Rap: It's Not About Race?

Natalie Fasnacht’s article “`It’s Not About Race’: Making Whiteness Visible in the Interpretation of Rap Music” is found in the anthology The Quality and Quantity of Contact: African Americans and Whites on College Campuses; one of eighteen different articles that each attempt to provide a more penetrating insight into the complexities surrounding multicultural environments on American college campuses. Like the others writers of the essays in the anthology, Natalie Fasnacht approaches her topic through a qualitative research approach focusing on a small number of white students attending a private college. Through interviews with these students, as well as observation of their behavior, Fasnacht draws some very interesting—and perhaps surprising—conclusions concerning the perceptions not only of how white college kids interpret rap music, but how that perception is refocused through an ideological lens that is almost ironically distanced from the originally ideology of the rap music they enjoy.

The main thrust of the article rests on Natalie Fasnacht’s conclusion that development of any kind of genuine perception of identity and diversity is severely curtailed by these young white students because their ideological mindset has been based on prior environmental factors that even today persist in placing obstacles to a sincere awareness and appreciation of cultural diversity. It is very interesting to note, almost to the point of drawing laughter, that despite the fact that rap music was the focus of interpretation, these white students persisted in downplaying that there are any kind of racial differences inherent between most rap singers and themselves. It is this detached sense of alienation from basic realities that allows these students to justify the idea that racial inequalities have been reduced and diluted in society because rap has been so completely mainstreamed and normalized into everyday discourse.

What may be at the center of Natalie Fasnacht’s conclusion is that rap music, by virtue of its being taken away from its primal position as a coded form of communication between peoples of a certain ethnicity, much as jazz was in its beginning, no longer has the power to serve as a racial divide. The upshot of this transformation is that African-Americans have once again found themselves denied another cultural totem that defines their struggles to the white community. By taking this definition away, the perception among people like the students in Natalie Fasnacht’s research is that there is no need to confront identity based on socio-cultural differences because there are no socio-cultural differences. The great irony of the rise of rap music into the mainstream of America is that a form of communication originally intended to empower the African-American community has, in fact, ultimately diluted that power. The mainstreaming of rap music has lent further credence to the misplaced belief among many whites that class and racial barriers no longer exist in America; that America has finally achieved its mythic dream of being a melting pot where everyone has the same opportunity to become a millionaire, either by becoming a rap star or a corporate executive who exploits rap stars.

The reader of Natalie Fasnacht’s incredibly powerful, yet somewhat saddening, article is left with the distinct impresion that insulated members of society at all levels have naturalized their existence to the point where the very idea of diversity is meaningless because minds remain closed with little chance of ever being opened.