Social awakenings, or moments of clarity that open one’s eyes to the true injustices of society and the world, can come in many forms and often vary depending on the person. PLNU political science professor Lindsey Lupo attributes her journey to social awakening to an unlikely duo: hip-hop and Jesus.
As part of PLNU’s Faith Matters series, which features PLNU professors and focuses on issues that bear on Christian faith and practice, Lupo gave a lecture on race riots, protest politics and social movements, all a part of her field of study that was initially inspired by none other than Ice Cube.
“Sometime in my early teens, I discovered hip-hop and rap…one album in particular kind of changed my life: Ice Cube’s “Amerikkka’s Most Wanted,” said Lupo. “Initially, I was sucked in by the beat and the catchiness of his music, but then I started to really listen to the lyrics and the message. That’s what really got me thinking about this notion that inequality exists in even the most egalitarian of societies.”
Lupo’s newfound interest in social equality paired with the 1992 Rodney King riots, and news of the race-related death of her close family friend, left her questioning everything she thought she knew about her community and the world.
“All of these things ended up being these really pivotal socializing events for me. They had me rethinking my priorities, my understanding of the world, my own privilege in the world and things that I had previously taken for granted,” said Lupo. “I really struggled with notions of good and evil as well as justice and injustice. For a long time, the world just seemed so unfair.”
Lupo eventually pursued her interest in social justice, protest politics and riot commissions to find out if political violence can, in fact, be a path to freedom. This led her to uncover the harsh realities of riot commissions, which are institutional bodies that are put in place after a riot to analyze and implement policy recommendations to address those particular issues.
“Riot commissions act as ‘flack-catchers’ because they don’t do much of anything except give the appearance of really strong and decisive action in an uncertain time,” said Lupo. “So, essentially, they manage the violence and process it away. They are almost primarily addressing the concerns of non-rioters, in terms of law and order, rather than addressing some of the root causes.”
Through her research of riot commissions and protest politics, Lupo discovered that, often times, the issues that riots intend to call attention to are being brushed aside and ignored.
“I realized that this all primarily benefits the instituting body,” said Lupo. “Throughout my research I began to view my own political system through this lens of race, power and political institutions and the role they play in sort of recalibrating that power or making it worse…It made me think about the morality of doing what you think you need to do in a system that does not necessarily distribute power and access and opportunity in an equitable way.”