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Why Rap Artists Still Hate Ronald Reagan
“I leave you with four words: I'm glad Reagan dead,” Mike “Killer Mike” Render rapped in his song “Reagan” off the 2012 album R.A.P. Music. His harsh, inflammatory statements drew attention from the press at the time that only increased when the video’s similarly hyperbolic imagery (one example shown above) drew fire from conservatives. In the January/February 2014 issue of Art Papers, Dr. Joycelyn A. Wilson interviews Render and gets at the heart not only of “Reagan,” but also at the rap world’s general distaste for the 40th President of the United States, a man basically sainted by the right. Reagan’s presidency ended in 1989 and his life ended in 2004 after a long illness that kept him from the public eye, yet he remains a powerfully negative symbol for some decades later. Why do rap artists still hate Ronald Reagan?
Wilson, an educational anthropologist, digs into how the visuals of the music video for “Reagan” complement and emphasize the lyrics of the song. “Lyrically rebellious, visually radical, and sonically resonant, R.A.P. Music is indigenous to the blurred lines between hip-hop culture and visual art,” Wilson writes, pointing out that the full, un-acronymed title is actually Rebellious African People Music. Wilson asks listeners/viewers to “frame R.A.P. Music, the album, and rap music proper as both performative pathways for accessing what I refer to in my research as the hip-hop imagination… [which] is a lens; a set of ‘hip-hop glasses’ made from a range of hip-hop–based aesthetics… Situated in the Black experience, these glasses provide intersecting perspectives about culture, politics, lifestyle, and art.” “When worn properly,” Wilson concludes, these hip hop glasses “help make better sense of our communities, institutions, and environments.” Even if rap doesn’t suit your musical tastes, you can’t dismiss the fact that the music and the visuals that accompany it represent the reality of the African-American experience today. To refuse to wear hip hop glasses is to deliberately accept your own cultural myopia.
Wilson begins the interview with the obvious question, “Why is hip-hop still referencing Reagan?” “Because there is an active marketing campaign to lionize Ronald Reagan and I'm here to say that it is a lie,” Render replies. “That's all.” Thus, the rap response to fervent Reagan idolizing becomes equally fervent Reagan iconoclasm. To those who credit Reagan with winning the Cold War, Render counters, “Yeah, but the cold war didn't end against poor people. The cold war didn't end for policemen being able to brutalize children. I was beaten during the ‘war on drugs.’ And my dad was a cop.” The video visually and verbally references the theory that the U.S. government orchestrated the crack epidemic to plague minorities. “Thank God for the books that were written that connected the CIA and Oliver North with basically a triangle trade of death where arms had to get to the Middle East, drugs had to come out of Central America and up into California to be disseminated throughout the nation,” Render explains. “It destroyed my community.” It’s no accident that Render repurposes the “triangle trade” term from the days of slavery for the modern “slavery” of drugs and drug enforcement in America. As the interview and the song make clear, Render’s a thoughtful young man with a powerful sense of history. Whether you agree with his conclusions depends on how far you agree with his interpretations of that history.
Render uses audio from Reagan’s speech in which he denied any knowledge of or even the existence of the Iran Contra Affair as his “hook” showing how governments then and now lie to their people. (Later, Render also uses Reagan’s sheepish speech acknowledging the existence of the conspiracy.) In the video, illustrated by Daniel Garcia and Harry Teitelman, Reagan appears in a star-spangled suit against the backdrop of a malevolent-looking black and white American flag featuring the same “eye of providence” found on everything from the American one dollar bill to the seal of the DARPA Information Awareness Office, some of the nice people Edward Snowden told us all about. Garish red and blue elements flood the landscape of the video along with references to “666”(the “Number of the Beast”) connected to Ronald Wilson Reagan and the six letters in each of his names. (A horned, red-eyed Reagan head devilishly soars into the sky near the end of the video.) Coincidence? Hyperbolic? Perhaps, but Wilson and Render would argue such usage is necessary to get the message across against the grain of the mainstream media. In fairness, Render may single Reagan out for special treatment, but he points fingers at all the presidents since, both Republican and Democratic, both white and black. “Ronald Reagan was an actor, not at all a factor/ Just an employee of the country's real masters/ Just like the Bushes, Clinton and Obama/ Just another talking head telling lies on teleprompters,” Render raps as presidents 41 through 44 appear as finger puppets manipulated by more powerful hands. If Render’s a Reagan hater, he’s also an equal opportunity hater.
Perhaps most fascinating is Render’s indictment of elements of rap culture itself. “We should be indicted for bullshit we inciting/ Hand the children death and pretend that it's exciting/ We are advertisements for agony and pain/ We exploit the youth, we tell them to join a gang,” Render raps to visuals of black entertainers glamorizing “thug life” at the expense of African-American community life. Again, Render’s a hater—of Reagan, of government, of anything he sees as destructive of his community. Wilson’s revisiting of Render’s 2012 album and video in anticipation of the upcoming release of the sequel, R.A.P. Music II, which Render promises will be “motivation music,” should motivate us all to don our hip hop glasses or any other lens that will help us see beyond our own circumstances, to see how one person’s hero can be another person’s demon.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
What leads people to believe in "chi" attacks and "no-touch" knockouts?
- A small fraction of martial arts teachers claim to possess extraordinary powers, like being able to knock out opponents without touching them.
- A recent video essay explores the psychological factors that drive people to believe in fake martial arts.
- These factors might also help to explain why there's often some degree of blind self-deception regarding the efficacy of traditional martial arts.
Why do people buy into fake martial arts?<p>In a recent video essay, YouTuber <a href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtGoikgbxP4F3rgI9PldI9g" target="_blank">Super Eyepatch Wolf</a> explores that question by taking a look at the history of fake martial arts, and some of its noted "masters."</p>
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