Bad rap

Rapper Eminem made a music video that debuted last Tuesday. It includes lyrics about Sarah Palin – something about taking her out to dinner and then “nailing” her.

Most of us know that a lot of rap music, not unlike many rock songs, are misogynist in nature. I have nothing to say about misogynist rap songs and the defense of “freedom of speech” or “artistic liberty” as excuses that serve to perpetuate misogyny. Feminism is often high-jacked (calling guns the “great equalizer”) and apparently nowadays we highjack human rights to perpetuate misogyny and violence towards women. No surprise there. We’ll always find excuses until we decide to rip out the roots themselves. But that would be like pulling the carpet from out beneath those that “benefit” from it and considering all the resistance we encounter in society that won’t be happening anytime soon. So it’ll be a slow process, for sure, but one that is worthy of our patience and determination.

What I would like to do, though, is share some excerpts from bell hooks that provides an incredibly insightful look into rap music and the larger dominant culture that permits it, even rewards it.  I’ve highlighted some of the sentences that, to me, are the most powerful.

Here’s the full text.


When I counter this demonization of black males by insisting that gangsta rap does not appear in a cultural vacuum, but, rather, is expressive of the cultural crossing, mixings, and engagement of black youth culture with the values, attitudes, and concerns of the white majority, some folks stop listening.

We’re listening, bell. Go on:

It is useful to think of misogyny as a field that must be labored in and maintained both to sustain patriarchy but also to serve as an ideological anti-feminist backlash. And what better group to labor on this “plantation” than young black men.

Indeed, it feels like a field that keeps bearing fruit, year after year. Every other year, the crop may change, but it still yields the same fruit. This field is well-maintained and you wonder, why are we nurturing this? The fruit it bears is rotten to the core.

Without a doubt black males, young and old, must be held politically accountable for their sexism. Yet this critique must always be contextualized or we risk making it appear that the behaviors this thinking supports and condones,–rape, male violence against women, etc.– is a black male thing. And this is what is happening. Young black males are forced to take the “heat” for encouraging, via their music, the hatred of and violence against women that is a central core of patriarchy.

Rap music is bad, but it is but one ‘crop’ in the industry of misogyny. We also have the likes of Jerry Springer, Howard Stern, rock music, porn that involves degradation, violence and drug use (not to mention “facial abuse”), sexual harassments and assaults, etc. – the industry is huge and indeed profitable.

One cannot answer them honestly without placing accountability on larger structures of domination and the individuals (often white, usually male but not always) who are hierarchically placed to maintain and perpetuate the values that uphold these exploitative and oppressive systems. That means taking a critical looking at the politics of hedonistic consumerism, the values of the men and women who produce gangsta rap. It would mean considering the seduction of young black males who find that they can make more money producing lyrics that promote violence, sexism, and misogyny than with any other content. How many disenfranchised black males would not surrender to expressing virulent forms of sexism, if they knew the rewards would be unprecedented material power and fame?

How many males (and females) would not surrender to expressing sexism if they knew the rewards would be material wealth, power, fame…? It shouldn’t even have to be rewarded, but if we up against the money & power sexism earns, how can we make equality and respect attractive and rewarding? It seems so boring in comparison to the bountiful fruits of sexism – nudity, exploitation, domination…

Gangsta rap is part of the anti-feminist backlash that is the rage right now. When young black males labor in the plantations of misogyny and sexism to produce gangsta rap, their right to speak this violence and be materially rewarded is extended to them by white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Far from being an expression of their “manhood,” it is an expression of their own subjugation and humiliation by more powerful, less visible forces of patriarchal gangsterism. They give voice to the brutal raw anger and rage against women that it is taboo for “civilized” adult men to speak. No wonder then that they have the task of tutoring the young, teaching them to eroticize and enjoy the brutal expressions of that rage (teaching them language and acts) before they learn to cloak it in middle-class decorum or Robert Bly style reclaimings of lost manhood. The tragedy for young black males is that they are so easily dunned by a vision of manhood that can only lead to their destruction.  

And, finally:

Yet, our feminist critiques of black male sexism fail as meaningful political intervention if they seek to demonize black males, and do not recognize that our revolutionary work is to transform white supremacist capitalist patriarchy in the multiple areas of our lives where it is made manifest, whether in gangsta rap, the black church, or the Clinton administration.

While this was published in 1994, it still holds true today. If we demonize Black men or rap music, we only look at one part of the problem. bell is right – misogyny is larger than that. Ridding the world of misogynist rap music is a step in the right direction, but it is one step of many…