Blacking Up: Hip-Hop
Posted on January 27, 2010 at 3:59 pm
“Where do you draw the line between influence and appropriation?” “When is it admiration and when is it mockery?”
Blacking Up: Hip-Hop’s Remix of Race and Identity is a thought-provoking film by documentarian Robert Clift is a sympathetic look at the tensions that surround white identification with hip-hop. Popularly referred to by derogatory terms such as “wannabe” or “wigger,” the white person who identifies with hip-hop often invokes heated responses. For some, it is an example of cultural progress — a movement toward a color-blind America. For others, it is just another case of cultural theft and mockery — a repetition of a racist past. From this perspective, the appropriation of this mode of expression is inauthentic and disrespectful, another in a centuries-long series of takings. And yes, Vanilla Ice is interviewed, along with cultural commentators like Amiri Baraka and Paul Mooney and performers like Chuck D and Power.
For me, the most poignant moment in the film when a girl says she is not trying to be black — she is just trying to be cool. There is nothing more essentially American than the blending of cultures — except perhaps the struggle over the blending or appropriation of cultures. This film perfectly captures and illuminates the central issues of identity and the way it is shaped and shapes the arts, with arrestingly provocative insights into race and American culture and the path from fringe to center. It is very important viewing for teenagers, their teachers, and their parents. (NOTE: Some very strong language including the n-word and other epithets)