chapter  5
28 Pages

Hustling, breaking and rapping—black and brown youth

Any consideration of black youth and their subcultures in the United States has to be seen in the broader context of Afro-American people in contemporary America. Black culture itself takes place against the scenario of poverty and racism. The high unemployment of black youth and its position in the official delinquency figures has to be seen in the context of social class relations in general, and race in particular. Social class relations for black people are distorted by the presence of race. The situation of black people in Britain and America is historically different of course. Both groups have their roots in slavery, but in Britain most black people arrived as immigrant labour only a generation ago. Nevertheless, they have similar positions in the political economy. According to classical Marxist economic theory, industry, in order to maintain the accumulation of profit, has called upon techniques and work processes which have created a section of the work force which is disposable. This ‘reserve army of labour’, as it is known, is part of the marginal surplus population which responds to the laws of supply and demand that operate upon the required work force. This peripheral or marginal group can be used or discarded as mechanisation and smaller work forces replace the high, labour-intensive market economies. Black people have been a major part of this reserve army, both in Britain and North America, whether they are indigenous people or imported from the West Indies, Latin America, Mexico, Puerto Rico or the African and Indian subcontinents. Women have always featured highly in the reserve army, and youth increasingly so. Slaves, brought to the Caribbean and the United States as part of the colonial economy of imperialism, were essential to the large plantations. Attempts were made to obliterate African culture. African names and languages were

forbidden, but the subversive element of African music remained, combining the West African rhythms of work songs with religious and folk music of the New World. African singing was forbidden, so the context was American, but the roots African. Even the rhythm and syntax of Southern black accents can be traced to West African dialects. The involvement of singer and chorus, of performer and audience, is African; the varying pitches in black speech are found in the same tones of instruments and vocals in the blues. What arose and was reproduced in black American music was the personal experience of Afro-American people.