Hip Hop, Bluegrass, Banjos, and Solidarity: Race and Class Histories in Appalachia U.S.A

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Virginia Tech


This dissertation examines the historical race and class tensions across the United States, and particularly focuses on Appalachia as a potential place of resistance against racial and class injustice. Arguing for a thick cross-racial solidarity movement, I examine the history of Black oppression from slavery to current modes of oppression such as mass incarceration and colorblind constitutionalism. The presence of anti-Black racism and under acknowledgement of whiteness hinders any form of cross-racial solidarity. To combat this, I ask, are the genres of hip hop, bluegrass, and country able to provide a reckoning of the continual racial oppression of Black people and an acknowledgement of whiteness, in Appalachia and the U.S.? I examine the historical progression of bluegrass and country, and hip hop, through the history of the banjo and music industry. The banjo, an African instrument, links Appalachia with histories of both Black expression and racial oppression. From here, I argue that the history of the music industry provides a further understanding of racial injustice that is parallel to the instances of institutional racial injustice in the U.S. This history provides evidence that Black artists used their music to enable social movements and resistance against systemic racial injustice in the U.S. Throughout several chapters, I analyze the many untold, forgotten, and hidden histories of Black racial violence that exists in the U.S. and Appalachia, and how music operates as a tool of resistance that can enable Black liberation against racial injustice. Through an examination of racial injustice in my hometown of Martinsville, Virginia, and using music as a tool, I suggest that, a thick cross-racial solidarity can exist with a recognition of historical racial injustice against Blacks, both locally and nationally, an acknowledgment of whiteness, an anti-racist framework for community activism, and a centering of Black voice, narrative, and Black liberation.



race, class, hip hop, bluegrass, Appalachia, solidarity, banjo, segregation, institutional racism, social movements