Despite the firing of Don Imus, corporate media continue to attempt to divert attention from long-established institutional sexism, in order to depict Black youth culture as the vector of the disease. The American reality is one of pervasive celebration of violence, in general, and violence against women, in particular - a white cultural invention. Black rappers, who are owned and controlled by white corporations, did not create this culture of violence and misogyny, but are made the scapegoats for a much deeper national social crisis - a landscape in which "The Godfather" and "Goodfellas" are revered as "classic" films.
Caucasian Please! America’s True Double Standard for Misogyny and Racism
By Dr. Edward Rhymes (April 18, 2007)
In this composition I will not be addressing the whole of hip-hop and rap, but rather hardcore and gangsta rap. It is my assertion that the mainstream media and political pundits - right and left - have painted rap and hip-hop with a very broad brush. Let me be perfectly clear, hardcore and gangsta rap is not listened to, watched, consumed or supported in my home and never has. I will not be an apologist for anything that chooses to frame the dialogue about Black women (and women in general) and Black life in morally bankrupt language and reprehensible symbols.
In the wake of MSNBC's and CBS's firing of Don Imus, the debate over misogyny, sexism and racism has now taken flight - or submerged, depending on your point of view. There are many, mostly white, people who believe that Imus was a fall guy and he is receiving blame and criticism for what many rap artists do continually in the lyrics and videos: debase and degrade Black women. A Black guest on an MSNBC news program even went as far as to say, "Where would a 66 year-old white guy even had heard the phrase nappy-headed ho" - alluding to hip-hop music's perceived powerful influence upon American culture and life (and apparently over the radio legend as well) - and by so doing gave a veneer of truth to the theory that rap music is the main culprit to be blamed for this contemporary brand of chauvinism. However, I concur with bell hooks, the noted sociologist and black-feminist activist who said that "to see gangsta rap as a reflection of dominant values in our culture rather than as an aberrant ‘pathological' standpoint, does not mean that a rigorous feminist critique of the sexist and misogyny expressed in this music is not needed. 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 behavior 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."
There are those in the media, mostly white males (but also some black pundits as well), who now want the Black community to take a look at hip-hop music and correct the diabolical "double-standard" that dwells therein. Before a real conversation can be had, we have to blow-up the myths, expose the lies and cast a powerful and discerning light on the "real" double-standards and duplicity. Kim Deterline and Art Jones in their essay, Fear of a Rap Planet, points out that "the issue with media coverage of rap is not whether African Americans engaged in a campaign against what they see as violent, sexist or racist imagery in rap should be heard - they should. ...why are community voices fighting racism and sexism in mainstream news media, films and advertisements not treated similarly? The answer may be found in white-owned corporate media's historical role as facilitator of racial scapegoating. Perhaps before advocating censorship of a music form with origins in a voiceless community, mainstream media pundits should look at the violence perpetuated by their own racism and sexism."
Just as the mainstream media and the dominant culture-at-large treats all things "Black" in America as the "other" or as some sort of science experiment in a test tube in an isolated and controlled environment, so hardcore rap is treated as if it occurred in some kind of cultural vacuum; untouched, unbowed and uninformed by the larger, broader, dominant American culture. The conversation is always framed in the form of this question: "What is rap's influence on American society and culture?" Never do we ask, "What has been society's role in shaping and influencing hip-hop?"
Gangsta and hardcore rap is the product of a society that has historically objectified and demeaned women, and commercialized sex. These dynamics are present in hip hop to the extent that they are present in society. The rapper who grew up in the inner-city watched the same sexist television programs, commercials and movies; had access to the same pornographic and misogynistic magazines and materials; and read the same textbooks that limited the presence and excluded the achievements of women (and people of color as well), as the All-American, Ivy-league bound, white kid in suburban America. It is not sexism and misogyny that the dominant culture is opposed to (history and commercialism has proven that). The dominant culture's opposition lies with hip-hop's cultural variation of the made-in-the-USA misogynistic themes and with the Black voices communicating the message. The debate and the dialogue must be understood in this context.
Popular Culture's Duplicitous Sexism & Violence In Black And White
In a piece I penned a couple of years ago, I endeavored to point out the clear ethnic and racial double-standards of the media and society as it pertains to sex and violence. My assertion was, and remains to be, that the mainstream media and society-at-large, appear to have not so much of a problem with the glorification of sex and violence, but rather with who is doing the glorifying. In it I stated that "if the brutality and violence in gangsta rap was truly the real issue, then shouldn't a series like The Sopranos be held to the same standard? If we are so concerned about bloodshed, then how did movies like ‘The Godfather,' ‘The Untouchables' and ‘Goodfellas' become classics?"
I then addressed the sexual aspect of this double-standard by pointing out that "'Sex & The City,' a series that focused, by and large, on the sexual relationships of four white women, was hailed as a powerful demonstration of female camaraderie and empowerment. This show, during its run, was lavished with critical praise and commercial success while hip-hop and rap artists are attacked by the morality police for their depiction of sex in their lyrics and videos. The don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it appearance of Janet Jackson's right bosom during [a] Super Bowl halftime show.... caused more of a furor than the countless commercials that (also aired during the Super Bowl) used sex to sell anything from beer to cars to gum. Not to mention the constant stream of commercials that rather openly talks about erectile dysfunction medication."
The exaltation of drugs, misogyny and violence in music lyrics has a history that predates NWA, Ice Cube, Ice T and Snoop Dogg. Elton John's 1977 song "Tickin," was about a young man who goes into a bar and kills 14 people; Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska," featured a couple on a shooting spree, and his "Johnny 99," was about a gun-waving laid-off worker; and Stephen Sondheim's score for "Assassins," which presented songs mostly in the first person about would-be and successful presidential assassins.
Eric Clapton's "Cocaine" and the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (LSD) as well as almost anything by Jefferson Airplane or Spaceship. Several songs from "Tommy" and Pink Floyd's "The Wall" are well known drug songs. "Catholic girls," "Centerfold," "Sugar Walls" by Van Halen were raunchy, misogynistic, lust-driven rock refrains. Even the country music legend Kenny Rogers in his legendary ballad, "Coward Of The County," spoke of a violent gang-rape and then a triple-homicide by the song's hero to avenge his assaulted lover. Marilyn Manson declared that one of the aims of his provocative persona was to see how much it would take to get the moralists as mad at white artists as they got about 2LiveCrew. He said it took fake boobs, Satanism, simulated sex on stage, death and angst along with semi-explicit lyrics, to get the same screaming the 2LiveCrew got for one song. Manson thought this reaction was hypocritical and hilarious.