

Please note that some of these articles may be difficult to access. Please try to log in to your institution of higher education or consider signing up to the sites to read the work.

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