In his article “Fear of (and Fascination with) a Black Planet: the Relocation of Rap by White Non-Urban Youth,” David Hayes examines the role of rap music in shaping white suburban identity. The emergent youth subculture, one that is based on subversion of their homogenized, “white” local values, conceives of black culture as it is portrayed in media representations of rap music. He ultimately argues that by reducing a racial group that is absent from their localities, white youth, who claim affinity for a black art form, ultimately reduce black identity to a few stereotypes.
My main critique of Hayes’ article is his antagonism of the white youth he interviews as a result of what he sees as their contributions to the marginalizing institution of racism. Though I do not think that appropriation of black aesthetics in an otherwise white cultural landscape necessarily indicates a white sense of solidarity with blacks, I think the venturing of white youth into a typically black scene should be appreciated as a form of boundary crossing. He calls for a reevaluation by white youth of their perceptions of blackness, suggesting, “Steps toward achieving this goal could begin with a vigorous critique of their own assumptions about the interrelation between race and rap culture, although this would require access to anti-racism education programs, social justice groups and other school and community-based resources, as well as their willingness to embark on such a project.”
My question is if the white youth described in the article truly are guilty of a lack of “willingness to embark on such a project,” or if their affinity for rap indicates a subliminal willingness. Is their participation in rap, however racialized and reductive though it may be, a signal of their attempt to understand blackness, more so than their local neighbors, who stay completely removed from any contact with black culture?