Misogyny and the Emcee: Sex, Race, and Hip Hop
In light of recent events, when speaking about the state of misogyny in hip-hop, it would be inappropriate to ignore the media frenzy surrounding Rihanna and Chris Brown, each sweetly young, fabulously charming, and wildly successful hip-hop stars in their own right. If you don’t read the CNN ticker, or guiltily sneak a peek at People.com, you could have missed the news that Brown allegedly assaulted his girlfriend the night before the Grammys. Likely, if you absorb media along a spectrum, you’ve heard about everything from the couple’s post-fight rendezvous at Diddy’s Miami condo to teen girls who remain steadfast in their Chris Brown devotion. You may have even seen that heartbreaking photo of Rihanna’s battered face.
Writer and cultural analyst Ewuare X. Osayande begins his brilliantly concise collection of essays by dissecting another high profile case of a badly behaving hip-hopper: R. Kelly. Kelly’s progression (and Brown’s accelerated one) is all too common among young Black rappers, who go from lyrically degrading women to—in Kelly’s case—actually peeing on them. The original proceedings against Kelly were not so much about whether he had abused a girl; his defense aimed to prove she was eighteen at the time of the encounter. Pissing on a woman—sickening misogyny—was not a crime as much as her potential underage (and thereby “girl”) status. Kelly, no stranger to this type of sex scandal, has yet to be found guilty in a court of law. The court of public opinion is another matter.
Throughout Misogyny and the Emcee, Osayande repeatedly asserts the most fundamental arguments for healing sexism within the Black and hip-hop communities. He argues that while many insist that discussions about specific community-based violence and degradation be silenced or ignored, the Black community’s “dirty laundry” should be aired, washed, and cleaned—or to break with the metaphor, discussed in public, critically examined, and resolved. Black men must critically challenge their violent oppression of both Black women and other Black men. Repeatedly citing bell hooks, Osayande begs Black men to answer her call: “assuming responsibility for ending [sexism]” (hooks, From Margin to Center). The call to redefine betrayal must also be heard: Black men who violate Black women, he argues, must be seen as the traitors they are. Black women are not marginal; Black women are the community.
Osayande’s short, powerful volume is polemic for good reason. Taking on the spectrum—from BET and misogynist white rappers like Eminem, to organized religious institutions that harbor similar (if more subversive) hatred for Black women and blame women’s sexuality for their supposed myriad sins—it is easy to see that corporations and legislation will do little, if anything, as long as the community remains permissive and turn a blind eye.
Most invigorating, Osayande calls for a boycott of misogynist rappers and their entertainment industry counterparts. When men degrade women and stand to profit from their actions, we should send a signal: no more. No more Academy Awards for songs about how hard it is for a pimp. No more Nelly videos featuring a man swiping a credit card down a Black woman’s ass. We can do better than that.