Friday, February 17, 2012

What I wish Too $hort would have said

Earlier this week, XXL Magazine's online magazine published a video featuring rapper Too $hort giving advice to young men on how to "turn girls out" and manipulate them mentally. In a nutshell, he encouraged them aggressively pin girls that they are interested in on a wall, go under their clothing, and rub their vaginas.

In case you are unsure... The scene I just described IS sexual assault. I'll give you a minute to take that in because I need a minute myself..... [breathes and sends out a quick prayer]

There are so many things I could get into right now. I could discuss the problematic nature of "$hort mode" which he claims (in his apology) to have been in when he gave out this "advice." (How can you be comfortable in any mode that promotes the disrespect of our girls?) I could discuss the racial politics and symbolism behind the fact that the magazine, which targets Black youth and hip hop culture, has a white female Editor In Chief. (I can't help but wonder how the public would react if she, or white middle school girl, were treated in this way.) I could even, and I probably will at a later time, explore the reasons that Black men feel the need to "mentally manipulate" women in the first place.

But instead what I want to focus on is the very real shit that is happening to Black girls everywhere, all the time.  Our bodies have never been our own. I'm going to say this again so you can really hear and feel me:


And this is supported by ideas like $hort's, that suggests that all women will submit if men can just reach their pussies. It doesn't matter how they get there--force, coercion, manipulation, and aggression are all fair game--just as long as they do. And we will support them in their efforts. Only 1 out of 16 rapists will serve a day in jail for their crime. And before he does, we have to prove her innocent first. (What were you wearing? Did you look at him a certain way? Wasn't he your boyfriend? Why did you invite him over? Why did you kiss him? Why didn't you scream? Why didn't you run?)

We have a responsibility to teach our sons and brothers and fathers and homeboys and nephews and boyfriends and husbands NOT to rape. We have to teach that women's bodies are NOT theirs for the taking. And I am going to give you an example of exactly what happens when we do not:

When we do not teach our men and boys that "no" means NO, even if we've suggested yes before, we raise men (like the one who sexually assaulted me a few years ago) who learn how to tune out words like "stop, leave, get out, and no" simply because earlier, a woman flirted with them. And instead of retreating when sex is not the goal, they try harder to accomplish submission.

And when we do not teach our men/boys that this "additional effort" is considered sexual assault, illegal, and a violation of a woman's body and rights, then we raise men (like the one who told all of the neighbors that I was a liar and crazy) who, even though they may participate in sexual assault, disassociate themselves with "rape"; and not solely because they are interested in respecting women, but because they associate rape with jail.

And when we do not teach our men AND women that just because there was no struggle, no screams, no tears, no police reports, no prior reason to suspect that sexual assault actually happened, doesn't mean that it did not occur, then we raise men and women (like the family friend who was asleep in the next room when I was sexually assaulted) who do not believe or support survivors.

When we do not teach these things, we are supporting sexual violence. So hear is what I wish Too $hort would have said:

I wish that Too $hort would have asked young boys to get to know the girls they were interested in and find out if the feeling was mutual. I wish he would have told young boys that if she was not interested, then they should stop pursuing her.

I wish he would have told young boys build some type of relationship with girls who were mutually interested and have a conversation about sex before they attempted anything physical. I REALLY wish he would have told them that if she was not interested in anything sexual, then do press the issue any further with her.

I wish that Too $hort would have told young boys, especially, Black boys, to be brave enough to be themselves and trust that it's enough to earn love and respect.

I wish Too $hort would have told young boys to respect women and their bodies. I wish he would have told them that they do not have rights to women's bodies or sex from women.

But he was in "$hort mode", so he couldn't. As much as I love "Shake That Monkey", I can't get down with that shit....

Monday, February 13, 2012

On Nicki Minaj... Again

My relationship with Nicki Minaj has been rocky. Like Chris Brown & Rihanna rocky. I loved her, then I hated her, then I tried to go back, that didn't work out, so now we're off again. But last night after her Grammy performance I had a deep convo with a couple of my homegirls and I feel the need to break some shit down about "the Mistress".

After the performance, as I tweeted in disgust my homegirls were declaring that Nicki Minaj is "still a black girl" and is "breaking down and creating dialougue about black girl sexuality, respect, and identity politics in her performance and overall presentation." On the surface, I can rock with that claim. She is definitely not a representation of "traditional sexy" and is willing to LITERALLY (note Roman) be different people. But among those colorful, tall wigs and dresses made of Hello Kitty dolls did we forget that this is the same woman who continuously wraps her fake ass in the tightest neon spandex she can find? Did we forget that she, too, rocks the leotards and swimsuits as "outfits"? Have we not seen an equal amount of cleavage from her as we have from her rapping fore mothers? And I ain't mad at it. I'm just trying to be critical about this "progressive" pedestal she's on.

Lyrically, Nicki Minaj is a BEAST. This chick can rap her ass off! I haven't and never will doubt that fact. Additionally, she's not afraid to be self reflective and encouraging to other women in her rhymes. But on the flip side, she indulges in alot of the same shit that most rappers do: materialism, glorification of a specific body type, and all the other shit we love? about rap music these days. Also, she has a habit of flaunting her newfound wealth and coming down pretty hard on "broke bitches" who "disgust her". I wonder if she's referring to all the poor and working class women who consume her music and do indeed have to look at the price tag first.

As an artist, her "image" is of importance. And while her stunts and antics definitely do not fit inside black girls' traditional boxes, there is still nothing original about her. One of my homegirls said that people are mad because Nicki Minaj is on some "Lady Gaga shit" and that we loved her when she was on "that Lil Kim shit". And then of course there was the all too famous line "Why we mad because she gettin money?" I have several points about this because it nicely sums up alot of the key dialogue around Nicki Minaj and female entertainers in general.

1.) One of Nicki's breakthroughs was when she paid homage to Lil' Kim with her "Lollipop picture", but during the remainder of her time as an underground artist (think Gucci Mane's "Slumber Party" or "Failure", she's featured on both), very little of her persona mimicked Lil Kim. It was actually just a little before "5 Star Bitch" and other more commercial hits were released that we began to witness her hair color change and she started repping for the Barbies (a saying also used by Kim first). Prior to that, she was simply a chick from  Queens via Trinidad, and referred to herself as the Mistress. The point here is that Nicki Minaj could have still "made money" riding the Lil' Kim train. America loves a sleeze (no shade), especially one of color.

2.)  As an artist, fans are duped when you rip off another artist's swag. So, as an artist, moving from Lil' Kim's swag to Lady Gaga's swag was not a step forward for Nicki Minaj. Why? Because she's not Lil Kim OR Lady Gaga. So the important question becomes... Why are Gaga knock offs prioritized and more accepted than Lil Kim knock offs? A Black girl mimicking a white girl rebel doesn't get a pass just because she's a Black girl doing it. It seems to me that we are still afraid of Lil' Kim, her sexuality, and what that type of "bad exposure" means for Black women. Yes, we need to be critical about representations of Black women as hoes and sluts, but if one of our goals is to validate women who do indeed like to "hoe around" (respectfully of course), why are we so pleased that Nicki has "taken a different route"? P.S.- Have ya'll listened to Gaga's lyrics? I'm a fan and I have. She got some freak in her, too.
And while we're on the topic of sexual politics, how many of you remember the Nicki Minaj that was openly bisexual? No? Probably because she didn't stick around long. As she grew in popularity, she denied that she slept with women, then, when challenged on the denial, she suggested that all of us common folk were just too shallow to understand what she ever meant anyway. And now we all her love her apparently heterosexual self. Go Nicki.

3.)"Why are we mad that Nicki Minaj getting money?" Well, why are we mad that Nike makes money by exploiting women in third world countries for cheap labor? Why are we mad that Walmart is making money by mistreating their employees? Why are we mad that white music exec are making money off of Black rappers and leaving them broke when the contracts are up? Why are we mad that slavemasters were making money off the slaves? Making money is not the end all, be all. If the shit ain't right, it ain't right. We still have to hold people accountable for their actions. Period.

I can respect that Nicki Minaj is willing to take risks, be criticized, defy the politics of respectability (kind of), and make sucky pseudo pop music then call it rap expand the hip hop genre to different groups in order to set herself apart in the game. And yes, she definitely creates conversation (hence this long ass post). But as a consumer, what I thought I was getting was a female rapper. Not a pop singer with no vocal ability and a completely unoriginal gimmick. Plus pseudo pop has never suited me. And don't get me wrong, her image as "the Mistress" was problematic as well (Black women can not, under ANY circumstances, be separated from their pussy, right?), but I felt like I was seeing a real, talented rapstress.

I think the rap game needs a Black woman who speaks truth to power and is simply herself, creatively. But I don't think the industry, or it's consumers who are equally compelled to be anything but themselves, are ready for that. And they probably won't be for a real long time.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

List yourself... (Book Recommendation)

I found this really great book in the bargain section at Barne's & Noble called List Your Self: Listmaking as the Way to Self-Discovery by Ilene Segalove (what a cool ass last name. I love Sega too! I still have one!) and Paul Bob Velick. As the title suggests, the book is full of lists that require you to be honest, critical, and do some serious reflecting. 

Example (this is one of my lists):

List all those risks you'd like to take but are afraid to
-Moving out of the country
-Big Chop
-Wearing high waist jeans and a midriff top
-Going to a treatment facility

It was really hard to put those things on paper and make them permanent. But reading them, none of them seem as risky as before. I would suggest everyone do some these lists. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I am from...

I did this exercise at a YP4 training in October. I thought it was a excellent opportunity to be reflective, honest, and creative. I want to share my responses with you and encourage you to complete one yourself. Most of my responses are homage to Chicago and the women that have been instrumental in my life.

You answer each prompt with "I am from..." (Feel free to add your own prompts as well.)

Familiar sights, sounds, and smells from your home or neighborhood growing up.
I am from...
forks, fives, ad frustrated parents... From rumbling trains and activated bullets. 
I am from "the lake" and a descendant of the most beautiful skyline. I am from the bleeding heart of America.

Familiar foods, especially those associated with family gatherings or special occasions.
I am from...
the sweetest things, sugary and tempting... with the secretive promise of pleasure and the subtlest hint of lust.
I am from mild sauce as the perfect accessory.

Familiar sayings heard repeatedly as you were growing up.
I am from...
irresponsibility, giiiirls, let em tell you's, what you doin?'s. tea pouring, and aw... ok.
I am from... before I tell you, where yo bawse at?

Familiar experiences that have challenged or shaped your identity.
I am from...
resistance. Necessary lies. Stifled cries. 
I'm from self hate and self love in infancy.
I am from resilience manifested.
I am from silece speaking louder than words and me speaking louder than them.

Familiar people - family members, friends, ancestors, important people from your past.
I am from...
best friends, baby mamas, master teachers, other mothers,
partners in bliss, motivators, challengers,
and guardian angels.

Thanks for listening. FYI: YP4 is an amazing organization that helps young leaders develop their progressive campaigns and activism. Check them out and nominate yourself (or someone else) for their fellowship program here!