Five panelists from the Rap Sessions tour series sat down in Heritage Hall to discuss the importance of social justice, media literacy, supporting more than one human rights movements, and other topics of relevancy in our country following the controversial campaign and election of President Donald Trump.
“Millennial Activism And Social Justice In The Trump Era” was presented by the Paul Robeson Cultural Center in partnership with Penn State Student Affairs. The five panelists came from a variety of backgrounds — two of the four national chairs for the Women’s March On Washington, Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez, provided their thoughts, while James Peterson, the Director of Africana Studies at Lehigh University, and Tef Poe, a St. Louis-based rapper who has spent much of his time over the past few years leading activism movements and starting community programs in Ferguson, Missouri, rounded out the four speakers at the event. Chicago-born hip-hop artist Jasiri X, who found the Pittsburgh-based social activism organization 1Hood Media, served as the panel moderator.
The event, which began at 8 p.m., actually lasted longer than its expected 9:30 p.m. ending time. Plenty of students relayed their own questions once Jasiri X finished asking his own. The group spoke a lot about the importance of lifting up other human rights organizations, aside from just the movements that may personally affect you.
“It’s important to ask people to come out of their area of expertise and work towards intersectionality,” said Perez, who also serves as an executive director for Gathering For Justice. “It’s very hard to get people to step outside of themselves. I remember being so upset when Trump was saying racist things about Hispanics, calling us all rapists and other names. Tamika replied to me saying ‘Where were you when it was other people being oppressed? Where was that anger then?’ That’s why we’re working towards this movement of lifting all who are being oppressed up with us.”
“We live in a time where all of this is interconnected,” said Poe, an activist who participates heavily with Hands Up United. “If you aren’t worrying about Black Lives Matter, then you aren’t caring for the environment. If you don’t care for the environment, you aren’t caring for LGBT rights. If you don’t care for them, you aren’t looking out for women. If you aren’t looking out for women, you aren’t looking out for plenty of other things that all ensure that you aren’t worrying about your damn self.”
“This isn’t civil rights, this is human rights,” Perez said. “And we should start focusing on taking this up on a global movement.”
Later, the topic began to revolve around celebrities using their platforms for social activism, specifically artists like Kevin Gates, Lil’ Wayne, and T.I. Each of these celebrities has been in the news for misogynistic (T.I.) or anti-Black Lives Matter jargon (Lil’ Wayne and Gates) over the past few years and the trio was referred to many times throughout the night.
“I think most times it’s problematic because a lot of these celebrities aren’t educated on what they speak on,” said Mallory, an executive director for National Action Network. “They just go with what is popular because it’ll get them more album sales and have them poppin’ on Instagram.”
“There was an incident over T.I. making a misogynistic comment during the election cycle, and I actually got the chance talk to him,” Perez said. “I wasn’t angry, but instead we talked about history and language and how powerful our words can be. Today, we have a great relationship. Now, he always hits me up after something eventful happens, wanting to know who’s on the ground and if he can be of any help (T.I. spoke up against Lil’ Wayne’s anti-Black Lives Matter comments last fall).”
Despite their criticism of Lil’ Wayne and Kevin Gates, the panel did emphasize that the role of celebrities can make a large difference throughout society, if handled correctly.
“It’s necessary to use their platform to reach people that aren’t following people like us,” Mallory said. “I want to make sure we give credit to those celebrities who really are in it all the way. Let’s look at what has happened throughout history. James Brown went out and said ‘I’m black and I’m proud.’ That was huge for people who weren’t listening to Martin Luther King Jr., but may have been listening to him that received that message.”
Social media literacy was emphasized throughout the night, as the speakers touched on deciphering real from alternative facts and doing your own research to reach your own conclusions, instead of counting on potentially biased headlines.
“I want people to apply better social media literacy to politics,” Peterson said. “There are a lot of trusted misleaders within the various movements, and young people that vibe with these social movements may end up vibing with the energy of some of these folks that are misleading, so it’s even within us. The sad thing is that there are too many people that want the fake news to be true to confirm their own beliefs and morals,” Peterson continued. “There are people who want to have their own facts aside from reality. This administration has found that chaos and misinformation are their two greatest tools.”
“The danger of this neo-fascism is that so many neutral people that may be unaffected by it that they will talk about something after it happens for a week, then move on,” Poe said. “We approach it like it’s a pop culture moment. But I don’t give a shit what Lil’ Wayne thinks about Black Lives Matter, I want to know what you think about Black Lives Matter.”