Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Eminem is a Wigga?

By: César Veras

In previous posts, people dealt with this week's readings in ways that vilify white people for adopting AAVE language practices.  This might not be the exact idea people have been trying to encapsulate, but arguments are based around negative opinions facing this phenomenon.  Through my post, I try to delve into race relations as constructions of identity and try to elucidate what white teenagers socially achieve by taking on these practices in the first place.  In my opinion, people's language ideologies are always adopted by profound reasons.  The borrowings of AAVE practices by white people are not the exception. 

First of, this phenomenon of language appropriation is not novel.  In fact, "this tradition of symbolic appropriation created some of the most important symbolic wealth of 'American' - that is, white American - culture, from nineteenth-century mineresly to ragtime and jazz, through rhythm and blues rock and toll to the current international fad for hip-hop music (Hill)."  Hip-Hop today is a multi-million dollar industry composed of the wittiest rap lyricists and talented sound engineers.  It is widely known that this cultural manifestation has AAVE language practices as the backbone of its creation.  AAVE is the unmarked language skill under this environment, white, standardize English is not. 

With the rise of Hip-Hop markets taking over American culture, the hip-hop culture is quite accessible.  It's easy to go on the Internet and find hip-hop videos, songs and lyrics; hip-hop artists also set cultural trends.  Also, let's not forget, the latest phrases and sayings are made up by hip-hop artists as well.  Hip-hop has been able to singlehandedly transcend what is perceived as being "cool" in the United States.  With these ideas of coolness, toughness, and latest hip slang being constructed in front of the nation's eyes, when certain identities want to negotiate these processes and embody a sense of coolness at a certain specific moment, language appropriation is the outcome. 

In other words, whites don't adopt AAVE in order to become something "they are not" or because they are not "sticking with what they know".  At the end of the day, these claims are drawn from ideas of how they should speak given their physical appearance and social standing anyway.  On the other hand, "speakers use appropriated words and ways of speaking to make claims on a wide range of desirable qualities: learned, cosmopolitan, regionally grounded, cool, hip, funny, street-smart, tough, masculine, laid-back, rebellious, etc" (Hill, 161).  These claims are enforced by anxieties of not being cool, or hip enough according to their surroundings.  They also may come from feeling like their experiences reflect an African American style of living instead of one more stereotypically situated with white people (life of poverty and high crime neighborhoods compared to middle class living conditions). 

However, what happens when these processes are done with success.  Are they still looked upon as white, or are they now radicalized as black?  When I was reading the articles for this week, I was constantly thinking of the successful rapper Eminem.  Through his career, he has openly spoken about growing up in the tough streets of Detroit.  His environment made him develop proficiency in AAVE and because of modes of survival his language repertoire is filled with witty, fast thought remarks.  Eminem is indeed the stereotypical wigga.  On the other hand, the ideas subscribed with a wigga usually don't apply to him.  Eminem is usually perceived as cool and tough with a crisp stilo.  His success in the rap game is rather astonishing.  Not only is he the white boy with one of the best rap flows in hip-hop, but he has also been able to do this through a series of controversies and national drama.  In the song “Sing for the Moment”, Eminem speaks about what it’s like to grow up white yet feel like your environment does not fit with your identity.  Below I have also attached the lyrics:

"Sing For The Moment"

[Verse 1]
These ideas are nightmares to white parents
Whose worst fear is a child with dyed hair and who likes earrings
Like whatever they say has no bearing, it's so scary in a house that allows
no swearing
To see him walking around with his headphones blaring
Alone in his own zone, cold and he don't care
He's a problem child
And what bothers him all comes out, when he talks about
His fuckin' dad walkin' out
Cause he just hates him so bad that he blocks him out
If he ever saw him again he'd probably knock him out
His thoughts are whacked, he's mad so he's talkin' back
Talkin' black, brainwashed from rock and rap
He sags his pants, do-rags and a stocking cap
His step-father hit him, so he socked him back, and broke his nose
His house is a broken home, there's no control, he just let's his emotions

{C'mon}, sing with me, {sing}, sing for the years
{Sing it}, sing for the laughter, sing for the tears, {c'mon)
Sing it with me, just for today, maybe tomorrow the good Lord will take you

[Verse 2]
Entertainment is changin', intertwinin' with gangsta's
In the land of the killers, a sinner's mind is a sanctum
Holy or unholy, only have one homie
Only this gun, lonely cause don't anyone know me
Yet everybody just feels like they can relate, I guess words are a
mothafucka they can be great
Or they can degrade, or even worse they can teach hate
It's like these kids hang on every single statement we make
Like they worship us, plus all the stores ship us platinum
Now how the fuck did this metamorphosis happen
From standin' on corners and porches just rappin'
To havin' a fortune, no more kissin' ass
But then these critics crucify you, journalists try to burn you
Fans turn on you, attorneys all want a turn at you
To get they hands on every dime you have, they want you to lose your mind
every time you mad
So they can try to make you out to look like a loose cannon
Any dispute won't hesitate to produce handguns
That's why these prosecutors wanna convict me, strictly just to get me off
of these streets quickly
But all they kids be listenin' to me religiously, so i'm signin' cd's while
police fingerprint me
They're for the judge's daughter but his grudge is against me
If i'm such a fuckin' menace, this shit doesn't make sense Pete
It's all political, if my music is literal, and i'm a criminal how the fuck
can I raise a little girl
I couldn't, I wouldn't be fit to, you're full of shit too, Guerrera, that
was a fist that hit you...


[Verse 3]
They say music can alter moods and talk to you
Well can it load a gun up for you , and cock it too
Well if it can, then the next time you assault a dude
Just tell the judge it was my fault and i'll get sued
See what these kids do is hear about us totin' pistols
And they want to get one cause they think the shit's cool
Not knowin' we really just protectin' ourselves, we entertainers
Of course the shit's affectin' our sales, you ignoramus
But music is reflection of self, we just explain it, and then we get our
checks in the mail
It's fucked up ain't it
How we can come from practically nothing to being able to have any fuckin'
thing that we wanted
That's why we sing for these kids, who don't have a thing
Except for a dream, and a fuckin' rap magazine
Who post pin-up pictures on their walls all day long
Idolize they favorite rappers and know all they songs
Or for anyone who's ever been through shit in their lives
Till they sit and they cry at night wishin' they'd die
Till they throw on a rap record and they sit, and they vibe
We're nothin' to you but we're the fuckin' shit in they eyes
That's why we seize the moment try to freeze it and own it, squeeze it and
hold it
Cause we consider these minutes golden
And maybe they'll admit it when we're gone
Just let our spirits live on, through our lyrics that you hear in our
songs and we can...


Through this song one can see that using certain AAVE language practices or acting “black” goes a lot deeper that trying to be black.  Through this song Eminem tries to redeem himself by explaining his situation as a rapper, father and public figure.  He is able to align himself with the African American population through his struggles and language use.  However, he is also showing some relevance to the white community by explaining the situation that many white kids go through in everyday life.  Hip-hop artists often glamorize the “hood”, and Eminem tries to explain that there is nothing to want from the “hood” anyway.  It is also imperative to realize that people will always have these glamorized ideas of the “hood”, and that even if some white people adopt AAVE language practices in order to adapt to poverty, others will do it in their attempts to look cool and distance themselves from the normative image.  These images of course are constructed around the idea that “’man of Color’ is sexually rapacious, sometimes seductive, usually predatory,’ while ‘White man is strong, dominant arbiter of truth, and self-designated protector of White womankind, defender of nation/territory” (Kiesling, 104).  The personas they embody depend on which one holds more social capital under specific situations. 

Hip-Hop is also a manifestation of social relationships.  The hardships of African Americans (which constitute a large portion of the population of poverty) are portrayed through the cultural adversity that they face in everyday life.  Through this song, Eminem is not only able to show his dexterity in navigating issues from street crime, to raising his daughter, but simultaneously he is able to distance himself from the White hegemony by marking himself as a poor person who struggled just as any other poor black person does.  On another scale, he is also able to note that there are people out there, who are white, who have specific profound reasons for adopting AAVE linguistic models.  This statement of course only perpetuates the hegemony, making it okay for white people to play on these identities when they want to rebel and act tough.  In reality, this is the case.  It’s important to understand how these processes work, it’s another monster to try and change people’s minds on how they process certain language practices.  At the end of the day, people do what they think will get their point across, and sometimes, this means holding on to other language practices because the same words won’t do the job in another style.  Everyday we navigate life and speak in a way that we’re perceived as cool, smart and important.  These kids are just doing that.  

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