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ID with rhythm and plenty of color

Study shows how adolescents from the outskirts find identity in the hip-hop culture

To be or not to be? If in the cold Denmark of Hamlet there was hip-hop to be heard, or if the anguished prince could paint the walls of his wicked uncle’s castle with graffiti, perhaps Shakespeare’s would have less of a bloody end. Eager to understand the mechanism of adolescence, in which the youngster sees himself or herself thrown into a limbo, defined by what he is not (no longer a child and not yet an adult), forced to “find” his identity at any cost, Viviane Melo de Mendonça Magro, from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), interviewed youngsters, boys and girls, from the outskirts of Campinas (SP). In Meninas do Graffiti: Adolescência, Identidade e Gênero nas Culturas Juvenis Contemporâneas [Graffiti Girls: Adolescence, Identity and Gender in Contemporary Juvenile Cultures] (the provisional title), her thesis for a doctorate, we are presented with a new portrait of adolescents, in particular the young blacks from the outskirts of the big cities who are so stigmatized. Far from the “lawbreakers” of noisy music, we have a group that makes the hip-hop culture its way of showing what it is and what it is not in society.

“The hip-hop culture is made up of three main expressions: rap, which is music that has long lyrics, almost spoken, and has as its basis the musical samplers and strong beats arranged by the DJs; graffiti, a technique for composing colored paintings on walls and subways; and break dance, which consists of choreographies based on rap music and carried out with jerky movements that simulate fights or robots, and are usually danced in a group”, the researcher explains.It does not seem to be any great novelty. Viviane goes further by realizing that music can be a mediator for adolescents to get a better understanding of themselves, by revealing, empirically, that the hip hop culture “is constituted by the youngsters and adolescents need for sociability and ethnocultural affirmation.

It also offers elements for configuring their personal identities, marked by the quest for other alternative for thinking out the world and acting within it, as a resistance to a discriminating, marketeering and victimizing pedagogy of social exclusion, as the author observes. Hence, in an unprecedented way, “the youngsters with their hip-hop culture emerge as protagonists of their own educational process, in which they become authors of themselves, that is, they redeem education as a formation for author-citizens”.

This is a fundamental point for the researcher, who is concerned in showing the youngster as a person who formulates pertinent questions in the social field, and not the alienated person shown by the media or analyzed by conservative studies. Above all, the professor wants to make her research a practical instrument that points out the importance of giving value to these cultural movements, to improve the conditions for adolescents to grow up. In particular, in more recent moments, the researcher notes, there is growing interpenetration between youth culture, youth media, and the youth culture industry: what, at the start, was the fruit of the experienced lived through by youngsters, a way of expressing their aspirations, in a short time is reworked by the media and resold to the adolescents as trends to be followed, under penalty of those not following it being excluded.

Contestation turns into mainstream, and young culture thus falls into the power of the logic of the market. In several interviews with youngsters from the outskirts, the author notes the incoherent admiration-hate for hip-hop, for rap, for graffiti, sometimes seen as legitimate expression, sometimes as corroded by the commercialism of capitalist society. Far from being confused, it is a vision of what is real. “Youth has been massively present in the media, both in the direction of it being demonized and of being glorified”, Viviane observes.

The researcher, though, insists in the existence of new perspectives. “The relationship adolescent, identity and education fends off the need for a definition of identity, as a target or a prerequisite for entering the adult world, since there is not an identity, but instants of identity, always mutant, emerging, in a constant process of being authorized”, she reckons. This mistake, a constant in the general view of adolescents, has a cause. “It is rare that what is said about adolescents emerges from their own voices, but the words come from an empty category called adolescence, which is the depositary of the very crisis of sense, identity and place in contemporary society.”

The contradiction, though, goes further, and in the movement of rebelliousness lie too the seeds of its repetition. “The talk of adolescents is fringe, transgressing talk, talk that is also constructing senses that act as a form of resistance, as a way of maintaining that social order”, she observes. In this context, there is the other important axis of Viviane’s research: the gender differences between adolescents in the hip-hop world, and more specifically in graffiti.

The participation of girls in this rebellious world of sounds and graffiti is complex, and the researcher’s interviews reveal these difficulties. “The girls live one and the same situation of prejudice and discrimination for being women and liking hip-hop, or for listening to rap and doing graffiti, although they respond to this situation in a differentiated manner”, she says. “They demonstrate a need for respect and acceptance, for being poor women, black and white, who like hip-hop and take part in it. It seems that they want to exceed, to break the standards that are imposed on their bodies, so as to take up their position as”a real woman. ” Taking up a movement strongly marked by the masculine, “a space for acceptance that allows them to be who they are, which does not rule them out from continuing to fight, even inside the movement, for this space”, Viviane observes.

After all, everything boils down to a process of constituting a feeling of belonging to a community, in which consciousness of oneself and social conscience are amalgamated, the professor notes, leading “to a need to overcome the situation of social exclusion, together with the transformation of one itself”. Hence the complex gender game, repeating models that one intends to overcome.”Hip-hop is an instrument for expressing oneself and for social awareness, by means of which masculinity is affirmed, reproducing the hegemonic and dichotomous roles of man and woman, in which the public space is taken up by men and the private, subordinated, space is occupied by women”, she notes.

Be that as it may, the movement born in the United States in the 70’s, to deal with the disillusion of Blacks and Hispanics in the midst of the decadence of the American Dream, hip-hop reached Brazil and became for many youngsters “the first form of reflecting, culturally and linguistically, the problems of their community and the world, as well as developing a critical reflection of their own experiences and positions, turning itself into the foundation of juvenile self-expression”, Viviane says. “In particular, in the spaces of social exclusion, of an underdeveloped country, on the outskirts of the urban centers, in daily life, in the experiences of adolescents and young blacks and colored, in a juvenile cultural manifestation, in graffiti, and particularly in the experiences of the girls.”

The mixture of swinging (hip) and jumping (hop) serves a reasonable range of purposes for these youngsters. In her interviews, Viviane detected some of them, such as: the experience of identifying with the hip-hop culture, that is to say, a means of feeling that one belongs to a group, to a community and to a nation, escaping from hopelessness, giving a sense to their lives, and having the capacity to help one?s other colleagues; the experience of social commitment, the capacity for autonomy to “construct oneself” as a being in a social world, interested and qualified to change the general mentality of people about what they really are; the experience of belonging to a family, being accepted after suffering rejection from the real and extensive family; the experience of being somebody, since hip-hop gives excluded youngsters an increase in self-esteem and an understanding of the value of their ideas and feelings, expressed by the movement and by the capacity for telling the story to themselves, to the pointof being admired by friends and family; and, finally, the experience of having friends and of being a woman and of liking hip-hop. In short, everything that youngsters are allowed to be, even if many adults still insist they are not.

The project
Graffiti Girls: Adolescence, Identity and Gender in Contemporary Juvenile Cultures; Modality Doctoral scholarship; Supervisor Isaura Rocha Figueiredo Guimarães – School of Education/Unicamp; Scholarship holder Viviane Melo de Mendonça Magro – Faculty of Education/Unicamp

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