When we talk about black representation to a certain extent we’re talking about the people in this picture, Michael Nutter (Mayor of Philadelphia), James Clyburn (D-SC), John Lewis (D-Ga), and Artur Davis (member of congress–D-AL–when this picture was taken but ran for Governor and lost). The big problem with this picture is that the increase in black elected officials over the past several years comes solely from black female representatives. But let’s put that aside for a moment. The questions that flow from this particular conception of representation are basically twofold. The first question asks how well these representatives fight for their constituencies, and for black people in general. The second question asks whether black constituencies are more likely to engage in political activity as a result of their presence. These questions are important because they get at the heart of representative democracy for those of us who are “darker than blue”.
But this isn’t the only form of representation that concerns us, right?
Nas is not a political representative. He has expressed no desire to be a political representative, even though his music often contains politics. But Nas is a representative nonetheless. Nas represents MCs, and here I mean that he can both stand in for MCs (if I were writing a post about MC flow I could put this same picture in the post, and even if I weren’t writing about Nas specifically the picture would fit) and that he can speak for MCs in certain ways. Similarly, Nas represents hip-hop. He can serve as a stand in or a symbol for hip-hop. He can also “speak for” hip-hop, and I put that in quotes because while MCs are an identifiable population, “hip-hop” is not. And he does both consciously. One could also argue that he represents Queens, not exactly in the same way, but he represents them nonetheless.
He also represents black people.
How? What are the connections if any between the political representatives above, who have identifiable constituents, who represent their constituents formally and to a certain extent descriptively, and Nas here? At least some of my readers may see this picture of Nas and cringe, thinking he somehow “misrepresents” black people or “makes black people look bad.” How exactly does this work?