Transatlantic Hip-Hop by Jeff Johnson

Transatlantic Hip-Hop

Virtual Nations could be the key to real-world issues

By Jeff Johnson

As I sit in Amsterdam as a part of the Pioneers conference celebrating the 400 year old relationship between the people of New York and Amsterdam, I ponder the future of the relationship between a new generation of Trans Atlantic leaders. I watched the coverage of my new president, Barak Obama in London dealing on a diplomatic level with the reality of that very question. While the pundits debate whether President Obama’s negotiations with European leaders regarding the initiation of a larger stimulus package vs. more regulations will be effective, and if French President Sarkozy will be satisfied with those potential regulations, I wondered if the citizens of these nations are negotiating as well. Negotiating what you may ask? Whether the decades old, and often invisible, Trans-Atlantic relationship is still relevant; and if so how does that alliance happen in a world that has post-romanticism regarding NATO and other institutions created after World War II? Furthermore, and this really is pushing the envelope for some, I wonder if youth on both sides of the pond recognize the opportunity they have in the social phenomenon known as hip-hop to redefine that relationship.

This trip by Obama to Europe is consumed with the need to rectify the global economic crisis and increased cooperation from the G20 to assist in the process. I however am reminded of Obama’s remarks when he was in Europe during his campaign. He stated, "In Europe, the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in our world, rather than a force to help make it right, has become all too common. In America, there are voices that deride and deny the importance of Europe's role in our security and our future.” The question of should or how American’s change this perception and of more importance how do people from both continents collectively deal with issues of climate control, global trade, terrorism, and religious conflict was what I hoped would be a larger issue as Obama took office. However, alas, the economic crisis has taken all of our attention, forcing us to answer for ourselves the question without the assistance of mass media.

As a Black man living in America, born in Great Britain, and having traveled all over Europe, I believe that the potential of this post World War II relationship remains great if continually infused with progressive vision from both sides of the Atlantic. As I watch the G 20 coverage, I get the sense that we (the citizens of NATO nations and “the world”) are being asked to support the alliances of government for the purpose of fixing the economy, trade arrangements and fighting terrorism, but not to truly create ideological alliances between the citizens within said nations. The strength of the Trans-Atlantic alliance has always stretched beyond the paper that the treaties were written on to the people of alliance nations with similar desires.

The post World War II model of an alliance between North America and Europe is antiquated and in need of repair. With all due respect to our political leaders, no President, Prime Minister, or world summit for that matter, will provide relevance and sustainability. It is through the efforts of “regular” citizens that this relationship will be built and grow.

The real strength and energy of a new millennium Trans-Atlantic network will intrinsically connect to what makes many politicians most nervous: virtual nation building. As the world becomes smaller and people become more affected by the corporate and personal decisions of citizens in different parts of the world, it will bind regular people together in a way that nationalism cannot force. The Trans-Atlantic alliance will truly affect climate change, genocide, the conflict between religions and ideas, and other pressing social and political issues by creating virtual nations of citizens who become members not based on their passport, but their dedication to fighting for the manifestation of social responsibility that reflects the adoption of policy. Members of various countries will proclaim, "I am a member of the financially responsible nation, the clean air nation, the globally beneficial trade nation, or the anti-war nation." How can we see a successful alliance that claims to be founded in the end of imperialism, but actually supports it? We cannot.

While I am in Amsterdam this week participating in the Pioneer’s conference, I am looking to connect, listen to and learn from the members of the local hip-hop community. Why? Because when I look at the potential ideological and methodological options available for engaging youth in this notion of virtual nations, it is hip-hop that most excites my imagination. I am not speaking of the hip-hop community made up of globally recognized artists, recording labels, or major television and radio conglomerates. I am talking about the hip-hop community made up of conscientious young citizens of all races and ethnicities that want to see Amsterdam live out its claim of being a nation of progressive leaders that provide true opportunity for its people. I mean the young people who listen to and make hip-hop music, and embrace the positive aspects of the sub-culture. I want to meet with them because there is the potential of creating a virtual hip-hop community of young leaders that believe in the development of a global vision and cooperation with hip-hop as its banner.

This type of virtual nation has the capacity of using an often-demonized art form as it was intended. Whether we use it as a tool for conflict resolution between young Dutch and Moroccan young people that may not appreciate each other’s culture, but who embrace hip-hop. This virtual hip-hop nation may use the sub-culture as a tool to address climate change and the global use of renewable energy. No matter the issue, it is the potential of building new mechanisms of communication and action that excites me. I hope that it excites members of the Amsterdam community as well and that we can work together to create them.

During President Obama’s visit to Europe last year he stated, "Now is the time to build new bridges across the globe as strong as the one that bound us across the Atlantic." I see hip-hop as a just one community that can step up as architects dedicated to the creation of such a bridge. I am happy to be a member of such an effort. However, it is only one of many. I hope that we will see not only the new U.S. President and his counterparts determine the bridge, but the citizens who will actually have to walk across it. And if we build a hip-hop bridge, perhaps we can even dance across.

In de Volkskrant van 6 april jl. werd de ingekorte versie van de lezing, die Jeff Johnson (journalist, politiek motivator en activist) tijdens P!oneers op 5 april hield, gepubliceerd.

1 comment:

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