ArticlePDF Available

The Snare of Systemic Racism and Other Challenges Confronting Hip-Hop-Based Pedagogy



Background Although there has been a pronounced growth in hip-hop-based pedagogy (HHBP) scholarship in recent years, there has not been a concomitant critique of this growing body of work. As a consequence, much of this scholarship is best characterized as advocacy of HHBP. Purpose/Objective The objective of this article is to promote critical discourse around the conceptualization and implementation of HHBP by (a) identifying a set of challenges presented in the conceptualization of HHBP scholarship, (b) describing the narrative that these challenges converge to support, and (c) suggesting an alternative narrative aimed at fostering a more empowering use of HHBP. Research Design To accomplish this objective, we provide an in-depth critique of Emdin and Lee's (2012) article, “Hip-hop, the ‘Obama effect,’ and urban science education.” Through this critique, we first identify eight challenges posed by the authors’ argument, as well as the narrative that is the foundation of this argument. Conclusions/Recommendations We conclude by presenting an alternate narrative of hip-hop as an instrument of systemic racism and offering suggestions as to how HHBP can be used in both research and practice to both avoid and counter systemic racism.
Teachers College Record Volume 120, 110308, November 2018, 17 pages
Copyright © by Teachers College, Columbia University
The Snare of Systemic Racism and Other
Challenges Confronting Hip-Hop-Based
Indiana University
Michigan State University
Florida A&M University
Background: Although there has been a pronounced growth in hip-hop-based pedagogy
(HHBP) scholarship in recent years, there has not been a concomitant critique of this growing
body of work. As a consequence, much of this scholarship is best characterized as advocacy
of HHBP.
Purpose/Objective: The objective of this article is to promote critical discourse around the
conceptualization and implementation of HHBP by (a) identifying a set of challenges pre-
sented in the conceptualization of HHBP scholarship, (b) describing the narrative that these
challenges converge to support, and (c) suggesting an alternative narrative aimed at foster-
ing a more empowering use of HHBP.
Research Design: To accomplish this objective, we provide an in-depth critique of Emdin and
Lee’s (2012) article, “Hip-hop, the ‘Obama effect,’ and urban science education.” Through
this critique, we first identify eight challenges posed by the authors’ argument, as well as the
narrative that is the foundation of this argument.
Conclusions/Recommendations: We conclude by presenting an alternate narrative of hip-
hop as an instrument of systemic racism and offering suggestions as to how HHBP can be
used in both research and practice to both avoid and counter systemic racism.
Teachers College Record, 120, 110308 (2018)
If you do not understand White Supremacy (Racism)—what it is,
and how it works—everything else that you understand will only
confuse you.
—Neely Fuller, Jr.
Recent years have seen a pronounced growth in examinations of hip-hop
across a wide array of disciplines. In educational scholarship in particu-
lar, we find a broad range of both position papers and empirical stud-
ies. Among its many manifestations, this scholarship has examined the
role of hip-hop as a cultural artifact for practicing and preservice teachers
(Bridges, 2011; Petchauer, 2011; Pulido, 2009). It has argued for the use
of hip-hop as a vehicle for curriculum development (Emdin, 2011; Stovall,
2006), and it has argued for inclusion of hip-hop in standard school cur-
riculum on the basis that it is the culture of African American (or urban)
youth (Ladson-Billings, 2013; Petchauer, 2011).
Although there have been a few isolated efforts (e.g., Davis, Pitts
Bannister, & Mutegi, 2014; Gosa & Fields, 2012; Mutegi & Pitts Bannister,
2014), there has not been a sustained constructive critique of this work.
Instead, the overwhelming majority of this scholarship in education is best
characterized as advocacy of hip-hop-based pedagogy (HHBP). Given the
sociohistorical context in which children of African descent are now edu-
cated (e.g., racial composition of the teaching workforce, disproportion-
ate discipline of students of African descent, the school-to-prison pipe-
line) and the messaging of mainstream hip-hop music, it is imperative that
there be ongoing critique of the use and implementation of hip-hop in
classroom pedagogy. It is our contention that by advocating injudiciously
for the implementation of HHBP in schools, students of African descent
may be made more vulnerable.
In keeping with the spirit of constructive critique, the objective of the
present article is to (a) identify a set of challenges presented in the con-
ceptualization of HHBP scholarship, (b) describe the narrative that these
challenges converge to support, and (c) suggest an alternative narrative
aimed at fostering a more empowering use of HHBP. To accomplish this
objective, we provide an in-depth critique of one article by Emdin and Lee
(2012), “Hip-hop, the ‘Obama effect,’ and urban science education.” We
selected this article in particular as one that is representative of the types
of constructs, conjectures, and claims made in HHBP literature. The ar-
ticle begins with a summary and critique of the article by Emdin and Lee,
followed by a description of an alternative way to conceptualize and pres-
ent hip-hop in K–12 pedagogy.
In the article, “Hip-hop, the ‘Obama effect,’ and urban science educa-
tion,” Emdin and Lee (2012) advanced the argument that “urban youth of
TCR, 120, 110308
The Snare of Systemic Racism
color” benefit when hip-hop is made central to their educational experi-
ence. The authors present their argument in five sections: a description of
hip-hop; a presentation of four theoretical constructs; a description of the
connections between hip-hop and science; a description of the “Obama
effect”; and implications for improving educational practice. The article
represents a refreshing addition to science education literature in that it
foregrounds and draws our attention to the importance of students’ lived
experiences. In doing so, the authors draw from the spirit of culturally
responsive teaching (Gay, 2010) in an effort to position teachers to be of
better service to students who might come from different racial, ethnic, or
socioeconomic backgrounds.
Although we do not disagree with the authors’ goal of including hip-
hop as a component of standard school curriculum, we have noted several
challenges confronting the authors’ argument. We have organized these
challenges into three categories: constructs, claims, and contradictions.
What makes many of the constructs, claims, and contradictions problem-
atic is that, in addition to being either incomplete, unfounded, or poorly
operationalized, they support a narrative that masks the various ways that
hip-hop functions as an instrument of systemic racism. What is more,
by being accepted uncritically, they divert our educational efforts away
from working to understand how hip-hop is used to undermine people of
African descent and what can be done about it.
In this article, we first identify eight challenges posed by the authors’
argument, as well as the narrative that is the foundation of this argument.
We then conclude by (a) presenting an alternate narrative of hip-hop as
an instrument of systemic racism and (b) offering suggestions as to how
HHBP can be used in both research and practice to both avoid and coun-
ter systemic racism. For clarity, we draw from Feagin and Elias’s (2013,
p. 936) work, as well as that of Frances Welsing (1995) and Neely Fuller
(2016), to define systemic racism as the foundational, large-scale and hierar-
chical system of racial oppression devised and maintained by Whites to conquer,
suppress, and control non-White people.
Challenge #1: The Use and Misuse of “Urban”
The first challenge that we address is that of clearly identifying the popu-
lation of interest. In their abstract, the authors suggest that the popula-
tion of interest is urban youth: “By engaging in a concerted focus on
hip-hop culture, science educators can connect urban youth to science
Teachers College Record, 120, 110308 (2018)
in ways that generate a genuine recognition of who they are” (Emdin
& Lee, 2012, p. 2). Although this construct is central to the article, the
authors did not operationalize it. Is someone an urban youth by virtue
of where he or she lives? Where he or she attends school? Is the amount
of time one lives or attends school in an urban setting a factor in de-
termining whether one is considered an urban youth? How do normal
life transitions affect one’s status as an “urban” youth? The urban con-
struct is not an unproblematic one, especially in educational research
(Milner IV, 2012; Mutegi, 2013). So, in some ways, the authors’ failure
to operationalize the urban construct reflects a problem that pervades
educational research.
However, the authors exacerbate the problem of not operationalizing
the urban construct by conflating multiple characterizations of the popu-
lation of interest. Among these various characterizations, we find: “urban
youth” (pp. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20,
21), “urban marginalized youth” (p. 2), “urban youth of color” (pp. 2, 3,
11, 12, 16, 19), “minoritized urban youth” (p. 10), “marginalized youth”
(pp. 3, 9), “Black & Latino/a youth” (pp. 3, 13), “hip-hop youth” (pp. 1, 2,
3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21), “minority” (p. 11), and
“ethnic minority” (p. 10). There is no clear consistency in the varied use of
these characterizations, and neither do the authors explain whether their
multiple characterizations are invoked with intention, and, if so, how. This
conflation begs several conceptual questions. Are all urban youth viewed
as hip-hop youth? Are Black and Latino/a youth assumed to be urban
youth? How does the authors’ argument speak to Black & Latino/a youth
from suburban or rural areas? How should we regard Asian youth? Are
they marginalized? Minoritized? How do the authors regard White youth
in urban settings? Are they also equated with urban youth of color or mi-
noritized urban youth?
One consequence of failing to adequately operationalize this key con-
struct, is that the authors allow “urban” to be read as a euphemism, which
is a problematic tendency in educational scholarship (Hilliard, 1978,
1988; Mutegi, 2013; Watson, 2011). A second consequence is that “urban-
ness” is treated as a fixed characteristic. In reality, however, people make
frequent transitions across urban, suburban, and rural boundaries as they
live, work, and play and as they progress through life stages. A third con-
sequence is that “urban” carries an implied and inaccurate stereotype—it
connotes the tired, poor, homeless huddled masses. It connotes slums,
ghettos, and shantytowns. It, shamefully and ironically, ignores the im-
mense wealth that is generated in the heart of most major metropolitan
cities and the residents who generate it. A fourth consequence is that by
failing to adequately operationalize this key construct, the authors blur
TCR, 120, 110308
The Snare of Systemic Racism
(and actually confuse) the significance of students’ racial and ethnic
group membership. It fosters the erroneous idea that urban (or margin-
alized, or minoritized, or hip-hop, or Asian, etc.) youth are at the same
place socially and educationally.
Challenge #2: Head Nods and Hand Movements
The second challenge confronting the authors is the notion of success.
The authors assert that “hip-hop culture has been proposed to be a means
through which urban youth can find success in school” (Emdin & Lee,
2012, p. 1). Here again, the notion of school success is poorly opera-
tionalized. In one instance, the authors describe a classroom where “tra-
ditional criteria for success are expanded” as a place in which students
“greet each other with head nods and elaborate handshakes, refer to rap
songs while they engage in lab activities, or rest their safety goggles on
the side of their heads” (p. 11). In a second instance, the authors point
to “head nods and excited hand movements” (p. 16) as well as increased
instances of students speaking in class and raising their hands to answer
questions (p. 17). These references seem to suggest that the authors as-
sociate success with increased engagement. However, if increased engage-
ment is their measure of success, it is never addressed explicitly, nor is the
notion of engagement unpacked.
The end goal of science instruction varies greatly among educators
and includes those who advocate for science literacy in its many forms
(American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993; Lee,
1997), career preparation (Bhattacharyya, Mead, & Nathaniel, 2011;
Riegle-Crumb, Moore, & Ramos-Wada, 2011), elimination of achieve-
ment disparities (Cohen, Garcia, Purdie-Vaughns, Apfel, & Brzustoski,
2009), social justice (Barton, 2002), and even upheaval of disparate
social structures (Mutegi, 2011). Given this context, the authors’ argu-
ment would be strengthened by reporting more explicitly what result we
should reasonably expect from a class centered on HHBP beyond head
nods and hand movements.
Challenge #3: A Distinction Without a Difference
The third challenge is the authors’ effort to distinguish “commercial”
hip-hop from “noncommercial” hip-hop. In making this claim, their argu-
ment is twofold. First, they maintain that hip-hop is a set of cultural prac-
tices that involves more than rapping. In the first section of the article,
What Is and Is Not Hip-Hop?, the authors explain that hip-hop includes
Teachers College Record, 120, 110308 (2018)
“graffiti, breakdancing/b-boying, deejaying and rapping” (Emdin &
Lee, 2012, p. 4). They go on to point out that most people only associ-
ate hip-hop with rapping because of its commercial appeal. Second, they
maintain that the commercial rap with which many people are familiar
is not an authentic representation of hip-hop. According to the authors,
commercial forms of rap “involve superficial topics such as gross material-
ism,” “gratuitous misogyny,” and “violence.” They contrast these forms of
rap against “other versions of rap as hip-hop music, which are more true
to hip-hop culture, more reflective of the realities of the urban youth ex-
perience, and more lyrically complex than commercialized forms” (p. 5).
In spite of their claim that there are lines of distinction between com-
mercial and noncommercial hip-hop, the authors offer no clear guidelines
for helping the reader to make this distinction. If anything, the article
reinforces the idea that HHBP scholars are advocating for curricular ac-
ceptance of popular rap entertainers. Throughout this text in particular,
the authors offer no examples of the importance or application of graf-
fiti, breakdancing/b-boying, or deejaying to the classroom. They do offer
examples of the importance of rappers to the classroom. For example,
the authors share an anecdote about a ninth grader excited to have seen
President Obama “dust his shoulders off”: “The act of dusting one’s shoul-
ders off is a practice that was made famous by rapper Jay-Z, and is one
that can be identified as distinctly hip-hop because of its prevalent use in
hip-hop culture both before and after it was made famous by rapper Jay-Z”
(Emdin & Lee, 2012, p. 15).
In another instance, the authors describe a student’s excitement after
seeing an Obama supporter make a hand gesture that was mistaken for
the Rock-A-Fella Records hand gesture. This gesture (in this context) was
also popularized by Jay-Z (Emdin & Lee, 2012). In a third instance, the
authors share an exchange with a student who expresses the idea that
President Obama “gets us . . . he has a hip hop vibe. . . . He has Jay-Z in
his iPod” (p. 18).
What is telling here is that all the exemplars provided by the authors
feature one rapper, Jay-Z, who by any conceivable measure (i.e., record
sales, radio air play, net worth, endorsements, or music awards) would be
considered commercial. Even the Rap Genius project (Leland, 2012) that
lead author Emdin pioneers is based on a partnership with GZA, another
rapper and founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, who by many mea-
sures would be considered commercial.
TCR, 120, 110308
The Snare of Systemic Racism
Challenge #4: Tales of the Fringe
The fourth challenge is the authors’ claim that hip-hop exists at the fringe
of modern Western society. In one instance, the authors characterize hip-
hop as “lowbrow culture” (p. 10). Elsewhere, they write that “society at
large persistently devalues hip-hop” (pp. 3, 19). The authors character-
ize hip-hop as “an amalgamation of the thoughts, words, and behaviors/
actions of those who dwell in urban settings and have traditionally been
marginalized from socioeconomic and educational attainment” (p. 2). In
short, the authors work to present hip-hop as an ostracized culture, as the
purview of the downtrodden and dispossessed.
This presentation of hip-hop as a fringe cultural expression stands
in stark contrast to available evidence. Hip-hop is arguably the biggest
pop culture phenomenon presently known. Several major Hollywood
actors are current or former hip-hop performers (e.g., Ice Cube, Ice-T,
Will Smith, 50 Cent, Queen Latifah, Mos Def). The 2015 movie Straight
Outta Compton was one of the largest grossing films of the year (Axelrod &
Duncan, 2015). In 2014, Apple, Inc. purchased the company Beats Music
and Beats Electronics for $3 billion. The company’s signature product,
Beats Headphones, carried the endorsement of rapper and company co-
founder Andre Young (aka Dr. Dre). The deal represented Apple’s biggest
acquisition and is a testament to the mainstream appeal of hip-hop. Hip-
hop is ubiquitous in modern American culture. It is pervasive in television,
movies, magazines, and video games and on social media. In fact, it is diffi-
cult to consume any significant amount of broadcast media without being
exposed to it. So, the authors’ claim that hip-hop exists at the fringes of
modern society lacks face validity.
Challenge #5: Mistaken (Cultural) Identity?
The fifth challenge is the authors’ claim that “hip hop is the culture of urban
marginalized youth” (p. 2). Although we do not reject this idea in toto, we
do suggest that it is underdeveloped and not well supported. The authors
do not explain how hip-hop culture is bounded. They do not describe the
spaces in which this culture is enacted. They provide a clear sense of neither
who the participants in this culture are, nor how they come to be partici-
pants. Are all urban (or marginalized, or minoritized, or hip-hop, or Asian,
etc.) youth participants in this culture? By what criteria are they considered
participants? At what point are they no longer considered participants? Is
participation restricted to youth? How is hip-hop culture situated in relation
to youth culture broadly? Answers to these questions have implications for
the veracity of the arguments on which HHBP scholarship is based and also
for the application of HHBP scholarship to practice.
Teachers College Record, 120, 110308 (2018)
As it pertains to people of African descent, Shockley (2014) chal-
lenged the idea that hip-hop is the culture of African youth by adopting
an Afrocentrist perspective to argue that the historical enslavement and
colonization of African people is a culture-interrupting episode. He main-
tained that as part of this episode, (a) Whites have foisted myriad names,
designations, and cultural traits on African people, and (b) when African
people accept these alien names, designations, and cultural traits, they
are exhibiting a form of identity confusion. Shockley’s argument rests on
a notion of culture that is more fixed and stable, as opposed to a view of
culture that is in constant flux (e.g., Nagel, 1994). Whether or not one
agrees with Shockley’s “stable culture” argument, his position draws our
attention to the messiness of culture. In doing so, it highlights the pro-
found oversimplification of this claim, which is supported neither empiri-
cally nor theoretically.
Closely related to the authors’ claim that “hip hop is the culture of ur-
ban marginalized youth” is a pervading implication that urban (or mar-
ginalized, or minoritized, or hip-hop, or Asian, etc.) youth are the arbiters
of hip-hop culture. Throughout the article, the authors present hip-hop
culture as something that belongs to urban youth. Phelps-Moultrie (2014)
challenges this idea in an essay wherein she draws extensively from ar-
chival evidence, popular media sources, interviews and traditional schol-
arship to demonstrate that there is relatively little warrant for conclud-
ing that “urban youth” should be considered arbiters of hip-hop culture.
Nearly every aspect of the industry (including, but not limited to, produc-
tion, distribution, publishing, labeling, merchandising, management, and
even consumption) is dominated by middle- to upper-class White males,
who would not typically be characterized as “youth.” Taken together,
Shockley’s (2014) and Phelps-Moultrie’s arguments acknowledge the role
African Americans played in creating hip-hop. However, these arguments
suggest that instead of regarding hip-hop as the culture of urban youth, in
our current context, it might be more accurate to understand it as a set of
cultural practices given to (or imposed on) urban youth.
Challenge #6: Internal Inconsistency
The sixth challenge is the high degree of internal inconsistency found
within the article. Rather than address every instance of internal incon-
sistency, we provide three examples. The first example is the framing of
the article. In the abstract, the authors describe the article as a presenta-
tion of empirical research. In describing the research design, they write,
TCR, 120, 110308
The Snare of Systemic Racism
“we examined qualitative data illustrating the enactment of hip-hopness
or a hip-hop identity in urban science classrooms” (p. 1). In describ-
ing their findings, they write, “The findings indicate that when teachers
bring hip-hop into their science instruction, certain markers of interest
and involvement that were previously absent from science classrooms be-
come visible” (p. 1). By contrast, when describing the goals of the article,
the authors suggest that the article is not a presentation of empirical
research. They write, “To meet this goal, we take a conceptual approach
to hip-hop and urban science education, rather than present an empiri-
cal study” (pp. 3–4).
In a second example of internal inconsistency, the authors seem to
vacillate on the relationship between rap and hip-hop. In one instance,
the authors identify rapping as a significant component of hip-hop. In
another instance, they present rap as an example of “a number of prac-
tices perceived or defined as hip-hop that are completely separate from
it” (p. 6). A third example centers on the role identity of students who
participate in hip-hop culture as it pertains to school. In one instance,
the authors argue that if students’ “forms of capital are either devalued
or misaligned to that of the teacher and the academic discipline, certain
school identities are formed” (p. 8). The authors go on to suggest that
“students form anti-school identity by actively resisting academic success”
(p. 8). In another instance, the authors argue that “the pervasiveness of
the negative associations between urban youth and hip-hop, and the long
standing correlation of hip-hopness to a disconnection from science and
school are unwarranted” (p. 12).
Challenge #7: Can’t We All Get Along?
The seventh challenge is the authors’ characterization of hip-hop as a
racially unifying force. They describe hip-hop as a culture embraced by
young people of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds, which has the
power to minimize racial and ethnic differences among the participants.
In one instance, the authors suggest that
One of the chief characteristics of hip-hop is the strong ties that
participants in the culture have to one another and the emo-
tions that they exhibit towards one another. The shared con-
nections to hip-hop function to minimize ethnic or racial dif-
ferences by allowing people from varying backgrounds to focus
on conjoined experiences such as being socioeconomically dis-
advantaged or from a certain neighborhood, rather than their
differences. (p. 7)
Teachers College Record, 120, 110308 (2018)
Here again, the contradiction is palpable. There is no widespread and
clearly identifiable interracial harmony among urban youth. In fact, there
is good evidence that millennials, who constitute a significant percent-
age of hip-hop consumers (Bialik, 2005; Hart, 2009), manifest the same
racially derogatory perspectives as their parents and grandparents before
them (Gordon, 2015; Love, 2016).
Challenge #8: The Unfounded Perceptions of Hip-Hop’s Negative Impact
The eighth challenge is the authors’ characterization of the influence of
hip-hop as benign. Here the authors write, “hip-hop is often perceived as a
contemporary musical form that has a negative impact on youth. However,
these perceptions of hip-hop are largely unfounded, and are a result of
highly visible and media-generated images of the culture” (p. 8). Contrary
to the authors’ dismissal, there is a substantial body of work that provides
empirical demonstration of the “negative” content of hip-hop messaging
as well as the “negative” influences that hip-hop can have on both thinking
and behavior. In a study of the relationship between hip-hop and domes-
tic violence, Cundiff (2013) found a positive correlation between hip-hop
consumption and misogynistic thinking. In a study of the prevalence of
alcohol brand references, researchers found that music characterized as
“urban” had the highest percentage of alcohol references, and the refer-
ences are overwhelmingly positive or neutral (Siegel et al., 2013).
In a qualitative content analysis of popular music, Primack, Nuzzo, Rice,
and Sargent (2012) found that 1 in 5 songs had explicit references to al-
cohol. Of these explicit references, the majority were positive references.
The references also associated alcohol with wealth, sex, partying, other
drugs, and vehicles. Although the researchers examined songs from mul-
tiple genres, the majority of songs that made reference to alcohol were in
the genres of rap (63%) or R&B/hip-hop (24%). In a study of the impact
of rap music video exposure on health risk behavior, researchers found
that “adolescents who had greater exposure to rap music videos were 3
times more likely to have hit a teacher; more than 2.5 times as likely to
have been arrested; 2 times as likely to have had multiple sexual partners;
and more than 1.5 times as likely to have acquired a new sexually transmit-
ted disease, used drugs, and used alcohol over the twelve-month follow-up
period” (Wingood et al., 2003, p. 438).
Other studies have found that hip-hop messaging is inordinately vio-
lent (Jones, 1997) and misogynistic (Hunter & Soto, 2009); that hip-hop
consumption correlates positively with materialism and conspicuous
consumption (Podoshen, Andrzejewski, & Hunt, 2014); that females ex-
posed to hip-hop are more receptive of dating violence (Johnson, Adams,
TCR, 120, 110308
The Snare of Systemic Racism
Ashburn, & Reed, 1995); that exposure to hip-hop predisposes young
African American males to be more accepting of violence and less confi-
dent in academic pursuits (Johnson, Jackson, & Gatto, 1995); that college
students exposed to hip-hop reflect more misogynistic attitudes (Kistler &
Lee, 2010); and that among middle school students, hip-hop leads to an
overvaluation of material possessions and the ability to entertain, and an
undervaluation of intellectual behavior (Davis, 2014).
Propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated
are confident they are acting of their own free will.
—Joseph Goebbels
In sum, Emdin and Lee (2012) offer a narrative that presents hip-hop as
a subculture started by “minoritized” young people in response to being
locked out of mainstream social structures. The narrative suggests that the
hip-hop subculture is a melting pot, which welcomes participants from
many racial and ethnic backgrounds. These participants are drawn togeth-
er by their shared experience of being marginalized in various ways, and
hip-hop offers a vehicle through which their voices can be heard. Using
this narrative as a starting point, Emdin and Lee suggest that educators
can better serve students by creating space for this subculture in tradi-
tional educational settings.
As mentioned previously, the narrative offered by Emdin and Lee
(2012), is reiterated in a broad array of scholarship (e.g., Biggs, 2011;
Bridges, 2011; Cermak, 2012; Hill, 2009; Jenkins, 2011; Ladson-Billings,
2013; Petchauer, 2011, 2012; Pulido, 2009; Stovall, 2006). And although
we would not suggest that it is completely inaccurate, we do suggest that
the supports for this narrative present multiple challenges. We also sug-
gest that this narrative lacks explanatory power in that it is not informed
by an acknowledgment of the ways that hip-hop is used as an instrument
of systemic racism.
We offer an alternative narrative that presents hip-hop as an instrument
of systemic racism: one that serves as a propaganda vehicle to establish
in the minds of the world population who African people are and how
they should be understood. As a propaganda vehicle used to denigrate
people of African descent, hip-hop culture and its associated musical
genre are wholly controlled by Whites (Rebollo-Gil & Moras, 2012). The
messaging found in hip-hop music (Mutegi et al., 2014), videos (Johnson,
Jackson, & Gatto, 1995), magazines (Oredein & Lewis, 2013), and websites
Teachers College Record, 120, 110308 (2018)
(Hitchens, 2015) is overwhelmingly negative, especially where it is used to
characterize people of African descent. The White controllers of hip-hop
culture disallow messaging that advocates violence against police and oth-
er Whites but have no such prohibitions against messaging that advocates
violence against Blacks (Phelps-Moultrie, 2014).
Because hip-hop is a propaganda vehicle, it is often misrepresented as a
despised subculture (or genre) existing on the fringes of American society
even as it permeates so much of American (if not world) popular culture.
This misrepresentation helps to hide the hand of those who control the
industry. The heralded divide between “commercial” hip-hop and “non-
commercial” hip-hop serves much the same function. It allows advocates to
dismiss the offensiveness of hip-hop as “commercial” even though (a) there
is no clear distinction between commercial and noncommercial hip-hop,
and (b) what is dismissed as “commercial” hip-hop is the exact music that
exerts such a profound and detrimental influence over people’s thinking
and behavior.
Our interest in this topic is driven by our respective interests in race libera-
tion for people of African descent. It is our contention that when educa-
tors (researchers, practitioners, or other stakeholders) advocate injudi-
ciously for the implementation of HHBP in schools, students of African
descent are made even more vulnerable. We regard the alternative narra-
tive as a starting point for HHBP research and practice that avoids making
students of African descent more vulnerable and that is instead liberating
for people of African descent.
In terms of research, studies around HHBP should be driven by critical
questions. Given the various ways that hip-hop has been shown to impact
thinking and behavior broadly, to what degree does it impact students’
thinking and behavior in traditional school settings? Do references to hip-
hop in the form of analogies, exemplars, data sets, and so on, have a prim-
ing effect on students’ thinking and behavior? Do these references influ-
ence students’ (or teachers’) perceptions of people of African descent?
If so, in what ways? What pedagogical approaches position students to be
cognizant and critical of hip-hop as a propaganda vehicle? What types of
ideas or experiences can serve as protective factors against the propagan-
da effect of hip-hop? As students of African descent come to schools with
widely varied backgrounds, how do they respond differently to HHBP?
In terms of practice, efforts to address HHBP in traditional school
settings should be aimed at helping students to recognize the propa-
ganda function of hip-hop (and in fact all media). In this vein, pedagogy
TCR, 120, 110308
The Snare of Systemic Racism
should be aimed at guiding students as they work to understand the
internal structure of the entertainment industry, as well as the interac-
tion between the entertainment industry and other elements in society.
Pedagogy should also work to help students identify similarities and dif-
ferences in the propaganda to which they are exposed and the propa-
ganda used historically to shape public thinking and behavior. Students
should be encouraged to raise and pursue answers to critical questions
such as, Whose interests are served by hip-hop? How are profits from
hip-hop distributed? Why and in what ways do hip-hop lyrics and other
forms of hip-hop messaging shape behavior?
We agree with the authors when they write, “For students who have tra-
ditionally been marginalized in the education system, effective instruction
must incorporate their interests” (Emdin & Lee, 2012, p. 2). We can think
of no better way to incorporate the interests of students of African descent
than to arm them against the onslaught of systemic racism.
Teachers College Record, 120, 110308 (2018)
American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993). Benchmarks for scientific literacy.
New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Axelrod, J., & Duncan, J. (2015). The movie Straight Outta Compton has grossed more than
ninety-three million dollars since it opened last weekend. CBS Evening News. Retrieved
from Newspaper Source Plus database.
Barton, A. C. (2002). Urban science education studies: A commitment to equity, social justice
and a sense of place. Studies in Science Education, 38, 1–37.
Bhattacharyya, S., Mead, T. P., & Nathaniel, R. (2011). The influence of science summer
camp on African-American high school students’ career choices. School Science and
Mathematics, 111(7), 345–353.
Bialik, C. (2005, May 5). Is the conventional wisdom correct in measuring hip-hop audience?
The Wall Street Journal.
Biggs, C. D. (2011). Sung solecisms: Hip hop as non-prescriptive pedagogy. Scholar-Practitioner
Quarterly, 5(1), 39–51.
Bridges, T. (2011). Towards a pedagogy of hip hop in urban teacher education. Journal of
Negro Education, 80(3), 325–338.
Cermak, M. J. (2012). Hip-hop, social justice, and environmental education: Toward a critical
ecological literacy. Journal of Environmental Education, 43, 192–203.
Cohen, G. L., Garcia, J., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Apfel, N., & Brzustoski, P. (2009). Recursive
processes in self-affirmation: Intervening to close the minority achievement gap. Science,
324, 400–403.
Cundiff, G. (2013). The influence of rap/hip-hop music: A mixed-method analysis on
audience perceptions of misogynistic lyrics and the issue of domestic violence. The Elon
Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 4(1), 71–82.
Davis, J. L. (2014). The influence of hip-hop on African American youth in a poor and
working-class urban community and the use of hip-hop in school. African American
Learners, 3(1–2).
Davis, J. L., Pitts Bannister, V. R., & Mutegi, J. W. (2014). Hip-hop and mathematics: A critical
review of Schooling Hip-Hop: Expanding Hip-Hop Based Education Across the Curriculum.
Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, 7(1), 96–106.
Emdin, C. (2011). Droppin’ science and dropping science: African American males and
urban science education. Journal of African American Males in Education, 2(1), 66–80.
Emdin, C., & Lee, O. (2012). Hip-hop, the “Obama effect,” and urban science education.
Teachers College Record, 114, 1–24.
Feagin, J., & Elias, S. (2013). Rethinking racial formation theory: A systemic racism critique.
Ethnic and Racial Studies, 36(6), 931–960. doi:10.1080/01419870.2012.669839
Fuller, N., Jr. (2016). The united independent compensatory code/system/concept: A textbook/
workbook for thought, speech, and/or action for victims of racism (White supremacy) (Revised/
expanded ed.). [n.p.]: Author.
Gay, G. (2010). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice (2nd ed.). New York,
NY: Teachers College Press.
Gordon, T. (2015, January 26). Studies reveal so-called “racially progressive” White millennials
are not so different from the racist generations that came before them. Atlanta Black Star.
Retrieved from
Gosa, T. L., & Fields, T. (2012). Is hip hop education another hustle? The (ir)responsible
use of hip hop as pedagogy. In B. J. Porfilio & M. Viola (Eds.), Hip-hop(e): The cultural
practice and critical pedagogy of international hip-hop (Vol. 56, pp. 195–210). New York, NY:
Peter Lang.
TCR, 120, 110308
The Snare of Systemic Racism
Hart, W. E. (2009). The culture industry, hip hop music and the white perspective: How one-
dimensional representation of hip hop music has influenced White racial attitudes. (Unpublished
master’s thesis). University of Texas at Arlington.
Hill, M. L. (2009). Wounded healing: Forming a storytelling community in hip-hop lit.
Teachers College Record, 111, 248–293.
Hilliard, A. G. (1988). Conceptual confusion and the persistence of group oppression
through education. Equity and Excellence, 24(1), 36–43.
Hilliard, A. G., III. (1978). Straight talk about school desegregation problems. Theory Into
Practice, 17, 100–106. doi:10.1080/00405847809542751
Hitchens, B. K. (2015, August). CNN of the ghetto? Analyzing Black girls and violence as
entertainment on WorldStar Hip Hop Video website. Paper presented at the annual meeting
of the American Sociological Association, Chicago, IL. Retrieved from http://search.
Hunter, M., & Soto, K. (2009). Women of color in hip hop: The pornographic gaze. Race,
Gender & Class, 16(1–2), 170–191.
Jenkins, T. S. (2011). A beautiful mind: Black male intellectual identity and hip-hop culture.
Journal of Black Studies, 42, 1231–1251.
Johnson, J. D., Adams, M. S., Ashburn, L., & Reed, W. (1995). Differential gender effects
of exposure to rap music on African American adolescents’ acceptance of teen dating
violence. Sex Roles, 33, 597–605.
Johnson, J. D., Jackson, L. A., & Gatto, L. (1995). Violent attitudes and deferred academic
aspirations: Deleterious effects of exposure to rap music. Basic and Applied Social
Psychology, 16(1&2), 27–41.
Jones, K. (1997). Are rap videos more violent? Style differences and the prevalence of sex
and violence in the age of MTV. The Howard Journal of Communications, 8, 343–356.
Kistler, M. E., & Lee, M. J. (2010). Does exposure to sexual hip-hop music videos influence
the sexual attitudes of college students? Mass Communication and Society, 13, 67–86.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2013). “Stakes is high”: Educating new century students. Journal of Negro
Education, 82, 105–110.
Lee, O. (1997). Scientific literacy for all: What is it and how can we achieve it? Journal of
Research in Science Teaching, 34, 219–222.
Leland, J. (2012, November 18). A hip-hop experiment. The New York Times.
Love, D. (2016, October 15). In the age of Trump White millennials shatter idea that young
people are progressive. Atlanta Black Star. Retrieved from http://atlantablackstar.
Milner, H. R., IV. (2012). But what is urban education? Urban Education, 47(3), 556–561.
Mutegi, J. W. (2011). The inadequacies of “science for all” and the necessity and nature of
a socially transformative curriculum approach for African American science education.
Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48, 301–316.
Mutegi, J. W. (2013). “Life’s first need is for us to be realistic” and other reasons for examining
the sociocultural construction of race in the science performance of African American
students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 50, 82–103.
Mutegi, J. W., & Pitts Bannister, V. R. (2014). Critical analysis of hip-hop pedagogy [Special
issue]. African American Learners, 3.
Mutegi, J. W., Pitts Bannister, V. R., Nichols, B., Priester, D., Murdoch, Y., & Richardson,
L. (2014). Tales from the mic: A content analysis of 10 years of hip-hop lyrics. African
American Learners, 3(1-2).
Nagel, J. (1994). Constructing ethnicity: Creating and recreating ethnic identity and culture.
Social Problems, 41(1), 152–176. doi:10.2307/3096847
Teachers College Record, 120, 110308 (2018)
Oredein, T. T., & Lewis, M. (2013). Violence in hip-hop journalism: A content analysis of
The Source, a leading hip-hop magazine. Community Medicine and Health Education, 3(4).
Petchauer, E. (2011). I feel what he was doin’: Responding to justice-oriented teaching
through hip-hop aesthetics. Urban Education, 46(6), 1411–1432.
Petchauer, E. (2012). Sampling memories: Using hip-hop aesthetics to learn from urban
schooling experiences. Educational Studies, 48(2), 137–155.
Phelps-Moultrie, J. (2014). Pedagogy of the oppressors: An examination of the White
ownership and control of hip-hop. African American Learners, 3(1–2).
Podoshen, J. S., Andrzejewski, S. A., & Hunt, J. M. (2014). Materialism, conspicuous
consumption, and American hip-hop subculture. Journal of International Consumer
Marketing, 26(4), 271–283. doi:10.1080/08961530.2014.900469
Primack, B. A., Nuzzo, E., Rice, K. R., & Sargent, J. D. (2012). Alcohol brand
appearances in U.S. popular music. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 107(3), 557–566.
Pulido, I. (2009). “Music fit for us minorities”: Latinas/os’ use of hip hop as pedagogy
and interpretive framework to negotiate and challenge racism. Equity & Excellence in
Education, 42(1), 67–85.
Rebollo-Gil, G., & Moras, A. (2012). Black women and Black men in hip hop music: Misogyny,
violence and the negotiation of (White-owned) space. Journal of Popular Culture, 45(1),
Riegle-Crumb, C., Moore, C., & Ramos-Wada, A. (2011). Who wants to have a career in
science or math? Exploring adolescents’ future aspirations by gender and race/ethnicity.
Science Education, 95(3), 458–476. doi:10.1002/sce.20431
Shockley, K. (2014). Theoretical musings on hip hop from an African centered perspective.
African American Learners, 3(1–2).
Siegel, M., Johnson, R. M., Tyagi, K., Power, K., Lohsen, M. C., Ayers, A. J., & Jernigan, D.
H. (2013). Alcohol brand references in U.S. popular music, 2009–2011. Substance Use &
Misuse, 48(14), 1475–1484.
Stovall, D. (2006). We can relate: Hip-hop culture, critical pedagogy, and the secondary
classroom. Urban Education, 41, 585–602.
Watson, D. (2011). What do you mean when you say urban? Rethinking Schools, 26(1), 48–50.
Welsing, F. C. (1995). The Isis papers: The keys to the colors. Chicago, IL: Third World Press.
Wingood, G. M., DiClemente, R. J., Bernhardt, J. M., Harrington, K., Davies, S. L., Robillard,
A., & Hook, E. W., 3rd. (2003). A prospective study of exposure to rap music videos and
African American female adolescents’ health. American Journal of Public Health, 93(3),
TCR, 120, 110308
The Snare of Systemic Racism
JOMO W. MUTEGI is an associate professor in the Indiana University
School of Education at IUPUI, and principal investigator of the (ES)2
STEM Learning Lab. He is also PI of CTI Inspire, a National Science
Foundation-supported effort designed to prepare preservice teachers to
serve urban students through a culturally responsive and socially trans-
formative education. His research foregrounds racism and socially trans-
formative STEM education for people of African descent. Recent publica-
tions include: “‘Life’s first need is for us to be realistic’ and other reasons
for examining the sociohistorical construction of race in the science per-
formance of African American students” in the Journal of Research in Science
Teaching (2013); and “Tales from the mic: A content analysis of 10 years of
hip-hop lyrics” in the journal African American Learners (2014).
JADA A. PHELPS-MOULTRIE is an assistant professor of educational
leadership at Michigan State University. Her research explores the dual
phenomena of racial battle fatigue, and “parenting while Black.” She also
explores the role of school leaders in perpetuating or disrupting factors
that marginalize Black children. Recent publications include: “Talk about
a racial eclipse: Narratives of institutional evasion in an urban school–uni-
versity partnership” in the Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership (2017);
and “An initial exploration of a community-based framework for educa-
tional equity with explicated exemplars” in the journal Race Ethnicity and
Education (2017).
VANESSA R. PITTS BANNISTER is an associate professor and coordina-
tor of mathematics education at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical
University. Recently, she was the PI of a Helios Grant program that aimed
to improve STEM education through innovative integration and applica-
tion of proven strategies through coursework and/or professional devel-
opment. Before this grant, she completed an NSF-funded study of preser-
vice secondary mathematics teachers’ interactions with reform curriculum
materials in mathematics methods courses. This line of work resulted in a
coedited book and other peer-reviewed publications. Her research inter-
ests include teacher and student knowledge in areas of algebra and ratio-
nal numbers, teachers’ pedagogical and content knowledge with respect
to curriculum materials, and equity and diversity issues in mathematics
... Third, the authors acknowledge that racism is embedded in institutional structures, policies, and practices and moves toward identifying mechanisms by which racism is enacted through those structures, policies, and practices. This approach closely mirrors our own approach to addressing racism through science education research (e.g., Mutegi, 2013;Mutegi & Momanyi, 2020;Mutegi et al., 2018). ...
Across a broad range of disciplines, research has found that inequity is systemic in the journal review process. Collectively, however, this study does not specifically examine racial inequity. Moreover, literature on the peer review process in science education, in particular, does not foreground equity as a subject of study. The present study aims to address this void by examining racial equity in the peer review process with a specific focus on journals in science education. Data are collected from lead editors of major science education journals through the form of interviews, focus groups, and critical arts-based methods. The two research questions driving data collection are (a) In what ways does the science education journal peer review process promote racial equity? and (b) How are science education journal editors’ perceptions of racial inequity reflected in the peer review process? McNair and colleagues’ racial equity framework informs the explorations of journal review in science education from the lead editors’ perspectives. From our findings, we offer four suggestions for moving toward greater racial equity in the science education peer review process.
... In other writings on socially transformative curriculum (Mutegi, 2013b;Mutegi & Morton, 2012;Mutegi et al., 2018;Pitts Bannister et al., 2017), Mutegi and colleagues argue that science education for learners of African descent should prepare them to fight against systemic racism. Additionally, one area of mastery in this curricular approach is critique: wherein students work to apply their knowledge of science to an understanding of how systemic racism is established and maintained. ...
Although the Next Generation Science Standards and the National Science Education Standards prioritize the production of critical consumers of science as an overarching goal, there is relatively little science education research aimed at fostering critical perspectives among science teachers. The purpose of this theory-generative study is to identify ideas that might serve as affordances or hindrances to the development of critical perspectives of science. Data were collected from 64, preservice elementary-level teachers, over the course of three semesters, using an open-ended survey. In these data, we identified three affordances and five hindrances that might influence our ability to foster critical perspectives. Among the affordances for fostering critical perspectives, we found that students (a) have a clear sense that cultural difference does not suggest inferiority, (b) have a clear sense that human bias influences science work, and (c) regard opinion as a factor shaping the work of scientists. Among the hindrances to fostering critical perspectives we found that students (d) regard Western science as superior to non-Western science, (e) do not have a strong working knowledge of the concept of “culture,” (f) regard science as an objective enterprise, (g) do not have a strong working knowledge of the concept of “objective,” and (h) have a one-sided view of scientific advancement. We conclude with suggestions for future research and for practice.
... Although there is not a consensus on the nature and impact of rap music, and, certainly, rap music incorporates a large range of subgenres, Shelby noted that the hip-hop culture, which includes rapping and is created and expressed often in online communities, has been critical for Black youth, and youth of color more broadly, who have been marginalized, forging solidarity. In educational research, the relationship between rap and African American youth and the role of rap and hip-hop in their educational experiences, including those in science education settings, have been both celebrated (Emdin and Lee 2012) and contested especially when such approaches are advocated as pedagogical practices that need to be brought into classrooms that educate students of African descent (Mutegi, Phelps-Moultrie and Bannister 2018). In Serena's class, rapping and hip-hop-based pedagogies were not used for all students, but were allowed as forms of expression by those who had embraced them. ...
Full-text available
We explored ways in which racial, academic, and science identities intermingle in contested classroom and school spaces where students’ personal histories meet institutional histories. Building on identity studies in science education, we aimed at developing nuanced understandings of Black youth’s negotiation among these three identities, which takes place in moment-to-moment interactions and as a personal narrative over time. The study answers the question: What constructs related to identity construction, and in what ways, are salient for Black youth in negotiating who they are and are becoming as Black people in science classrooms where their Black racial identities are affirmed and used as a resource for learning? Using a case study design focusing on one student, Serena, and multiple data sources, we paid attention to the space-time relationships that were part of Serena’s becoming in her science class. Four dimensions emerged as important in the configuration of Serena’s identities—competence, commitment, choice, and emotions. Serena’s performances and narrations related to each of these four dimensions were not only interrelated with those of the other dimensions, but were also inseparable from the various roles and positionings that Serena was performing and imagining for herself in the context of her science class and her science engagement and learning. The findings highlight the complex ways in which cognitive, social, and affective aspects of experience inform and shape students’ identities as they negotiate ways of being, thinking, performing, and interacting in contentious spaces where meanings of being Black, a good student, a scientist evolve over time shaped by the interaction among these three meanings and the students’ collective and individual experiences. The study’s implications include being explicit and purposeful in designing and enacting teaching that offers students multiple opportunities for dynamic identity laminations that could support their science learning, defined as construction of both knowledge and identity.
... In addition to studies that foreground sociocultural dynamics are those studies that foreground racism as a specific sociocultural dynamic to explain STEM career attainment. A strong case has been made for the importance of foregrounding racism in educational research in general (Lee, 2003) and in science education research in particular (Mutegi, 2013;Mutegi, Phelps-Moultrie, & Pitts Bannister, 2018). ...
Full-text available
This mixed methods study reports data from the implementation of a 2‐week nanotechnology camp for secondary level students. The camp, Nanotechnology Experiences for Students and Teachers, had the overarching goal of increasing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) interest among the next generation of potential STEM professionals. Statistical pre‐ and postsurvey data indicate that overall the camp was successful in fostering increased STEM interest among participants. However, early analysis of ethnographic data showed that African American students were observed to have radically different experiences than the non‐African American students. To better understand why the camp yielded such divergent outcomes, we examined ethnographic data focusing specifically on incidents of microaggressions. We were particularly interested in the impact that microaggressions had on African American students’ camp experience and learning. Our data show that microaggressions were pervasive; they came from students, instructors, and the environment; and in response, African American students adopted detachment‐coping strategies. Together these factors worked against African American students’ success. We conclude with suggestions for practice.
Full-text available
In recent years, there has been a pronounced growth in scholarship which advocates for the use of hip hop in school instruction. In spite of significant concern over the negative messaging associated with hip hop, advocates of hip hop based pedagogy have persisted. One of the contentions made by advocates of hip hop based pedagogy is that “negative” lyrics represents a small portion of hip hop. This contention lacks face validity. It contradicts the lived experience of the authors and scholars advocating this position do so without empirical support. The aim of this article is to report findings of a study intended to determine the degree to which negative lyrics represents a small portion of hip hop. To evaluate this claim, 49 hip hop songs were randomly selected from the Billboard 100 Hot Rap Chart. The population database represented the top songs listed each week from January 2003 through June 2012. Selected songs were read and coded by six raters representing diverse ages, races, genders and socioeconomic statuses. Results indicated that across all raters, the lyrical content of the sample songs were overwhelming characterized as negative. The article concludes with implications for future research.
Full-text available
With the ever increasing diversity of schools, and the persistent need to develop teaching strategies for the students who attend today's urban schools, hip-hop culture has been proposed to be a means through which urban youth can find success in school. As a result, studies of the role of hip-hop in urban education have grown in visibility. Research targeted toward understanding the involvement of urban youth in hip-hop and finding ways to connect them to school often rest primarily on the role of rap lyrics and focus exclusively on language arts and social studies classes.
Full-text available
Early HHBE [Hip-Hop Based Education] practices have taken place most often in language arts and English education classrooms because of rap music’s clear and intuitive connections to the written, spoken, and poetic word. However, researchers and practitioners must forge meaningful connections to other disciplines, including those (like math and science) that are alleged to be culturally neutral. (Hill & Petchauer, 2013, p. 3)
Full-text available
Utilizing survey data from over 1,000 American consumers, located in the northeastern part of the United States, we found through the use of multiple regression techniques, that those who prefer to listen to hip-hop score higher on all three aspects of the Richins and Dawson materialism scales than those who don’t. African Americans scored higher than other Americans only in the happiness and centrality factors. Additionally we found that hip-hop listeners scored higher in conspicuous consumption compared to those who claimed not to be listeners of the genre.
Over the past 5 years, there has been a growing body of scholarship that examines the intersections of hip-hop culture and classroom pedagogy. Although recent scholarship has persuasively demonstrated the classroom potential of hip-hop texts for promoting student engagement, scaffolding sanctioned forms of knowledge, and nurturing critical consciousness and activism, little work has been done to unpack the complex relations of power that emerge in such classrooms. In particular, we know very little about the ways in which students and teachers are (re)positioned within classrooms that engage in hip-hop-centered pedagogy. This article contributes to the current literature in hip-hop based education, culturally relevant pedagogy, and critical pedagogy by examining the some of the issues and tensions that emerge when teachers engage in hip-hop-centered classroom pedagogy.
This paper explores components of urban science education that are underemphasized in contemporary research in the field of study and widely considered necessary for improving the experiences of African-American males in science. It explores the current state of urban science education through critical reflection from the standpoint of an African-American male student and teacher and calls for the use of appropriate theoretical frameworks for constructing meaning of the African American male experience in urban schools. Finally, through a broad description of a research study in urban science classrooms, the paper provides insight into future research that considers the frameworks prescribed and described in the paper.