Learning to Listen, Learning to Be: African-American Girls and Hip-Hop at a Durham, NC Boys and Girls Club
This dissertation documents African-American girls' musical practices at a Boys and Girls Club in Durham, NC. Hip-hop is the cornerstone of social exchanges at John Avery, and is integrated into virtually all club activities. Detractors point to the misogyny, sexual exploitation and violence predominant in hip-hop's most popular incarnations, suggesting that the music is a corrupting influence on America's youth. Girls are familiar with these arguments, and they appreciate that hip-hop is a contested and sometimes illicit terrain. Yet they also recognize that knowledge about and participation in hip-hop-related activities is crucial to their interactions at the club, at school, and at home. As girls hone their listening skills, they reconcile the contradictions between behavior glorified by hip-hop and the model presented to them by their mentors. This project examines how African-American girls ages 5-13 use their listening practices to claim a space within hip-hop's landscape while still operating within the unambiguous moral framework they have learned from their parents, mentors and peers. Through ethnography and close analysis of vocal utterances, dance moves and social interaction, I consider how individual interactions with mass-mediated music teach girls a black musical aesthetic that allows them to relate to their peers and mentors, and how these interactions highlight the creativity with which they begin to negotiate sexual and racial politics on the margins of society.
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