Hi, my name is Ryan Huey and I am a PhD candidate in Michigan State University’s Department of History. In the summer of 2014, I completed my master’s degree in African American history at MSU. My research in those first two years of graduate study centered on the intersection of race, gender identity, politics, culture, media, and music during and after the Black Power movement. My thesis, entitled “‘My Logo is Branded on Your Skin’: The Wu-Tang Clan, Authenticity, Black Masculinity, and the Rap Music Industry,” explored these issues in depth through a case study of 1990s rap group, the Wu-Tang Clan. Placing the eclectic rappers and their signature sound in historical context, I detailed several important themes: the impact of the War on Drugs on Staten Island Black youth in the 1980s and 1990s; the process by which Hong Kong action cinema garnered a cult following among Black New Yorkers; the entrenchment of rap music in the recorded music industry, and the legacy of African American chess in Brooklyn.
For my dissertation, my research looks specifically at a collective of artists, activists, and social outcasts around Detroit and Ann Arbor who gained national notoriety in 1969 when they began calling themselves the White Panther Party in solidarity with the Black Panther Party. Quickly establishing themselves as symbolic leaders of the youthful counterculture (though many of the leaders were slightly older than most “hippies”), the White Panthers were targeted by local authorities and the FBI, but they also became political allies for a number of organizations working for social justice. Importantly, the White Panthers represented an early voice of dissent against what would soon be called the “War on Drugs.” Beyond this, leaders in the White Panthers went on to construct parallel institutions that challenged the economic and social hegemony of mainstream values of America’s white middle class. Some institutions in their counterculture political economy, such as communal housing and merchandizing inspired by illicit drugs, survived and thrived while others, including an alternative music industry, floundered. These efforts reveal much about the regional, racial, and generational nuances within the counterculture as well as the constraints of the traditional periodization of the counterculture as a phenomenon that began in the late 1960s and dissipated by the mid-1970s, if not earlier.