#SSJCon: Humanism and Hip Hop

This is part of my coverage of the Secular Social Justice Conference this past January in Houston. I raised money to get me to the conference to report out because conferences like these cover topics that are rarely talked about in the movement. I also raised money to get Josiah Mannion to the conference to take photos. You can see his full conference photoset. If you appreciate the work we do, we’re also raising money cover a portion of our costs to do the same for the Women in Secularism conference in September. You’ll find a donation button at the end of this post.

After opening remarks, which I’ll cover in a post summarizing the experience of attending the conference, we split off into two sessions. Josiah took pictures in the “Humanism and Hip Hop” session, because you can’t keep him away from that. I covered “Feminism(s) of Color” for much the same reason.

Humanism and Hip Hop
Monica Miller, Lehigh University
Jason Jeffries, Rice Univ.
Xan Wright, HBN
Moderator: Tony Pinn

This was a well-attended session but most of the tweeters were in the other session. I watched the panel and added my reflections/encapsulations here to the tweets of the people in the room. Hopefully they’ll whet your appetite to watch the whole thing. You’ll find the full video of the panel at the bottom of this post. You may need to watch it more than once, because I’ve never seen anyone talking about humanist hip hop in a way that was anything less than richly dense with information and overturned assumptions.

Introducing Dr. Monica Miller, Tony Pinn points out that she and her colleagues at Lehigh University studying Africana religion just received a $2 million grant.

Monica Miller notes the contradiction of hip hop both supporting and undercutting social justice in its history and its central place in Black Lives Matter.

Photo of Monica Miller gesturing to indicate a whole set during her presentation.

Black Lives Matter’s embrace of hip hop situates it generationally and as a rejection of respectability politics.

Hip hop is informed by and reliant on black religious expressions, both gospel and black Islam.

Black and white photo of Monica Miller's arm gesturing at the screen, showing an elaborate scrolled tattoo.
Hip hop isn’t merely recorded. It’s also performed, which delineates black social space and relationships.

The visual creativity of hip hop becomes a tool to react to ongoing injustices quickly and effectively.

Social ills reimagined as “old gods” to be thrown off.

Talking about and naming whiteness as a thing that exists in relationship to black lives and black bodies is viewed as dangerous.

Hip hop itself is diverse, though this may be underestimated because all of hip hop is seen as “other” by mainstream society.

Photo of Jason Jeffries gesturing while giving his presentation.
Within that diversity, there is room for hip hop to do harm but also room for it to do good.

Black and white photo of an audience member watching intently.

Mahad Muhammad of Black Freethinkers of Minnesota.
Mahad Muhammad of Black Freethinkers of Minnesota.

Tupac’s Black Jesus wasn’t an ethereal being concerned with Heaven, but the “patron saint of thugs” who looked after people as and where they were.

Jeffries gives examples of songs, mostly chosen to be recent, addressing abortion, poverty, unequal justice, domestic violence, police brutality, gentrification, and corporate greed.

Xandelyn Wright’s studies Christian religious privilege, secularism, and interfaith dialogue within black communities more than hip hop directly.

Humanism is about people taking control of the messages around their own lives more than eradication of religion.

Photo of Xandelyn Wright behind her boom box during her presentation.
We have to remember not to let humanism narrow its focus down to just one small portion of the human experience.

Even where hip hop isn’t expressly political, it demonstrates a range of attitudes and expressions about any and all facets of life, expanding the range of things it’s acceptable to think and feel. It provides a richness of experience and role play.

Photo of Xandelyn Wright with her hands in the air while playing music during her presentation.

From the Q&A after the presentations:

Photo of Jason Jeffries answering a question.

Mandisa Thomas of Black Nonbelievers asking a question.
Mandisa Thomas of Black Nonbelievers asking a question.

Like anything else, we can romanticize our classic hip hop.

This session is really hard to capture in the short form, and none of this will give you the clips of music that were played. For the full experience, watch the video.

Want to support this kind of reporting out from Women in Secularism? We could still use a little help to get there:

#SSJCon: Humanism and Hip Hop