Jessica Williams was shot and killed by San Francisco police on May 19, 2015, after being pulled over for driving a stolen car. When she heard the news, Andrea Clay joined a protest at the site of the young woman’s death.
Clay, a sociology professor at San Francisco State University, said that as the activists marched in solidarity, Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout” played.
The song lists several African Americans who have been killed by police, including Walter Scott in South Carolina and Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Hearing the song at the protest led her to question the role of hip-hop in the Black Lives Matter movement.
On Tuesday, Clay gave a lecture in Devlin Hall on the role hip-hop culture has played in social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name, an organization focused specifically on police violence involving black women.
Clay’s upbringing—in a working-class, mixed-race household in Springfield, Miss.—helped shape her interests in social activism, black popular culture, LGBTQ rights, and urban studies.
Her presentation began with a story from May 20, 2015, the one-year anniversary of Say Her Name.
Clay spoke about the role the hip-hop industry plays in leading social-justice movements and how gender affects leadership positions in the hip-hop community. She also talked about how men are seen as the social justice warriors in the hip-hop community.
Typically, the hip-hop industry is known for its male rappers and hyper-masculine ideal. Artists such as Boots Riley and Tupac are famous leaders in the rap community and represent the radical rapper. They created music that embodied the political change of the time and fit the ideals of charismatic hip-hop leaders. This combination of style and activism is seen over and over again. Today, Kendrick Lamar is seen as a leader, writing music about the black experience in America, she said.
Clay then spoke about changes in current movements, such as Black Lives Matter.
“What is strikingly different about this current movement is that it is full of leaders … with women and LGBT people at the center,” she said.
She urged the audience to think about how hip-hop culture is embracing this change in leadership.
The end of her lecture touched on female leaders in hip-hop, such as Beyoncé. Although Beyoncé is not the typical hip-hop leader, many young black women still look up to her. She has not specifically spoken on the subject, but her music pays tribute to those in the black social movement. For example, her 2015 Super Bowl halftime show performance paid tribute to the Black Panther movement. She speaks out in unconventional ways that are calling on black social movements, Clay said.
“The movement has stepped up,” Clay said. “My question is, when will hip-hop?”
Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Heights Staff