Tricia Rose: Creating Conversations on Justice

Tricia Rose might very well be the most important scholar of hip hop. Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University and author of Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (a book I cannot recommend enough), she has completely changed the way most scholars today approach the subject, making intersectionality the modus operandi of hip hop analysis.

Rose is also an amazing speaker. In 2011, she gave a fantastic TEDx Talk titled “Creating Conversations on Justice”; it stands as an exemplary look at her intersectional, subversive, and enthralling approach to the analysis of pop culture.

TED as an organization is extremely problematic—virtually a propaganda arm of today’s elite liberal, corporation-serving, “free”-market-loving technocrats—yet TEDx is slightly more bearable, and, these significant criticisms aside, TED has still managed to get some great people to present some great things.

My only criticism is I wish it were longer.

Highlights follow below (emphasis mine):

(4:09)
We have some work to do, in thinking about questions of community, and equality, and justice, and the various principles that we think are part of the democratic project.

We have work to do not so much in learning the facts–although, I will claim, we need a lot more facts to be learned–but in how to have the conversation, how to think about what it means to have a conversation that is difficult, that is painful, that deals with inequality, that makes people feel bad, and yucky, and anxious or angry and frustrated, and that how we talk about those issues is almost as important, maybe in some cases more important, than what we talk about in those moments.

Rose then explains how we can, how we must, have “these very difficult discussions,” and address forms structural oppression and privilege, while maintaining a safe space.

(5:24)
As we’re thinking about how to have these very difficult discussions, we all have to remember one thing, that we are both individuals and members of groups. This seems enormously basic … but it’s actually very complicated to keep in your mind.

(6:32)
So we’re members of groups. And every one of the groups in which we have membership have social histories and relationships. And those social histories and relationships connect to other people–sometimes well, sometimes not so well.

If we don’t look at individuals as members of groups, and as unique individuals–I know we gotta keep reminding ourselves about that–if we don’t remember the groups to which we belong, and to which other people we talk to belong, then we’re not able to necessarily fully grasp what it means for them to be in the world in ways that is very different than us.

Without that attention to that group history–it doesn’t mean that people have the exact relationship to that group history, but it does mean that they might share experiences based on that identity, whatever it be, whether it’s class, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, etc. That’s just to name a few of the big ones.

Now, as we think about this group identity, we have to be informed, historically. So, a little asterisk here and a little plug for education, not necessarily in the classroom–in fact, much of it has to happen elsewhere–but we have to know about these groups of people; we can’t just think we know, based on, you know, I don’t know, what we saw on tv. …

We have to have a broader range of real, serious knowledge and investment.

(8:05)
The second thing: We have to be careful to do, as we have these conversations that I’m hoping are going to enable new and creative ideas for really ending systemic inequality–there will always be some, but systemic, reinforced inequality, we can fix that–second one is to have an honest conversation, even about the most painful, difficult elements.

This is very tough to do, because we’re trained to speak about these things in euphemisms, especially in this historical moment, where saying certain things is almost as if you’re acting it–if you say race, you’re a racist; or if you mention there’s gender oppression, you’re somehow, you know, some radical, psychotic feminist who just wants to kill all men on Earth. …

And I wanna say, look, the best thing we can do is call is what it is, in the interest of creating as much community as we can, because, if we’re not honest about whatever’s happened, or what people are feeling, or what is taking place, we don’t stand a chance of getting to the other side.