- Womanism, Literature, and the Transformation of the Black Community, 1965–1980, and: Parodies of Ownership: Hip-Hop Aesthetics and Intellectual Property Law
In the aftermath of the progressive social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, as industrial decay, corrupt law enforcement, violent crime, and the abject failures of public education beset cities across America, hip hop emerged in New York’s [End Page 291] South Bronx as a distinct set of musical, artistic, and dance practices expressing the frustrations and desires of urban youth. Since that time, a variety of platforms have emerged for examining hip hop’s enduring and expansive impact. Until quite recently, when then presidential candidate Barack Obama invoked the lyrics of Jay-Z on the campaign trail, hip hop was a regular whipping post of politicians and pundits, who blamed it for perpetuating misogyny, sexism, and materialism and for encouraging violence among American youth—this despite our nation’s founding on capitalist, patriarchal, and revolutionary principles. Among academics, by contrast, hip hop has been a subject of informed inquiry and debate for nearly two decades, yielding a rich body of scholarship that cuts across the humanities, social sciences, education, and law. It is in the latter framework that this review situates Kalenda C. Eaton’s Womanism, Literature, and the Transformation of the Black Community, 1965–1980 and Richard L. Schur’s Parodies of Ownership: Hip-Hop Aesthetics and Intellectual Property Law. Both works take their place in the expanding corpus of critical literature shaping hip hop studies and demonstrate its growing importance as a field of rigorous inquiry.
Placing Womanism, Literature in hip hop studies may at first glance appear odd, as Eaton claims that the goal of her five-chapter book is to replace male-dominated interpretations of the civil rights, Black Arts, and Black Power movements with more nuanced narratives of political and artistic resistance in which black women play pivotal roles. No expressed concern with beats and rhymes, B-Boys, B-Girls, or battling factors into this study’s conceptual framework. Rather, chapter one, “ ‘Let Me Know When You Get Through’: The Afro-Politico Womanist Agenda,” introduces an Eaton-crafted term—“Afro-Politico Womanism”—to characterize the theoretical foundation on which the book’s revisionist project builds.
“Afro-Politico Womanism,” Eaton argues, is “a holistic, community-based approach to political mobilization within the Black community which was largely ignored during the activism of the post-Civil Rights period” (8). When applied to literary works produced in the same period, Afro-Politico Womanism unearths a tradition of black women’s writing committed to chronicling black women’s “struggle for justice within the Black community” and to showing “how healthy gender relationships can be used to heal the Black community” (8). Eaton concedes that Afro-Politico Womanism is not an altogether new term, citing Alice Walker’s “womanism” and germinal formulations of black feminist thought by, among others, Barbara Christian, Barbara Smith, Toni Cade Bambara, and bell hooks, as precursors. Nonetheless, she maintains that Afro-Politico Womanism adds depth and dimension to conventional black feminist theory by identifying the act of writing as a conscious form of activism, where neither the needs of the individual nor the interests of the larger community are capable of being sacrificed.
In this respect, Eaton’s notion of Afro-Politico Womanism can be said to invoke hip hop on at least four discursive levels. First, it focuses on the historical period that gave way to hip hop’s emergence and mainstreaming. Second, it interrogates the intersection between individualistic and collective values that have defined hip hop since its origins. Third, it accounts for black women’s contributions to shaping debates about the social, political, and economic plights of the masses, as the gains— and costs—of the civil rights, Black Power, and Black Arts movements were becoming measurable in both national and international contexts. Of particular significance here is...