During the Cold War, the United States State Department sent American Jazz Artists on tour in the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc. Their music and conversation talked of the hardships they faced in the U.S., but also of the freedom of democracy. They did not whitewash their experiences or try to paint America as a bastion of perfection, but rather displayed a human version with both the good and the bad. It also served to give their audience the language with which to express their dissatisfaction with life under Soviet rule.
Today, as detailed in an article by Hisham Adi in Foreign Affairs Magazine, the State Department is hoping to recreate their success with a modern art-form: Hip-Hop. This time, the target is Europe’s disillusioned minority populations. Washington fears that Europe’s “inability to integrate minorities has become a national security risk…European Muslims, alienated from their home countries, may seek to inflict harm on the United States.”
By using the American Civil Rights movement and the continued struggles for equality today, officials are hoping to highlight that using words and politics to air grievances can be more successful than using violence. Hip-Hop has historically been a way of protesting oppression and struggling against authority, two sentiments that resonate with minority youths in Europe and around the world.
The article goes on to mention that there are distinct differences between Jazz and Hip-Hop diplomacy in that the Cold-War era style focused on an enemy nation whereas today we are sending Hip-Hop artists to our allies. The U.S.’s efforts have angered some European states because they have interfered with their domestic programs. It will be interesting to see how this affects our relationships overseas as the programs progress.