I’ve gone on far too many hip-hop diets to count. But, because I was raised on it, I would eventually binge-listen to the music that I, just weeks earlier, deemed disrespectful. Whether I like it or not, hip-hop is a part of my story.
Brown Sugar is my favorite rom-com. “Electric Relaxation” is my favorite song. When employers ask me “what song describes you” on an application, I’ve always answered, “The World is Yours” by Nas.
It’s been a part of my life since I was tying the front of my shirt up with a scrunchie and doing the Butterfly for the boys on the playground.
I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, but hip-hop was priming me to have an entirely different outcome in life.
Thank God for guidance.
Hip-hop’s relationship to black women is complicated. But, I’ve finally worked through my thoughts enough to be at ease. The issue is deeper than the words “bitch” and “hoe” being used as synonyms for the word “woman” over a trap beat.
The mistreatment of black women wasn’t born in New York in the late ‘70s.
In fact, much of the language found in music today is considerably tame compared to the lyrics sung in smoky clubs by sharply dressed black men in the early 1900s.
“I’m lookin’ for a woman that ain’t never been kissed/Maybe then I won’t have to use my fist.” These are lyrics from a song called “When I Been Drinkin” by highly-acclaimed blues singer, Big Bill Broonzy.
Imagine a tall, fine man with a perfect line up letting these words roll off his tongue.
Or how about this: Blind Willie McTell, a highly-regarded ragtime guitarist, recorded an entire song threatening to beat a woman he was with if she disagreed with him entitled, “Southern Can is Mine.” Many modern musicians, including Jack White of The White Stripes, cite him as a musical influence.
He also recorded a song called “A to Z Blues” in which he listed acts of violence in alphabetical order that he’d plotted against his lover.
Trade the Gucci sneakers for wingtips and Blues is the hip-hop of yesteryear.
There have been so many think pieces and formal statements pinning this cycle of misogyny on hip-hop. But the problem with this logic is that each of the songs just mentioned were recorded prior to the year 1940, almost 40 years before hip-hop was born.
This is not an essay about why it’s bad to call a woman a “hoe” in a song or talk about raping her. Google is full of those. This is about why it happens and what we need to do to stop it. I’m here to tell you, as a black woman who has been introduced as “his hoe” or “his bitch” on several occasions, as a woman who has fallen prey to sexual abuse, you can’t blame today’s hip-hop or yesteryear’s blues for this.
It’s merely a symptom of the illness.
You can, however, find broken, misguided black men at the core of hip-hop and blues.
To be clear, I don’t deny that language has evolved so much that there may be an element of BDSM to sexuality in the black community that should be considered. I can’t render all of it unhealthy.
But, for many women, none of this is enjoyable, and, for many men, a woman’s pleasure or respect is irrelevant.
As black women, we accept our treatment for one main reason – we assume that black men are more disenfranchised than we are. Our pain is what happens when overt and covert racism feast on black men until they hey have nothing to hold onto but their small patriarchal privilege. What other power is a low income black man inherently afforded without proper guidance?
We have been conditioned to give everlasting support to black men – you know, because they’re hunted. When somebody is arrested, we’re making t-shirts. When somebody is killed, we’re fostering entire movements like #blacklivesmatter. We’re the first ones down for the cause. We have to protect them.
And, when they decide they want to reduce us to “bitches and hoes,” we not only answer to it, we dance to it. Forget the fact that we’re being degraded. These are black men overcoming their odds and fulfilling their dreams – big picture.
We’re “on his team.” We’re “ride or die.” We live in their shadows willing to wait forever for the chance for some light to wash over our cocoa butter and fresh sew-in. We swaddle their disdain for us and lay it in a manger. We convince ourselves that we just have to lead by example, teach them what love is. They’ve been through a lot being a black man in this country.
This is not just hip-hop. This is real life.
With all of that said, misogyny is inescapable.
The college-educated backpackers from the suburbs, the hood-educated trap rappers from the bandos — they both call women “bitches and hoes.” So do their listeners. One group does it because that’s all they know. The other group does it because they don’t know who they are.
Do I unplug myself from my culture, my people’s voice, because I don’t approve of the language? Or do I take the prevalence of this language as evidence that we have work to do? I submit to the complexities and understand that hip-hop has done far more for black people than it may ever do for black women.
I still support it because it is the only art form that understands a major part of my experience. When yet another innocent black person is killed at the hands of racism, I can submerge my psyche in “Alright,” “Ume Says,” or “The Day the N*ggaz Took Over.”
I’m a hip-hop head through and through. Like, I really do this. I have the utmost respect for hip-hop even though it has no respect for me.
How is this possible? Coretta saw the bigger picture for black America as Martin Luther King Jr. led a movement. She also dealt with his bullsh*t.
So, here I am, a “ride or die chick” with my t-shirt and my #blacklivesmatter wristband acknowledging that I will never stop supporting black men. We just want to feel that same love and unwavering support.
Money and cars won’t be there to give you a warm hug that smells like cocoa butter when this country chews you up and spits you out.
But, I bet your “bitch” will.
Kim Diggs is a journalist and author from Dallas, Tx. She is also co-host of an upcoming podcast about pop culture and current events, “Love and Lamar.” www.loveandlamar.com. Follow her on Twitter @kaydigs.