Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Words, Sticks, and Stones: Misogyny in Hip Hop on Social Media

Dream Hampton committed the cardinal sin of hip hop last night on her Twitter thread, she dared to express her opinion.  Hampton said that J Dilla was the greatest producer of all time.  When another producer & hip hop icon, Pete Rock of Pete Rock and CL Smooth, took exception to her expressing this opinion, taking it as an insult to his own producing cred, he called her a groupie and a rider, short for dick rider.  Men who either supported Pete Rock's sensitivity about his legacy in the game or who just disagreed with Dream's opinion also attacked her validity to have an opinion on the issue.

When Busta Rhymes, of Flip Mode Squad and Leaders of the New School, Q-Tip, of A Tribe Called Quest, and Questlove, of The Roots, either re-weeted or agreed with Dream's opinion, all the male hip hop heads who were up in their feelings, or up in Pete Rock's feelings, gave them the pass of silence.  None of the negative, aggressive, or bullying comments that were lobbed at Dream were directed towards Busta, Tip, or ?uestlove.

Furthermore, when Dream committed the second deadly sin of hip hop, calling out the misogyny laced in the comments she received, the volume on the bullying speech was turned up.  People demanded that Dream stop playing the sexism/male hegemony card and defend her position.  However, the gender-based comments were launched well before a debate could take place. No one even asked Dream why that was her opinion before Pete Rock said she should know better, he's not going to let her diss him, and FOH, short for fuck outta here, as in get the fuck outta here.

What does a Twitter squabble mean in the gist of hip hop?  For starters, it would seem that the total dismissal of a woman's voice via gendered aggressive language is still second nature to some in hip hop culture.  Again, before one person asked her why, there were several attempts to silence Dream and piss on her opinion.  It's the former that's the higher offense, as the latter sometimes happens when all involved are passionate about the subject.  The mean spirited knee-jerk response of Pete Rock and shameful taunting comments of his cronies that followed seems a testament to the fact that there's still a long road ahead for equal respect of women in the genre.  Not just for rappers but also for people expressing an opinion, which is just sad.

The saving grace in this exchange was Hampton's refusal to be intimidated or silenced.  She owned her voice and agency and never gave them up.  She didn't apologize for anyone's hurt feelings or bruised ego and refused to correct an offense she didn't make.  Another bright light was the show of disgust by men at the comments of an immature few.  While some men tried to see both sides, others outright threw the shame back into the face of Pete Rock and his co-signers. 

Be more clever.  Sexism is too easy of a path to take but it may be the only path available when you have no intelligent basis for debate.  Women have had and continue to have a voice in hop hip.  Get over it.  Women are the subjects of lyrical inspiration and they have produced some of its most memorable content.  Women, including Dream Hampton, have given some of the most articulate critiques about the genre and have been its biggest guardians.

The most tragic and wholly unacceptable part of this incident is that Dream was heckled outside her home by guys who may have been adding their personal 2 cents about the Twitter argument.  An immature social media response could have been a most unfortunate physical encounter for these guys who felt entitled to try to interrupt someone's life. [**Dream has since confirmed this was not the case. Not all hope is not lost!]  And this is the problem with the way hip hop is presented to the masses.  No respectful disagreements, only disrespectful dismissals via sexist taunts.  To the people who claim to love and live for hip hop but act this way, grow up.  You're old enough to know better and hip hop deserves better.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Black Youth Learning About Assata & Constructing Hope

Through the experience of attending teach-ins about the political persecution and exile of Assata Shakur, I gained further insight about children's ability to understand and communicate the realities of their social world.

As we've seen in the news, read on the internet, and hopefully talked about in our social circles, Assata Shakur was recently added to the curious Most Wanted Terrorist list and had an increased bounty of $2 million placed on her head by the FBI under President Obama's administration. I attended a teach-in for children from the Gary Freedom School presented by members of the Central District Organizing Project (CDOP), a grass-roots community group in Gary, IN. Events like these where hosted all over the country and in other countries to commemorate the spirit of fight-back, community, and knowledge in the face of injustice.

Questions discussed at the teach-in included:
- what is the advantage of labeling a Black woman in her 60s a most wanted terrorist?
- what can we do with $2 million dollars in our communities?
- after learning about Assata's activities to promote humane treatment for Blacks and the response from the government, does that affect you speaking out when you see something wrong? If so, how?
- had you ever hear of Assata Shakur? If no, why do you think this isn't taught? What are your feelings after leaning about her?
- how can we bring public attention to important issues?
- how do you inspire people to organize around these issues in their communities?

"Eyes of the Rainbow: Assata Shakur Documentary" 
by filmmaker Gloria Rolando

It was amazing to see how aware even the smaller children were of their surroundings.  Kids as young a 5 years old voiced their fear of police violence and of violence from other children. Older kids shared stories of family members being victimized by local police in ways like race-based profiling, having property destroyed, and intimidation.  They talked about how it felt when they were denied service at TGI Friday's after prom with chaperones, an issue currently being organized for by the most recent families to be discriminated against.

When addressing how Assata was shown in pictures like mugshots, in handcuffs, and escorted by the police, the kids knew right away the biased image they were being fed.  The organizers purposefully covered the walls with pictures of Assata smiling, laughing, relaxing, hugging her daughter, among people, and the children were very vocal about noticing the difference. Some might have thought a few children present were too young for the graphic descriptions of shootings, murder, and beatings that Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army members faced.  However, they were not too young to be affected by the continuing fear imposed by police occupations of their neighborhoods or the violence that comes with living in poverty.

In a book called Bad Boys: Public Schools and the Making of Black Masculinity by Ann Arnett Ferguson, elementary and middle school aged boys show an amazing ability to navigate their race, gender, and social class spaces.  They show an understanding of expectations and responsibilities and act accordingly.  They act out when they perceive that adults have violated their own rules, rules they are expected to follow.  They also know the consequences of life and death in their environment and express a desire to thrive and prosper.  These boys can do all of this because they are not sheltered from real life, from suffering, from abuses by authority figures, and they see how their parents are affected as well.

The children at the teach-in about Assata Shakur were in much the same situation. Whether they were older or younger they know the rules are somewhat different for them.  Through learning about police & government abuse of this one woman and her compatriots, and her ability to escape her binds to go on to teach and inspire people all over the world, they learn that their situations are not hopeless.  The gathering ended with a plan for action to build awareness and pride among their friends and to take part in active resistance against expectations for them to fail.  Through building knowledge they were able to construct hope, which was the real goal in learning about Assata.