It looks like homeboy Ken Blackwell is going to go down in defeat. The type of defeat you can’t politically bounce back from. I thought this would be a good time to bring an old draft out. One of the biggest critiques levied against Cousin Jeff was that he wasn’t properly “representing” hip-hop, or hip-hop activists. When people talk about “representation” in hip-hop, the range of meanings they associate with representing are pretty clear.

But how do these meanings intersect with representation as a political concept? The more I think about this Cousin Jeff thing (and can somebody tell me who the hell came up with that moniker? How about “Ill Jeff” or even “Mos Jeff”…but Cousin Jeff?!?), the more I think it represents an opportunity for activists, and for academics to think seriously about the relationship between the two. Cousin Jeff is at base a PR cat. He was involved with the NAACP. He was involved with the Empowerment Temple. In both of these cases his actions in those organizations arguably “represented” a larger constituency. And there were clear mechanisms of accountability–if he got out of line, there were very clear ways he could be taken out.

Representation in a political sense has a few different meanings:

  • It refers to a means by which a person acts on behalf of (as a representative of) a larger body.

If we had the capacity to institute a direct democracy there’s no way in hell we as citizens would have the time to cast all those votes–so we appoint representatives to cast votes on our behalf. We appoint them through elections, and this makes the representatives “legit” and also gives us some institutional means of taking them out if they don’t act right.

  • It refers to a process by which a thing/person represents a symbolic concept.

A flag for example–why the hell would even conservatives think about instituting a law banning burning a piece of cloth with some colors and some other design elements? Because the flag represents more than that. A king or queen in a parliamentary democracy is similar.

  • It refers to a means by which a person legally represents someone else (in a court of law for example).

How does this mesh with meanings of representation prevalent in popular culture?