Saturday, April 14, 2007

White Supremacy and Patriarchy in the Capitalist Media/ STOP Snitchin Barack

Finally, JUSTICE! Well, let's say a step towards justice for the firing of Don Imus . While American society has capitalized on negative portrayals of black female bodies for centuries, finally, someone is being held accountable for the constant perpetration of these offensive representations. Now, let's not be euphemistic, New York Times, for intolerant speech of the racist and misogynistic variety does not translate to "racial remarks" . Calling a group of women "nappy-headed hos" is both racist and misogynistic, and the fact that a nationally syndicated radio host would even think that such terrible words could somehow be heard as acceptable demonstrates that the white supremacist commodification of the black female body is a legacy of slavery that has transformed itself, under the auspices of capitalism and satire, into a cultural mainstay that proudly links us to glorious times of the past. At least, CBS deemed this incident objectionable enough that it severed ties with Don Imus. Don Imus, himself, isn't the problem, though; it is a society that willingly tolerates the negative images of human beings that are propagated for mass consumption.

Even worse, when these images are black ones, for, unlike much of the rest of America, our representations in society only encompass a fraction of a spectrum created and supported by exploitative white supremacy and patriarchy. There is no authentic self in this spectrum, for it is too constrained; as a result, we are degraded in our exoticization and exoticized in our degradedness.

So, Barack Obama, don't turn this into an issue about rappers because their misogynistic comments are not tantamount to those of Don Imus. Because of our monolithic representations in society, black social problems are usually seen as the detrimental outgrowth of cultural deficiencies associated with our racial essence. Oh, Barack Obama, you traitor, our community is more diverse than your ethnic makeup! You cannot criticize hip-hop culture to those who do not understand this crucial fact, for, to them, you are really just censuring blackness. Culture is constitutive of race, but certainly not everything to it. When culture is so narrowly represented for a minority group, the two become entangled in knots of oppressive cultural hegemony. Hip-Hop is not all to blackness, America, but, since many of you see it as so, I hope the exotic beauty of black femininity enslaves you with a paralyzing erection, so that, in our natural rush to rhyme, we will have the time to find the perfect beat that will fight your verses of racism. And as we do this, we criticize our own, lamenting the misogyny and homophobia that goes on within our own communities. But, oppressor America, even in this age of gentrification, I hope you don't hear it. For this conversation, this discourse, goes on and will continue to go on behind the same ghetto walls of oppression that you whipped us to erect.


Joshua said...

You justly call out the NYT for not describing Imus' language strongly enough. However, the NYT has other biases you perpetuate in the last paragraph of this entry.

According to the report, Obama didn't turn anything into an issue. He was asked a question from the audience about rappers. He had to answer. Of course, the NYT doesn't give us the full question or Obama's full response. Hopefully, this is part of the reason the NYT/AP took this article down from the file. The title was "Obama Compares Rappers to Imus." I think that's pretty biased too given the circumstance.

And while I completely admit I'm giving Obama the benefit of the doubt, I do not think your strong charges should be levied until we see the official transcript and not a write up from the same establishment that won't call Imus' comments racist and misogynistic.

[For context: I read the blurb from the link, started writing, refreshed, and saw that it was gone.]

Joshua said...

Found the article again. This one is a bit different and does reveal the question instead of insuating it was about rap like the one Andom linked to originally. Now if Obama said it in this context, then it is extremely weird. I just really think there is a reporting error here.

AP Says:

They are "degrading their sisters. That doesn't inspire me," Obama said of some hip-hop artists when a man in a crowd of about 1,000 questioned him. The Illinois senator was responding to a question of what inspired him, and said God and civil rights activists.

(In bold is what's new)


Why would he even bring that up to answer the question?!?

Ok, I'm after the official transcript. This issue does raise important points about Obama (and other black politicians) though. How can they represent and protect our community while not lying or hiding our failiures (that are not essentialized to anything but systemic injustices) to the rest of America in a soundbyte generation? It's gonna be very hard.

Andom said...

Unfortunately, the link to the article changed...

Anyway, I'm confused as to what biases you think I am perpetuating? My strong charges didn't come out of the NYT's analysis, but Obama's own words.

According to , Obama made rap an issue on his own (I don't think we need a full transcript at all). Without context, of course I agree with Obama, but the fact that he would use this incident to criticize rap music represents a foolish conflation of white supremacy and ingrained black self-hate. In a white-dominated nation like America, we need to be discussing both of these topics, but when and where is dependent on temporal and spatial (audience) circumstances. By turning the "Imus controversy" into a criticism of hip-hop, black leaders are forming a popular front with haters of black culture (many of them latent white supremacists), and this will only result in an assault on hip-hop and, consequently, black culture. We have the opportunity to make constructive change within our community, but let's be careful of whom we are talking to and with whom we form alliances (Remember the KKK coming to Malcolm and asking him whether they could work together to achieve black separatism).

Joshua said...

Correct link:

Sorry for the multiple posts.

Joshua said...

If Obama did respond to the question that way, then that is ridiculous and I agree with what you're saying.

The statement about bias (NYT not giving the full context positioning Obama as someone who sidesteps white injustice while addressing the "problems" of black culture) only came from the original article where the question wasn't mentioned specifically and only insuiated as one directly about the Imus incident. I thought you took that as Obama making it an issue out of nowhere when he had to respond to the question. However, two sources confirm otherwise now. And if you saw the IHT one before posting, then I apologize as I thought you had just seen the original article where the context was still lacking.

Naima said...
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Naima said...

well said brother andom (aside from that slip into essentialism toward the end...)

as for hip hop and its often degrading performance of race and gender, part of our project is to remember the artists who grow black consciousness, class consciousness, and gender positivity, and to hold brothers and sisters who hold us back accountable. only then can we forgive hip hop.

at the level of production and distribution, we have to take back control of hip hop. if we leave it in the hands of corporate moguls (most white, most male) and those who would pander to them, it is lost.

"...that the white supremacist commodification of the black female body is a legacy of slavery that has transformed itself, under the auspices of capitalism and satire, into a cultural mainstay that proudly links us to glorious times of the past."

guau! speak.

Andom said...

word josh and naima.

as for slip into essentialism...I thought my political application of Senghorian essentialism would be recognized as a comedic attempt to combat black sexual exoticization. Excuse me, for even in my idealism, I thought it might be practically beneficient to use society's oppressive essentialism on itself. Sorry sister naima, I guess you might not be on that west african identity inversion ish. my fault...

Elizabeth said...
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Elizabeth said...

this probably should've been a post but here i am.... maybe i will make it one...

excellent comments andom; most especially because they highlight the role our-ever friendly media plays in devaluing racism.

but in truth, what's a woman who thinks, well i do remember hearing

Smack that, give me some more
Smack that, 'till you get sore
Smack that.

and akon's "smack that" doesn't even include "ho".

there's also snoop dog's interesting response to being compared to don imus, which is problematic in its own right, but an interesting comment nonetheless:

"These are two separate things. First of all, we ain't no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC [the cable network home to Imus] going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them mutha-----as say we in the same league as him."

interesting. several questions which i'd like to debate:
if one ought to take care and consider the nature of media representations when discussing internal injustice, how does one proceed to create interior justice if not in the public sphere, if not in bringing to light these cultural internalizations of systemic oppression? where is this so-called private, black-only sphere where black identity can heal itself from colonial assumptions of heteronormativity?
and do we not paternalistically presume that our community is too weak to acknowledge internal discrepancies and then to proceed with an equally public movement away from misogyny, an example of progress?

it is a testament of our capacity to represent blackness not as a stringent category of identification, to demonstrate its capacity for morphing, for evolution. perhaps the question is not whether specificity of viewpoints in the black community contribute to division, but rather how do we develop a rhetoric that uncategorically demonstrates us as unified against white supremacy and at the same time, incontestably human in our capacity to express viewpoints that alternate from brother to brother, sister to sister. we are not a political party with one ideology to which we march (though perhaps some might argue we ought to be), we are a people, in the multivarious forms that the word "people" takes.

is it also not possible to reject don imus' and his likes while also stating, 'we categorically reject hip hop's perpetuation of misogyny which sustains heteronormativity, a system of power upon which white supremacy often rests?' - or something along these lines.

it would be a shame to shy from this discussion and alienate our women from our identity on grounds that race as it relates to our relationship to the white public takes precedence over gender discourse within the community.

what's more, i am **accutely** sensitive to the historical legacy of white colonialism (in its wondrous, multivarious forms) use of women's positions in other cultures to attack these communities as primitive, backwards etc., a reason to mutilate cultures. i think the discourse of feminism in the Middle East currently testifies directly to this.

but i am concerned that this acute awareness of how these cultural critiques from the "enlightened" eurocentric lead us to great susceptibility to 1. perpetually imbue female bodies with the role of cultural representatives such that these discussions about race necessarily occur through our bodies, once more encouraging the silencing of women as mere bodily representors of idealism - does she or doesn't she wear a veil, does she or doesn't she wear her culture's garb, does she or doesn't she cook X food, doesn't she or doesn’t she use birth control, is she or isn't she raising our children in this way, etc (has any one heard black female view points? maybe i've missed this but it appears as though men are once more speaking in the place of women) 2. accentuate one form of injustice over another.

so perhaps someone can answer for me where this private sphere for black judgment occurs, and why we cannot reclaim justice as a heterogenous community rather than one that necessarily presents a monolithic front; in short, why in at once condemning don imus' racist comments, there can't be a more nuanced and yes, public critique that acknowledges hip hop's perpetuation of not merely gender injustice but equally problematic, race injustice by so vividly and so often reflecting the rhetoric of white heteronormativity (though perhaps in a more verbose manner than white sexism's great capacity to be insidious)? why when we critique hip hop's gender injustice we cannot also publicly denounce the *continued* unequal pay of women across the US, the many unjust applications of rape laws, the eroding access a woman has to birth control let alone abortion, the absence of day care to ensure women's actual capacity to enter the work force, the appalling number of women tenured as professors despite the steadfast, growing number of females graduating university compared to their male peers.

it's not right, i concede, that the black community must both bear the brunt of racism as well as be the solutions to these injustices. but i am deeply concerned when one form of injustice and its resolution take precedence over another because we find ourselves in the public and often oppositionary eye of the other. i am beginning to understand the dangerous cost of this double consciousness, this perpetual acknowledgment of the white perspective on blackness.

it’s our difficult to move forward with change by taking hold of the rhetoric and calling internal critique of blackness not an instance of division but a representation of another assault on whiteness, where we refuse to perpetuate power structures which have and will continue to uphold racial, gender oppression so long as we choose to not tear down the both simultaneously.

we are fortunate enough to historically know how women have been sidelined in and for race politics ( – let’s not make the same mistake twice.

so be equally insulted that black women were referred not only in racially derogatory terms, but at the absurdity of reducing our amorphous and profound sexuality to an apparatus for lust.

i won’t choose to be more upset as a woman or a black person in these comments. i’ll thunder that i’m made to choose, as though sexism and racism were not cut from the same cloth. so snoop can talk from his soul as much as he wants and don imus can reveal his true colors, but neither’s masculinity or blackness is enough a shield to protect him from my anger.

**and may i just add that these moments of internal critique need to be buffered with the role of the media which uplifts misogynistic rap while giving little to no play to rappers like lupe, dead prez, talib, roots, and so many others who have returned to rap's original *revolutionary* role as a voice of dissent and a voice of UPLIFT. there's a reason why hip hop has taken root around the world, from senegal with the amazing didier awadi rapping against neocolonialism to the banlieus of paris against france's hypocritical reputation as race-heaven to palestinians against the israeli occupation to female middle eastern MCs rapping about american cultural hegemony.

so i say: rap is beautiful.
let's bring it back home.

ps for someone notably more eloquent than myself, the black law feminist kimberly crenshaw has written on this not-so-new issue. y'all should check out her article:

pps tns doing loving internal critique…

Naima said...

loving critique of internal oppression is what we do at the north star!

i'm down for holding akon and his non-consensual "smacking" accountable. and snoop too (who in his latest video consumes platters and platters of fried chicken at a "gangsta mansion party"... let's unpack that for a second).

there are no exceptional spaces in a world where systems of oppression are so pervasive. we all know that the best way to uphold such a system is to internalize it. gender justice is not secondary. we move forward to effect reform on all fronts.

folks should peep the book "black macho and the myth of the superwoman" by michele wallace. it is an insightful and powerful interventionist text, indicting black power movements for their erasure of black women from history and the political present, and for the reproduction of white misogynist ideologies/methods of control in our communities.

twinkle for this comment, e st v: you should make it into a full post.

for those who want to watch the snoop video and write about it:

and lastly to brother andom:
whatchu know about west africa and the black atlantic?

Naima said...

also, in quick response to andom's original point about barack. obama's choice to go after rappers during this controversy is, at the very least, strategic.

his critique of rap makes him seem offended by the sexism of imus' comment, yet also somehow allied with white racists who would pathologize black people and look to hip hop as evidence of black depravity.

surely rap is a site where we can find much of what we are least proud of as a people (representations that are often fictititious, often hyperbolized).

such is pop culture.

i just think that andom's initial concern with barack and his role in this controversy is significant. i think we should consider this point in our ongoing conversation about this post. i am curious to hear what people think.

Elizabeth said...


Elizabeth said...

in this case then obama should take care in what way he's critiquing rap, though sadly news has a great way of misrepresenting so the ultimate say might not be in his hands. does that mean a public figure should remain silent on rampant misogyny? it seems like a shame to feel that critiquing these problems means you are "allied with white racists who would pathologize black people".
sort of seem like white supremacy's suceeded in getting us to equate dissent among the ranks for justice with being... a race traitor? fear of white critique? i don't know but i hope our blackness is stronger than that fear...

Naima said...

elizabeth to clarify:

i would never equate dissent within a movement with being a race traitor.

true democracy and a lot of the things we love (or at least i do) thrive on dissent. conformity is a penchant of the world order we're repenting of here at the north star.

what i meant to suggest was that obama's articulation of misogyny in hip hop configures him interestingly in the discourse on hip hop as an expression (problematic, inaccurate, revolutionary, etc.) of elements of blackness.

i believe that a bold, honest, uncompromising indictment of misogyny is possible without an indiscriminate condemnation of rappers and hip hop at large. to dismiss and devalue an entire cultural movement seems to constitute a strange political alliance....

not that this is necessarily what obama is doing. i was just trying to shift conversation a bit, have people speaking to what they think this means (as andom and josh did toward the beginning of this string of comments).

i hope that my intent and position is clear. and also that our blackness is stronger than our fear of white critique.

Elizabeth said...
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Elizabeth said...
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Elizabeth said...

i forgot to note how i find it curious that a discussion of obama's political significance in the public in this particular context is a function of utilizing black female bodies as the means for debate.
if we agree that the point of origin for all this sensativity is our women's questionable positions at home, then maybe it'd do some good to place sexism at the front alongside race.
i know that discussing sexism is difficult and near impossible, given how gender politics seems to almost have no language, making it unrelatable to most people. but race too once did not have a language and continues to struggle to find its own ground. i think we can develop terminology for both, or at least attempt to.

Elizabeth said...

and i twinkle to true democracy and a lot of the things we love (or at least i do) thrive on dissent

Joshua said...

Elizabeth, nice to see one of your points make it to the
mainstream media
. Now can someone write in offering some language and advancing the discussion so this doesn't just become another progressive article with no action attached?

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