People Have Told Me To Choose Politics or Culture — Here’s Why I Won’t

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By Jaylin Paschal

When people hear that I explore (Hip Hop) culture and politics, they always ask which is my focus. When I tell them I work to bridge the two, they suggest I pick a “niche” to focus on. The mix of culture and politics doesn’t make much sense to them, and definitely doesn’t point down a clear career path. Channeling my attention to one or the other will, in their opinion, help to build specificity in my portfolio and show potential employers what exactly it is I “do” well. Identifying a single specialty is in my best interest, as far as they’re concerned.

Furthermore, for whatever reason the politics of someone vested in culture are taken less seriously. To many, you can’t be both a politico and a culture geek. Embracing the latter deflates your status as the former. Friends I’ve met at political conventions have been surprised that I talk about Speaker Paul Ryan in the context of Drake, and probably walked away with a reduced respect for my political opinions.

But for me, culture and politics will never, ever be separated. Of the three foundations of culture — family, state and religion — “state” is extremely influential in determining the course of a culture. Therefore it’s an integral component of every facet of culture; manifesting itself via several forms of collective expression. Movies, music, art and other mediums one may consider “culture” are all their own interpretations of the governing state.

It’s no shock that many of the most prolific political activists are considered to be either cultural critics or culture-creators. Think of Malcolm X, Tupac, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Kendrick Lamar and the way they commented on or contributed to culture to make a political point. It’s no surprise that many activists consider themselves creators, and many creators themselves activists.

The cycle of culture influencing politics and politics influencing culture is everlasting, as they respond to and work with one another. It’s because of this that I think the line separating the two is so, frankly, stupid.

Cultural politics, or expressing thoughts on policy, justice and law through the critique or creation of culture, is the only form of the study that actively incorporates the way people live, think and express into our governing body.

I’m at a student protest right now, addressing issues that are as cultural as they are political. My background in both only reaffirms my being here, and prepares me with language to wholly articulate my point of view.

So, no. I won’t choose between two interwoven aspects of our society that depend on each other to develop. I’ll continue to search for and explore where these two intersect, because these intersections are revealing of who Americans are when everything is at stake.

Jaylin PaschalComment