Jewish World Review Jan. 19, 2005 / 9 Shevat 5765
Black women talking back to rap's bad-boy culture
This is the time of year when countless orators turn into crystal ball gazers.
In grand speeches across the land, they speculate as to what Martin Luther King Jr., who would have been 76 on Saturday, would think if he were still alive today.
I wonder what he would think of today's rap music culture.
I wonder what he would think of a world in which young black poets refer to young black women as "ho's," "bitches," "chickenheads," "skeezers," "gold-diggers" and "hoochie mamas."
I wonder what he would think of the 21st century minstrel show that hip-hop videos have given us with endless portrayals of black women as booty-shaking ornaments accessorizing the macho images of black males dressed-down in a ghetto-centric splendor appropriate for a prison yard.
Not all of rap is weak like that. As my 15-year-old son and personal hip-hop consultant is eager to inform me, today's rap world has swung largely away from the gangster rap of the 1980s and '90s toward the political and social "consciousness rap" of, say, Talib Kweli, Common (formerly Lonnie Rashied Lynn of Chicago) or Kanye West, the producer-turned-rapper whose debut album The College Dropout with the religious hit Jesus Walks scored 10 Grammy nominations.
Despite such occasional glimmers of something resembling intelligence, the vast majority of rap video fare falls back on the same simplistic mother/whore stereotypes against which the mainstream women's movement has crusaded for decades.
With that in mind, it is encouraging to see a new and remarkably broad-based backlash rising up to cast a critical light on hip-hop's narrow view of black women's sexuality.
Essence, the highest-circulation black women's magazine, has launched a year-long examination of rap's treatment of women under the theme, "Take Back the Music." The project includes articles, a conference and a study of how music videos affect young viewers.
Essence editors say they decided to tackle rap images after protesters at the historically black women's Spelman College in Atlanta told the rap star Nelly not to come to a bone-marrow drive that his foundation was sponsoring on campus because his lyrics were too insulting to women.
The event at a major black college marked an important departure from the silence with which most black students, fearful perhaps of being seen as uncool by their peers, have avoided much public criticism of rap stars.
The criticism from Essence, a major voice for upwardly mobile black women, is harder for the hip-hop industry and consumers to ignore than, say, the complaints of Bill O'Reilly on Fox News Channel. When I checked its Web poll at www.essence.com late last week, more than 72 percent of more than 2,700 respondents agreed that what they hear "about women in most songs played on urban stations makes me cringe."
But what is to be done? The project is "more about conversation than censorship," Michaela angela Davis, Essence executive, fashion and beauty editor, said in an interview.
That's wise. Censorship is not the answer. It only makes the forbidden fruit more desirable, especially to the young and excitable. To change rap, we must change the culture that feeds it. And, to change attitudes, first we have to talk.
"Black women are often depicted as hypersexualized and music videos exacerbate the problem - and that becomes people's perception of black women everywhere," one of the Spelman protesters, senior Moya Bailey, says in the January Essence. "For black women especially, there are not as many choices out there to counteract video images. I think it's deliberate. The media does an excellent job of keeping those more positive images about us away from people."
Deliberate or not, Nelly argues in the same issue that "Women are in the videos by choice. ... Several women who have been in my videos have gone on to do TV appearances and movies. No one can dictate other people's choices and situations."
Indeed, Melyssa Ford, a former video model and co-host of BETs new BET Style, says she made videos to help pay her tuition before she expanded her brand. "People were trying to exploit me, but I decided to exploit myself and make all the money from my images, including those on my calendar and DVD. People may see it as a contradiction, but I don't. I'm eye candy and that's as far as it goes."
To that, I can already hear others saying, "We need to talk, sistergirl."
That's OK. Cultural change begins with conversations, freely expressed and from the heart. We African-Americans too often silence ourselves with politically correct "ghettocentric" notions that black-on-black criticism of any sort is a form of racial betrayal. Quite the opposite, it is our salvation. We betray each other if we fail to warn each other when we appear quite obviously to be destroying ourselves.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington
and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Comment on Clarence Page's column by clicking here.
01/04/05: A year with ups, downs and slip-slides
12/16/04: A black father on the brink of becoming a real parent
12/14/04: Just answer the question, Mr. Rumsfeld
12/10/04: How The Hug helped
12/02/04: Persistent civil rights wounds
11/29/04: Dems need to stand for more than befuddlement
11/19/04: Saving 'Saving Private Ryan'
11/16/04: Greetings from the disunited 'United States of Canada'
11/11/04: Heart drug for blacks hard to swallow
11/10/04: Bush's values got more black voters in his camp than in 2000, but all is not lost for Dems
10/28/04: TV's argument shows get some comeuppance
10/26/04: Still seeking justice for the murder of Emmett Till
10/21/04: A surprising black bump for Bush
10/19/04: Powell's ups, downs and new battlefields
10/14/04: Free press under attack
10/11/04: Despite Congress killing a bill that would have restored the draft, some people remain unconvinced
09/28/04: Save the straight, white, Christian male
09/21/04: Non-swing states want some love too
09/09/04: The 'Comeback Kid' advises candidate Kerry
09/02/04: Future Karl Roves getting ready to rumble
08/31/04: Study schools that are successful too
08/26/04: Why does America continue to refight the war in Vietnam?
08/24/04: A man for all racial reasons
08/03/04: Obama's drama and our dreams: Getting back on track as the United States
07/29/04: Quick refresher: Politics according to the Clintons
07/08/04: At colleges, immigrants are 'minorities' too
07/06/04: 40 years of opportunities
07/04/04: The 'no-sex' scandal
06/24/04: Freedom Summer of '64
06/17/04: When a diversity plan works too well
06/01/04: What Bill Cosby meant to say
05/18/04: Ashcroft has made murder of Emmett Till a federal case
04/29/04: A surprise running mate for Kerry: Calling Colin Powell
04/22/04: Did loyalty finally trip up Colin Powell?
04/15/04: Kerry needs a vision to win votes for the presidency
04/09/04: As much as our American presidents say "Never again" with heartfelt passion, the reality too often has been, "Yes, again," to mass killings
04/06/04: Finding hope in America's bleak racial statistics
04/05/04: Pop star's thriller on Capitol Hill
03/31/04: Pressure building to warm up cold case
03/26/04: Authentically self-hating: Today's standards of being cool on a destructive path
03/23/04: To get its groove back, the religious left needs to come up with some new ideas and a new vision for curing persistent social ills
03/16/04: Jayson Blair's new career: Scandal star
03/11/04: Blacks eye that John Kerry guy
03/04/04: In this instance, life should imitate art
02/12/04: What a friend Bush has in Sharpton
02/10/04: Unspoken conflicts: America's blacks and Latinos are struggling with a new racial paradigm for the new century
02/03/04: When pundits blab, blab, blab
01/29/04: Reparations on trial briefly: Now it's time to address blacks' biggest problems
01/15/04: If MLK lived, would he still be a hero?
01/08/04: GOPers would be wise to woo blacks those who vote and don't
01/02/04: Vicious, vicious Dems
01/02/04: It was a banner year for the pompous and peculiar
12/24/03: Al Gore's new campaign pal
12/12/03: Going for the political heavy hitters: Can Gore's new pal survive the veep's endorsement?
12/09/03: When is force excessive?
12/02/03: Medicare reform: A real turkey of a package
11/25/03: Colleges helping student athletes score diplomas
11/18/03: Soccer moms vs. NASCAR dads
11/13/03: Hunting 'terrorists' in Vegas strip clubs
11/11/03: America's peculiar 'passing' fancy
11/06/03: Dean waves wrong flag, Dems see red
10/28/03: No more excuses for the parents
10/23/03: Box Cutter Kid did us a favor
10/17/03: So long to a misguided gag rule on the medicinal use of marijuana
10/14/03: Does the election of Ah-nuld mean anything more than the obvious?
10/02/03: The wages of luck in a 'jobless recovery'
09/30/03: Looks like Clark should go back to basic training
09/18/03: The amazing clout of lobbyists swarming around Capitol Hill
09/16/03: Hearing hip-hop's pathetic message
09/12/03: What teenagers really want
09/09/03: Lessons from an anthropologist
09/02/03: Put term limits on airport security rules
08/14/03: Schoolchildren of all races at risk without parental guidance
08/08/03: Colin Powell is the 'odd man out' again
08/05/03: Black parents must teach their kids to succeed
07/22/03: Presidential politics: A time to pander, a time to push away
07/15/03: Deeper realities of Baker's dust-up
07/10/03: Formerly aloof, Bush now embraces Africa
07/08/03: Wrestling with the Q-word in Iraq
07/01/03: If you are reading this column, you aren't being filtered!
06/10/03: The 'Industry of Hillary' raises bucks for both sides
05/30/03: Dems grope for glimmer of hope
05/28/03: Reefer sanity vs. puritans in the White House
05/22/03: Turns out race was a factor in the NYTimes scandal a very big one
05/06/03: Closing the college graduation disparity
04/22/03: Fighting for privacy in an era of terror
04/22/03: Don't mis-underestimate the prez: Give him the 'props' he deserves
04/21/03: Sitting on scoops at CNN
04/15/03: After Saddam? Watch out, Syria
04/11/03: 'Hammer time' for Castro
04/08/03: Post-Hussein: Winning the true peace
04/03/03: Right story, wrong TV station
04/01/03: Remembering Moynihan's mind
03/27/03: A fog of war words: Shocking and awesome
03/21/03: A Moranic moment bites peace movement
03/18/03: Viewers beware when tv networks don't care
03/14/03: Powell's battle for Bush's ear
03/10/03: 'Embedded,' but not 'in bed with'
02/28/03: Bridging the black gender gap
02/19/03 Braun vs. Sharpton: A Dem dilemma
02/14/03: Bush's clean-up man
02/11/03: How feds fooled marijuana trial jurors
02/06/03: Time to re-think space shuttle's value
01/31/03: Why corporations like diversity, too
01/28/03: Shaq vs. Yao, a new world diss-order
01/23/03: Affirmative action will be remarketed under new name
01/13/03: Bond movie offers clues to Korea crisis
01/07/03: Dr. Frist to the rescue … of his party
01/02/03: Feeling a 'draft,' but not much
12/17/02: To rob a burning cross of its power
12/03/02: Closing black-white test-score gaps
11/19/02: Uncle Same wants your data
11/15/02: Marriage vs. 'player' impulse
11/11/02: How Oz can help the Dems
11/05/02: We reserve right to be complicated
10/22/02: What the pro-gun lobby and anti-gun lobby have in common
10/18/02: Take Sharpton seriously? For Prez??
10/15/02: A beauty and the bullies
10/08/02: Time to start 'fingerprinting' bullets
10/08/02: Poet laureate hater fell for Internet hoax
10/04/02: Keeping it real, despite howls from black 'leaders'
10/01/02: Revisiting the 'Jogger' horror
09/27/02: Sometimes freedom is a necessary nuisance
09/13/02: Foil Fidel with free trade
09/10/02: Measuring the myth of 'super weed'
09/06/02: A year later: A reality-check
09/03/02: Make better choices before some jury somewhere does
08/20/02: Bid farewell to the Cigarette Century
08/16/02: Rights matter, even in circus trials
08/09/02: Jousting with Rumsfeld's fog of wit
08/06/02: Covert action is cool again
08/01/02: Powell's premature obituaries
07/30/02: A common sense tip on internal snooping
07/18/02: Jacko plays race card badly
07/12/02: Last flight for a pioneer airman
07/08/02: Dems will miss Watts, too
06/28/02: 'Supreme Court reads polls, too
06/25/02: 'The Body' bites, then bows out
06/21/02: Punishment first, then the crime?
06/18/02: Reporting still risky for Haiti's press
06/14/02: Bush's security plan leaves large gaps
06/04/02: Fix FBI's culture gap first
05/28/02: Fidel's new apartheid for tourists
05/21/02: Now McKinney's lunacy sounds like the Democratic Party line
05/19/02: A paradox of historical proportions
05/14/02: 'Murphy Brown' revisited in age of Ozzy
05/10/02: America looks like a model of tolerance and inclusion
05/07/02: Forget it, Bill, you're no Oprah
04/26/02: Mapping out ethnic and racial change
04/23/02: A game of another color
04/19/02: It's high time to open up pot-law debate
04/11/02: 'Osbourne' family values rock, aging Ozzy quakes
03/22/02: Zimbabwe election leaves world sleepless
03/19/02: A slur? Where is thy sting?
03/15/02: A Pearl of wisdom for reporter's unborn son
03/12/02: Army race and gender policies on trial
03/08/02: A short list of losers to be left behind
03/05/02: Revenge of the 'mediasaurus'
02/26/02: Jihads aren't just for Muslims
02/26/02: It's hard to be 'objective' during wartime
02/19/02: Hollywood's new villain: Your HMO
02/12/02: Father of 'Manchild' leaves lasting message
02/08/02: $nookering the reparations crowd
01/31/02: Prisoners of a War of Words
01/29/02: One more Enron woe: Al Sharpton & company
01/25/02: Searching for slaves in bin Laden's attic
01/22/02: Andrew Young's newest 'friend'
01/08/02: Hard-earned lessons from 9-11
12/18/01: Whatever happened to questions about the birds and the bees?
12/14/01: The "White Negro" Taliban?
12/07/01: Jackson's turn to gloat
11/27/01: Friendly warning from a lover of liberty
11/21/01: The face of hunger is changing
11/15/01: Our troubled sense of trust
11/08/01: Lessons about terror from the 'hood
11/06/01: Getting used to the 'new normal'
11/02/01: Wicked ways to make them talk
10/30/01: It's not just about bin Laden
10/26/01: More than mail fell between the cracks
10/23/01: Terrorists threaten urban recovery, too
10/18/01: Sometimes, assassination warranted
10/15/01: Self-censorship rises again
10/12/01: Contradictions illustrate the complicated nature of the new terrorism
10/05/01: Look who's 'profiling' now
10/01/01: Don't trash liberty to save it
09/28/01: Life, love and cell phones during wartime
09/24/01: How to catch an elusive terrorist
09/21/01: The war I was waiting for
09/17/01: When rage turns to hate
09/13/01: Terror attack tests US, let's give right response
09/06/01: U.S. should have stayed and argued
09/04/01: Columbine killer's parents get upclose and personal
08/31/01: Virtual kids? Log me out
08/28/01: Two Africans, one black, one white, same fight
08/23/01: Sharpton for president
08/20/01: Shaking up the rules on keeping secrets
08/16/01: Bush's u-turn on racial goals
08/09/01: Outsider Bubba comes 'in' again
08/06/01: Not ready for 'color-blindness' yet
08/02/01: Immigration timing couldn't be better
07/26/01: Summer of Chandra: An international traveler's perspective
07/17/01: Overthrowing a régime is only the beginning
07/10/01: Big Brother is watching you, fining you
07/05/01: Can blacks be patriotic? Should they be?
06/19/01: Get 'real' about marriage
06/12/01: Amos, Andy and Tony Soprano
06/07/01: Getting tough with the Bush Twins
06/05/01: Bringing marriage back into fashion
05/31/01: "Ken" and "Johnnie": The odd-couple legal team
05/24/01: Sharpton's challenge to Jackson
05/22/01: Test scores equal (a) MERIT? (b) MENACE? (c) ALL OF ABOVE?
05/17/01: Anti-pot politics squeeze the ill
05/15/01: Was Babe Ruth black?
05/10/01: U.N.'s torture caucus slaps Uncle Sam
05/08/01: 'The Sopranos' a reflection of our times
05/03/01: 'Free-fire' zones, then and now
05/01/01: War on drugs misfires against students
04/26/01: Another athlete gets foot-in-mouth disease
04/23/01: 'Slave' boat mystery reveals real tragedy
04/19/01: McVeigh's execution show
04/12/01: Not this time, Jesse
04/05/01: Dubya is DEFINITELY his own man, you fools!
04/02/01: Milking MLK
03/29/01: The candidate who censored himself?
03/22/01: "Will Hispanics elbow blacks out of the way as the nation's most prominent minority group?"
03/19/01: Blacks and the SATs
03/15/01: The census: How much race still matters in the everyday life of America
03/12/01: Jesse is a victim!
03/08/01: Saving kids from becoming killers
03/01/01: Parents owe "Puffy" and Eminem our thanks
© 2001 TMS