“Oh Canada” rap forgets about black Canadians.

In the “Oh… Canada” rap by Canadian rapper Classified, the white Nova Scotian dispels many stereotypes about Canada. The actual lyrics are great, but the video is 100% white.

One really annoying stereotype that non-Canadians have about Canadians is that “Canadian” means “white”, and Classified’s video ends up perpetuating this stereotype. Understandably, Classified is representing his home province Nova Scotia, when most Canadian rappers are from Toronto or Vancouver. However, for someone living in Toronto and accustomed to racial diversity, the framing of Classified’s video as a neo-national-anthem looks like an erasure of Canadians of colour.

The irony of using hip hop to erase people of colour leads to the issue of cultural appropriation. Atlasien provides a useful definition of cultural appropriation:

I think it’s much better to define cultural appropriation based on the people it affects. Does it hurt them in some way? If so, it’s probably cultural appropriation. If not, it’s probably just cultural borrowing or cultural drift.

There’s never going to be a 100% sure way of deciding that something is cultural appropriation, because the people being stolen from/borrowed from aren’t always going to agree. But you can make decisions informed by their arguments and weight of numbers.

There was a good conversation about this a while back at Rachel’s Tavern… someone who didn’t believe in cultural appropriation came up with the example “what about cooking Italian food if you’re not Italian?” The counterargument was that there’s nothing wrong with cooking Italian food if you’re not Italian… but if you go to Italy and start lecturing Italians that their way of cooking food is inferior to your more authentic Italian cooking style, then yes, you’ve crossed the line and turned into a rude and obnoxious cultural appropriator.

If you use this standard for global hip-hop, you could ask a series of questions… how is it hurting the group of people from the originating culture? How are these people being damaged or insulted or disrespected or taken away from, and to what extent? Are the people who view it as appropriation versus borrowing a minority opinion, or a majority opinion? And what is the level of power disparity between the originating culture and the appropriating/borrowing culture… the power disparity that determines the relative attention being paid to people who complain?

Historically, black Canadian rappers have worked hard against the American hip hop industry’s stereotypes about Canadians, as well as Canada’s reluctance against allowing an urban music station in Toronto. (Toronto urban music fans coped by fine-tuning our radios to pick up the signal from Buffalo.) Black Canadian rappers collaborated in 1998 to release the seminal all-star track Northern Touch, which transformed Canadian hip hop. Yet the historical contributions of Canadians of colour that paved the way for Classified’s success are forgotten in a rap video about Canadian identity.


Note: The beginning of the music video parodies Les Voltigeurs de Québec, a Historica Minute. The end of the video parodies Basketball, another Historica Minute.

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6 Responses to ““Oh Canada” rap forgets about black Canadians.”

  1. tdot Says:

    YES! Check out George Reefah out of Toronto. http://www.myspace.com/georgereefah

  2. Jonnel Says:

    Just a correction to your intro there. The video is indeed not 100% white. If you look closer you will notice black and bi-racial members in the crowd. If you are referring to the depiction of the Canadian Heritage then yes it is 100% white and some of those cast members are friends and other Nova Scotian artists who work closly with Classified.
    Another thing to note is the director of this video is a black woman. He vision for the video wasn’t to forget about black canadians but to show Canada in a fun way. Those people on the street weren’t chosen, they are people who decided to show up for the event. I’m sure you wouldn’t stop production and send out an emergency call for all the black people in Nova Scotia to come out and make this video look more diverse.
    Yes the points you made are understandable and I appreciate your view but I am a black woman and I did notice the lack of black people in the video but doing a little more research will make you realize that wasn’t the intension and they worked with what they had.
    The song doesn’t refer to any blacks or whites so the thought of people turning this video into a racial battle is kind of sickening to be honest.
    Don’t take this comment personal, just thought I would give another point-of-view.

  3. Not From Toronto Says:

    I love how you seem to think that everyone in Canada is from Toronto. Just what people in this country need: another twit thinking T-dot is the centre of the Canadian universe. Thanks so much.

    Another point springs to mind: on average, black people are by FAR the minority here. Take a sample from any city outside of Toronto (and maybe Vancouver), and see just what percent of people are black. I’m thinking maybe, maybe 3 percent, tops? What, you think that black people should be the major representatives of “Canadian” hip-hop, regardless of what proportion of the population you are? Talk about ethno(afro?)centrism. There are other skin coloured people who enjoy (not to mention perform) hip-hop as an entertainment form (even – *gasp* – white people). I would suggest, respectfully of course, that you get over yourself.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    I HATE CANADA

  5. Anonymous Says:

    It doesn’t matter if you are from toronto or from another city with a more homogeneous population. As an MV that is promoting canadian culture, it does not do justice to ethnic minorities who are canadian citizens as well and are abundant in different parts of Canada. if you can count the minorities it doesn’t make a difference. If the song was about only nova scotia however, that is a different story.

  6. anonymous Says:

    This video was about Canada, not Nova Scotia. Just because in certain cities there are not many ethnic minorities doesn’t mean that should be the end of the story. There are many ethnic minorities living in other parts of Canada. To not be represented in a video promoting Canadian culture just means that they are not considered canadian citizens. Which is not good. If there are 1 or 2 ethnicities there doesn’t make a difference in the issue either.


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