03 April 2014

A Black Green and White talk with Shamako Noble of the Hip Hop Congress

Shamako Noble is Executive Director of Hip Hop Congress and currently personal assistant to Green Party VP candidate Cheri Honkala. He didn’t sleep in a tent or rely on Romneyville’s porta johns or its converted old school bus kitchen. But he spend hours there each day to help with events that countered, in a small but more than just symbolic way, the agenda of the Republican National Convention.



And I was glad to see him and Green Party VP candidate Cheri Honkala during counter DNC events in Charlotte. Along with presidential candidate Jill Stein, they held a press conference at Marshal Park with about 40 tents as a backdrop. That didn't sit well with some of the Occupiers there, but that's another story.



Two or three local TV news crews began recording, and Noble did a cypher that lasted more than 3 minutes. Honkala had announced it as a love song for the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, an organization she founded.
When we spoke in Tampa a week earlier, Noble talked about Hip Hop, love, race, and environmentalism.



“I’ve been in a few places around the country where people are really looking at concretely what it would look like to integrate love into our society as an operating value. In the current system we live in, love is like an extra.”



Noble agreed that to talk about love involves vulnerability.



“ Yet we’re literally in a position in our society where love is required for the level of effort and sacrifice and collectivity necessary to get to where we’re going to go. Love goes hand in hand with abundance like fear goes hand in hand with scarcity. We’re living in more of a fear and scarcity model right now.”



Noble said love can lead to abundance and vice versa.



“It’s just like fear and scarcity are corresponding values. When there’s a lot to go around, it’s fun to share. When you’re under the impression there’s not enough to go around, it makes sense to hoard. Right now we’re constantly told there’s not enough to go around while corporations are posting record profits.”



Noble said when it comes to Hip Hop, big corporations in the music industry obviously aren’t pushing a social justice message.



“Right now it’s about big money, flashy cars with only some contrast to that like Lupe Fiasco or Common. But on a local or regional level, Hip Hop is very connected to social movements. It’s utilized, like here (at the Romneyville encampment which was part of the protests during the Republican National Convention) where we’ll be doing performances. There are people using Hip Hop to educate youth, to stand in solidarity with movements like Occupy or the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign.”



Noble said historically and globally speaking, the legacy of Hip Hop is much closer to the struggle of the people than it is in line with the interests of elite capitalists.



“I don’t want to get into conspiracy theories, but a lyric committee is basically a record label body that identifies inappropriate political content in albums. Some of that started in the late 80’s, early 90s and played at least some degree of a role in Hip Hop going from Cross Colors, X hats, and Stop the Violence to get rich or die trying.”



Noble said history shows some of the powerful do what they can to take away the tools of people who might challenge them.



“Without a doubt, Hip Hop is one of those tools. It came out of an environment where there was no money. People were creating despite. It’s very nature is almost indigenous or tribal.”



Noble explained what he meant by “creating despite,” by saying, “if you look at the Bronx during the early and mid 70s, at that time, a lot of arts and music programs were falling by the wayside. Still people found a way to create music even without formal lessons. I don’t know how much you know about the Mural Arts Movement but part of it is framed as an effort to take art out of the hands of the critics and museums and back into the hands of the people. Put it back on the block where it reflected the experiences of the people who were creating it.”



Noble said this was a step away from a situation where a person sitting in a building downtown determined the value of a painting.



“Hip Hop comes from that spirit and that tradition.”



I asked Noble how the Green Party pertains to people of color and what he thought of the following idea : some Black middle class people might not relate to the counter-consumerist and counter-materialist message of some White folk in the environmental and social justice movements, given the social status implications.



“The first thing I want to say, particularly coming out of the Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente campaign, is that there is definitely a base of people of color that voted for those candidates and will vote for Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala as well. But that base might not be fully integrated into the Green Party structure, for whatever reason.



“But as for environmentalism, the Chevron explosion in Richmond (California) about 3 weeks ago--well, Richmond is pretty much the hood, man. And I would say that’s an environmental issue.”



He said approaches to environmental issues might differ because of race and ethnicity, but that those issues obviously pertain to historically underserved communities.



“There are issues like oil refineries exploding in your neighborhood or building a school on top of a toxic waste dump. That was in Hunter’s Point (California). There was actually a similar situation taking place in East Palo Alto which is kind of on the peninsula, sort of the poor, hood community of Silicon Valley.”



Noble said an organization called YUCA got a plant in East Palo Alto to stop dumping toxic waste in their community.



“So, all that’s definitely a form of environmentalism. But I think what you’re talking about is that it’s a question of what it means to be human and to live well as a human. I think about the movie Panther. One of the things that was discussed was Black people are fighting for their humanity and the White workers are fighting for more money. That’s one perspective you could take on it. When we look at the environmental movement, like coal mines and mountain folk. What it comes down to is poor communities that have historically divided along social constructs of race. It makes sense to want a piece of something, to want to feel human.”