Frat Rap and the New White Negro – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Frat Rap and the New White Negro - The Conversation - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Frat Rap and the New White Negro

August 29, 2013, 2:23 pm

By David J. Leonard

Adele, Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Teena Marie. White musicians and fans are embracing the cultural performance—jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm & blues, hip-hop—that African-Americans have given life to over the last century.

In 1957, Norman Mailer spoke to the existence of the “White Negro,” an urban hipster whose fascination and fetishizing of blackness resulted in a set of practices that reflected a white imagination: part cultural appropriation, a subtle reinforcement of segregation, and a desire to try on perceived accents of blackness. “So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts,” he wrote. “The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro.”

As the Princeton University professor Imani Perry has noted, “there is a sonic preference for blackness, the sounds of blackness, but there is a visual preference for whiteness in our culture.” It should come as no surprise, then, that white rappers are slowly beginning to dominate the college music scene with the ascendance of a genre that can loosely be called “frat rap.”

Be it the thumping bass of artists like Mac Miller and Mike Posner, or the blaring noise of Asher Roth, Sam Adams, or Hoodie Allen, the white rappers who are gaining a foothold in the college scene need to be seen as part of a longstanding tradition of white theft of black artistry. The popularity of those artists, alongside that of Ryan Lewis and Macklemore—who can be heard interrogating white privilege, marriage, and materialism in their music—cannot be understood outside their whiteness.

The frat-rap craze saw its origins in 2009, with the release of Asher Roth’s “I Love College.” This subgenre not only markets itself to white college students but also marries the aesthetics and sensibilities of hip-hop with the experiences and narratives of white, male college students. Rather than building on oppositional traditions of hip-hop, which the former frontman for Public Enemy, Chuck D, once identified as “CNN for black people,” frat rap rhymes about all things white and middle class: desires that begin and end with parties, drinking, girls, and fun.

The moniker of frat rap is powerful because it reflects a desired level of ownership. White-fraternity claims to the music and culture displace a long association of rap with blackness, urbanity, and the inner city. Instead, the music exists within the context of the university.

Continue reading at  Frat Rap and the New White Negro – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Dr. David J. Leonard: An Open Letter to White America, Particularly White Youth

An Open Letter to White America, Particularly White Youth

This is not the first time I have written an open letter to you, and clearly my previous letters have not had the necessary impact. Despite history lesson after history lesson, from a myriad of people, certain sh*t continues. Despite reminders that Blackface is never funny, the “N-Word” should never be uttered in any context, and making jokes about racial violence, domestic violence, or sexual violence is never okay. They are all forms of violence that continue to be perpetuated and celebrated each and every day. While the racism, sexism, and homophobia evident in these social spaces and at GOP political rallies are nothing new, the justification, the denial, and the overall societal complacency about racism (and sexism) because our president is black, speaks to a broader issue confronting America.

I know how hard conversations about race can be, and how invariably these conversations lead to claims about the “race card” or it being “just a joke,” and I know the defensiveness that ensues, but if not now, when? Today I read about a horrible and disheartening example of American racism. At a pep rally at Waverly High School, which is located in Upstate New York and is 97% white, three white students decided to put on a skit involving blackface, simulation of domestic violence, and a disgusting level of callousness. The sight of students in blackface, as if that makes them look like Chris Brown and Rihanna as opposed to Al Jolson and Shirley Temple, is yet another reminder that we have a long way to go with race. And when I say “we,” I mean white America. The sight of a skit designed to mock and find humor in domestic violence is evidence of a misogynistic culture that sanctions and promotes violence against women. Within the United States, a woman is assaulted or beaten every 9 seconds; “Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women.” In fact, 1 in 5 teenage girls reports having a boyfriend who threatened violence at the prospects of a breakup. So spare me “it’s just a joke” or “relax” responses. It isn’t funny; is reprehensible, sickening, and should be condemned nationwide. And while “it” is the skit and the response (yes, those in the comments section), it is also a racist and sexist culture that perpetuates these daily examples of violence. I am angry and wonder why you aren’t similarly outraged, so I am going to make it plain.


There is no acceptable reason to ever don Blackface. It’s not a joke, it ain’t funny, and it’s not some creative license that adds to the value of your artistic endeavors. Blackface has a long tradition that is part and parcel with white supremacy. It is part of a history of dehumanization, of denied citizenship, and efforts to rationalize, excuse, and justify state violence. From lynchings or mass incarceration, white supremacy has utilized dehumanization as part of its moral and legal justification for violence. Spare me your reference to “White Chicks,” the Chappelle Show. Stop with your references to satire. Spare me your dismissive arguments about intent and not being racially motivated. Blackface is part of the violent history of white supremacy. If you don’t know, now you know, and if you still don’t know, go here or here.


While we are on the subject, there is no place for racist costumes that dehumanize and demean, that mock and ridicule, that stereotype and otherwise reenact a larger history of racism. As the students at Ohio University reminded us this year, they “are a culture, not a costume.” Were you not listening or just don’t care? The costumes have to go along with those theme parties. I am talking about “ghetto parties, “cowboy and Indian parties,” “pimp and ho parties,” “South of the Border parties or any number of gatherings that see humor in mocking and demeaning others. If dressing up “as janitors, female gangsters and pregnant women” for Cinco de Mayo is in your plans or a Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration includes a “gangsta party,” or Black History month is celebrated with the most disturbing stereotypes, it’s time to reevaluate. Just say no!

Continue reading at Dr. David J. Leonard: An Open Letter to White America, Particularly White Youth.