On Black Women x Hip Hop x Feminism in 2014

 

I am going to be @ UDC doing a panel on Hip Hop and Sexuality as a part of the One Mic DC Festival. If you are in the area, please stop by, I’d love to see you.

Feminism and social media has hit a tipping point of sorts over the last 6 months with regard to online conversations. As a person who has been blogging/writing about the intersection of hip hop and feminism for nearly, gasp, ten years, I have a unique perspective.

So here is what I am thinking about. Boom Bap. Feminism and the Political/Politics of who gets in the archive.

  • There is a post right now on The Awl about Women of Color and boom bap, as it pertains to the documentary series “The Tanning of America.” These conversations are peculiar to me because the elephant in the room is that SOME people just are not interested in hearing what Black women have to say. Now a lot of folks won’t say that shit out loud, BUT, I think that that is the subtext to a lot of these conversations. This blog post which addresses gender and why some men CAN’T listen to Nicki Minaj underscores it.  Furthermore, Choosing NOT to listen to someone is an act of power. It isn’t also lost on me that Black Girl Emcees are underrepresented in the documentary “The Tanning of America.” In fact it underscores a clear pattern with regard to the treatment of Black women and girls. Black women solidly voted democratic and for president Obama, we are a key part of his base. However his most recently policy chooses to focus on our brothers and our sons, but we street teamed for him in ways like no one else did. The data shows this. One of the central jobs of Feminists in general and Black feminists in particular have been writing Black women back into history even if we have to do it in the crevices; for now. Choosing to write yourself into history is an act of power as well.
  • So I have been thinking about Nas and his feminist mafia tweet. Nasir Jones’ Illmatic has been central to my identity since I was as a teenager. Especially as a teenager.  So has Black feminism. See this blog post “Michele Wallace and Illmatic.”I had been going back and forth with Britni Danielle about Nas and that tweet and I came to clear conclusion. I am not really invested in what Nasir Jones thinks about feminism unless and only if he is using is platform as a space to interrogate healthy forms of Black masculinity, and toxic Black masculinity!!! The hood needs it. AND, I really think it would be interesting. This is no shade to Britni, she is my homegirl we’ve been in this internet game together for a hot minute and if all goes well we will be doing a book reading in LA next year. However, I needed to untangle, and mark my concern OR lack of investment in what he has to say about that topic. I think the other things is, two Black girls, queer Black girls were murdered two weeks ago ostensibly because they were a couple.  In fact, Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson may have been murdered by Britney’s father. They were killed and left near a garbage can. The fuck? And Relisha Rudd is still missing. I think that questions of state violence against Black people, and violence against Black girls in Black families presses ME more right now.
  • I just want Black girls to be free. Not just the sons. If I ruled the world. <—You see what I did there? #blackgirlsarefromthefuture.
  • All this being said. I am happy that there is a lot of theoretical energy invested in Black feminism online. I think it is the work of 100 years of often unacknowledged/ under acknowledged work by Black women and women of color.

What do you think about hip hop and feminism and 2014?

Is the issue really that some folks don’t give a shit about what Black women have to say?

Or is the issue that I am tripping because we can care about Relisha, Britney and Crystal AND Nas?

Oh and I LOVE my Ice Cube meme. I am winning!

HBO’s [White] Girls, White Feminism and How It’s Connected to Think Like a Man

I know you are thinking #allcity, how in the hell is the connected? It is, trust.

So yesterday, Andrea on Racialicious posted on tumblr about a writer, Aymer, who feels that while Girls is White, it isn’t the Lena Dunham’s problem. Dunham created the show.

Here is part of Aymer’s post,

I think the show is smart, and (c) I agree with Seitz: race is the industry’s problem, not Lena Dunham’s. She is privileged, yes, but–let’s be honest–also got lucky with a sweetheart Louie-like deal: cheap production and relative freedom in lieu of high ratings (Girls‘s paltry 0.4 rating in the demo would get it canceled everywhere but HBO, and maybe FX**).

Here is what Andrea says,

I disagree with Aymer that Lena Dunham isn’t to blame. Her show—which is fueled by her imagination—is another vehicle for Hollywood to continue maintaining the idea of whiteness at the expense of people of color. She is part of the problem, so she has a part in the blame. What I do agree with is that people have done incredible analyses on this racial problem with Dunham’s creation.

Here is my response,

Given my intense focus over the last 4 months on the ways in which Black men and White corporations earn millions of dollars on the stories featuring Black women’s dating and relationship narratives (Think Like a Man, Precious, Jump the Broom, For Colored Girls) I am inclined to think that the darker the US gets the Whiter television will get.

My rational? Symbolic domination is tied up in economic, spiritual and other forms of domination. So the thinking is, so what Ya’ll brown folks might be swoll in numbers, but ENTERTAINMENT- the number 1 US export will not reflect you with nuance; full stop.

They need to just call the show “White Girls”. #Done.

And now I will add this. Think about it. We have a Black man in the White House and a brown skinned, Harvard Law educated, elegant Black first lady.

Conversely though, George Lucas can’t get a film about African American fighter pilots distributed in Hollywood. the film version of the book Think Like a Man, a heterosexual, patriarchal dating advice book for Black women, earned 33 million dollars in it’s opening weekend and it has been the number one film in the US two weeks after it opened.

Dig it, you can have The President and Flotus all over tumblr, buzzing around each other like two SPIRITS who like and Love each other; but, seeing a hetero OR queer Black couple be intimate on the silver screen in a way that is NOT patriarchal and rooted in stereotypes. Good Luck with that shit Gina.

What is the connection to White feminism? Well when I say White feminism in this instance I mean third wave White feminism that pivots on the idea of “women” being “equal” to men or what I like to call equalism. A few weeks ago my students were throwing around this “women being equal” to men mess and I turned to them and said “I am going off my lesson plan here, but I need to ask you all a question; What is the difference between being equal and being free. Please do not answer immediately as I want you to take your time and think about it.”

Someone eventually responded saying that a woman can be equal to a man by possibly earning to same wages in a certain career, but she wouldn’t be free if everytime she walked out of the house she was bombarded with messages about how ugly she was, or how she needed to lose weight, lighten or darken her skin,  get married, have a baby or (I thought to myself ) if she suffered street harassment on every hot summer day.

So. With that being said Dunham has appeared apologetic saying that while she writes based on her experiences, she didn’t realize that because the characters came from a personal place, that they would be all White. This points to a very interesting moment in popular culture where the impact of racial segregation on the pop culture is crystalized. Dunham doesn’t want to write about folks of color, because they are not apart of her life and she doesn’t want to tokenize them. Is that legitimate? Wouldn’t it be interesting to create a story arch of a young White girl dealing with her Whiteness on an HBO show? Making friends with folks of color? Examining racial privilege?

I thought Dunham’s response was interesting because often times folks have three defenses when they are called on their racism, sexism, transphobia or homophobia which is a.) I was just being funny b.) I didn’t mean any harm c.) I don’t have to be PC, I am an artist. However, I don’t know the last time someone said “Well, this IS based on my experience and I don’t want to tokenize.”

Historically, feminists of ALL races have said that experience is useful for theory and creative work, in fact it makes for some of THE most interesting work that we have created. But they have also said that experience does not mean that you are ABOVE criticism; Peace to Joan Scott.

I like this particular moment in the feminist blogosphere because it speaks to how feminists on social media are co constructing old media, and holding them accountable for how they represent their worlds. That shit is fresh.

So, as the US Browns, will TV and Film become more White?’

Why is it so hard for folks to recognize the connection between racial perceptions, electoral politics and representations in film?

I also think that it is interesting, in terms of power (relationships of power) that the director of  Girls has a small budget and creative license and little pressure to attract audiences, at least according to the blog post. Is that freedom?

What would a woman of color director do with those kinds of working conditions? What would Kasi Lemons, or Julie Dash, Nzinga Stewart or an Asian, Latina, Indian woman do with those kinds of working conditions? What would she create?

On Seeing Black Women’s Genius: For Whitney Houston

One of the things that surprised me most about the death of Whitney Houston was the vitriol directed at her in some White mainstream Internet spaces. Many of the comments struck me as being both racist and sexist.  I understand that both racism and sexism exists, but I always leave room for myself to to be able to wince when someone comes out of their face sideways. I also try to occupy the space between acknowledging the pain caused by sexism and racism but to also not spend hella emotional labor reacting to the fact that it does in fact exist. It is what it is.

Two books by Black women scholars and professors have helped me to think about the public reaction to the death of Whitney Houston. The first is The Suffering Will Not Be Televised by Rebecca Wanzo and the other is If You Can’t Be Free, Be A Mystery by Farah Griffin.

I have been thinking about Griffin’s book because it is about how the genius of Billie Holiday is perpetually overlooked because of her struggles with addictions. I read this book nearly two years ago and was really floored by how Black women’s knowledge production and Black women’s genius tends to be largely overshadowed by their struggles with addiction in ways that the genius of Black men historically has not been. ( This isn’t limited to only Black women, as I remember comments around Amy Winehouse’s addiction struggles and trust, Frank was genius.)

For example, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane historically have had very public struggles with addictions, however their genius has not been denied.

Black women’s history is central to US history. To erase or deny their genius is to erase US history, and I am not having that.

To reduce their genius to their struggles with addictions is to fail to see them as whole human beings who are both fragile and dynamic.

Listen to the first 90 seconds of her version of  “I Will Always Love You” in a quiet room on a Sunday morning. #genius.

Having watched Oakland become consumed by the crack epidemic as a kid in Oakland I saw the city that I loved eaten from the inside out in many ways by the dope game. I watched many family members struggle with addiction, recovery and addiction and recovery again. You want to go through some pain, watch a family member relapse after watching them claw their way, one day at a time to sobriety.

As I watched people on in social media spaces speculate about who is responsible for Ms. Houston’s “downfall” I couldn’t help but think that is this what people who don’t know how to grieve? What does grieving look like in this moment? What does it mean that it is easier to emote in social media spaces rather than to look at ourselves, at our own dark side’s or to call a family member who is struggling with dealing with an addiction right now and let them know that they are Loved and that you want them to stay alive.

As I stated earlier, Wanzo’s The Suffering Will Not Be Televised helped me to make sense of a lot of the comments around Whitney Houston’s life and death. In her book Wanzo argues that,

some stories of African American women’s suffering in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries are widely circulated and others dwell in obscurity. African American women are frequently illegible as sympathetic subjects for media and political concern, and unpacking the difference between the widely disseminated suffering stories and the invisible ones demonstrates why some stories of suffering gain prominence and others never gain a national stage.

After Ms. Houston’s death I thought, why was it so hard to see her as a sympathetic subject? Why didn’t she have “political currency”? Does she have political currency in Black online spaces? White online spaces? Why or why not?

I’ve had a theory for about three years about shiny Black girls. Shiny Black girls are talented, ambitious and fly. Their hair stays whipped, faces be moisturized and when they enter a room, they turn heads. #blackgirlsarefromthefuture.

Ms. Houston was a shiny Black girl. In our current cultural climate shiny Black girls have to protect themselves, their bodies and their spirits in order to stay whole human beings.

I guess, at the end of all of this I am wondering how many shiny Black girls are in our midst at this very moment who may need our help but don’t want to or don’t know how to ask? What is our obligation to them?

What do we do?

Thoughts?

On Syd the Kid’s “Cocaine” Video


I have contended that in a world premised on oppressing women, openly Loving a woman is probably one of the most radical things you can do.

The homie @danyeezy, just put me on to the new Syd the Kid video. Syd is the only woman member of OFWGKTA . @Danyeezy reblogged a link to Syd’s video “Cocaine” from the blog Life is Fair Game.

I watch videos with the sound on and with the sound off because it helps me to focus on the images.

I also teach my students do so because a music video combine text with images, which makes them very powerful.

The song, the instrumentation of it is hot. Sounds like Pharell with…I don’t know a funky Fiona Apple.

I also enjoyed the non-normative gender presentations of Black girls IN A MUSIC VIDEO.

Queer Black girls are not featured in music videos.

However, as I listened to the song, I thought, is she saying “I wanna, I wanna, Do you wanna do some Cocaine?”

Why yes, she is.

I get it, sex, drugs, and rock and roll.Historically young people in general and young artist in particular have said and done outlandish things to stand out and rebel against their elders.

However, bodies have histories, and Black girl’s bodies certainly have histories.

Which brings me to a point.

In order to see masculine and feminine identified young Black women in a music video, the narrative is going to pivot on them “doing cocaine” together?

Given the history of both crack and cocaine in Black communities throughout the US historically, is “doing coke” something to sing playfully about?

Is this cost of entry to high of a price to pay? In other words, if the trade-off for having queer young women of color being represented in pop culture is the that they are performing “do you want to do some cocaine” and talking about “slapping bitches” is it worth it?

Is the trade off for being vulnerable and willing enough to grab a woman’s hand in a video that you to also be willing to say that you like “slapping bitches”, is that too high of a price to pay to BE visible in the first place?

Perhaps it is easier to talk about slapping “Bitches” than it is to be vulnerable. ~#allcity

On whose terms should Black girls be represented? And why?

 

On Cyd the Kid’s Video for “Cocaine”


I have contended that in a world premised on oppressing women, openly Loving a woman is probably one of the most radical things you can do.

The homie @danyeezy, just put me on to the new Syd the Kid, the only woman member of OFWGKTA . Her video titled “Cocaine”  reblogged a link from the blog Life is Fair Game.

I watch videos with the sound on and with the sound off because it helps me to focus on the images.

I also teach my students do so because a music video combine text with images, which makes them very  powerful.

The song, the instrumentation of it is hot. Sounds like Pharell with…I don’t know a funky Fiona Apple.

I also enjoyed the non-normative gender presentations of Black girls IN A MUSIC VIDEO.

Queer Black girls are not featured in music videos.

However, as I listened to the song, I thought, is she saying “I wanna, I wanna, Do you wanna do some Cocaine?”

Why yes, she is.

I get it, sex, drugs, and rock and roll.Historically young people in general and young artist in particular have said and done outlandish things to stand out and rebel against their elders.

However, bodies have histories, and Black girl’s bodies certainly have histories.

Which brings me to a point.

In order to see masculine and feminine identified young Black women in a music video, the narrative is going to pivot on them “doing cocaine” together?

Given the history of both crack and cocaine in Black communities throughout the US historically, is “doing coke” something to sing playfully about?

Is this cost of entry to high of a price to pay? In other words, if the trade-off for having queer young women of color being represented in pop culture is the that they are performing “do you want to do some cocaine” and talking about “slapping bitches” is it worth it?

Is the trade off for being vulnerable and willing enough to grab a woman’s hand in a video that you to also be willing to say that you like “slapping bitches”, is that too high of a price to pay to BE visible in the first place?

Perhaps it is easier to talk about slapping “Bitches” than it is to be vulnerable. ~#allcity

On whose terms should Black girls be represented? And why?