So our last class really got me thinking about how Eminem had appropriated rap and hip hop in order to make it safe for white and other non-African American audiences to listen to. After listening to the pieces by Brother Ali, I attempted to analyze a little bit more on the black retaliation of white supremacy, and specifically, how Ali racialize’s himself in the black community.
Ali uses the reflection on his own life (or at least the construction of his “life”), by truncating it into sections of infancy, childhood, and his adult life, to racialize his black identity. First he disconnects himself from his family; uproots himself from his background; there is an obvious relationship that he has with his family but he makes it elusive by saying that he is “talked about at family reunions but never seen,” and that he “announced himself” into the world- drawing on his own independence. This perceived independence is a deliberate move to isolate Ali as the narrator of his memoir, and to gain the audience's affection.
By going back to the beginning of his infancy, he makes it clear that this was the only time “before black and white supremacy heightened my innocence/ I was living out life behind the picket fence”. The reference to the picket fence acts as a metaphor for innocence and/or ignorance of racial boundaries (racial boundaries are something that children often lack, and the picket fence could also be symbolic of protection from the racist attitudes of the outside world). During his childhood, Ali notify’s his audience that his life behind the picket fence eventually comes to an abrupt halt, and no longer shields him from racism as he is tormented as a child for being black: “But then came the laughter, and outside I'm battered/Picket fence shattered.”
Interestingly enough, Ali makes the main criticizer in his childhood memoir, himself. In his piece, acting as narrator he tears himself to pieces in his self-hatred phase of his former youth. This is something that maybe some white children can relate to, but he distinguishes this hatred of other children by the reference to whites in the line: “children of slave masters who passed it on.” The narrator genuinely feels enslaved by not only the white kids who torment him, but furthermore also lets their hatred for him get inside his own head as he begins to doubt himself because of his race. This feeling also comes back as he continues to resent his family as an adult (when his first child is born) and feels alone even in terms of his own family. Each time he finds himself in self-doubt, various women in his life assure him that this life is a “test” and that he his special and has value.
I think that this memoir that Ali has created, reaffirms his black identity and gives his music back to the black community by sending a message that yes, life is going to get really hard sometimes. And that when one feels self-hatred, to remind them that they are “special” and that no matter how much they are told that they don't matter, they do. However, to prove that this song is a product of appropriated hip hop, I can listen to this song (even though I’m white) and I think that even though this song is speaking to not only racism, it also speaks to family issues, which can be applied across races.
The fact that I can listen to this, even though Ali explicitly is retaliating against the oppressors (mostly white, aside from the people in his family) in his life, shows two things: 1. that I can face the fact that I'm part of a race who enslaved African Americans for centuries, and 2. that this music has been appropriated for people like me, white people, to listen to.
I think that also, on a similar note, that the reason why I had never thought about this hierarchy of white industry vs. black rebellion before, is because even though I am not a racist myself, I forget sometimes that I am still part of a race who continues to define racial boundaries through many, but specifically in this case, the hip hop industry.