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Hip-hop artist to make virtual visit

By Kelsey Roebuck

French-African hip-hop artist and activist Jo Dalton’s virtual visit to campus promises to provide a new perspective on transnational racism and anti-racism movements. As a participant in the French hip-hop movement, a taekwondo champion and member of one of the first black majority gangs in Paris, Dalton’s personal experiences reflect many of the issues facing black and Arab youth in France and around the world. Roberto Toledo, Philosophy, first met Dalton while doing research in France.

“I met him as kind of looking for someone… who cared about the youth and was trying to help out the next generation, but who also recognized all the difficulties they go through in the system in France,” Toledo said.

The upcoming lecture series will begin with a discussion of Dalton’s recent autobiography, which draws upon his experiences with black militancy in France.

“He’s writing a history of an epoch in France that very few people know about and often has skewed perspectives from experts. It’s good to have his insider vision,” Toledo said.

The gang with which Dalton is associated was founded by a Haitian-American and draws heavily on the political theories of the Black Panthers and Black Nationalism of the United States. They have always been very connected to people and organizations across the world.

“It is interesting to see how that transnational perspective can develop on the streets,” Toledo said. “Even gangs are a site where knowledge is produced in some way, where people get together and try to understand their conditions.”

The final event of the series will be a panel discussion next Thursday featuring important representatives of American hip-hop who will join Dalton in discussing the wide-reaching effects of racial ideologies.

“They are big figures in the history of American hip-hop and the history of black identity. It will really give a transnational perspective on all of the issues and questions that we’re raising with Jo Dalton, but from the American perspective as well,” Toledo said.

Dalton will explore issues of race, identity and political expression as someone who has real experience with them.

“It’s good to get out of an academic perspective and talk directly to people who have a past to share … to help understand the complexities of black identity and street identity in France and how that has implications in the U.S.,” Toledo said.

One of the most salient examples of these implications is that Dalton will interact with the Grinnell campus exclusively through videoconference due to passport complications based on his multinational identity.

“Even though he’s lived [in France] since he was 11 years old, he’s only a permanent resident. He was born in the Central African Republic and currently, since the U.S. has stricter restrictions for passports and since he has to go through the Central African Republic to get his passport, he has not been able to get a passport because there is a civil war going on,” Toledo explained.

Part of Dalton’s virtual visit will include a greater explanation of the transnational racial politics that affect his ability to travel, an issue that has arisen repeatedly in his life.

“He will talk about how he was on the French team of taekwondo and he was not permitted to compete in the world championships because of his papers. He was supposed to actually become French because of his participation on the French team, but they messed up his papers,” Toledo said.

This virtual lecture series will also be multi-lingual, featuring student translators from the French department who also provided the subtitles for Dalton’s movie, screened last night. These students will translate questions from Grinnellians during French Table as well as other discussion opportunities throughout the week.

“It’s a question of privilege,” Toledo said. “[Dalton is] someone who hasn’t had the same opportunities to study English or do study abroad, etc. But he still has a lot to contribute. That’s another experimental aspect, showing that it can be done, we can communicate across cultures. We don’t need to be selective in who we decide to invite.”

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