The specificity of the modern political and cultural formation I want to call the black Atlantic can be defined, on one level, through this desire to transcend both the structures of the nation state and the constraints of ethnicity and national particularity. These desires are relevant to understanding political organising and cultural criticism. They have always sat uneasily alongside the strategic choices forced on black movements and individuals embedded in national political cultures and nation states in America, the Caribbean, and Europe.Gilroy, 1993, p. 19
What stakes does Hip-Hop have in cultural policy formation? Why should Hip-Hop participate? These questions may not be new to US Americans or some academics who might regard Hip-Hop is a particular kind of institution. One that is deeply embedded in social, political, academic and commercial activities in a unique way. However, the export of Hip-Hop did not come with a manual about protocols for all of its institutional practices and resistances. Instead, around the world we listened, observed, studied, discussed, mimicked, negotiated, learned and appropriated. Hip-Hop became a methodology embedded in our own reality. We find refuge in that methodology, as a way of being in a postcolonial and racist reality. I speak of reality because it is NOT a theoretical device. It is eating injera for dinner and kita for breakfast while listening to Snoop’s Doggystyle, Mase’s Harlem World, DMX’s It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, Busta Rhymes’ When Disaster Strikes, everything by Missy Elliot, and Dead Prez’ Let’s Get Free, to name a few (in no particular order). This reality includes different forms of violence, suspicion, ambiguity and ambivalence by social, political and commercial institutions. In this reality, concepts and ideas referencing skin color, nationality, ethnicity, gender, class, difference, migration, diaspora, history, to name a few, are endemic. Only our parents, friends and rap spoke this language with any form of fluency, and varying dialect(ic)s.
The Double Consciousness and the Translocal Mandate
DIY Cultural Diplomacy departures from a Swedish context where cultural institutions are equipped with a political mandate that has national and international reach. This particular mandate is ideologically motivated and an alternative to market-oriented cultural life (although that can be debated). I want to make claims to that mandate because it has resources and infrastructure, and institutional practices. This makes up an aesthetic that I am listening to, observing, studying, discussing, mimicking, negotiating, learning and appropriating. This aesthetic is becoming embedded in my own African-Swedish experience. It is a wary process, however, where risks and benefits are hard to distinguish. Du Bois’ double consciousness comes to mind, but the Fanonian kind:
The colonized intellectual, at the very moment when he undertakes a work of art, fails to realize he is using techniques and a language borrowed from the occupier. /…/ The colonized intellectual who returns to his people through works of art behaves in fact like a foreigner.Fanon, 2007, p. 160
One reason for this complexity is the entanglement of the political mandate in a nationalist order. It responds to the aspirations of the nation state. The underlying premise, and assumption, is that Sweden is a well-functioning democracy so this nationalist order must be fair, if not now then at some point. When gauged against pervasive structural inequalities, however, the situation is far more complex. The double conscious person is well aware of this and has a particular sensibility for complicit racist and colonial thinking, to the point where it is almost debilitating to the self. Technology has changed a lot though. Sweden has become an elastic commercial brand, built on at least a century of manufacturing characteristics to identify with (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1992; Svenska Institutet, 2020; Zamorano, 2016). We are all welcome to participate, and we do, because it’s fun, creative, expressive, entertaining, and easy. Like a choir, individual identities now do their part in sponsoring empire.
There is an axis I want to direct attention to though, involving international relations and cultural affairs via cultural policy. What must be interrogated here is what part/kind of Swedish cultural life do the cultural attachés stationed abroad represent? What is promoted and how is that anchored in Sweden’s cultural life? I doubt, however, that there is adequate conceptual precision to be found in cultural policy. Much more speaks for ambiguity and contingency (Myndigheten för Kulturanalys, 2020), unfairly held together by careers and groups “who speak to and about one another with coded familiarity” (hooks, 2006, p. 454). We find clues to this in the sociology of taste:
[I]nsights from the sociology of taste (especially the writing of Bourdieu and others developing his work) have shown how symbolic power operates, and how different social groups enjoy not only different levels of access to different forms of artistic and cultural engagement, but also different access to the power to bestow value and legitimise aesthetic and cultural practices.Belfiore, 2020, p. 2
Now, the paradox lies in the diversity and inclusion imperative of cultural policy. For Swedish culture to be a legitimate and operational notion for successful cultural policy, let alone for cultural affairs, we are expected to participate via integration. This speaks for the cognitive dissonance at play (considering recent discourse on the failure of cultural policy to achieve its goals, especially those regarding participation and diversity), because we are in fact already participating – “it is nothing less than remarkable how people manage to unhear and unsee shit in a hip hop context“ (Rollefson, 2018, p. 174). Then, in the ambivalence between ambiguous and conditional cultural policy is where the double consciousness can be put to work and a translocal mandate be explored.
- Belfiore, E., 2020. Whose cultural value? Representation, power and creative industries. Int. J. Cult. Policy 26, 383–397. https://doi.org/10.1080/10286632.2018.1495713
- Fanon, F., 2007. The Wretched of the Earth. Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
- Gilroy, P., 1993. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Verso.
- Hobsbawm, E., Ranger, T., 1992. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge University Press.
- hooks, bell, 2006. Postmodern blackness, in: Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader. University of Georgia Press.
- Myndigheten för Kulturanalys, 2020. Kulturanalys 2020 En lägesbedömning i relation till de kulturpolitiska målen Rapport 2020:1 (No. 2020:1). Myndigheten för Kulturanalys, Stockholm.
- Rollefson, J.G., 2018. “Yo Nací Caminando”: community-engaged scholarship, hip hop as postcolonial studies, and Rico Pabón’s knowledge of self. J. World Pop. Music 5, 169–192. https://doi.org/10.1558/jwpm.37841
- Svenska Institutet, 2020. Vårt uppdrag. URL https://si.se/om-si/uppdrag-finansiering/ (accessed 3.18.20).
- Zamorano, M.M., 2016. Reframing Cultural Diplomacy: The Instrumentalization of Culture under the Soft Power Theory. Cult. Unbound J. Curr. Cult. Res. 8, 165–186. https://doi.org/10.3384/cu.2000.1525.1608165
 By ’participate’ I do not mean ’integrate’.