Hip Hop and Black Women

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Hip-hop is the latest expressive manifestation of the past and current experience as well as the collective consciousness of African-American and Latino-American youth. But more than any music of the past, it also expresses mainstream American ideas that have now been internalized and embedded into the psyches of American people of color over time.

A part of the learned mainstream American culture is sexism and misogyny. Hip-hop culture is frequently condemned for its misogynistic exploitation of women, but this misogyny has its roots in the culture in which we live. Hip-hop but can be explored and used as a valuable tool in examining gender relations. It brings to surface the issues that face many young people, such as discrimination, peer relations, and self-worth, that can be considered in order to bring about change in the misogynistic aspects of hip-hop culture and American culture, in general. For young people that do not hold sexist ideals, mainstream hip-hop may influence them to do so as it spreads and continuously gains popularity. And others are directly and indirectly supporting an environment that allows sexism to continue.

Exploitation of women in hip-hop culture has become an accepted part of it for both the artists and audiences alike, and many critics blame the music without looking any deeper. When going to any hip-hop related event, my friends and I normally expect that we will be disrespected verbally and physically, and have to prepare ourselves accordingly. We have to be careful in choosing what clothes to wear, how we carry ourselves and what we say. I have often wondered why it is so acceptable (for men and women) and what the roots of the values expressed in the culture are.

Hip-hop culture, started by black and Latino youth in New York City, (by definition) encompasses rapping (and now singing), deejaying, break-dancing, and graffiti-writing, but has evolved to be much more than that. It is now a lifestyle for many young people mostly between the ages of 13 and 30. It now involves music videos, fashion, language, the club scene, and the general way in which young people interact with one another. Hip-hop culture is widely used in commercials (Coca-Cola, Burger King), fashion advertisements, video games, TV shows, and there is even a hip-hop exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The most powerful and influential part of hip-hop culture has come to be rap music, a form of poetry that is said over musical instrumentation. In recent years rap music has developed a reputation of being brutally honest, violent, and misogynistic.

Much of the music and many videos specifically transmit, promote, and perpetuate negative images of black women. All women, but mostly black women in particular are seen in popular hip-hop culture as sex objects. Almost every hip-hop video that is regularly run today shows many dancing women (usually surrounding one or two men) wearing not much more than bikinis, with the cameras focusing on their body parts. These images are shown to go along with a lot of the explicit lyrics that commonly contain name calling to suggest that women are not worth anything more than money, if that. Women are described as being only good for sexual relations by rappers who describe their life as being that of a pimp. In many popular rap songs men glorify the life of pimps, refer to all women as they think a pimp would to a prostitute, and promote violence against women for 'disobeying.'

Of course, not all rap songs are misogynistic and all black men do not speak and think this way, but large percentages within hip-hop culture do. The name calling disrespects, dehumanizes, and dishonors women. If a man labels a woman with any of these names, he may feel justified in committing physical or psychological violence against her. The name-calling may also be representative of the way these men are thinking and feeling the anger, disdain, and ill feelings toward women. Joan Morgan, who...
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