Hip Hop and Racism in Australia

Jimblah (AKA James Alberts) is a South Australian Indigenous hip hop artist who has been an outspoken and creative critic of racism in Australia. While hip hop is very popular in Australia, the hip hop played by mainstream channels is predominantly American. Australian hip hop forums are dominated by white Anglo males who are both racist and sexist. This means that hip hop in Australia is exclusionary on several fronts: first in the type of artists that are given an audience by mainstream media; second by the exclusionary set up of the hip hop community online; and third by specifically marginalising Indigenous hip hop artists.

Jimblah says that most Australians aren’t interested in Indigenous issues or they’re put off by his message of racism. Jimblah runs hip hop workshops for Indigenous youth. He tells the Sydney Morning Herald that hip hop gives a voice to racial oppression. To put this into sociological terms, hip hop is a platform for exploring postcolonial struggle. Jimblah says:

These are things people don’t normally talk about in such a forthright manner – racism and oppression… It’s not only getting it off your chest, it’s also empowering people who are going through that kind of struggle as well.’

The Herald also interviewed sociologist Jon Stratton who argues that the Australian music industry is discriminatory against Indigenous music:

The effect of having an almost completely white population drawn predominantly from Britain and northern Europe meant that there was little knowledge of, or impact of, music that was not drawn from white sources…

The predominant music in Australia then was based in melody rather than rhythm, focused on a solo singer rather than a group and privileged lyrics at least as much as the musical backing.

Jimblah promotes hip hop as a way to fight racism. He is compiling a Reconciliation Mix Tape. The title refers to the Australian reconciliation process, which acknowledges the historical violence and human rights violations committed against Indigenous Australians. Reconciliation also promotes intercultural dialogue and unity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.

Indigenous Australians did not have the right to vote until 1965 and they have continued to face various institutional barriers to equality. Indigenous Australians have a low life expectancy, they experience greater health problems relative to other Australians, plus they have lower educational and economic opportunities. Sociological research also shows that Australians generally think of Indigenous Australians as an “out group” who are stereotyped as being lazy, alcohol-dependent and not trust-worthy. At the heart of this collective racism is an inability to adopt Indigenous history, knowledge and practice into Australia’s national core culture.

Hip hop artist Hau Latukefu (of Koolism) sees that hip hop is one way to bridge the cultural divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

In my perspective, in my opinion, the top hip hop artist in the tier should address racism, you know what I mean, sexism… I always feel it’s a responsibility on that platform to say something worthwhile but not everyone is like that, some people want to make records about drinking and partying…

Hip hop has always been about expressing yourself, that’s why I feel that a lot of these people use hip hop as a vehicle to say whatever they want. In some ways it’s fair enough, hip hop can be used by anyone really, but it’s about uniting cultures. How can you be racist and listen to this music?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s