Monday, January 31, 2011

Are Black Women Ok with Misogynistic Lyrics?

As a thespian, one thing I especially appreciate about the film industry is its rating system. Movies rated R, NC-17, and of course X, are not available to the general public (or not supposed to be.) This is why the Toy Story trilogy is available to a different audience than the Girls Gone Wild saga. This isn't censorship; this is simply ensuring that the appropriate parties receive age-appropriate entertainment.

Music, however doesn't have a similarly successful system. There are "parental advisory" stickers, but those don't do anything for the relatively ubiquitous presence of adult themes represented in popular music on radio, television and other mass media markets. (While I realize that all genres of music have a raunchy side, I'm most concerned about the urban music because it harms marginalized groups that are already suffering crippling blows.) I know the lyrics to songs I don't even want to know the lyrics to. For example, if you want to avoid hearing No Hands, that means no Top 40 radio for you and no walking down Benning Road or any MLK Avenue in America. You can say that No Hands was meant for an adult audience, which justifies its bass line in 21+ venues, but not its presence on the radio.

This conversation is one I've been having for years but almost always with Black Americans. Until last night. I was talking to a Salvadorian-American friend of mine, a studious, keen, and pretty undergraduate studying history and she hesitantly asked me (out of the blue), "How do you feel about female rappers?" I admitted my unstoppable love for Nicki Minaj. She continued... slowly at first, and then gathering speed,
"In my study of the history of women, particularly Black American women... I've seen how they've been portrayed since slavery as promiscuous women of a lesser value... and I just don't understand how they... you... could be comfortable with Black women calling themselves "bitches" and "hoes." It seems like so many of you have worked so hard to be something better than that, and yes... men are misogynistic, but for women to say it about themselves? And be ok with it? Calling themselves the baddest bitch, talking about p***y on sideburns... it's baffling to me. Outside of reggaeton, the Latin community would never allow our music to get so virulently anti-women. The women, we would stop it. Why don't you say something? Are you ok with it?"

I was for a moment... speechless. I've heard those exact sentiments from Spelmanites, Oprah, and my Black peers, but to hear another minority speak so passionately in favor of Black women standing up for themselves was... a whole new experience for me. We could get into the nitty gritty about whether Latin music is better or worse than "Black" music, about how she too is a part of the problem every time she dances to Get Low, but that would be tangential to the main point. She seemed genuinely concerned about what she saw as Black women's betrayal of themselves.

I did take the time to share with her the few things I know:
  • artists often have little control over the content of their music
  • Black women have continuously protests against misogynistic lyrics and made several strides (famous case in point: Spelman's Take Back the Music Campaign)
  • lots of great men and women who portray us in a better light (Common, Will Smith, Janelle Monae, even Nicki has her moments)
But I don't think this answer is sufficient. So let me hear from you:

1. Was Chris Rock right when he said, "If the beat is right, she will dance all night?" Are we perpetuating offensive music by dancing to it, listening to it, and often times in the case of Nicki, Kim, Foxy, Trina, et al, writing it?
2. What's the solution? Should there be a stricter rating system and limited availability of this music to certain markets? Or should people force it off the air by making it commercially unsuccessful?

I don't welcome your responses; I desperately ask for them. Let's discuss.