Rap Blogs + Feminism, an Uneasy Marriage


Via Complex (Really awesome post on “dead” rap magazines.”)

In May of 2009, every since John posted the nude pictures of who is largely speculated to be singer Rihanna Fenty, I haven’t felt the same way about rap music.

When I saw that he posted the pictures, I contacted him and we had a conversation about the reasons why he would or would not post pictures of Rihanna Fenty, and I asked him whether I could blog about it. He said no.

It was then that I concluded that  Black women stay being for sale. I say this to speak back to the idea that the internet is some “democratic” space where everyone has a voice. No, power is relational. And as @afrolicious says, the same relationships of power you see on the street, in schools, at the bodega on the train, are at work on the internet as well.

It was bugged out to me, that he wouldn’t consent to me talking about our conversation yet, felt he needed no consent to post nude pictures of who we believed to be Rihanna Fenty.  I remembered saying to him, I know you are not a feminist, but this shit blood, really? I always considered you to be an ally.

This man, at one time, had the password to my blog, and the freedom to take posts as he liked and put them on The Smoking Section. I appreciated it as he exposed my work to a larger audience.

He is also one of the first people online who told me I had a writing voice waaaaaaay back in ’06, when I didn’t even SEE that I had one. Furthermore, in Summer ’08,  when Latoya ran one of my pieces on Racialicous, and it was picked up the the Daily UK’s blog feed, I told John who further explained to me all sorts of nuances of blogging in terms of mining the reader data, tracking ping backs, strategically picking topics to post about to render myself an authority, building my audience. He mentored me and tried to help when he could and I appreciated it.

I also felt like I had an investment in The Smoking Section because I assisted John in navigating the move to Uproxx.  We had our seperate lanes, no doubt, and I wanted to see him win. I read the contract, asked him questions and gave him feedback on what I thought about various clauses. Having had corporations and trademark and I believe I was taking mergers and acquisitions, I had  familiarity with the language. I looked at it as a case study exercise.

By 2009, as I saw his site taking on more and more of the soft porn of eye candy. All I could think is, you can’t figure out how to enhance your quotes without peddling eye candy? Blood, what kinda facts are those?

I asked him something about this, along these lines and he responded, its a trade off. I link to you from time to time, I post the eye candy, win – win. I gave him a side eye.

As a Black woman blogger who sits at the intersection Rap/pop culture and feminism, I have very unique perspective. I am not aware of any other Black woman who has blogged as consistently as long as I have.

Because of this I have had a very particular experience in the blogosphere.

One by one, with bloggers, the majority of whom ran rap blogs, have had moments around gender. I remember when Eskay called Karrine Steffans a “slore.” A combination slut and a whore. I was like, Umm, that shit is not cool.

I remember when I had a conversation with Dallas who argued, and I paraphrase, that the fate of Black people rest on the “respectability” of Black women.  This was based on a conversation around the Duke Rape case. I responded, blood what the ___ are you talking about?  Truth be told, Dallas is the one who named me M.dot, based on the two M’s in Model Minority. It just kinda stuck. He is also the person who encouraged me to write about the Venus Hottentot and Buffy the Body.  This was kind of a game changer for me because it got me thinking about Black women in music videos from a historical perspective.

Lastly my recent conversations with Ta-Nehisi around “For Colored Girls” and the significance of looking at a text around gender when talking about race, are a  part of this pattern as well.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I am seeing a pattern here of me challenging or questioning Black men online, and me receiving various forms of “nah, pump your breaks” in response.

My interactions Ta-Nehisi’s and John’s are similar in that I supported them, in the way that I could on my blog or with my blog. These men would have gotten to where they are, regardless, as they seem to be committed to what they do.  What is material to me is that I saw that a line was crossed in terms of Black women, I brought it up to them, and I received a variation of  “nah, pump ya breaks.”

Whats the deal with that?

I have thought about writing this since those pictures were posted in 2009. I just wasn’t sure how. My conversations with Ta-Nehisi has clarified the issue in some ways. In fact a comment on his blog, which was brought to my attention by @tkoed on Friday (by the time I saw it the comments were closed) further encouraged me to write this. I was largely inspired based on a comment at Ta-Nehisis’ blog. The commenter, Sorn writes,

…What I see as the major bone of contention is that TNC is speaking from his experience of being a black man, and Renina is speaking from her experience of being a black woman. The language is the same, but the meanings are different, because meaning –on an emotional level– is ultimately derived from personal experience.

I think there is a fascinating conversation that needs to be had here about how each gender is raised to view and interpret the actions and words of the other. Academic literature is important, but what is more important to me, as a reader of this blog, is how the literature sheds light on experience. TNC has repeatedly written about the relationship between hip-hop and the mask worn by young black men, and in my head I took the post on the misogyny of Malcolm X to be along the same lines as earlier posts discussing the same relationship in hip-hop.

When I read this I was like. Damn GINA! Someone gets it! It was at this moment that I realized that I BEEN had something to say it that was time to say it.

Do you think it is significant that one by one, I have crossed a gender line with a few Black men on the internet?

Where is the space to have what Mr. Fantastic call’s “Healing Conversations” about gender? Would you participate in them?

Other thoughts?

Comments

  1. Do you think it is significant that one by one, I have crossed a gender line with a few Black men on the internet?

    yes, of course. anytime you express an alternative view to what is championed up as the “norm” when it only repps half a people, is great.

    Where is the space to have what Mr. Fantastic call’s “Healing Conversations” about gender? Would you participate in them?

    not sure there is a space, really. especially a safe one. ideally, those convos would take place in person, because sometimes the interwebs have a tendency to attract the extremist who are not interested in “healing” but rather hurling blame. but the convos definitely need to take place.

  2. 1. I read many blogs that discuss race and/or gender, and I definitely feel that men are often dismissive of the specific issues that affect black women, especially when it concerns sexism and forced gender roles in the black community.

    2. I would love to read and participate in a healing conversation around gender. but i would be afraid that it might dissolve into a shouting match between people, and any intelligent discussion is done with, as often happens on the internet.

  3. “Where is the space to have what Mr. Fantastic call’s “Healing Conversations” about gender? Would you participate in them?”

    Like Britni I am not sure there is a space. I also believe that ideally they should take place on a more personal level. Specifically, in a way so that all sides can feel like they are being heard & respected if they are discussing in good faith. The level of knowledge about gender at 1st should be near irrelevant. Because they most important thing to start with, in my opinion, is finding out where the participants are on the subject.

  4. Rianna,

    I just wanted to say thanks for the plug.

  5. Renina apologies for mispelling your name, in the earlier post. Sometimes eyes get the better of my fingers I meant no disresepect.

    I think the first step to constructing a “safe place” for gender as you say whether on a blog or in private is to acknowledge the validity of each person’s experience.

    I think that the key to having a reasonable discourse on any subject that touches extreme emotional nerves is to acknowledge that however hard we try sometimes our knowledge does not always equal our experience. As someone who came up as a white dude on an Indian Reservation it seems the hardest lessons of my life have been related to the concepts of listening in speaking in a way that what I wanted to say was communicated in a way in which the message was recieved. Sometimes, people have a tendency to focuse on the words that a person says rather than the intent behind those words. I don’t know if there is any sure way to bridge the gap between one person’s experience and another person’s feeelings regarding those experiences, but I find that many arguments revolve around definitions that have similar words but different emotional meanings for the respective audiences reading those words.

    Somehow there needs to be a way to get past the stark emotional triggers that immediately throw walls in the place of honest discourse. Certain words carry with them a history, and in order to tap into the underlying emotional experience that each gender brings to the conversation I think the hardest part of having a conversation surrounding gender is to realize that what one gender says and what another gender hears aren’t always equivalent. In some ways this holds true of all people.

  6. Hi Sorn,

    Glad you let me keep the quote. No worries re my name, people butcher it every now and then. I butcher names too!

    How did you wind up on a reservation?

    Sometimes, people have a tendency to focuse on the words that a person says rather than the intent behind those words.
    ======
    Honey I have been sooooo mindful of both my tone and my intentions. I also know that some people are going to think that I don’t have any room to talk. And that shit ain’t none of my business.

    I am committed to working to make a world where my little sweet bear nephew can be the person HE chooses to be. Full Stop.

    I don’t know if there is any sure way to bridge the gap between one person’s experience and another person’s feeelings regarding those experiences, but I find that many arguments revolve around definitions that have similar words but different emotional meanings for the respective audiences reading those words.
    =======
    Hell yeah. On this Blog I have written about Black men and violence, Street harassment and masculinity
    and it has gotten contentious. However it has been productive as well. The question for me is how do I translate what I do here to an offline venue. Perhaps that is the move for 2011.

    I have also been challenged with figuring out how to get the message off the blog AND into the world. Ambitious much?

    Certain words carry with them a history, and in order to tap into the underlying emotional experience that each gender brings to the conversation I think the hardest part of having a conversation surrounding gender is to realize that what one gender says and what another gender hears aren’t always equivalent.
    =======
    Yes, honey words and bodies carry histories. For me, I can take being challenged when it is clear that the person is NOT trying to humiliate me. I do the same thing when I write and teach or a least I try.

    Thank you for your words.

    They are very thoughtful and reflective.

  7. Sorry I took so long to reply. To answer your question my dad was a school-teacher in Montana and that’s where he decided to put down roots. Just one of those things.

    Concerning this though:

    I have also been challenged with figuring out how to get the message off the blog AND into the world. Ambitious much?

    It seems to me we all have a story to tell…. but to actually be able to tell it requires that we stop talking about ourselves and start listening to ourselves. The message tells itself if the story comes from the heart.

  8. Sorn?
    What do you mean by this? [we stop talking about ourselves and start listening to ourselves. The message tells itself if the story comes from the heart.]?

  9. Renina,

    I don’t mean it as a dig. Never that only that in translating a “message” into any medium the theorectical framework doesn’t matter as much as telling a story. The only way that peoples’ opinions change on any issue is if they start to veiw the other side as people, and the only way to get someone who disagrees with you to see you as a person is to tell your story in a way that connects with them on an emotional level.

    That kind of emotional depth, the kind needed to tell a personal story so that it connects with everyone, is something that comes through listening to your own soul and processing through those painful experiences that lie at the heart of our experiences. The message or meaning embeded within the story will come through, but the story has to have a soul.

    That’s all I meant.

  10. Nah. No dig taken. I/we learn by asking questions. You are new here, so you ain’t know that about me.
    I always ask [what does that mean]when i don’t get something.

    Where did you learn about the power of telling a story. It has become a BIG assed them in my day to day life,
    in the last twelve months.

    I can’t believe I didn’t recognize this before.

    In fact….i think it arose with, of all things Tyler Perry and Avatar…Like who has the power/right to tell someone else’s story. To evaluate it.

    ~R

  11. It was a gift…..one of those things that comes from being raised around, and going to church with, a lot of Crows.

    Anyway I hope you and the commenters here had a good Thanksgiving and all.

  12. The unpleasantness at TNC’s left me not very hopeful about things. So many things about that conversation saddened me, not the least of which was TNC’s reaction to what was pretty gentle criticism from some of his female readers.

    But I just finished watching this marvelous conversation between Angela Davis and Toni Morrison on C-SPAN’s BookTV. If you didn’t see it, try their website. They usually archive these things. These iconic black feminists had a lot of amazing things to say–several that I think are pertinent here.

    Angela Davis talked about our narrow view of “freedom.” How even Frederick Douglas’ view was very male-centered. But what about women? Freedom is for everyone and oppressions are interconnected, but when we talk about them we rarely recognize that. Much as Sorn has said, we focus on the personal.

    Davis also talked about how American exceptionalism has infected neo-liberalism, so that we focus on the individual (I, me,mine). So,for example, rather than viewing sexism and racism as twin oppressions of equal importance, the needs of black women will appear tangential to black male bloggers.

    I think the answer to productive discussion lies somewhere in focusing on intersection. Where is the safe space where that can happen? I don’t know. I mean, I think many of us are having those discussion on our personal blogs and that is good. But the conversation lacks a mainstream space where intersection is understood.

  13. Tami! Thank you for stopping by and for speaking up.

    I appreciate you. I read your work on Racialicous all the time.

    So many things about that conversation saddened me, not the least of which was TNC’s reaction to what was pretty gentle criticism from some of his female readers.
    ===========
    Thank you for noticing that the criticism was gentle. I was pretty deliberate with the tone.

    So,for example, rather than viewing sexism and racism as twin oppressions of equal importance, the needs of black women will appear tangential to black male bloggers.
    ===========
    Thank you. I didn’t have the language to say this.

    I don’t know. I mean, I think many of us are having those discussion on our personal blogs and that is good. But the conversation lacks a mainstream space where intersection is understood.
    ======
    Perhaps this is something I/we can work on in 2011!

  14. I’m looking forward to watching the video Tami linked. I also saw this on the Root (http://www.theroot.com/views/root-interview-beverly-guy-sheftall?page=0,0) and immediately thought of the conversations with TNC

    An excerpt: “What’s interesting, though, is that black feminism is still very much a suspect politic in black spaces. Despite our progress, it seems that in some hetero-patriarchal paradigms, like black studies and black culture, feminism seems to be less accepted.”

  15. Yes Honey. Professor Sheftall is one of our fore mothers.

    Awesome.

    If I had the time would blog about it. Perhaps on Dec 20th.

    ~R