‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.’
While everybody’s buying flowers for dey mamas, everything ain’t coming up roses for girls and women in the American landscape of hip-hop. Since I’ve been using rants in my political sociology class to inspire social participation in the public sphere among my students, it’s high time for my own civic engagement rant.
Last week an open letter to Michelle Obama composed by UK-mom Rakhi Kumar dating back to April 20th found it’s way to me through social media. When I read it I thought this is a sign It’s my turn! Time to return to my blog (cuz’ it’s been a minute).
When I read Kumar’s letter asking FLOTUS to distance herself from Beyoncé rather than promoting her as a role model for girls, I was like YES!! It resonated with my current project on the seduction of young girls and hip-hop social media. [Read a teen's response to Kumar on the benefits of the Beyoncé generation.]
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that all the recent apologies by rap artists Rick Ross, Lil’ Wayne and Tyler the Creator that showed up in my social media feed on Twitter and Facebook around the same time. All things have their season. But their “apologies” brought Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem to mind. Those of you who know it, know what I’m talking about.
When I was fourteen or fifteen years old, my mama took me to see the Broadway show For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Was Enuf by Ntozake Shange. It was a group trip. She and I and a bunch of other real and fictive “sisters” and their daughters took a 4 hour bus-ride from Maryland to New York City, where I now reside. I searched for my own copy of the book which I probably bought in grad school or maybe I took my mother’s copy like I took many of her albums when I headed off to grad school.
For Colored Girls was pivotal in reorienting certain ways of thinking about my self as a woman of color. If I ever raise my own kids, it will be a must read. It helped me align my experiences with other non-white bodies–which I think is a New York thing but wasn’t a DC area thing back then in my adolescent thinking. My thinking was limited by a distorted mental image of myself shaped and conditioned by 60 second Cover Girl TV ads, weekly fashion magazine covers viewed from the A&P supermarket aisle, and school bullying by white boys since 4th grade teasing me about the size of my butt. One of them I still remember by name. He’s probabaly long forgotten me. James’ 4th grade aspersion was “buttweefer” (translates: you got a bigger butt than my sisters) and I was convinced by some social force or being outside myself to believe it was because he liked me. I was thin then. Normal sized for my age. But I couldn’t see my own beauty back then. The media left me with little vision.
There was time and space for reflection during my doctoral studies around the age of 30. Time and space to develop my own view of Self. I became socially conscious, aware of the sociological imagination that produced the structural burdens of my internalized racism and sexism. Finally, it wasn’t just me. Being black and female in a patriarchal society was fostered as being outside the norm by a corporate culture that sold “the majority” as an ideal to its minorities for profit.
The antidote to the internalization was poetry. My own and Shange’s. Only poetry could rewire the internalized racism and sexism. It is primarily through language that change begins. We are linguistic social beings. Poetry demands a linguistic reorientation of the brain, of one’s self towards loving one’s own voice, towards the power of the erotic, as Audre Lorde said, rather the pornographic.
From my poems came my dissertation. In the dissertation there were social stories about music and gender in hip-hop. Narratives that area feature of my book The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-hop. I am proud it won the most outstanding book award in my field. Check out the Kindle version. Perhaps a new poem is emerging out of my most recent project.
On March 8th, I am searching for new words to say when I inadvertently get hooked into watching the release of the “Freaks” video by French Montana f/ Nicky Minaj on YouTube. It was released on March 7th. I was doing some YouTube research on women emcees in hip-hop. I think I was watching a Missy Elliot video in a VEVO frame. VEVO advertises other videos in a frame within a frame. Talk about distraction factor. Curious, I took a look since I was studying female emcees. The promotion showed Nicky Minaj who is now recognized as the largest-selling female rapper to date, like it or not, and young girls’ attraction to her as an icon would become clear. I watched it more times than I anticipated. What I saw stunned me.
At 1:30 seconds in, Minaj makes her “bad bitch” entrance bouncing her booty “on a throne.” As she turns and faces the YouTube audience–an audience that had swarmed to over 900,000 within 24 hours of its YouTube release–she displays her full luscious breasts in fashionable jacket, the gold, flesh-toned pasties applied to hide her nipples don’t really count as a method of covering up her nudity.
The comments section revealed an expected reaction from the male viewers. One read: “I want to stalk her!” This was only a week after the media spectacles surrounding the Steubenville trial and reporting. I was stunned that this wasn’t viewed as contributing to rape culture or that no one had reported it to the FCC.
What made it most alarming was the statistics. Females 13-17 years old were and continue to be the top audience demographic viewing the “Freaks” video which in just over two weeks amassed over 9 million “hits” and after a month over 11 million. The other top demographics were males 18-24 and females 18-24. Not sure how much I can say from these statistics but it is noticeable that boys 13-17 were not among the top demographics. The comments of the males 18-24 clearly indicated that their relationship to the video was not about respect.
I tried to file a complaint with the FCC. Had this grand idea from Elizabeth Mendez Berry that I’d file a complaint a week and then write a piece about it. I got a rude awakening when I learned that filing with the FCC is not accessible to the average public. It’s expensive. You actually need to hire a lawyer to engage with the FCC and worse yet, the FCC monitors TV and radio but not telecommunications like YouTube. YouTube has a set of community standards for obscenity, profanity and indecency. What you do is flag a video for review. I flagged the video on April 6th and have yet to receive any response. Not even a sorry.
Apologies came from three of raps industry heavyweights–Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, and Tyler, the Creator–over the past weeks. Dan Charnas explained in Billboard last week:
…in 2013 the people pursuing Ross, Wayne and Tyler are in many cases older fans of hip-hop (and, by extension, fans of older hip-hop), most often people of color, motivated by progressive politics and empowered by social media…. [That pressure led to the loss of] lucrative endorsement deals –“ending Ross’ with Reebok and Wayne’s with Mountain Dew, and inducing Mountain Dew to remove a Tyler-helmed ad deemed offensive from the company’s site and his YouTube channel.
Once again men prove that in reality when it comes to misogyny its the bottom line that counts–assets always trump objectifying asses. When the profit gets moved from the background to front and center, then and only then will apologies be in order.
In the early 20th century, Upton Sinclair, once wrote:
It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.
Understanding is the booby prize.
So this is my open letter. An open letter to all the “better-late-than-never” apologies for extra-linguistic acts from the faux papas of club rap and the music industrial complex. Faux papas who exploit and subject girls–and boys–to a kind of emotional verbal abuse, an unacknowledged environmental injustice issue of our times. Social media now peddles their sorries via hand-held devices that produce profit for themselves and corporate entities in the name of moving the crowd.
But as Shange inspired me to say, “one thing I dont need” is an apology from a grown ass security guard turned rapper, from Wayne (who they say was a straight A student in school before all this) or Tyler (the creator of whose reality and on whose dollar?). Just so y’all know, I didn’t accept Chris Brown’s late apology to Rihanna either. But in that case I guess it doesn’t matter cuz’ she did.
Since keepin’ it real will not necessarily elicit more than your illicit cooperation to promote more bad bitches and hoes in videos, I must share dis poem, and my own poems, and dat poem, this choreopoem which my mother planted in my soul in New York City. There was no social revolution called YouTube. My revolution at 15 could not be televised and sometimes I still think it isn’t. But my mama made sure it was live back in ’75. How do we get more choreopoems to outdo the Freaks video on YouTube?
I don’t know. But I know one thing. “i dont need” another reason to write another choreopoem like For Colored Girls. Plus we keep writing ‘em and y’all don’t seem to listen. People been saying the more things change, the more things stay the same. So I’ll bring Shange back again. Know this: That the power of words are not equal and they are not free. Even on mother’s day!
one thing i dont need
is any more apologies
i got sorry greetin me at my front door
you can keep yrs
i dont know what to do wit em
they dont open doors
or bring the sun back
they dont make me happy
or get a mornin paper
didnt nobody stop usin my tears to wash cars
i loved you on purpose
i was open on purpose
i still crave vulnerability & close talk
& im not even sorry bout you bein sorry
you can carry all the guilt & grime ya wanna
just dont give it to me
i cant use another sorry
you should admit
youre mean/ low-down/ triflin/ & no count straight out
steada bein sorry alla the time
enjoy bein yrself
Blessings to the Creator Mother and all mothers on this fine Mother’s Day!
No apologies necessary.