Music News & Reviews

Rap concert exposes racial rift at UC Davis

Chance The Rapper performs onstage during the iTunes festival at the Roundhouse in Camden, north London, Friday, Sept 30, 2016.
Chance The Rapper performs onstage during the iTunes festival at the Roundhouse in Camden, north London, Friday, Sept 30, 2016. AP

A student’s Facebook post about an October rap concert has exposed racial tensions at UC Davis, prompting a meeting between black leaders and university officials and a shutdown of the event’s Facebook page.

Tori-Ann Porter’s post regarding Chance the Rapper’s Oct. 30 concert at the UC Davis ARC Pavilion garnered more than 600 reactions and sparked more than 350 comments about race and music. Some students’ remarks prompted ASUCD’s Internal Affairs Committee to release a statement condemning racist and discriminatory language on campus.

The initial post suggested that white students surrender their floor seats to their non-white peers: “All the white people who got floor tickets to see Chance the Rapper need to give them up to Black people or Brown people,” Porter wrote on the event’s Facebook page. “The album wasn’t even made for you and you don’t even know what he is talking about or can’t even relate to it lol.”

Many students – minority and white – disagreed with Porter’s stance. Several students expressed surprise and disappointment at some of the comments on Porter’s post, including remarks comparing blacks to monkeys and telling them to “go back to Africa.”

For some students, those comments were indicative of a larger racial problem on campus and nationwide, said UC Davis Center for African Diaspora Student Success director Kayton Carter. After the post went viral, Carter was summoned to meet with university higher-ups about Porter’s post.

Carter disagreed with Porter’s original post, as did the two black students who initially brought it to his attention, he said. Carter said he thinks that Porter lashed out after not being able to secure a concert ticket. He said the student’s view was not representative of all minorities at UC Davis.

Chance, a best selling Chicago-based rapper, supports social justice movements on his latest release “Coloring Book.” In the song “Blessings,” Chance, who is African American, tells listeners, “Jesus’ black life ain’t matter, I know – I talked to his daddy.” Past releases such as 2012’s “10 Day” hinge more on Chance’s exposure to violence and police brutality while growing up in Chicago.

Despite Chance’s background, white students and people of other races can still connect to the artist and his work, Carter said.

“What color is music? Music has no color. Music is universal,” Carter said. “I’d like to think that someone like Chance the Rapper is open to anyone who’s willing to listen, as opposed to writing music … to a specific ethnic population.”

Sociology senior Sam Alavi was among the students who empathized with Porter and was offended by some Facebook comments. While Alavi, 21, said she disagreed with Porter’s original post, she wanted people to be racially conscious enough to understand why some black students view the event as more than just another concert.

“I think UC Davis students could benefit from a conversation not just on racism, but on the consumption of black-made music and entertainment,” said Alavi, who said she knows Porter. “Many students of color, including my friends, felt threatened (by the comments). A community that they thought was supporting them was actually full of a lot of racism that we need to unpack on campus.”

UC Davis should do more to educate students on diverse groups and people they may encounter, said Alavi, the director of ASUCD’s Office of Advocacy and Student Representation and a Cross Cultural Center peer educator. The university requires students to take one class that meets a social-cultural diversity requirement, a class that can be anything from “Photography: Bridging Art and Science” to “Environmental Change, Disease and Public Health.”

“I love UC Davis, I’m proud to be an Aggie, but I constantly see transphobia, I constantly see sexism – both on an institutional level and just amongst students in their Facebook comments and comments in class,” Alavi said.

Halifu Osumare, a recently retired UC Davis professor who taught a class called “Hip Hop in Urban America,” said she will lead a class discussion on the post after a student brought up the issue.

“You have a lot of young students just realizing the level of inequality we have in the U.S. Oftentimes, they are looking for ways to address it or stand up for something. I think in this case, this is misguided, definitely,” she said. “Young students really need to educate themselves about this issue and the history behind it before they create a forum for it.”

African Americans, Puerto Ricans, whites and Jamaicans all produced hip-hop in the 1970s, when the genre was forming in the South Bronx. The common factor behind their art, Osumare said, was poverty, not skin color. Rap music, which sprouted from hip-hop, is often associated with a “renegade black male,” which Osumare attributed to the music industry’s commercialization of the genre.

Osumare tied the initial post to larger issues of race and inequality, such as Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem as a protest against police brutality. However, she said, talk of ensuring students of color received floor tickets diverted attention from more significant issues – and would be impossible to enforce.

“What would be the cutoff point for your skin color being black or brown? There are very light-skinned, full-fledged black people in our country,” Osumare said.

Ben Egel (@BenjyEgel