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Discussing racism and misogyny – one step forward, two steps back, and a lot of pointing fingers

Journalist Gwen Ifill was on Meet the Press today and she named names on how the Imus matter was handled and his clubby enablers who allowed him to race-bait and engage in misogyny as long as their book, career or program was promoted on his show. The gloves came off (transcript courtesy of Think Progress):

You know, it’s interesting to me. This has been an interesting week. The people who have spoken, the people who issued statements and the people who haven’t. There has been radio silence from a lot of people who have done this program who could have spoken up and said, I find this offensive or I didn’t know. These people didn’t speak up. Tim, we didn’t hear from you. David [Brooks, NYT columnist], we didn’t hear from you.

What was missing in this debate was someone saying, you know, I understand that this is offensive. You know, I have a 7-year-old god daughter. Yesterday she went out shopping with her mom for … basketball shoes so she can play basketball. The offense, the slur that Imus directed at me happened more than 10 years ago. I would like to think that 10 years from now, that Asia isn’t going to be deciding that she wants to get recruited for the college basketball team or be a tennis pro or go to medical school and that she is still vulnerable to those kinds of casual slurs and insults that I got 10 years ago, and that people will say, I didn’t know, or people will say, I wasn’t listening. A lot of people did know and a lot of people were listening and they just decided it was okay. They decided this culture of meanness was fine – until they got caught.

My concern about Mr. Imus and a lot of people and a lot of the debate in this society is not that people are sorry that they say these things, they are sorry that someone catches them. When Don Imus said this about me when I worked here at NBC [he referred to her as “the cleaning lady” they allowed into the White House], when I found out about it, his producer called because Don said he wants to apologize. Well, now he says he never said it. What was he apologizing for? He was apologizing for getting caught, not apologizing for having said it in the first place. And that to me is the debate we need to have, David is right, about the culture of meanness, about the culture of racial complaint, about the internal culture within our community about how we talk to one another. But just this week it was finally saying, enough.

Yes. It’s about having a dialogue about all of it, not just what Imus said. This whole blame game is messed up and everyone is running for cover trying to weasel their way out of having the deeper discussion regarding what all of this is about.

Actually, it’s all kind of FUBAR at this point. I’ll get to that a bit later.

Let’s start off with some important observations and distinctions about why you’re seeing the defense of rap, even with it’s misogyny. When it comes down to it, they don’t like “Whitey” pointing it out — they leap to defending the right to self-defined cultural expression — not freedom of speech, mind you, but an ethno-centric form of expression, the black vernacular within that genre. That’s what you hear when people get defensive about why everyone is “picking on” hip-hop only.

While that argument has some validity, it falls flat in a major way — since the defenders of this particular flavor of the hip-hop genre are saying that the “expression” of a slice of black culture is blatant, ugly misogyny and we’re supposed to be ok with that, as black women, as Americans? I’m not the only one calling bullsh*t.

At Huff Post, Ali Eteraz, writes, in his essay, “Dirty Hip Hop and Whether Blacks Need to Teach Whites Better“:

What the civil rights movement did, beyond giving political rights to a subjugated minority, was to say that in the white/minority discussion, minorities speak for themselves, and to themselves. The civil rights movement destroyed anglo-centrism. Before it, minorities spoke about themselves, to whites; minorities had to speak about themselves as whites spoke about them. This was why, before the civil rights movement, blacks called themselves “negroes” and “colored” in the manner of whites but afterwards started calling themselves “black” or “African American.” The destruction of anglo-centrism is the most important spiritual legacy of the civil rights movement. Blacks and other ethnic minorities cannot now let a group of entertainers and producers of pornography re-assert this anglo-centrism simply because it profits them (i.e. Snoop Dogg gets a nice cut from Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild). Yet, with the rise of degradation in hip hop, that is precisely what is happening, and misogyny is simply the most egregious example.

Mainstream hip hop is replete with misogyny far worse than anything Imus expressed. In fact, mainstream hip hop is actually a toned down version of the truly predatory examples of hip hop patriarchy. Those that want to see such examples should watch BET’s “uncut” videos, specifically “Tip Drill” by Nelly (warning, nudity and explicit sexual content) which goes something like this: “It must be yo ass cuz it aint yo face” while hundreds of faceless backsides shake towards the camera. In other words, hip hop misogyny today is so bad that the first step will not be to affirm women’s minds; it will be to affirm that a woman’s face comes before her backside!

Ah, Tip Drill. Folks, if you haven’t seen Nelly’s video, it will break the whole nasty thing down for you. See what I mean after the jump. And if you’re worried about work-safe pictures, don’t say I didn’t warn you.This video has to be a milestone in misogyny. Nelly’s lyrics describe what he perceives to be ugly women with great bodies who need to hand themselves over to him — and his crew — and they’ll slide money in their thong and, well, other things. Of course the women enjoy and beg for this, in his little fantasy video. The sad truth is, the women — all beautiful, btw, since that wouldn’t make a good video for the fellas to wank off to, willingly shook their asses in the camera, some almost completely nude in the uncut version.

How low can you go in terms of objectifying and debasing women? Nelly slides a credit card in the ass crack of one of the women “shaking it” in his face

A snippet:

(Chorus)
I said it must be ya ass cause it aint yo face i need a tip drill i need a tip drill
I said it must be ya ass cause it aint yo face i nedde a tip drill i need a tip drill
Said if you see a tip drill point her out where she at point her out where she at point her out there she go
Said if you see a tip drill point her out where she at point her out where she at point her out there she go

(Break down)
I need a freak Ooh to hold me tight I need a freak for 7 days and 7 nights ooh I need a freeak ohh that will not choke ohh i need a freak to let me stick it down her oooooh

I actually had to sit through 6:50 of this shite to see the horrid credit card scene. Yep, it’s a free country, and they can make a living however they choose, but it made me sad and angry to see these women willingly allowing themselves to be degraded this way.

How far we’ve fallen to go from James Brown and “I’m black and I’m proud” a few decades ago, to “hos and bitches,” selling black women nationwide as pieces of meat to America. Is this what it’s about — equal opportunity sexism and hatred for women as a commercial venture?

Would Nelly — and all the executives at his label — like their daughters to participate in a video like this, with men gleefully grabbing and groping these women like playtoys? No one is making anyone buy this, but the record companies, BET and anyone else profiting off of it have daughters, sisters and mothers — have they no awareness of how this is culturally hurtful to women, and black women in particular.

Note: the fact that Nelly can make a video like this, and still have a charity for children with cancer, 4 Sho 4 Kids Foundation (formed because of a sister suffering from leukemia), shows you the disconnect one can have — you can still perpetrate the worst stereotypes about women and not be a wholly bad person. It’s too easy to say it’s all about gangstas and thugs, it’s about a hatred and demeaning of women so ingrained they don’t even know or see how bad it really is.

This is what Imus used as his defense. He was wrong, and these “artists” are wrong. There isn’t a need to compare whose sin is worse — no one is off the hook. It doesn’t matter that Nelly isn’t interviewing presidential candidates if the subject at hand is solely about misogyny. It also has nothing to do with whether people let Don Imus’s advertisers know that “nappy-headed hos” was inappropriate for someone broadcasting over the public airwaves. These are separate and equally troubling issues — and yes, we can talk about them both at the same time.

Thankfully Imus’s bigotry brought this back into the spotlight, and that’s a good thing, because I don’t think the country at large was going to have an honest, difficult conversation about this otherwise.

When the Tip Drill video was released a few years ago, there was attention drawn to it, but it likely didn’t get on the radar of the MSM, again — because regardless of political persuasion, whites tend to address misogyny in rap as a matter for blacks to attend to.

Nelly and Tip Drill were taken to task by women at Spelman College, who said enough is enough. From Tony Norman in the Tuesday, April 27, 2004 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

I used to wonder what it would take to spur a mass uprising among black college-age women about the way they’re depicted on cable outlets like BET and MTV.

Would derogatory terms bandied about like the filthy stuttering of illiterate school boys do the trick? Nope. What about a constant stream of video images reinforcing the dubious connection between black femininity, crude materialism and unhinged sexuality? Nope, that’s just par for the course.

….Spelman College students were so outraged by Nelly’s video that they decided it was time to protest such a crude assault on their collective dignity.

I don’t know why it took so many intelligent young women so long to get mad about the wholesale disrespect of their womanhood, but thank goodness they finally did. Waiting for the NAACP or BET to take the lead in criticizing millionaire exploiters of black women is like waiting for the government to apologize for slavery. It’s not going to happen.

What the women of Spelman did in March of that year was to hold panels about rap lyrics and the role of “unindicted co-conspirators,” accourding to Norman — those black women shaking it in these horrible videos for the almighty dollar, without any concern about how black women are being portrayed.

Nelly actually had a scheduled performance at Spelman the following month, and when women there  threatened to picket it, he canceled the show. And you won’t believe how Nelly’s management spun the protest.

The rapper’s management blamed the students for being unable to distinguish between an outrageous stage act and real life.

You know, this isn’t about Nelly — there are plenty of other artists who have ventured into this level of misogyny and they’ll keep on coming as long as people of all colors continue buying them, and the record companies select those kinds of artists to promote.

Cori Murray of Essence Magazine’s Take Back the Music campaign — back in 2005 (again, was the MSM paying any attention?) — explained the difficulty within the community of taking a stand :

“I was one of those people” who said, ” “Oh, it’s the beat. They’re not really talking about me,’ ” she says.

Even as a key player in Essence’s campaign, she still has a hard time criticizing rap. “It’s my music,” she says. “I just want to see it grow in a different way.”

Another reason for the delay? Black women did not want to sell out their black brothers – even if they sold them out. “We didn’t want to spank their hands, especially publicly,” Murray says. “As a community, we have this thing about airing our dirty laundry.”

But as rap became racier and offered more of a one-dimensional view of black women, “we realized we had to say something,” Murray says. “Yes, it’s going to hurt. Yes, we’re putting these guys on blast. But you know what, we gotta do it because it’s our lives. It’s our souls. “It’s hurting us too much.”

Murray has seen the impact the images have had on her niece, and the girl still wears diapers.

Once, she says, the girl gyrated and cooed, “Dip it low, make your man say oh.”

The way the toddler moved and sang, like the women in the Dip It Low video, left Murray dumbfounded.

She’s 2,” she says. “If she’s doing this now, I can’t imagine what kind of songs are going to be out when she’s 5 or 6.”

***

Way back at the beginning of this piece, I said that things are now FUBAR. This is why — going back to Ali Eteraz’s Huff Post piece, we move into third rail territory by citing another blog, The Assault On Black Folk’s Sanity, where the basic argument that one can gather is that it’s the fault of the Jews running hip-hop — those who are the real puppetmasters, that blacks are not the powerbrokers in the genre. Not the people running hip-hop, the Jews running hip-hop.

So what about the black record industry pioneers of Hip Hop. Any there? Well, maybe Sylvia Robinson in the late 1970’s, but that was over in a heart beat. The real Hip Hop record pioneers?

There you have them: William Socolov, Arthur Russell (Sleeping Bag Records), Rick Rubin (Def Jam Recordings), Steve Plotniki and Corey Robbins (Profile Records), Jerry Allen (BDP Records), Tom Silverman (Tommy Boy Records), maybe even Hiroshi Matsuo (Pallas Records). None of them black, one is Japanese. Oh, and let’s not forget Arthur Baker (Fat Boys), and the late Steve Salem (hope you’re doing ok up there, my man).

…Moreover, most of these individuals are Jewish. I don’t think that either Joel Springarn, Michael Schwerner, or Andrew Goodman would appreciate them facilitating the harm to the black image as they do. This is not what these heros of the civil rights struggle worked and died for. I think it is for their like-minded ideological descendants who are Jewish to take these executives to task for their selling and producing the most vile imagery of African-Americans since D.W. Griffith’s Birth of A Nation. Given these days’ political climate, people who would or could do so and are not Jewish, unfortunately are to susceptible to being tainted with the charge of anti-Semitism.

It may be important to point out the fact that at the core, there are a lot of rich black rappers, and that those with the power aren’t black, but this, friends, isn’t a productive way to further engage in the dialogue, given everyone’s ready to accuse this group or that group of fault or blame for a disease of racism, sexism and homophobia that pervades the American culture, and we’re clearly so immature about addressing it all that we can’t move beyond pointing fingers.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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