Hip Hop Generation Feminism: A Manifesto

1 Mar

We are Hip Hop Generation Feminists.  We unapologetically refer to ourselves as feminist because we believe that gender, and its construction through a white patriarchal capitalist power structure fundamentally shapes our lives and life possibilities as women of color across a range of sexual identities.  We are members of the Hip Hop Generation because we came of age in one of the decades, the 1990s, that can be considered post-Soul and post-Civil Rights. Our political realities have been profoundly shaped by a systematic rollback of the gains of the Civil Rights era with regard to affirmative action policies, reproductive justice policies, the massive deindustrialization of urban areas, the rise and ravages of the drug economy within urban, semi-urban, and rural communities of color, and the full-scale assault on women’s lives through the AIDS epidemic. We have come of age in the era that has witnessed a past-in-present assault on our identities as women of color, one that harkens back to earlier assaults on our virtue and value during enslavement and imperialism. Our era has likewise been marked by an insidious reimagining of earlier forms of violence to include the proliferation of stereotypes both from the public sphere and from our communities which have now named us welfare queens, quota queens, baby mamas, hoochies, golddiggers, wifeys, bitches, hoes, and tricks, along with a range of  (un)creative rhetorical permutations.  We identify with Hip Hop because the music, the culture, the fashion, and the figures provide the soundtrack to our girlhood and our young womanhood.  Our coming-of-age happened in the linguistically and rhetorically rich cultural milieu and transformation that was the 1990s, the decade of the woman, but also the decade of the female emcee: Queen Latifah, M.C. Lyte, Da Brat, LeftEye (and TLC), Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim, and Lauryn Hill. We not only jammed to New Jack Swing, we reveled in the beats of New Jill Swing too because we understood what Queen meant when she sang, “in a 90s kind of world, I’m glad I got my girls.” We witnessed Puffy “invent the remix,” Mary J. Blige pioneer Hip Hop Soul as she looked for a “real love,” and FUBU  start a global black fashion trend that was for us by us. We were captured by Darius and Nina falling in love, breaking up, and falling in love again, even as we observed that the art of Boyz in the Hood and Jason’s Lyric imitated a side of life and death seen too often in our communities. We grooved to sounds of the G-Funk era and wept at the murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. We are Hip Hop’s middle children, folks who fell in love with Hip Hop at the tale end of the “Golden Age,” came of age during the “Modern Era” and find ourselves increasingly concerned with the gender and race politics of Hip Hop in the “Industrial Era.”[1] We unapologetically blend the terms Hip Hop and Feminism like our Hip Hop feminist big sister Joan Morgan did more than a decade ago when she invited us to “fill in the breaks, provide the remixes, and rework the chorus.” So we call ourselves Hip Hop Generation Feminists, because while many of us appreciate the culture and the music, we do not have a blind allegiance to it, nor is our feminism solely or in many cases even primarily defined by Hip Hop. Yet our connection to Hip Hop links us to a set of generational concerns, and a community of women, locally, nationally, and globally.

We also recognize the Hip Hop Generation as a community of men, some progressive, but many, many more who are not. Our brothers are either with us or they are not. If you are with us, your life and your politics—and not just your rhetoric—will reflect a commitment to the health and wholeness of women, not just as sisters, as wives, as mothers, or as daughters. We don’t need protectors or providers; we need partners in (the) struggle. We will not be battered or bruised by your words, forced into submission by your accusations of racial disloyalty, or tolerant of your homophobia or religio-patriarchal zealotry. Neither will we be silent in the face of rape, sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, and/or the psychic and rhetorical violence that daily reduces us to both sexual objects and objects of scorn. We welcome thinking brothers who appreciate thinking sisters, brothers committed to strategizing with us for a gender-inclusive world.

We have spent our twenties negotiating the uncompassionate conservativism of the Bush era, with its brand of fascism marauding as patriotism. We entered the workforce en masse in the era of boom and bust laissez faire capitalism, where we are still paid less than our white sisters, when we were employed at all, and where our places of employment still operate under a politics of surveillance and containment, many times rendering us “outsiders within.” Daily, we negotiate our work lives in places meant to discredit our truths about the operations of racism, sexism, and heterosexism and to disregard our attempts to resist the power of those forces in our lives. Whether we identify as activists, academics, health care professionals, spiritual leaders, caregivers, or any of the above, we eschew any false divide between public and private, as we hold dear the principle that the personal is indeed political. We claim the right to resist the forces of racist, sexist, heterosexist domination by any means necessary. Through our written and spoken words, our activism, and our collective work, and our support of one another, we will act up, turn it out, set it off, bring wreck, talk back, go off, or get crunk whenever and wherever necessary.[2] These are the strategies of survival for a generation of women never meant to win, and who yet survive.

While our declaration of feminism pays homage to our feminist foremothers and big sisters, Hip Hop generation feminism is not just a remix but also a remake that builds on the beats and rhythms from the tracks already laid down, but with a decidedly new sound, for a new era. This, in other words, ain’t ya mama’s feminism. This is next generation feminism, standing up, standing tall, and proclaiming like Celie, that we are indeed Here. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We love ourselves even when we get no love. We recognize that we are our own best thing, our own best argument, and patriarchy’s worst nightmare.

This manifesto is a living document that reflects the evolution of the CFC.

[1] Jelani Cobb, To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic, p. 41.

[2] Gwendolyn Pough. Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip -Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere. See Chapter 3: “I Bring Wreck to Those Who Disrespect Me Like A Dame.”


4 Responses to “Hip Hop Generation Feminism: A Manifesto”

  1. manwhowonders March 1, 2010 at 7:23 PM #

    First I would like to say thank you for the thought provoking words sister. My only question is it possible for men to be against female degradation and oppression without considering himself a feminist? Feminism like patriarchy, capitalism, insert any religion, etc. is a idea in a pool of ideas? A theory that isn’t perfect and has it’s detractors…..

    • susiemaye March 1, 2010 at 11:02 PM #

      Thank you, my brother. While I hear you on the issue of being boxed into ideology, I don’t think we should throw away theories because they are imperfect. Indeed, I think it is our imperative to collaborate, to rethink ideologies so that they can evolve along with our needs. A way of knowing does not have to be so rigid as to be oppressive.

  2. alexis March 2, 2010 at 4:07 AM #

    Crunk is right! I love this!

  3. PatriarchySlayer March 14, 2010 at 6:59 PM #

    Wow, what a powerful, thoughtful document. Thank you for that. It made me think. I have always loved Hip Hop despite it’s lyrics and that made me sad. I don’t want to love something that so often puts women down in this degrading fashion.
    I want a new Hip Hop…one that is amazing, powerful, uplifting and awesome. I hope I see that change.

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