The refusal by promoter Simon Bays to apologise for, or even acknowledge, the arrogant white privilege masquerading as irony in the ‘Bloods versus Crips’ theme is truly astounding. Bays’ disdainful and unrepentant negation of the offense caused by the proposed club night highlights just how far removed his experiences are from those of individuals tokenised in this theme. Were Bays to reflexively acknowledge his white privilege, he would realise that the realities of life for gang members in south central Los Angeles are not something to be trivialised for his commercial gain. The astounding display of ignorance in Bays’ statement sent to The Student disappointingly reinforces the refusal of the promoter to acknowledge just how iniquitous it is to parody an issue that has claimed the lives of so many underprivileged black men. Arguing that the theme was intended to be tongue-in-cheek or ironic depreciates just how grossly ignorant it was.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to pass distastefulness off as banter. Dismissing flagrant bigotry as good humour serves only to further engrain social injustice by legitimising the most insidious examples of racism as harmless fun. Calling out the obvious racism inherent in this Bloods and Crips theme is not ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’ as Bays has suggested, but rather an important refusal to accept injustice wherever is exists and however ‘meaninglessly’ it presents itself.
As someone usually more at pains to reconcile my love of hip-hop with my feminist impulses, I’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time overthinking Ghostface Killah’s lyrics. The references to gats and gang culture in hip-hop aren’t a matter of irony and appropriation for the people whose lived experiences are echoed by these lyrics. If the organisers of this event knew anything about the history of hip-hop, they would be aware that it wasn’t created to glorify the ‘thug life’; it was, and continues to be, a black subcultural movement which emerged as an artistic outlet for young people to deal with violence and gang culture. Hip-hop was a means to remove young people from the violence endemic in the underprivileged communities from which it emerged, and to allow them to express the hardships of life as members of a minority in America at the time.
The lyrical content of hip-hop was intended to advocate political and social messages about the conditions of ghettos. While it may be hip to appropriate Biggie lyrics, ironically imitating gang culture fails to acknowledge the motivations that drive most young people to join gangs like the Bloods and Crips. Existing in deprived and underprivileged areas, where violence is endemic, gangs draw in vulnerable young people, and offer them a false sense of security. The theme of the club night in question completely ignores the wider context of oppression, deprivation and uncertainty that drives young people to join gangs. Whether the club theme was intended to glorify gang life or to caricature the culture surrounding hip-hop, both seem to miss the point spectacularly.
Gang violence disproportionately affects underprivileged young black men and is not a suitable subject for spoof. Had the promoters chosen to base their theme around any other issue disproportionately affecting deprived African Americans, such as a ‘Police Brutality Party’, the outrage surrounding it would be fittingly widespread. At a time when it is so apparent that African Americans are still not afforded the equality they deserve, and that ‘Black Lives Matter’ too, this club night smacks of white privilege and ignorance. Edinburgh University Student Association’s Black and Minority Ethnic Convenor, Faatima Osman, put it perfectly in her statement on the issue: ‘It is up to the oppressed to decide when a certain action hampers their liberation, it is not to be decided by the hegemonic group’. Quite simply, it is not for a white privileged man like Simon Bays to decide what is or isn’t offensive to a minority group.