Skin Deep: Identity, Race and Representation

To continue our exploration into representation, we began by discussing how we identify ourselves and how others may label us. In line with this thought, we discussed two models of identity. The first, Essentialism, is the view that entities (individuals, racial groups, animals, physical objects) have essential characteristics that cannot be observed directly, however, have a stable ‘core of the self’ that goes unchanged over time and location. However, some may argue that different versions of identity can be observed in different circumstances over time. This would suggest that the ‘stable’ core of the self in not constant and unchanging. This leads us to the second model, strategic identity, which accepts identity as a process of becoming rather than a constant state of being. Therefore we can now understand the difference in identity and identification.

Identity: the state or fact of remaining the same one or ones, as under varying aspects or conditions.
Identification: an act or instance of identifying; the state of being identified. (Toponce, 2008)

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We followed this discussion by taking a look at the intro to the PBS documentary ‘Blacking Up: Hip-Hop’s Remix of Race and Identity’. The short clip questioned the cultural significance of rap and hip hop culture entering the American white suburban culture. America is no stranger to exploiting elements of black culture and so this poses the question: should we consider this integration as appreciation or appropriation?

Some may argue that because we are now part of such a multicultural society we are coming into this post-race era which has moved away from issues of race. Whilst a large percentage of those who listen to hip hop are not in fact a part of the black community, there is an innocence in that those who listen are drawn to the story that is being told, and the style or way it is being told. The only issue with an assumed multi-culturalism is that in actuality it can be a lot shallower. As well as confirming western cultural privileges as a part of representation, ethnicity also can be very profitable to sell. As well as this, the true history and struggle of a culture can be left out which encourages a narrow representation across the spectrum.