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What Hip-Hop Has Taught Us About White Supremacy Culture in the Workplace Over the Last 50 Years

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

I’ve often heard the phrase that things and people come into our life to be either a blessing or a lesson– hip hop is something that has proven to be both. The genre celebrated its 50th anniversary last week with celebrations that included a concert in Yankee Stadium featuring a star-studded lineup with artists including Run DMC, Lil Kim, Nas, Snoop Dogg, and more.

Over the span of five decades, hip hop has become a mainstay of Black expression and joy, and also a mirror of the ills that White supremacy culture has imposed on society. From its inception in the Bronx, NY to being a global, multi-million dollar industry, hip hop is a reflection of the power of Black creativity, and the forces that seek to strip that power away.

Hip hop provides many lessons for organizations and companies to study to improve on their DEI strategy, and eradicating anti-Blackness in the workplace.

Provide Opportunities for Growth and Mentorship: Diddy started as an intern for Uptown Records. Lil Wayne signed Drake when he was still mostly known for being the actor on Degrassi. Large Professor took a leap of faith and put a young and not-yet-widely-known Nas on a track that would become a classic. Missy Elliot also intentionally produced and supported multiple dark skinned Black women like, Tweet, Nicole Wray, Jazmine Sullivan, and Fantasia. The list of stars who got their start simply by having someone believe in their talent and value as an artist is endless– and it should be the same for your company or organization.

While staying at one company or organization for years and years at a time is less common now, the foundation should always be set for your employees to learn and grow beyond their current role. Making that investment both monetarily and interpersonally in the form of mentorship is what is needed to provide the professional development and support that employees of color need to be successful.

Beef Isn’t Always a Bad Thing: Hip hop would not be what it is without battle rap and legendary beefs. Your boss might love "Big Mama," “Hit Em Up," "Shether," “Ether” but if they fear open conflict when it arises in the workplace, it’s yet another characteristic of White supremacy culture in action. Hip hop has taught generations of people how to fight the powers that be, and be vocal about the violence and oppression Black and Brown people have faced at the hands of the state.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the same communities who created an artform built on giving a beat to their experiences with racism, poverty, and the criminal justice system would also be vocal about mistreatment in the workplace. The question when conflict arises at work or when employees of color raise an issue that causes discomfort should not be how quickly can we mute this person, but instead asks what can be done to address the root problem.

As the celebration of hip hop continues, it’s a perfect time for your organization to reflect on how authentic you’re remaining to your own core values, and where there’s room for growth. Hip hop has evolved and shifted in countless ways over the last 50 years, and it will continue to. What keeps it going are not the streaming numbers or trends that come and go, but the Black and Brown people who have the courage to grab a mic because they’ve got a story to tell. Authenticity, truth-telling, and the willingness to see or try something in a new way are values that will keep hip hop around for another 50 years– and they’ll keep your organization rooted in its purpose, too.

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