We just held our most recent meeting on the intersections of feminism and hip hop and how the genre of hip hop has historically been and continues to be an advocacy tool for marginalized populations. Hip hop itself originated in the South Bronx around the 1970s in New York as an art form borne from experiences with oppression. It spread throughout NY to places like Harlem and became the most listened-to genre in the world.
Our presenters started off the conversation with a disclaimer: we cannot claim to have the lived experiences necessary to educate anyone on this topic. Instead, the meeting was held as more of a discussion format during which FSU provided content and resources and asked questions of the audience. In this post, I’m going to do my best to provide and describe resources we used in this discussion.
Our discussion then turned to the term “hip hop feminism.” It was coined by author Joan Morgan and was defined by Dr. Kimala Price to reference young feminists born after 1964 who identify with hip hop culture. It separated these feminists from second-wavers and emphasized community building. Morgan described hip hop feminism to further elaborate her black feminism, which gave her the language to talk about oppression in black and white terms – hip hop feminism gave her language to talk about the gray shades in between.
Next we watched this video about the history of twerking and discussed the appropriation of twerking by white people who neither understand its history nor fully understand or appreciate black culture.
Next we discussed Queen Bey. First we talked about an article in Salon criticizing comments by Annie Lennox who said “twerking isn’t feminism” in response to Beyonce’s feminist VMA performance. Overall, our discussion focused on the complicated nature of navigating a world in which women reject objectification and embrace sex positivity. We discussed the policing of women’s sexuality, especially women of color, and the inability recognize the agency involved in activities like Beyonce’s performance.
Speaking of Beyonce….
Bey’s video has sparked a whole lot of discussion. We discussed how certain visuals in the video combat white supremacy – the placement of black people in historically white and Southern garb, sort of rewriting erased black history; the cops’ hands-up surrender to the little boy with his hood up dancing in the street; and so on.
And along with the sexual agency discussion…
Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” song and video have created a whole lot of controversy. She is unapologetic and proud of her sexuality, and some say she reclaimed a misogynistic song (Baby Got Back) to turn it around and discuss her own sexual agency. Nicki’s version of empowerment is criticized what seems like daily – which can be traced back to misogynoir and a general rejection of strong, sexually empowered women. In addition, Nicki has used her music to discuss her abortion, something that 1 in 3 women have in their lifetime but something so stigmatized that very few will discuss it. In our discussion, we talked about how Nicki’s refusal to be silenced or “respectable” makes people afraid of her politics.
Then we moved on to a biggie (thanks to Lydia for all of this research): Kanye’s New Slaves. (TW: racial slurs/swearing)
So this song gives us a lot to think about. At about 0:18, Kanye begins a lyric that critiques the double standard at the intersection of capitalism and race. Rich black people are exploited as a market, some in this population claim that there is no need to struggle for liberation (since they have found success). Poor black people, on the other hand, are profiled, followed around in stores, and not desired as a market – in fact, they are “redlined” out of receiving community development and continually discriminated against by banks and government. (See: Black Capitalism by Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin for more.)
Later on in the song (around 2:06) Kanye discusses the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and CCA (Correction Corporation of America, aka private prisons) – discussing the racist War On Drugs which disproportionately has imprisoned people of color for nonviolent offenses and exploits their labor, paying them minuscule wages (as little as $0.25/hr), to gain a profit. This, Kanye says, creates New Slaves.
After all of this insight, Kanye then goes on to bring toxic masculinity into the mix (as he’s been doing a lot lately, sadly). At around 2:18, he threatens to “fuck your Hampton spouse” as revenge for white men profiting off of these New Slaves. This shows an attempt to combat white supremacy and the injustices of capitalism with toxic masculinity, going hypermasculine in order to gain power kept from him due to his race.
This song specifically reveals a lot about the intersections of hip hop and feminism. The genre, like basically every other genre of music, is commonly saturated in misogyny and themes of sexual violence. But since its creation in the Bronx, hip hop has been used as a tool to describe and fight against intersectional forms of oppression specifically affecting the black community.
We attempted to contact a number of people to be guest speakers, though none could come, here are some of their names in case you want more information: Dr. Stephanie Shonekan, Dr. Christopher Okonkwo, and Dr. Treva Lindsey.
Some extra resources available if you want more information include the works of Dr. Joan Morgan (When Chickenheads Come to Roost), Sesali B. (writer, Feministing.com), and Dr. Gwendolyn Pough (Check It While I Wreck It).