Hip Hop Speaking Truth to Power Essay

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Speaking truth to power in a different voice: Hip-hop and Black lesbianism

The urban musical style known as hip-hop has long presented itself as an 'outsider' movement. Particularly during its early incarnations in the form of Public Enemy, rap and hip-hop was committed to speaking 'truth to power' and countering common cultural, hegemonic assumptions in the Caucasian mainstream that defined normalcy as being white and law-abiding. Hip-hop used music to give a voice to the concerns of Black Americas, and used harsh rhythms, language, and sounds to express long-simmering angers within the Black community. So why have hip-hop artists had such a negative relationship with what are often erroneously called 'other minority groups,' specifically gays and women? Despite the obvious existence of 'real' Black women, and 'real' Black gay men and lesbians, hip-hop has often been accused of promoting heterosexism and misogyny, in its critique of white dominance, in a way that effectively erases the existence of these groups. To say that hip-hop is inherently 'anti-woman' and 'anti-gay' raises the question of identity for Black female hip-hop artists.

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"Hip-hop is about telling stories of struggle and life, and I think there's a real story to tell of urban, gay youth" mourned one Black gay music critic (Bennett 2009, p.2). In the polarization of 'gay culture vs. hip-hop culture' there is an implication that to be Black is to be heterosexual, despite the fact that many non-white individuals are not heterosexual. Black non-heterosexuals are written out of the discourse and debate between gays and feminists who accuse hip-hop artists of homophobia and objectifying women. To broadly characterize hip-hop as homophobic and misogynistic thus marginalizes and silences Black lesbian singers. They have no voice to critique hip-hop misogyny, as to criticize their fellow male artists places them outside the movement with presumably white gay critics and feminists, but the movement itself is defined in terms of Black male power.

Essay on Hip Hop Speaking Truth to Power in Assignment

Despite the existence of some Black female lesbian hip-hop artists, Black women, particularly lesbians, have thus had to overcome considerable resistance within the culture of hip-hop to create their own unique discourse. Sometimes, to speak as Black artists within hip-hop, lesbians had to 'take on' the discourse of Black heterosexist misogyny. To stand against mainstream hip-hop means to write themselves out of a profound piece of Black culture that is unfortunately plagued by sexism and heterosexual. To ally themselves with mainstream gay and feminist movements denies the uniqueness of the Black experience in their lives. Significantly, Black women often speak of race as the most salient feature of their lives, while feminists who are white identify gender as the primary source of their marginalization. This difficulty of speaking truth to power in a voice that is simultaneously Black, lesbian, and female is highlighted in the incomplete nature of the binaries of Black/White, hetero/homosexual, female/male that do not explain the issues that arise from the harsh, often critical language hip-hop artists use to describe women yet the equally incomplete nature of feminist and gay discourse to explain the significance of race in Black lives.

Sadly, within Black musical culture in particular, "hip-hop has a long history of homophobia, much of which is tied up with the powerful Black church," given the central role of Christian spirituality in the development of so many Black artists, male and female (Bennett 2008, p.1). "As one of the most visible voices of Black culture, hip-hop has adopted those beliefs -- and, in doing so, transmits them to young fans….Thug appeal is critical to a rapper's image, and & #8230;Being gay is considered soft, sissy…Straightness is as crudely affixed to skill in hip-hop as the microphone" (Bennett 2008). This phallocentric view of producing music has made it difficult for women to move beyond the background role of dancers, and to become authors of songs, rather than subjects of songs. Women either function as minor vocalists or images in rap videos, and women who exist out of the economy of male desire like lesbians have no voice at all.

Because of the relief that it provides in articulating once-hidden anger of Black America, criticism by African-Americans of the hip-hop community of homophobia is often muted. Critics are accused of not understanding the persona constructed by the rap artist, even though such words may openly validate homophobia and violence against women. However, this validation has lead even white rap artists to use homophobia in their lyrics, as these attitudes become normalized and part of the accepted persona of a rapper "Gay and lesbian activists argued that Eminem was scapegoating gays and women in his lyrics. If anything, our movement's duet with Eminem exposes our own reliance on questionable tactics. It also highlights what a willing dance partner we make for someone like Eminem, who rushed headlong into the spotlight created by all this controversy" wrote one gay activist of gay singer Elton John's embrace of the popular white star (Grantham 2001). But how can Eminem be the subject of criticism when he uses such language, and not Black male artists? To not raise some criticism risks the change of hypocrisy.

Hip-hop has been defined as being about Black male power, and white fears of Black male power. Even white artists like Eminem who adopt its swagger adopt its misogyny as part of the 'image.' Black and white artists, in their creation of personas, even humorous personas, define that power, ironically as the ability to objectify women and their hatred of gays. Instead of raging against the powerful, they rage against other powerless groups. The personal anger of the artist against women in his life and male anxieties are fused with his rage against society as a whole. Yet concerns about female subjection in the feminist community are often solely phrased in terms of heterosexual desire, and non-heterosexual women are often seen as so marginal to the discourse that they are said to have no stake in the rehabilitation of women in the hip-hop community. For example, interestingly, when discussing the issue of homosexuality and a recently published song by a lesbian black artist, Michael Eric Dyson, author of the book Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture said: "the real thing is going to be when you get some brother coming out" (Jamison 1998). Lesbianism is an opting-out of the issues of hip-hop, not integral to issues of male-female conflict, in his eyes. If a man becomes feminine, that is of concern, if a Black man or a woman are locked in a fight that is of concern -- but if maleness is not threatened, in the case of lesbianism, it only merits a shrug. Both critics and proponents of hip-hop artists often do not take female concerns seriously that exist out of that economy of heterosexual desire.

It might be protested that while some Black female artists have merely parroted Black male attitudes towards women, such as Sista Souljah, others have resisted. Perhaps the best-known Black female artist to do so today is Queen Latifah. Latifah is a well-known, but not publically admitted Black lesbian. Some of her music has been innovative in its proclamation of female power. But the media and the Queen have both observed a largely 'don't ask, don't tell' policy regarding her sexuality. "Queen Latifah is not even a 'secret' lesbian these days. Aside from opting not to acknowledge her sexuality to the press, she's about as out as she can be. Or at least she is after these photos, published this week by the (surprisingly accurate) National Enquirer, reveal the actress-singer and her 'galpals' enjoy getting together at private homes to drink enjoy the company of strippers" wrote one online gay periodical (What's worse, 2009, Querty).

To openly identify as lesbian in words, many feel, would harm Latifah's image as… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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