Hip-Hop Viewed Through the Prisms Of Race and Gender
As the nation’s premier historically Black college for women, the Spelman community prides itself on addressing issues of race and gender through critical thinking and meaningful dialogue — asking questions and seeking answers to the nuances of history and popular culture that relate to and affect Black women. It is in this spirit that we encourage our students to open their eyes to the world, to strip away the veneer of superficiality by not taking everything at face value, to not only look, but to see … to not only observe, but to act.The scheduled visit to the Spelman campus by popular rap artist Nelly, therefore, evoked an intriguing dichotomy of actions and reactions throughout our campus community. Though largely in defiance of the stereotypical images of the Black women portrayed in rap music videos, our students have the utmost of respect for the intent of Nelly’s charitable foundation, 4Sho4Kids, and sought to participate in its agenda to heighten awareness of the need for bone marrow donations within the Black community. Nelly was also invited to engage in a campus-wide discussion about the negativism perpetuated by the visual images of Black women in the rap music genre, and to explore the ways in which this practice appears to be antithetical to his otherwise noble efforts in service to the Black community. For reasons known only to Nelly and his management team, the invitation from Spelman was declined. His unwillingness to participate in such a discussion was regrettable on at least two counts: it temporarily thwarted Spelman’s effort to address this critical minority health issue, and precluded what promised to be a dynamic discourse about the questionable portrayals of Black women throughout the hip-hop culture.Although Nelly’s music video instigated the resurgence of on-campus attention to rap music imagery, the issues associated with Black popular culture are wide ranging, extending far beyond Nelly or a singular music video. Whether by blatant depiction, or by thinly veiled innuendo, some rap music imagery has, and continues to be, instrumental in driving respect for Black culture to an all-time low. The ultimate tragedy of this paradigm is that young children who do not have the cognitive ability to differentiate between illusion and reality are continually exposed to a genre of “entertainment” that serves as the predominant and prevailing expression of African American culture. For non-Black children, it creates gross misrepresentations of the Black experience. But its impact is exceedingly worse for Black children, particularly for young Black girls whose self-worth and self-esteem are frequently being shaped by these unrealistic and harmful images of Black womanhood.The prognosis is not much better for young Black boys constantly exposed to the glorification of the “thug life” and its perpetual cycle of violence. Generations of African American boys now need to be re-programmed, coaxed into an attitudinal shift that socializes them to think differently about their life choices, to view women — their mothers, sisters, daughters — as having far more value than a mere “dime-a-dozen,” and to recognize that the vulgarity of excess, the insidiousness of crime, and the irresponsibility of promiscuous behavior will, assuredly, not put them on the path toward success.It is in this vein that Spelman students have joined the ever-growing chorus of those who condemn the manner in which Black women are being exploited within the hip-hop universe. Bolstered by the support, enthusiasm and encouragement of their Morehouse College brothers, they are adding their voices to the national outcry in protest of the misogynist motifs that are increasingly over-populating the cultural landscape of Black America. — Dr. Hikes is vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Spelman College in Atlanta.
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