Keri Solaris

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Lyrical Swords


Photos by Chimena Ihebuzor.

On Nov. 16, in the Popp Martin Student Union of UNC Charlotte, students were able to partake in and gather to watch the joining of hip-hop and the human competitive nature that goes on to create what we call rap. With the expert guest DJ, Slic Vic, the ever hilarious emcee, RJ Chisolm and the four inspiring and talented students – Braxton “B Stax,” Prince, Xavier and Ryan –  standing alongside with mics in hand, ready to go, the evening was one filled with jokes, laughs, and, of course, sick beats. With their lyrical swords ready in hand, the four competitors, fellow students and rap enthusiasts, were ready to get the show rolling – although, CAB’s twenty-minute delay didn’t do much to aid the angst that was filling the performers, as well as the audience. But, alas, the show did indeed go on.

The competitors, along with the emcee who just could not leave himself out of this one, were to compete in three structured rounds, plus a freestyle bonus round, with each individual taking turns solo on stage. The first three rounds all consisted of each contestant giving a one-minute freestyle rap on varying topics depending on the round. With the first round, each contestant gave credence to their graduating class and college, repping their personality and achievements as a student at UNCC with their rhymes. Round two is where the comedy began to pick up: what else would you expect when you mix something like Niner Pride and Chartwells’ dining options? Stances were taken and there were shots fired at Crown Commons’ soggy cheese pizza, our football team’s unsavory win-loss ratio and the general lack of swipe-sharing. But even amongst the jabs thrown at our university, there was still some love being shown all the same. The third round was a no topic acapella round in which contestants could freestyle rap for a minute, with or without a beat. This was also interesting to see what each of them would come up with, alone, with just their voices carrying them. They each had their own tone, mood and style that added to their own personal lyrical flow and it really showed what they could do, despite having little to work with. Finally, we have the bonus round: two minutes for each contestant to “bring it.” Each contestant was able to either fool around and roast some of the other contestants, or perform something of their own that they’ve previously memorized. This is where they were able to really show off their talent and each of them did show off very well indeed. And while all of the contestants were each very talented in their own right, it was a battle after all and there had to be a winner.

Student and contestant Ryan Essick managed to impress the crowd with his powerful stage presence, savvy lyrical improvisation, and capability to hold close to rhythm and beat, and was able to walk away as the winner of the 49 Mile Rap Battle, rightly so. This rap battle would mark the first ever hosted by the university’s Campus Activities Board (CAB), taking another step further into incorporating diversity of expression into the campus and its students. As we were able to witness this evening, rap can be something that is fun, entertaining and something used to simply spit rhymes to roast your buddies after knocking a few back, but we must also remember that this is not where rap, and rap’s purpose, stops. Rap also speaks to culturally relevant issues that seem to span across time and gives a voice to those who may otherwise be silenced. Rap, whether it be musically inclined hip-hop that we hear on the radio, or something that is battled out on a stage in a university, it’s something that is bringing about a much needed and overdue cultural appreciation in our society, it’s bringing people together, and it’s forever making its mark on its viewers and listeners. And here at UNC Charlotte, we gladly welcome it.

What NOT to Wear on Halloween!

Courtesy of Pixabay

Halloween is right around the corner and you know what that means: ghouls and goblins, superheroes and their villain counterparts, every “sexy” animal adaptation imaginable, and the reduction of an entire race or culture down into a single costume. Yes, if you’re wondering, this is another article about cultural appropriation and the platform that Halloween gives it, but hey, it wouldn’t keep coming up if it still wasn’t relevant.

For centuries, but especially during recent decades, Halloween has always been a banger of a holiday: free candy, parties galore, crazy costumes, and the opportunity to push the envelope in the hopes of having just a bit more fun. But what happens when it’s pushed a little too far and people get caught in the crossfire? Costumes can be a fun way to express interests. You’ve got movies, television, music, sports, professions, archetypes, and sexualized versions of all of the aforementioned (I’ve seen everything from a sexy crayon to a sexy infant to a sexy corn on the cob; it gets pretty damn weird). But regardless of the wide variety of options, culturally appropriated costumes still pop up every year.

Cultural appropriation is the use of culturally specific material by a dominant group (i.e. White people) without the expressed collective consent of the marginalized group to which the material belongs. Minorities are punished and mocked for their originality and their culture, yet when someone of privilege essentially rips off said originality and culture, they’re praised for it and profit from it. The privileged are seen as cool or trendy, whereas minorities would be considered ghetto or trashy for the exact same thing. Culturally appropriated Halloween costumes perpetuate harmful stereotypes about people of color and minorities. And since our society equates “Whiteness” with normalcy, anyone or anything outside of “the norm” is considered “exotic” or “funny” and therefore, perfect for the dominant culture to use as a Halloween costume. These appropriated costumes often range from Black face or Yellow face, a “sexy” Indian girl, a Native American with a hatchet and a headdress, African costumes, Geishas, Mexican and Dia de los Muertos costumes, Inuit and Eskimo costumes, and Arab or “Terrorist” costumes. By putting on costumes such as these, one is taking from a marginalized group without their permission, typically without respect or knowledge of their culture, and using it for their own personal fun and gain.

This is never an easy topic to discuss because there will always be those who don’t agree, who think it’s an issue of oversensitivity or being too PC or having their right to free speech and self-expression challenged or taken away. “It’s just a joke!” “Stop trying to take the fun out of Halloween!” “It’s just a costume!” Even so, an acknowledgement of privilege of power needs to happen. Why is your costume so funny? Why is it a joke? Why are you so desperate to wear it over anything else? What are you trying to say with your costume? Many give the argument that they are “appreciating, not appropriating,”           but is one really appreciating a culture if they are only acknowledging it for one night out of the year? Is it really appreciation if the acknowledgment is nothing more than a joke?

It is really easy to dress up as another culture for one night and have a good time. Then, when the morning rolls around and your hangover starts its subtle roar, you get to take off the makeup and the outfits that transformed you into someone else from somewhere else that you never really understood to begin with. When Halloween night is over, you get to go back to your normal self, not having to suffer any of the consequences that the culture you’re masquerading as have to face every day for simply being a member of that group. By dressing up as another culture, you are belittling the experiences of those within that culture. What you may wear for one night, they wear for life. You get awesome pictures and Instagram likes, they get to be outcasted and demonized. It is pretty fucked up to have to put up with discrimination, hostility, violence, and exploitation on a daily basis and then go out on Halloween to see the very people responsible for your oppression making fun of you through the use of ridiculous stereotypes.

Courtesy of pixabay

When it comes to Halloween, the line is rarely as clear as we may hope. The obvious thing to do would be to not wear a costume that could be offensive to a certain culture or group; but in the right context, any costume can offend anyone. So where does that really leave us? We can start with understanding our social position and maybe reading up on some literature to further expand our knowledge on the topic. Ignorance in scenarios such as these have never produced appealing outcomes, so the more we know, the better off we may be. We can also simply consult our friends and our peers. If you aren’t sure if something is offensive, ask. Don’t just show up and hope for the best, prepare yourself instead. Breaking down centuries of structured racism isn’t just going to go away overnight, but it’s going to happen even slower if no one says or does anything about it. Now, I’m not saying that if you go out on Halloween and see people appropriating other cultures through their costumes that you should drop all your candy and go dropkick them. Rather, we should acknowledge that there definitely is a problem and stop shying away from the difficult conversations that we must have.

At the end of the day, you have the right to wear what you want on Halloween, even if it belittles and insults the people that you claim to admire. But, by taking the time to really examine and think about the impact of what we wear on Halloween has, we could be one step closer to living in a post-racist society.