There’s no place in America where it’s easy to exist as a black woman, but the music industry sure feels like one of the most brutal places to exist in. Young up and coming female musicians are used and spat out by the industry, and young black women get to bear the additional burden of racialized discrimination, bigotry, fetishization, and abuse.

Our relationship with the music industry is dually complicated by the fact that despite the racism that exists pervasively among the powers that be, black culture is highly popular and in demand. Everyone, including (and especially) white people, love to consume black content, black media, black works, which means artists like myself offer a product that record labels and producers want – but that doesn’t mean they want our artistic freedom along with it.

Being a black woman in the music business means regularly being reduced to an easily consumable package. It means being accepted by numerous people for an image of yourself that isn’t accurate, and being hated by even more people for that same image, while simultaneously being denied the opportunity to express your actual unique, independent thoughts.

It means being called radical and dangerous for making everything so political, while your white counterparts are praised for speaking up and getting involved. It means being told you’re angry and inaccessible, like Solange Knowles, instead of ethereal and innovative, like Bjork.

A history of stolen labor

Musical history in the United States is defined almost entirely by what black people created, from soul to jazz to rock to hip hop. Black singers like Ma Rainey, Big Mama Thornton, and Bessie Smith invented the blues genre in the early 1900s before white artists like Elvis Presley came along and covered their songs with a white voice, making the songs appeal to segregated white audiences. It was the norm for white artists to cover songs without so much as giving royalty fees to the black artists who created them.

This history of whitewashing black music continues through today, where artists like Iggy Azalea try to capitalize off the image and culture of blackness overlaid on white skin, down to the ass implants meant to mimic and even parody black women’s bodies.

When success belies abuse

Black women who do succeed in the music industry, either as DJs with turntables, record producers or singers, face a host of challenges that their white counterparts just aren’t experiencing. For one thing, unlike white artists, black women are forced into very narrow roles that they’re allowed to exist in.

It feels today like black female artists are expected to portray themselves as either Beyonce, Rihanna or Nicki Minaj. Anything else is too out there, too unrelatable, too niche for white audiences to easily consume. Black women are pitted against each other, as though too many cannot be allowed to exist at the same time lest they saturate the field with blackness.

Artists like Solange, who try to push the boundaries of music and explore innovative new genres, are trashed for being difficult to consume, but those artists are intentionally pushing back against being easily consumed. That’s a problem for white audiences, who don’t expect black musicians to challenge them or make them uncomfortable.

One of the inherent problems with black womanhood in the music industry is the knowledge that everything you create will be marketed towards and aimed at being consumed by white audiences, which means creating works that reflect your personal existence becomes a dangerous game. It can be painful, even insulting to see white audiences attempt to decipher or interact with content made for black audiences, to repeat words meant for black voices. It hurts to see white audiences complain or criticize something because they don’t understand it- because it’s not for them.

But it becomes inevitable since all content is aimed at white audiences. Black women in the music industry rarely have the freedom to direct their musical development and message.

As time passes, our opportunities grow. Many female artists are paving the way for future black female artists to take more control over their message and music – but we still have quite a long way to go.