Those who think college offers no material relevant to the current scene might be pleasantly, or unpleasantly, surprised. At the 2013 Modern Language Association (MLA) convention in Boston, Corrie Claiborne of Morehouse College told listeners of a new computer application that enables students to obtain historical background on rap songs.
“Like if you hear, ‘I’m Che Guevara with bling on,’ you can click on Che Guevara and find out who he was,” she explained. One wonders whether this is an ambition to be pursued.
Guevara was the military advisor to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who overthrew the Batista regime on the island nation. “From 1959 to 1960, the new government carried out summary executions of at least 1,118 people by firing squad. Guevara himself presided over the notorious La Cabaña prison, where hundreds of the executions took place,” Thor Halverson  of the Human Rights Foundation notes. “For comparison’s sake, the Batista regime was responsible for 747 noncombatant deaths between 1952 and 1959.”
“The Cuban revolution under the direction of Guevara also saw the rise of forced labor camps which gave way a few years later to full-scale concentration camps. These were filled with dissidents, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Afro-Cuban priests, and anyone else who had committed “crimes” against the new moral revolution.”
“Despite the mountain of evidence for these abuses, much of which comes directly from Guevara’s own meticulous journals, popular culture still largely views him as a revolutionary of the people.”
For her part, anthropologist Marceleine Morgan, who spoke on the panel on Digital Diasporas with Claiborne, started the Hip Hop Archives at the W. E. B. Dubois Institute at Harvard. “Students started bring me their things and I ran out of space to store it,” she explained to the audience. “If I left it in the garage, my mother would have thrown it out.”
“Then I started the archives. Archives means it’s protected.” The archives, she points out, are a “research institute and a think tank.”
The Hip Hop Institute has fellows and a newsletter: “The two most popular issues were on the 2012 election and the one that came out on Valentine’s Day.” Additionally, “When someone puts out a book on hip hop, we try to gather together with experts who know something about it,” she adds.
Morgan and Claiborne were both upbeat and rather sunny. “One of the things I love about being an academic is that it fulfills my ambition to be an actress,” she said. “I don’t have to be up there on the silver screen.”
“Hip hop has a saying: ‘Get in where you fit in.’”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.