Posted on August 23, 2021

Congress’s Hip-Hop Legislation Is the Latest Symbolic Gesturing That Doesn’t Improve Black Lives

Brandon Tensley, CNN, August 19, 2021


In a recent move that seemed to go largely unnoticed, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution designating August 11, 2021, as Hip-Hop Celebration Day, August 2021 as Hip-Hop Recognition Month and November 2021 as Hip-Hop History Month.

It was a peculiar moment. No, not because hip-hop doesn’t matter — for decades, the genre has been fertile ground for emcees to fold history into bars and champion a feminist vision of sexual positivity. But because the resolution served as a reminder that, since last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, there have been no national policy achievements that might radically alter the experiences of Black Americans.

This wasn’t the first time this year that Congress’s priorities have felt skewed.

Remember in June when a bill establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day — to commemorate the end of slavery in the US, more than two years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — breezed through Capitol Hill?

The frustration wasn’t that Juneteenth isn’t worth celebrating.

As The New Yorker’s Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor wrote earlier this month, “the creation of the Juneteenth National Independence Day is the closest that our society has come to acknowledging the legacy of slavery as a fact of American life.” This reappraisal, she added, “injects a historical materiality into our understanding of Black communities’ hardships” — an understanding that’s all the more important in light of the ongoing conservative attack on critical race theory and even the facts of history.


Consider the kind of legislation that would make a fundamental difference for Black Americans — if Republicans got behind it. {snip}

In March, the House of Representatives, led by Democrats, passed a bill designed to prevent police misconduct, an effort that came in the wake of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Yet the bill doesn’t have a clear path in the 50-50 Senate {snip}

On the voting rights front, Democrats’ attempt to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would protect access to the franchise and quash schemes that disproportionately disadvantage voters of color, also has hit a snag. {snip}


{snip} Republicans support symbols specifically so that they don’t have to do anything else.


Similarly, present-day Republicans’ embrace of things such as a variety of hip-hop observations and Juneteenth National Independence Day doesn’t feel like much more than political sleight of hand. Really, there’s no danger in paying homage to the most popular music genre or acknowledging the end of slavery. For Republicans, these actions even provide cover: While they exult in how supposedly benevolent they are, they can continue on their path toward establishing one-party rule and entrenching the power of White conservatives.