By Kennedy Mapes
On Tuesday, Oct. 6, Grand Rapids Community College’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion continued it’s Diversity Lecture Series with the Fannie Lou Hamer Colloquium, featuring keynote speaker Regina N. Bradley, an Assistant Professor of English and African Diaspora Studies at Kennesaw State University and an alumna of the Nasir Jones Hip Hop Fellowship at Harvard University.
Bradley is also an author. In her forthcoming book “Chronicling Stankonia: The Rise of the Hip Hop South,” Bradley discusses how the music of hip hop duo Outkast and other southern hip hop artists and influencers reflect that of the Black american South after the civil rights movement. In this lecture, Bradley uses her proficiency in African American literature, hip hop culture and race and the contemporary South to discuss political engagement in southern hip hop as well as to honor the life of Fannie Lou Hamer.B. Afeni McNeely Cobham, the host of this colloquium began the lecture by explaining that this discussion was scheduled to take place earlier this year in March for Women’s History Month, but the event had to be rescheduled due to COVID-19. Because of CDC and state guidelines, the colloquium was conducted virtually through a livestream where anyone could drop in and view the lecture.
Unbeknownst to McNeely Cobham, the rescheduled date of the lecture also held significance as Hamer, the passionate and important civil rights activist in which the event was honoring, was born on this day in 1917.
“We are honoring the life, legacy, and immeasurable gift of a woman touted as the moral compass of social justice,” McNeely Cobham said. “Twenty seven days before the election of the president of the United States, we have come together to reflect on Mrs. Hamer’s unwavering commitment to organizing mass voter registration, political advocacy for black people, particularly in southern states.”
McNeely Cobham then introduced Bradley, the keynote speaker, who started her lecture by discussing how she learned about Hamer and how her legacy impacted her. Bradley explained that she first heard about Hamer during her freshman year of college in her Service to Leadership class at Albany State University. She then discussed a bit of Hamer’s legacy and the struggles she endured whilst trying to advocate for the liberation of her people.
Bradley highlighted several of the things Hamer did to get involved in the civil rights movement including organizing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, becoming a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, as well as helping to organize the 1964 Freedom Summer Campaign. With involvement in this kind of activism, Hamer subjected herself to excessive ridicule, violence, and beatings. Bradley recounted the horror that she felt when she read about Hamer being forced to go through a sterilization that resulted in her losing her ability to bear children.
“Hamer is more than a heroin for me,” Bradley said. “She’s a blueprint for making a way in the wilderness of white supremacy, patriarchy, and privilege. She realized that the truth that she was sharing was not just her own. It was the truth of those who came before her, with her, and after her.”
She continued by saying that the South is not linear, it is cyclical. She explained that the South is “Constantly dipping and revisiting the past to make an understanding of the future.”
“I am a firm believer that the voices black people speak with are seldom just their own,” said Bradley. “Like Hamer we turn trauma and tragedy into purpose, even when that truth is illegible to others around us. Making a unique experience of truth and purpose in the south is the foundation of southern hip hop.”
Bradley then explained that she believes that southern hip hop is the instigator for modernizing the south. She argues that it is the bridge between the past and the future and that it allows for multiple narratives to exist simultaneously.
Bradley discussed how the work of southern hip hop group OutKast can be used to analyze the rise of hip hop in the South. She explained that at the 1995 Source Awards, OutKast was booed off the stage after winning Best New Rap Group over Smith and Wesson, a rap group from New York. She continues by saying that it was at this award show that OutKast began to overcome the geographic and cultural boundaries of hip hop and the southern black expression.
“It is not about respectability, it’s about adaptability,” said Bradley. “That is the true genius and tool of freedom for the Black american south: being able to experiment and adapt to our needs and freedom dreams.”
Bradley was asked how this logic applies to the “Saturday Night Live” performance by Megan Thee Stallion, an American rapper, singer, and songwriter. She performed one of her most popular songs while also using this as an opportunity to highlight the lack of protection around black women and to advocate for them. Bradley responded by saying that politics is one’s political views are the morals and standards that they live by every single day.
“Being able to connect those dots within hip-hop culture is really important because a lot of folks feel like you have to have a formal education or you have to be college educated or do x, y, and z,” said Bradley. “The respectable binaries that are associated with what it means to be a productive citizen are blurred and complicated when you think about hip-hop, particularly southern hip-hop.”
She then explained how powerful it was for Megan Thee Stallion to use her platform as not only a rapper, but a woman who has impacted several cultural channels, to make these difficult political conversations move forward.
When asked what she would say to those who are criticizing whether or not Stallion has any business getting involved in this political conversation, Bradley compared that situation to Hamer by saying that if that were the case, Hamer wouldn’t have been involved in the conversations of the Democratic National Convention.
“She didn’t check off a lot of the boxes that folks were expecting you to understand to be a quote on quote civil rights activist,” said Bradley. “Fannie Lou Hamer, Claudet Colvin, they made the way so that folks like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion could ride and roll and not be restricted to these expectations that have been placed upon them that are often rooted in white supremacy and these expectation of what white assimilation means – to still do the work that was necessary to move black people forward.”