Student Life

Black Fists in the Hour of Chaos

-Ngozi Harrison-

Black Fists in the Hour of Chaos

Dr. James Peterson on Hip Hop and Black Lives Matter

On October 11th, Menlo College hosted a talk by Dr. James Peterson of Lehigh University on Black Lives Matter and its impact on our generation. Dr. Peterson’s talk was particularly focused on the relationship between Hip Hop culture and Black Lives Matter. He argued that since its inception in the 1980’s, Hip Hop has provided a voice for Black youth to discuss injustices such as police brutality, racial profiling, and structural inequalities. The title of his talk hearkens back to a song that was released in 1989 by the Hip Hop group Public Enemy entitled “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.” This song addressed the injustices Black Americans face and the historical reasons for inequality. Dr. Peterson argued that this is evidence that Hip Hop’s discourse on police brutality preceded and inspired the Black Lives Matter hashtag and movement.

Black Lives Matter, as a hashtag, began in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial, and subsequent acquittal, for the murder of Trayvon Martin and has come to be an extremely influential part of society. The use of the hashtag and the movement has been powerful because it has transformed a lot of the angst and righteous anger among young people into action.

According to Dr Peterson, Hip Hop has been an integral part of this development by providing a common language and a source of inspiration and hope. However, the relationship between Hip Hop and Black Lives Matter goes both ways. Black Lives Matter has resulted in a tremendous impact on Hip Hop today by influencing the way that police brutality and injustice is discussed in music. This is similar to the effect the Black Power Movement had on music in the 1960’s. He referenced a song titled, “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar asserting that it shows the influence of Black Lives Matter and serves as the unofficial anthem of the movement. Dr. Peterson also addressed the use of graphic videos to bring awareness to police brutality. In his view, the videos are a double-edged sword. On one hand, the videos provide shock value and bring attention to injustices. However, the continued display of Black men and women dying is becoming normalized. Dr. Peterson fears that our generation may become numb to the image of Black bodies dead in the street. He encouraged Menlo’s students to stay aware of the movement and injustices, but also be careful with inundating ourselves with these violent images to protect our mental health.

Many students were intrigued by Dr. Peterson’s talk and asked compelling questions during the Q&A session. One important question a student asked was about the role of college students in the movement and how they could help. Dr. Peterson suggested that college students continue thinking critically about education.  He also recommended that we find ways to connect education to our dreams and goals. Activism begins where we are and in our spheres of influence. We can use our talents and education as weapons to fight injustice. Dr. Peterson acknowledged that many of the individual topics he discussed in his talk and the Q&A session were huge and each worthy of its own lecture. However, he hoped that by beginning the conversation, he could spark a desire in Menlo College’s students to continue to think critically about injustices and the role of the media.