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Spike Lee, Essence Magazine speak out on the pimp/ho arm of hip hop

Director Spike Lee recently spoke in Toronto and said enough is enough with the “pimp/ho” arm of hip hop’s effect on black students, which glorifies bling and a piece of *ss over education. Essence Magazine’s response to hip-hop’s degradation of black women is Take Back the Music that began in January. Graphic: Essence Magazine.

Al Sharpton recently took on a subgenre of hip-hop that thrives on a violent image of its “artists” by calling for a 90-day ban on radio and television airplay for any performer who uses violence to promote albums. Spike Lee now joins the increasing number of voices that are seeing the wrong influences rewarded in the black community, and promoted by corporations that rake in the bucks off of the image. (Canadian Press):

Many black students today are failing in school on purpose because peer pressure via media images has convinced them that smart equals white and that it’s cool to become pimps or “video ho’s” says pre-eminent African-American filmmaker Spike Lee.

And Lee told an audience comprised largely of Ontario university students that people can vote with their pocketbooks to convince artists, record companies and media conglomerates like Viacom that the images in today’s music videos or lyrics in gangsta rap are unacceptable.

As African-Americans we let artists slide,” Lee said in the Monday night speech. “(But) those days are over. I think that we have to start to hold people accountable.” Lee was invited to speak in Toronto by the Ryerson University student administrative council to help mark the International Day For the Elimination of Racial Descrimination on March 21.

While known for his outspokenness, especially on issues of race, Lee seemed to aim his heavy guns at fellow black artists. He said that while he wasn’t calling for a boycott, the father now of a 10-year-old girl said he could no longer listen to the music of R. Kelly because he saw the bootleg video of the rapper with some underage females.

These artists talk about ‘ho this, bitch this, skank this’ and all the other stuff. They’re talking about all our mothers, all our sisters. They’re talking about their own mothers, grandmothers.”

The question that is being asked now is why do these artists, and their corporate masters, feel it’s OK to portray women this way, and where is that sentiment coming from? Why have women allowed this portrayal to remain popular and accepted? The sad truth is this music sells.

What this discussion of culturally-approved misogyny by a segment of the hip-hop community will bring to light is another view of the sad, seemingly widening gulf between black men and women in mutual trust and regard, and in education and economic opportunities. You see it in the disparity between college-educated black men and women, the incarceration and unemployment rates for young black men, and, if you read Essence regularly, the grim dilemma of women looking for “marriage material” with those long odds and concern about men on the DL.

Stanley Crouch, in a New York Daily News column a while back, discussed Essence Magazine’s “movement” to combat the image of black women in hip-hop. The way women are treated and depicted in some of the music videos is enough to make one sick. The pathology runs deep, as the women in these videos obviously don’t mind degrading themselves in the ‘ho vein.

The magazine is the first powerful presence in the black media with the courage to examine the cultural pollution that is too often excused because of the wealth it brings to knuckleheads and amoral executives.

This anything-goes-if-sells attitude comes at a cost. The elevation of pimps and pimp attitudes creates a sadomasochistic relationship with female fans. They support a popular idiom that consistently showers them with contempt. We are in a crisis, and Essence knows it.

When asked how the magazine decided to take a stand, the editor, Diane Weathers said, “We started looking at the media war on young girls, the hypersexualization that keeps pushing them in sexual directions at younger and younger ages.”

Things got deeper, she says, because, “We started talking at the office about all this hatred in rap song after rap song, and once we started, the subject kept coming up because women were incapable of getting it off their minds.”

The other issue, raised by Spike Lee, is the culture of ignorance that is glorified, the “Acting White” phenomenon. I wrote a Blend entry on this, NYT: The ‘Acting White’ Myth. A snippet here:

I grew up in Durham, NC and I attended Catholic school for K-6 . I had a culture shock when I attended public school for 7th grade (this was in 1975).

Boy did I get slammed by the kids for “talking white” and “acting white” because I was doing well in school — they said so. It was made worse by the fact that I didn’t have a southern accent.

The sad truth is, in a school that was at least 75% black, I was pulled over by one of the elderly black teachers one day and she told me that she was so proud of me — I was the first black student to make the honor roll in that school.

If that isn’t a sad reflection of the state of things in the 70s, I cannot imagine what it is like now growing up, with the saturation of anti-intellectualism and materialism foisted upon and soaked up as “culture” by some in the black community.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding