BLACK WOMEN are the current targets of a vicious smear campaign. The perpetuators of this campaign are the young, black male rappers whose misogynous recordings portray women as materialistic, devious sex objects.
I enjoy rap music. The pounding bass and intricate rhythms appeal to the dancer in me. Sometimes I can even ignore the abundance of four-letter words that seem to punctuate every lyric in much of today's hard-core rap. But when my 10-year old sister, Danielle, recently walked into my room reciting "Shake it, shake it, shake it, now shake it. She can spend every birthday buck naked" -- a line from the popular song "Rump Shaker" -- I winced.
Rap artists seem to be shifting away from the funny, harmless rhymes of the past. As rap has grown, and the market has shifted to include suburban youth, the competition to shock and titillate has heated up. Rap music taps into the rebellious streak that young people have -- if it makes your parents crazy, then it must be "cool."
But the statement some songs are making about women is far from cool. Women, according to these songs, are just body parts. They are huge bosoms and high, round backsides. Songs such as the one my little sister was humming, by the rap group Wreckx-N-Effect, or "Body Like An MF", by the DPG's, reinforce the idea that women -- and specifically black women -- are wildly sensual creatures who exist only for the sexual gratification of men.
By objectifying women, these young men obviously are trying to "empower" themselves. In a society where black men have little power and must struggle simply to survive, the idea seems to be that if black men can't rule the world, they can at least rule "their" women. In many rap songs women are refered to as "skezzas," "ho's," "golddiggers" and various other names, most of them unprintable.
This rationale is a direct response to the negative media portrayal of black men -- the myth being that black women are powerful matriarchs and black men are "dogs" who desert their families.
There has been so much hype about the troubles in the African-American community. The black male is routinely portrayed as a dangerous, gun-toting, drug selling brute. Very rarely is the black family presented as a stable, hard working unit. Instead, there are many images of fractured, dysfunctional households. Black men feel the sting of these negative images, and these rap songs reflect their fury.
The sexual overtones of the music are symptomatic of the state many young black men find themselves in. Along with fast cars, fast money and the fast life go "fast" women. Unable to envision long term goals, they go for immediate gratification, a "live now for tomorrow we may die" ethic. Their goal is simply to amass as much of everything as quickly as possible. That this attitude extends to women is indicated by the slang term employed by these urban rappers: "booty."
During a panel discussion at the National Association of Black Journalists convention last month in Atlanta, rapper Bushwick Bill, of the rap group the "Geto Boys," made derogatory remarks about women which led several dozen of the journalists, many of them women, to walk out of the room in protest.
In a recent interview in Vibe magazine, rapper L.L. Cool J was quoted as saying, "Everybody knows that black women are less subject to racism than black men." He went on to say that "the corporate ladder is filled with black women and white men and women." This linking of black women with white America is just another indication of the popular culture's backlash against black women. No longer is it sufficient to blame "the white man;" now it is also black women who are painted as accomplices to oppression.
Rap music has developed over time into a highly politicized reflection of street ethics. It has moved from being a fad to a musical movement that is now also extremely popular with white suburban youth as well as inner-city blacks. The sexist messages of some of these songs are being conveyed to a large, highly impressionable audience. In a society that is sick with the diseases of racism, hunger, AIDS, crime and unemployment, the contempt and hatred of women purveyed by rap artists is like a bomb tossed in a crowded restaurant.
One can appreciate the anger many young men feel over their blighted prospects and diminished rights. Rap music is an authentic expression of their disillusionment with the system. But rap artists must also learn that no structure can stand if half of it has been blown up.
Lisa Respers is an editorial assistant in the Carroll County bureau of The Evening Sun.