Abstract: "They Can't Take Away the Light": Hip-Hop Culture and Black Youth's Racial Resistance (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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"They Can't Take Away the Light": Hip-Hop Culture and Black Youth's Racial Resistance

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Nkemka Anyiwo, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania
Daphne Watkins, PhD, Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann-Arbor, MI
Stephanie Rowley, PhD, Provost, Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Columbia University, NY

Black youth’s activism has been quintessential for driving radical social justice change (e.g., desegregation of schools; diversity, equity, and inclusion policies at universities). Thus, understanding the factors that shape Black youth’s sociopolitical awareness and action is of utmost importance for social work praxis. One potential influence is hip-hop, a cultural phenomenon that includes music, dress, aesthetics, and language (Aldridge & Stewart, 2005; Bridges, 2011; Prier & Beachum, 2008). Black youth use hip-hop as a tool for racial resistance and resilience that allows them to authentically express themselves, promote cultural pride, and critique the social ramifications of structural inequity (Akom, 2009; Dyson, 2004; Rose, 1994). However, limited empirical work has comprehensively examined the sociopolitical influence of hip-hop on its creators and some of its biggest consumers --- Black youth. Drawing upon the Individual and Collective Empowerment Framework (Travis, 2013) and rap perceptions research (Tyson, 2005), the present study takes a strength-based approach to examining how Black youth's engagement with and perceptions of hip-hop relates to their racial resistance, defined in this study as youth’s racial inequity awareness, agency to contest racism, and racial-justice activism.


Participants include 499 self-identified Black adolescents ages 13-17 (M = 14.97, SD = 1.46). Participants were recruited using a Qualtrics Survey Panel from all regions of the United States with a majority being in the South (58.6%), followed by the Midwest (17.3 %), Northeast (16.0%), and West (8.1%). Participants responded to a 30 minutes survey assessing their consumption of hip-hop culture (rap music and music videos, radio/video/podcast shows, and blogs), their engagement with hip-hop artists on social media, and their perceptions of the themes in rap music. Three multiple regression analyses were conducted to assess the relations between the hip-hop variables and each indicator of racial resistance (awareness, agency, and activism).


Findings from regression analysis revealed the differential effects of rap media (music and music videos), hip-hop media (e.g., blogs, radio/video shows), and interactions with hip-hop artists’ social media on youth's racial resistance. Black youth who consumed more hip-hop media had higher awareness of racial inequity, agency to address racism, and racial-justice activism. Hip-hop social media interaction was also associated with higher agency and activism.

Rap media usage was not consistently related to youth's racial resistance. However, youth's perceptions of rap (e.g., rap is empowering or misogynistic) were found to be directly associated racial resistance. Violent-misogynistic perceptions were associated with higher awareness and activism while empowering perceptions were associated with higher awareness and agency.


While many studies and interventions focus on the impact of rap media on Black youth, these findings provide insight into the potential influence of hip-hop culture beyond music on youth's racial resistance. Furthermore, the findings highlight that youth are critical consumers of rap music and that their perceptions of rap can be influential in their racial resistance. Hip-hop culture should serve as a rich context for future empirical investigations, programmatic efforts and therapeutic interventions aimed to support the healthy psychological and sociopolitical development of Black youth.