We’re back with Episode 2 of the Black Girls Talking podcast!
We’ll be on iTunes soon, but in the meantime we’ve migrated over to Podomatic, where you can listen to the new episode, as well as catch up on Episode 1.
Join us for Episode 2, in which we discuss Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone, colorism, Rap Genius: The Movie, and why white people and dreadlocks don’t mix. Group therapy is in session, so WHERE ARE YOUR PEOPLE?
“Be Honest”: Feminism, Race and Hip-Hop Criticism
I was once accused, in an online comments section, of course, of supporting homophobia and misogyny because I wrote an article about rap music. The logic of the comment was specious and the tone snarky and it was an utterly silly and ridiculous accusation — the piece was this one, on Moroccan dissident rapper El Haqed, who raps about things like monarchy, corruption and oppressive police brutality, but not at all about getting laid or hitting prostitutes or calling the people he’s angry at homosexual. This kind of hip-hop, in the context of protest music, is what I write about. So really, I mostly just paused at the comment, felt briefly sorry at the strain that logic had endured that day, and laughed about it.
But in the time since I’ve been thinking, spurred on by writing I’ve read, about the kind of misogyny and homophobia associated with hip-hop. I think a lot of the accusations leveled at hip-hop about misogyny and homophobia miss the necessary nuance to address the problem. The problem isn’t hip-hop, the problem is much, much bigger and stems from someplace else. Hip-hop has a misogyny problem and a homophobia problem, and so does a great deal of the rest of pop music and popular country music and popular rock, etc. So does Congress. So do a lot of radio and television hosts. So do… you get my drift. The difference in how we talk about what’s going on is that hip-hop’s misogyny is seen as the misogyny of African-American men, an endemic misogyny seen as somehow far more problematic than white misogyny or white homophobia. Katy Perry and Taylor Swift both accuse subjects in their songs of being gay (see “Ur So Gay” and “Picture to Burn”) as a way of mocking and humiliating them, but we don’t broadly talk about the culture of twenty-something straight, white pop stars as having a big and insurmountable homophobia problem, nor do we charge their listeners with that. We may charge them with an individual act of homophobia or sexism, but we rarely consider that problem to be connected to deep thematic elements of the teen pop scene. Perhaps we consider them less problematic because, while Taylor Swift heavy-handedly layers on the madonna-whore complex motif in her song and music video for “You Belong With Me,” she avoids ever directly calling the rival female character in her narrative a whore and mixes her message with sounds that are the country-pop equivalent of high-fructose corn syrup. The supposed cultural digestibility of the sexist and homophobic elements included in a range of music from classic rock to country-pop crossover owes a great deal to the whiteness of its singers and to the general crowd-pleasing appeal that a good bout of slut-shaming or indulgence in gender essentialism.
What we aren’t talking about is our race problem when we discuss hip-hop. We generalize hip-hop by the selection of commercialized music we often hear on the radio and from that deduce that Black or African-American sexism comes from somewhere else, somewhere worse than the white sexism that we’re so much more willing to let slide and much less willing to see as an endemic problem to be addressed rather than as trivial or isolated incidents accepted as within bounds.
This kind of commentary also handily lets us ignore what hip-hop has to offer as a platform for cultural growth. Hip-hop has the options of providing us with talented female MCs (and breakdancers, DJs and graf artists), who, while they don’t get nearly the attention they deserve, are vibrant presences within hip-hop culture (Azealia Banks? Rye Rye? M.I.A.?) and have been so since the start. Hip-hop has its own moments and opportunities for genuine growth, in a broadly impactful way, on the subjects of gender and sexuality. One of the most notable has happened in the time since I started composing this essay. Frank Ocean’s Tumblr confessional about his first love, another boy at age 19, presented a complex and frank look at bisexuality and homosexuality in a number of contexts, including the hip-hop music scene. The genuine outpouring of public support from many corners of the hip-hop universe (not to say that there weren’t plenty of nasty tweets from homophobic former fans and one lackluster one at best from Tyler, The Creator), from Theophilus London to a simple but laudatory and to-the-point support poem from Beyoncé (pictured above), showed some encouraging support and even a rejection of rigid gender/sexuality constructs. (I of course don’t want to make it out to seem like what Frank Ocean did is A) what I think everyone in the closet about their sexuality or gender identity ought to do (everyone gets to make that choice for themselves) or B) the end of homophobia in the hip-hop culture/business.)
If we want to actually attack rap’s misogyny and homophobia, we have to attack the fact that those are features of huge swaths of popular culture, of high culture and of low culture (actually, I actually kind of hate those terms) and that such elements become selling points for music and entertainment. At this juncture, lots of Top 40 rap is for white audiences, white audiences who deeply appreciate cheering on references to gratuitous violence and poor attitudes towards women and femininity and things that bend gender ideals. We need to take to task rap personas like Donald Glover’s Childish Gambino and the perpetually slur-slinging Odd Future group in ways that effectively address the source of the problem and the factors that perpetuate it. We don’t challenge enough the fact that these personas or these motifs are made popular by mass culture’s demand for and acceptance of this kind of lyric or imagery.
The sexist tropes in hip-hop music have their roots in the same kind of in-high-demand sexism that pumps up listeners by playing into the gender norms instilled in us since we were wobbly toddlers. This is actually a kind of sexism not all that far from the kind that drives the popularity of advice pieces that are “He’s From Mars And Just Not That Into You But Maybe If You Were Less of A Slut But Also Put Out Some More” mash-ups and the cascading Internet troll attacks on female voices and the “Ugh, aren’t men and women just so different” punchlines of how many different stand-up comedians. It’s certainly not far from the sexism that spurred some video game aficionados to launch a vitriolic and stomach-turning campaign against feminist video blogger Anita Sarkeesian for speaking out against misogyny in the gaming world. The homophobia doesn’t arise in hip-hop because hip-hop came from South Bronx anger and Brooklyn rage, but rather because it exists inside a cultural that has a trained rejection of things that fall outside some rigidly constructed boxes of masculinity. Rappers have as complex and problematic a relationship with sexual norms and gender hierarchies as most segments of popular culture, yet we treat them as if they are somehow separate from white sexism (seen as individualized and not indicative of problems within white culture).
There is a certain amount of glee to the death knell being rung repeatedly for hip-hop culture: they are hopefully typing out eulogies for what white America has long seen as threatening - powerful, popular, sometimes-radical-sometimes-marketable Black voices. It’s a way to finally write hip-hop off like people have wanted to for decade and especially a continuation of the ever-popular narrative that defines Black masculinity as aggressive and dangerous and Black femininity as a victimized caricature. If all we want to see of hip-hop culture, or of Black or urban communities, is the sex and violence genre of chart-topping gangsta rap, then I’m sure that’s all we’ll see. It won’t get us particularly far, though.
I’m not denying the the ubiquity of reductionist and degrading (and much worse) imagery of femininity and homosexuality in so much of mainstream rap/hip-hop, nor should anyone. But for the sake of actually effectively addressing it, it has to be treated as a function of a broad cultural acceptance, no, not acceptance… desire for that exact kind imagery and objectification. There’s a sort of audience revelry in sexism and homophobia, a revelry in the justification it provides. This kind of phenomenon has to be treated as if it comes from the same places that the popular games and movies glorifying violent treatment of women or ugly rejection of homosexuality.
Feminism needs to call out the places where themes of egregious sexism and homophobia are pervasive and influential, which includes but are hardly limited to the lyrical stylings of Tyler, The Creator and Fifty Cent. (And why don’t we also throw problematic thematic elements of classism and exploitative capitalism in there as well, for good measure. Lots of music relies on heavily materialistic tropes and validation of success on highly financial terms.) But, as a feminist, I’m also not doing my job if I don’t point out the serious race problems underscoring a great deal of the criticism aimed at hip-hop culture and rap music from the outside or if I don’t point out this as one of the many shields behind which endemic cultural sexism and homophobia try to hide.
A reading suggestion: Tricia Rose’s Hip Hop Wars has a whole chapter dedicated to this subject and the place of African-American and Black feminism in criticism of both hip-hop and its white conservative detractors.
Trigger warning for discussions of rape and sexual violence committed agaisnt black women.
Black girls and women are not part of the dominant sexual violence discourse. The bodies of black girls and women are often treated as invisible or disposable in this society. Rarely are we viewed as victims of violence or as agents of resistance. Male violence against black girls and women infrequently appears in the media and it is hardly addressed in ‘mainstream’ feminism. The silence surrounding the victimisation and survival of black girls and women is also often obscured within our own communities.
Black Girls’ and Women’s Sexual Coercion in Context
To understand sexual victimization against black girls and women, it is necessary to place the experiences of black women in a sociohistorical framework. Statuses of “black” and “woman” are both historically oppressed identities in the United States. Thus, black women are seen, treated, and often inter- nalized as having “double-minority” status, experiencing both gender and racial oppression (and their intersection). The controlling image of black girls and women as sexually loose and lascivious (e.g., Jezebel, video vixen, “ho”) represents this intersection and has historically played a role in their sexual victimization (Collins 2000; Getman 1984; Wyatt 1992). During slavery, the reproduction of Africans was essential to the economy; slave owners sought increased amounts of “labor” to either sell or use for their own service and agricultural production. Because black women were considered property, white men, both during slavery and after emancipation, often took sexual conquest of black women. Black women who were raped under these circumstances had no protection from their rapists (West 2006). The image of the Jezebel (and its contemporary expressions through images such as the video vixen) has historically been used and continues to be used as a means to justify the rape and sexual victimization black women; underlying these practices is the belief that because black girls and women are sexually promiscuous, they are always desirous of sex and thus cannot be raped or are not injured by sexual victimization. This controlling image has profound implications for the perception and treatment of black sexual violence victims/survivors. For example, research indicates that black sexual violence victims are perceived as suffering less harm than their white coun- terparts (Foley et al. 1995) and that they were more likely to be blamed for their sexual assault (Donovan 2007; George and Martinez 2002). The Jezebel image also influences black sexual violence survivors’ recovery process in a number of ways. Wyatt (1992) found that black women were significantly less likely to report incidents of sexual assault to the police, partly because of common perceptions that black women are not credible rape victims. The degree to which African American sexual assault victims internalize the Jezebel image can also influence ways in which they understand why they were assaulted and can shape psychosocial responses in dealing with sexual assault (Neville et al. 2004).
Psychosocial Influence of Sexual Coercion
Although race and gender have played critical roles in shaping the sexual violence of girls and women, sexually coercive encounters are stressful and can be traumatic for people irrespective of social location (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, class). Sexual violence in adolescence has been linked to psychological maladjustment, including depressive symptoms (e.g., Leitenberg and Saltzman 2000; Rhode et al. 2001), suicidal ideation (Buzi et al. 2003), disordered eating (Ackard and Neumark-Sztainer 2002), and low overall mental well-being (Howard and Wang 2004). Adolescents who experience sexual victimization are also at greater risk for health consequences related to sexually transmitted infections (see Beck-Sague and Solomon 1999 for a review), including potentially life-threatening infections such as human papillomavirus infection (Kahn et al. 2005; Stevens-Simon et al. 2000), squamous intraepithelial lesions (Kahn et al. 2005), and HIV (Lindegren et al. 1998).
Not surprisingly, the research in this area typically focuses on more vio- lent or aggressive forms of sexual coercion and, moreover, on predominant- ly white samples. Research on the outcomes of adolescent sexual coercion specifically, or nonphysical tactics of sexual victimization, is significantly less. Psychologists Cecil and Matson’s (2005) examination of psychosocial correlates of sexual violence among African American adolescent girls is a notable exception to this body of work. They found that girls who reported greater severity of sexual coercion (i.e., rape as opposed to sexual coercion) had lower levels of self-esteem and higher levels of depression. Over the past decade or so, scholars have examined not only the link between sexual coercion and psychological outcomes but also the psychological factors that may help explain that linkage. This work is important because it acknowledges that victims are in fact survivors and that there are activities in which they engage to assist in their recovery process. Coping strategies have emerged in the psychological research as a consistent mediator between sexually coercive encounters and psychological outcomes. Findings suggest that among adult women sexual violence survivors, those who use more passive or avoidant coping strategies tend to have greater psychological distress (Boeschen et al. 2001; Frazier and Burnett 1994; Neville et al. 2004) and those with active coping strategies such as thinking positively and keeping busy show higher psychological well-being (Frazier and Burnett 1994). Various coping strategies have been found to mediate the association between negative social reactions and psychological symptoms (Ullman 1996), behavioral self-blame and distress (Frazier, Mortensen, and Steward 2005), control over recovery and distress (Frazier, Mortensen, and Steward 2005), and child sexual abuse and trauma symptoms (Arata 1999) among rape survivors. Women have also spoken about their recovery process and described coping mechanisms— such as seeking support, reframing the experience, and seeing themselves as survivors rather than victims—that help them cope with the trauma (Smith and Kelly 2001). At this point, we know very little about the potential role of coping in how adolescent girls deal with sexually coercive encounters.
I got a message from the anon from an ask ladyatheist’s tumblr about mental ilness and PoC, and I got an anon asking for this information and I feel it is a good reference/starting point so I am making it into a post.
A lot of literature regarding people of color and mental illness is about the stigma within the Black community or Latin@ community, rather than the struggles faced from within mental health institutions, so I am mostly posting other kinds of links.
History of black people and mental institutions (link)
In Our Own Voice: African-American Stories of Oppression, Survival, and Recovery in Mental Health Systems (link) (pdf)
Racism and Mental Illness (link) (pdf)
“Barriers to Providing Effective Mental Health Services to American Indians” (link)
“Bias in Mental Health Assessment and Intervention: Theory and Evidence” (link)
“Disparities in Mental Health Treatment in U.S. Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups: Implications for Psychiatrists” (link)
“Effective Coping Strategies of African Americans” (link)
“Ethnic Disparities in Unmet Need for Alcoholism, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Care” (link)
“Help Seeking for Mental Health Care among Poor Puerto Ricans: Problem Recognition, Service Use, and Type of Provider” (link)
“Racial Microaggressions Against African American Clients in Cross-Racial Counseling Relationships” (link)
“Racism and Mental Health: the African American experience” (link)
“Racism and Mental Health Into the 21st Century: Perspectives and Parameters” (link)
Currently reading: Fair Skin Obsession in South Asia.
Titled under: Sigh.
Picture a woman in the Middle East, and probably the first thing that comes into your mind will be the hijab. You might not even envision a face, just the black shroud of the burqa or theniqab. Women’s rights in the mostly Arab countries of the region are among the worst in the world, but it’s more than that. As Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy writes in a provocative cover story for Foreign Policy, misogyny has become so endemic to Arab societies that it’s not just a war on women, it’s a destructive force tearing apart Arab economies and societies. But why? How did misogyny become so deeply ingrained in the Arab world?
As Maya Mikdashi once wrote, “Gender is not the study of what is evident, it is an analysis of how what is evident came to be.” That’s a much tougher task than cataloging the awful and often socially accepted abuses of women in the Arab world. But they both matter, and Eltahawy’s lengthy article on the former might reveal more of the latter than she meant.
There are two general ways to think about the problem of misogyny in the Arab world. The first is to think of it as an Arab problem, an issue of what Arab societies and people are doing wrong. “We have no freedoms because they hate us,” Eltahawy writes, the first of many times she uses “they” in a sweeping indictment of the cultures spanning from Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula. “Yes: They hate us. It must be said.”
But is it really that simple? If that misogyny is so innately Arab, why is there such wide variance between Arab societies? Why did Egypt’s hateful “they” elect only 2 percent women to its post-revolutionary legislature, while Tunisia’s hateful “they” elected 27 percent, far short of half but still significantly more than America’s 17 percent? Why are so many misogynist Arab practices as or more common in the non-Arab societies of sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia? After all, nearly every society in history has struggled with sexism, and maybe still is. Just in the U.S., for example, women could not vote until 1920; even today, their access to basic reproductive health care is backsliding. We don’t think about this as an issue of American men, white men, or Christian men innately and irreducibly hating women. Why, then, should we be so ready to believe it about Arab Muslims?
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Don’t be fooled by the title, this isn’t the answer. But it complicates the issue, good read.
All of the books are in MOBI or AZW format for Kindle. If you want to convert the files to PDF or ePub I recommend Calibre or online-converter. If you have any problems with downloads or formatting please let me know and I will fix it asap.
- Myths of Gender by Anne Fausto-Sterling [X]
- The Second Shift by Arlie Hochschild [X]
- Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich [X]
- Feminism Is For Everybody by bell hooks [X]
- The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills [X]
- Dude, You’re A Fag by C.J. Pascoe [X]
- Sociology and Modern Social Problems by Charles A. Ellwood [X]
- The Goffman Reader by Charles Lemert [X]
- The Cambridge Companion To Simone de Beauvoir by Claudia Card [X]
- Genders by David Glover [X]
- Cultural Geography by David Sibley [X]
- Critical Theory After Habermas by Dieter Freunlieb [X]
- Punishment For Sale by Donna Delman [X]
- Everything Is Obvious by Duncan J. Watts [X]
- Why I Hate Abercrombie & Fitch by Dwight A. McBride [X]
- Encyclopedia of Sociology by Edgar F. Borgatta [X]
- Bodily Citations by Ellen Armour [X]
- Suicide by Emile Durkheim [X]
- The Rules of the Sociological Method by Emile Durkheim [X]
- Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser [X]
- Handbook of Social Theory by George Ritzer [X]
- The Blackwell Companion To Major Classical Social Theorists by George Ritzer [X]
- Between XX and XY by Gerald N. Callahan [X]
- How To Observe Morals and Manners by Harriet Martineau [X]
- Habermas and Contemporary Society by John F. Sitton [X]
- Critical Pedagogy For Social Justice by John Smyth [X]
- The Power of Labeling by Joy Moncrieffe [X]
- Gendered Lives by Julia T. Wood [X]
- Gender Trouble by Judith Butler [X]
- Undoing Gender by Judith Butler [X]
- The Spirit Level by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson [X]
- The Myth of Choice by Kent Greenfield [X]
- Essentials of Social Research by Linda Kalof [X]
- Food Politics by Marion Nestle [X]
- The Digital Divide by Mark Bauerlein [X]
- The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber [X]
- Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris-Perry [X]
- Brandwashed by Martin Lindstrom [X]
- August Comte by Mike Gane [X]
- The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf [X]
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire [X]
- The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo [X]
- The Sociology of Culture and Cultural Studies by Pierre Bourdieu [X]
- Drift by Rachel Maddow [X]
- The Marx & Engels Reader by Robert C. Tucker [X]
- Let Them Eat Junk by Robert Albritton [X]
- Consumer Culture by Roberta Sassatelli [X]
- The Legacy of Pierre Bourdieu by Simon Susen [X]
- Gang Leader For A Day by Sudhir Venkatesh [X]
- Quiet by Susan Cain [X]
- From Marriage To the Market by Susan Thistle [X]
- The Cambridge Companion to Marx by Terrell Carver [X]
- Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen [X]
- White Like Me by Tim Wise [X]
- Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness by Toure [X]
- Building A Housewife’s Paradise by Tracey Deutsch [X]
- The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore [X]
5 BOOKS FOR THE DISSATISFIED HUNGER GAMES READER
- Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi— Brilliant YA futuristic dystopia that actually examines interplay between race/class/power; heterosexual male protagonist and rest of cast all POCs, brings critical lens to current USAmerican —> global institutionalized inequalities with many thrilling action sequences
- Graceling, by Kristin Cashore— action/adventure fantasy novel all about gender and power. Fabulous white, heterosexual female heroine, like Katniss, is bad at feelings, good at killing; unlike Katniss, her entire book is a study of her agency, and she thinks extensively on whether she wants a romance and ultimately makes that decision, too.
- Parable of the Sower & Parable of the Talents, by Octavia Butler— not YA, but the best dystopia ever??? Yes. Heroine & most of cast are POC, explores race & gender in futuristic unraveling of USAmerican society & one incredible woman who manages to build something new in the rubble; she is, like Katniss, logical & determined, and unlike Katniss, in charge.
- Octavian Nothing, by MT Anderson— YA historical duology about a heterosexual African American boy during the American revolution. The author explicitly plays on the popularity of YA fantasy dystopias to interrupt the reader’s expectations of a traditional fantasy narrative with the reality of US history— like Hunger Games, grim adventure that doesn’t traditionally conclude, unlike Hunger Games, explicitly about race
- Sisters Red, by Jackson Pearce— white werewolf hunting sisters in contemporary USA; older sister is focused, protective, and genuinely asexual!!! while younger sister has a perspective, agency, and doesn’t die. The entire book is about their difficult changing healthy A+ relationship.
I am excite about this list! (Looove the Parable books, had Graceling on my to-read list for ages.) I would like to add though, that there’s been a lot of talk about Paolo Bacigalupi’s racism and Orientalism in The Wind-Up Girl, so…. I don’t know if Ship Breaker is just not that way or what, but I WORRY.