Hip Hop Diplomacy

In Arendt’s article this week about the value of cultural diplomats, he talks about the special set of tools these diplomats have when arranging cultural programming and knowing exactly what kind of people, artists, students, etc… to engage to make the most impact. Nick Cull’s Huffington Post article focuses on  three aspects of resurgent cultural diplomacy (especially through music): “the prestige gift”,  “cultural information”, and “dialogue and collaboration”.

I thought of these articles when reading this interview with Toni Blackman, the State Department’s first “hip hop ambassador”: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ruthblatt/2014/02/26/hip-hop-puts-america-in-a-good-light-through-the-state-departments-cultural-ambassador-program/

Since 2001, Blackman has been on assignment doing workshops, lectures, teaching master classes, performing concerts and collaborating and recording with local artists. In this way, her function fulfills all three of Cull’s criteria for successful cultural diplomacy: it can be considered both “a prestige gift” and  “cultural information”, as it brings light to one of the United States’ best known vernacular music traditions, and also, through her work with local hip-hop artists, it provides opportunity for “dialogue and collaboration.”

Hip-hop is uniquely positioned to be successful in public diplomacy efforts since, as Blackman explains, it is “accessible. You can create hip hop with a pencil and a pen on a desk or you don’t even need that you can beat box with your mouth and create a drum track.” This ease of creation, and the way it can be used in any language to express a range of emotions and social concerns, makes hip-hop a particularly universal tool.

One of the most powerful examples of cultural diplomacy working towards change that Blackman talks about is an assignment she undertook in the Congo, where she did an artist in residence workshop with local hip hop artists, male and female, and then collaborated on a public service announcement to end violence against women. In an example of the sort of give-and-take and collaboration that should ideally be part of more cultural diplomacy efforts, Blackman paired up with a Congolese hip-hop leader to facilitate the workshop and the project.

You can find the resulting video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coIkYlzQlNY

Wise Words as PD

Pope and youth

An Op–Ed in yesterday´s (27/02/14) edition of the New York Times titled “What would Kennan say to Obama?” mentioned the danger of ‘America´s exceptionalism’ in FP and PD strategies. It touched upon the notion that the US created its own moral demise by prioritizing military force over diplomacy and soft power. An interesting affirmation by the late Kennan highlighted why he believed it was more important to focus on domestic issues as a better tool to positively influence public opinion both at home and abroad: “We are ultimately dependent on the intentions, rather than the capabilities, of the adversary, the influence of which is primarily a political and psychological, not a military problem.”

Applying this affirmation to my case study on Pope Francis’ diplomacy, I realize how these words have echoed in the first year of Bergoglio’s Papacy. The Vatican, unlike any other independent state in the world– except for Japan, whose Self Defense Forces act as the country’s official “military”– has no military structure. Such a force would be incompatible with its very essence. In fact, the worst periods of the Church’s history are those tainted with the blood of Inquisition–like offensives.

Pope Francis’ revolutionary ways have touched the hearts of believers and non believers alike to transcend past hurts. He has brought his virtues into the very public eye, and he has employed them in his distinctive public diplomacy– or, should I say, soft power? A conference at Georgetown at the beginning of the month, The Pope, Politics, and Policy addressed Francis’ potential to influence not only the Catholic world, but the world at large.

In seeking to transcend the ‘Catholic Church’s exceptionalism’, he has publicly recognized and rejected shortcomings while pointing out to a refreshing pathway where the authentic teachings of Jesus are not only talked about, but vividly exemplified. In this sense, it is important to highlight his commitment to youth. The very fact that he would enthusiastically partake of a groundbreaking ‘selfie’ testifies as much. Francis’ words today underscored this: “In the same way, the young want to feel at home in Church. Not only must the Church open her doors to them; she must actively seek them.” At the end, he emphasized: “The youth are waiting for us. We must not let them down.” Wise words to reconstruct and transform traditional PD policies into a tangible call to action whose best weapon is genuine love and commitment to serve others.