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At the Risk of Sounding Angry: On Melissa Harris-Perry’s Eloquent Rage

3 Sep

The internets were all abuzz over the weekend sharing clips of our collective Black feminist shero Melissa Harris-Perry’s Saturday morning show. During the show, she lost her cool with panelist Monica Mehta, a conservative financial expert, who represented every unthoughtful mythic thing that I’ve come to believe a person has to believe in order to be a member of today’s racist Republican Party.

After I posted the clip to my FB page, a former student of mine, simply commented that this was an example of “eloquent rage.” She knew I would get the reference, because the first time she ever used it was in reference to me, and my impassioned style of teaching students about the politics of race, class, and gender. My first reaction to being characterized in this way was denial. “I’m not angry,” I told her. “I’m passionate.” And then she looked at me with a tell-tale knowing honesty and said simply, “You know you’re angry, Brittney.” (Sometimes in some places, I let my students call me by name.)

It was one of the most transformative moments in my teaching because I realized a.) that it was anger, and not merely passion b.) that I was bringing it with me into the classroom c.) that I had a right to be angry about the injustices that I teach about  and live daily and d.) I could resist and deny my anger or use it to make me better at what I do. I chose the latter.

When I watched Melissa lose it, oh so beautifully, passionately, eloquently, and truthfully, for the brief moment that she did I experienced deep and profound knowing, the knowing that comes from the frustration of having to listen to people talk sideways to you, about shit that is merely theoretical for them, all the while you know that the attitudes they hold are especially detrimental to people who look like you.

It is even more infuriating when people of color espouse such bullshit. I know that all Black and Brown folk don’t think alike. I also know that when folk of color align themselves with the Republican Party, that alignment is often deeply tied to a deep disdain and disavowal for what they perceive to be a narrative of Black victimhood that makes one beholden to social entitlements (welfare). I know Black and other non-white folks who’ve made their life paths about distancing themselves from such a narrative. There is also a liberal version, and that version is a Toure’ style “post-Blackness” “post-race” blah. But to believe in any of it is to remain in deep denial about the way that white supremacy structures our society. 

This denial allows people to see MHP’s expression of anger as over the top and out of order, and miss the fact that Clint Eastwood’s “performance” at the RNC last week was nothing if not a classic white male racial temper tantrum.

It also allowed Monica Mehta’s persistent use of racial microaggressions towards Black people to come off as earnest commentary, while Melissa’s emotional reaction was perceived as disproportionate to the slight. There is also a racialized gender dynamic at play as well in which white women and non-Black women who are frequently exoticized  can use the hyperfemininity ascribed to their bodies as a shield behind which they get to say the most racially problematic shit, and have it remain unrecognized as aggressive and offensive. 

I applaud MHP for her show of eloquent rage. It was honest, and it is so necessary in this moment of massive political dishonesty. Moreover, in light of the destruction caused by Hurricane Isaac and the personal impact that it had on MHP’s family, her stress was completely understandable.

MHP’s house destroyed in Hurricane Isaac

Even when she apologized for losing it, I’m glad that she took off the strong Black woman mask, and said in effect, I’m stressed, my family just lived through another Hurricane on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and even though I have this fancy job and resources at my disposal, all is not well. In other words, she wasn’t just showing anger. She was showing pain. The kind of pain that Black women are frequently not allowed to publicly  acknowledge is actually happening in our own lives.

One of the ways White supremacy and sexism works is through a putative disavowal of emotion as a legitimate form for expressing thought. Women and Black people are overly emotional, so the conventional wisdom goes. We have been taught to overcompensate for this stereotype by being overly composed, even when anger is warranted. And we are wholly unprepared when our emotions start to split the seams of our tightly put on public selves. Perhaps it’s time to change clothes, and intentionally put on something that gives us room to breathe.

For me, that has meant embracing my own crunkness. Why go off when I can GET CRUNK? And by that I mean I can make an  intentional choice to use my legitimate and righteous anger in an honest and compassionate way that is potentially transformative. 

I, for one, am thankful for MHP’s voice and her courage, and yep, you guessed it– her CRUNKNESS.


Throwback Thursday: Back-to-School Beatitudes–10 Academic Survival Tips

30 Aug

Update, August 2012

Next week,  my full time grind starts again, after a year of being on fellowship, which allowed me the time to think, read and begin the process of writing my first book. I’m grateful for the time. It has been a year of re-learning old lessons, numbers 1, 2, 4,  and 5 below to be exact. This year, I have worked through a terrible case of imposter syndrome, learned over and over again to be patient with my own ideas, recognizing that good ones take time to develop, come to understand that gentleness with myself is the prerequisite for  and not an impediment to productivity, and finally, when I landed in the hospital, began to prioritize self-care. I try to remind myself  regularly to trust the process, to trust myself, and to trust God.  (On good days, I can do all three.)
In the meanwhile,  I started riding bikes again for the first time since childhood, took frequent trips to the beach, spent some extra time kicking it with the CFs this summer, and started juicing. They are all small ways that I have affirmed my own value with intention and deliberateness. I hope if you haven’t already, that you will do the same. It’s never too late to begin.

Original Post

Graduate school was nothing short of an emotional and physical rollercoaster. I spent the first semester depressed and homesick, years 2-4 battling a stress-induced stomach condition that caused me to lose not only 75 pounds but also a whole semester of work. I healed just in time to begin my dissertation, wherein I gained back most of the weight I lost, and experienced a nasty case of stress-induced shingles just as I was rounding third. I love my work, and I’m glad I made it, but as we all head into a new academic year, here are a few things I wish I’d known…

  • Be confident in your abilities.
    • If you feel like a fraud, you very likely are suffering from impostor syndrome, a chronic feeling of intellectual or personal inadequacy born of grandiose expectations about what it means to be competent. Women in particular suffer with this issue, but I argue that it is worse for women-of-color (particularly Blacks and Latinas) who labor under stereotypes of both racial and gender incompetence. The academy itself also creates grandiose expectations, given the general perception of academicians as hypercompetent people. Secret: Everybody that’s actin like they know, doesn’t really know. So ask your question. It’s probably not as stupid as you think. Now say this with me: “I’m smart enough, my work is important, and damn it, I’m gonna make it.”
  • Be patient with yourself.
    • Be patient with your own process of intellectual growth. You will get there and it will all come together. You aren’t supposed to know everything at the beginning. And you still won’t know everything at the end (of coursework, exams, the dissertation, life…).
    • Getting the actual degree isn’t about intellect. It is about sheer strength of will and dogged determination. “Damn it, I’m gonna walk out of here with that piece of paper if it’s the last cottonpickin’ thing I do.” That kind of thinking helps you to keep going after you’ve just been asked to revise a chapter for the third time, your committee member has failed to submit a letter of rec on time, and you feel like blowing something or someone up.
  • Be your own best advocate. Prioritize your own professional needs/goals.
    • You have not because you ask not.  You have to be willing to ask for what you need. You deserve transparency about the rules and procedures of your program, cordial treatment from faculty, staff and students, and a program that prepares you not only for the rigors of grad school but also for the job market (should you desire a career in academia).  But folks won’t hand it to you on a silver platter. You have to build relationships, ask questions, and make demands.
    • Figure out your writing process (the place [home, coffee shop, library], time [morning, afternoon, night], and conditions [background noise, total silence, cooler or warmer] under which you work best and try to create those conditions as frequently as possible during finals, qualifying exams, and dissertation.
    • Your self-advocacy will often be misperceived as aggression and anger, entitlement or selfishness. Don’t apologize. 
  • Be kind to yourself.
    • Reward yourself frequently.  Most of us need positive affirmation of a job well done, but for long stretches, especially during exams, dissertation, and the job market, the rewards elude us; and often given the time crunch, once we conquer the mountain, there is little time to enjoy the view before it’s time to trudge back down and start climbing the next one. All that hard work  in high stakes conditions for anti-climactic ends can take a toll on your psyche. So be kind to yourself. Figure out the things you really like and make sure to enjoy them as much as is possible and healthy.
  • Be proactive about self-care.
    • Figure out your non-negotiables. For me, sleep is non-negotiable. I must have it. I don’t do all nighters. I also generally don’t do weekends, so I adjust my schedule accordingly. What are your non-negotiables?
    • Take advantage of on-campus therapy services. My last two institutions have had women-of-color thesis and dissertation support groups. Consider joining.
    • Cultivate a spirit-affirming practice. Grad school/the academy is a mind-body-spirit endeavor. So meditate, pray, exercise, do yoga, go to church, cook a good healthy meal. Do whatever you need to do to keep your mind, body, and spirit in balance.
  • Be a friend/comrade to others and let them do the same for you.
    • Build community with colleagues inside or outside your department.
    • Build community with non-students/non-academics. You need folks who live life outside the dungeon. They will affirm you and help you keep things in perspective.
  • Be willing to get CRUNK!
    • If the environment is hostile, it is most probably characterized by microaggressions of various sorts.  Racial microaggressions –“brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color– are quite common for women of color, but microaggressions can be used in sexist, heterosexist, or ableist ways as well.  A microaggressive environment demands resistance of various sorts. So do you and be you. Unapologetically.  Keep a copy of Sister Audre near by so you can make sure you’re channeling your legitimate anger productively, and then, get crunk if necessary.
  • Be better not bitter.
    • Fail forward. Being the overachievers that we are, we tend not to deal with failure well. It tends to become an indicator to us of our intelligence, worth, and competence. (See #1). But failure is a part of the process. Unless you are incredibly, exceptionally lucky, you will hit a snag in a course, while writing the proposal, on the dissertation, submitting a journal article or submitting a book. Two tips: take the time to process, particularly for big issues like proposals, dissertation chapters or books. Cry, scream (not at your committee or editor), go to a kickboxing class. And then dust yourself off and try again. Look at the suggestions offered; determine their validity. Heed them or disregard them depending on your best judgment, and then proceed to the next step.  And one more thing…don’t let the resentment fester. It may be well-justified but it simply isn’t productive. Just think of it as hazing, and for your own sake, let it go.
    • A lot of anger comes from bitterness at mentors who have not met our expectations. But all mentors are not created equal. Some will build your confidence, some will give you hell,  some will go above and beyond, but a mentor is there to illumine the process and give you tools to be successful, not to be your friend. So have multiple mentors; know the difference in function; and adjust your expectations accordingly.
  • Be tight. Bring your A-game.
  • Be a light. As you make your way, show the sisters and brothers behind you how it’s done, so maybe they won’t have as many dark days as you’ve had.

A little musical inspiration for the journey...

Alright, fam. Please share your survival tips for grad school newbies and veterans and junior faculty as well.

Ratchet Feminism

14 Aug

Down in the A, as all things Love and Hip Hop go, ish is moving from CRUNK to straight up RATCHET very quickly.

One of the things that brought the CFC together besides our love of and immersion in Atlanta’s Hip Hop culture is a desire to have less high brow conversations about the range of ways feminism can look in the everyday lives of women of color.

Despite all the ratchetness that goes on on LHHATL, I actually find it refreshing on a couple of levels. The myriad friendships between women seem genuine, especially between Erica, Rasheeda and K-Michelle. 

When I look at the way they have each other’s back, it reminds me of the community of sisters I’ve been blessed to have both within and beyond the CFC, who hold me down in every necessary way.

Friendships are never uncomplicated though. In last night’s episode, I was really disappointed when Rasheeda questioned the truthfulness of K-Michelle’s testimony about being a survivor of domestic violence. Who will believe us if we can’t believe each other?

Kudos to K-Michelle for owning, naming, and standing by her own truths and using her story to empower other young women.

On Twitter, one of my guy friends called her “crazy” and suggested that she shouldn’t be believed. “Crazy” in what way I asked?  Loud? Boisterous? Outspoken? Over-the-Top? Ratchet? K-Michelle is certainly gregarious. She’s the kind of friend I’d wanna take to a party with me for sure. But none of her quote-unquote RATCHET qualities justify anyone putting his hands on her.

Rasheeda’s disbelief grows out of the same logic; if a woman is not a perfect sweetheart, her credibility is shot. But there is another way to think about it, one that doesn’t scrutinize victims so much as it does perpetrators.

Abusers can reinvent themselves on the daily, being perfect gentleman to the women they are currently with, while being abusive assholes to their exes. #beentheredonethat So rather than questioning K-Michelle, if I were Rasheeda, I’d be concerned about whether Toya is good.

But hell, Rasheeda’s got an emotionally manipulative man of her own. I swear when I watched that whole scene where she fell on her sword, retained him as her manager, and confessed that she had been too focused on her grind, I wondered if the producers took a page from the play book of Tyler Perry.

The kind of emotional acrobatics Rasheeda had to do to appease Kurt’s ego would make Gabby Douglas proud. All the while he sits smugly with an unstated emotional ultimatum: “if you love me, you’ll retain me as your manager.”

My question to Kurt is: and if you love her, then what are you willing to do for her?

I continue to be amazed by the fundamental selfishness of some brothers and their lack of willingness to own their ish.

Take Scrappy. A woman has to cry from the pain you caused before you recognize that she loves you? Seriously? I’m confused. Are we in emotional Kindergarten? I can appreciate Scrappy’s attempt to grapple with the impoverished conceptions of emotionality that his own mother Mama Dee has handed down to him, but I’m more concerned about the baby mama(Erica), bestfriend/homie (Shay), and daughter Emani that are casualties of his attempt to emotionally grow the fuck up.

I also appreciate that for all the pathology and “bad black mothering” Mama Dee represents, we find Erica providing an alternative narrative of motherhood, that is conscientious, healthy, and committed. Rarely are the portrayals of Black women and mothering on TV complicated and multi-layered enough to contest the implications of Moynihan.

Despite my impatience with these brothers and the men in my own life around emotional (im)maturity, my conversations with the fabulous Esther Armah around the importance of #emotional justice have reminded me that we “diaspora folk” are usually working with a surplus of “untreated trauma” and a deficit in terms of our emotional tools. So we must be patient with one another. Patient, but not unwise, or unduly self-sacrificing. Translation: don’t keep putting up with bullshit, if there is no real move to change.

 And that is why the award for “Ratchet Feminist of the Week” goes to Karlie Redd!!!!


 (I know, I know. I was shocked, too!) When Benzino started to give her static about being so career driven, she said to him, “you just want me somewhere barefoot and pregnant.” Yes, Karlie, call out that sexism! He’d prefer “barefoot and butt naked,” but the principle is the same. As he said, “relationships are a two-way street and her career is taking up both lanes.” Stay in her lane= Know Your Place 2.0: #theremix

Sure career chicks should make sure that our careers aren’t all we have going for us, but when it’s truly male ego at play, we should not let that shit slide.

 Karlie stood her ground and affirmed her right to be career driven, held Benzino accountable for his anger and his unchecked ego, and demanded that they both give practical solutions to the problem. Yay for healthy conflict resolution!

LHHATL may be long on all things Ratchet. The antics of Steebie and Joseline confirm that for sure. But the show also clues us in to some of the cultural and social roots of our collective ratchetness and emotional wretchedness. Left untreated, our traumas can cause us to heap pain and violence on each other, physical and emotional.   For me, the show reminds me of the continued importance of the feminist work we do. Not just in analyzing representations, but also in providing language that helps women call out sexism and domestic violence, even if they don’t do it in academic terms.  It doesn’t matter if the sisters are loud, uncouth,  “ghetto,” “hood rich” or struggling; if they call out sexism and challenge its operation in their lives, then they’re down for the cause. To me, this is the kind of feminism that matters most. Our ad nauseum academic stunting can’t save us when shit gets real. Feminism that works is the only feminism I believe in. And as long as Hip-Hop culture perpetuates Black male emotional immaturity, the women in the culture can and must coopt and appropriate its terms in ways that facilitate survival.  So #letsgetratchet! 

So share your reactions to this week’s episode or the show in general.

Is it time for some new ways to think about and understand feminism?

What are your strategies for pursuing emotional justice and health in your relationships?

Gabby the Great Gets the Gold!!!

3 Aug

And #thebestisyettocome. ‘Nuff Said!

Postscript — Check out this awesome, tearful tributefrom Dominique “Awesome Dawesome” Dawes!

UPDATE: Gabby Douglas leads Team USA to the Gold

1 Aug

I purposely titled this essay to highlight Gabby Douglas’ leadership of the USA Women’s Gymnastics Olympic Team, which she led to victory yesterday, by capturing 33% or 1/3 of the total points  the team received.

You heard right. This kid, who commentators continue to suggest is “unable to handle the pressure,” was the only member to compete in all four events — vault, bars, beam, and floor.

So though she’s only 1/5 of the team, she did 100% of the events, and captured 1/3 of the points.

Of course she didn’t get 33% of the coverage, or even a quarter of the love her teammates got.

During the medal ceremony the camera panned to and stayed with Jordyn, ofttimes obscuring Gabby’s face. Commentators were exultant about Jordyn’s gold medal. “Jordyn’s gold.” As though there were a medal with her name already engraved on it or something.

But um…

The Olympics trades in Gold Medals, not Gold Stars! Put another way, there are no “A’s for effort.”

I want to be clear. I have nothing but love for Jordyn. She’s the reigning world champ. She’s mega talented, and she showed up for Team USA in a major way yesterday. I do not want to diminish her accomplishments in any way in this post.

But I take serious issue with the media’s coverage of her accomplishments and the sense of white entitlement that permeates that coverage. The coverage magnifies Jordyn’s victories, while minimizing Gabby’s. And it isn’t right. Not to mention that it is classic passive aggressive white racism. (Yeah, I said it.) The kind that injures not by heaping insults but by failing to grant recognition, when it has power to do so.

Gabby didn’t receive the low score in any of her four events, and she received the highest score in two of them (beam and bars). (See all scores here. Click on the plus out to the side for individual scores in each event.) Gabby outscored Jordyn on each of the three events they competed in yesterday, and she outscored Aly in one of two events. She didn’t put up one score less than a 15.066 in any event.

The first to do floor, Gabby’s performance received a score of 15.066. Solid. I literally waited on the commentators to find anything good to say about the routine. *Crickets* They said virtually nothing. And then Jordyn performed. They were glowing with accolades and affirmations for her, in a routine that was technically less difficult than Gabby’s. When the scores came back, Jordyn had a 15.000. And you could almost hear the disappointment, not at Jordyn’s solid score, but that it was lower than Gabby’s.

I guess I should be happy that at least this time, the media found it appropriate to actually pan to some shots of Gabby’s family watching in the audience. But unlike her counterparts, they never said who those three Black people were. I guess we could just Match them up based on skin tone. Contrast that with the fact that every time they panned to Aly’s or Jordyn’s parents, there would be some commentary about their reactions.

I am extremely proud of team USA. I hope that is clear. I watched the Magnificent 7 win Gold in 1996. Most of these girls were barely toddlers then! After the interview, they talked about the 2004 Olympics as their most memorable one. Made me feel O.L.D. So it was truly awesome to watch us return to that former glory. And these girls deserve every bit of shine they get.

And I am determined at least in this space that Gabby will get her just due.

Because let’s be clear.

Gabby showed up for her team in each and every event, and in Black vernacular, she showed out! But that reminds me of some more ol’ school Black wisdom, too– “you have to be twice as good, to get half as far.” Every Black kid hears this at some point in her lifetime. It still rings true. And what our parents don’t say is that even then, you still might be invisible. Invisible, that is,  in your accomplishments. Your flaws won’t be treated half so graciously.

Anyway, brush your shoulders off, Gabby. (Check her doing just that at the 1:02 mark!)


They may not see you coming, Gabby. But know this. We see you! We SEE you!  And we are cheering you on! #yougotthis

Olympics Oppression?: Gabby Douglas and Smile Politics

30 Jul

I tune in to  the Summer Olympics every four years primarily for one sport: Women’s Gymnastics. I like basketball, women’s tennis, track and field, and men’s diving, too. But Gymnastics is my bread and butter.

I had the privilege of falling in love with gymnastics in the early 1990s, the golden era of Team USA. All coached by the great Bela Karolyi, the 1992 and 1996 teams featured the likes of Kim Zmeskal, Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes, and Dominique Moceanu, just a few of my faves from back in the day. And my all time favorite moment is when Kerri Strug perfectly stuck that vault landing with an injured ankle at the ’96 Olympics. I’ve never seen more heart. It simply doesn’t get any better than that.

So I was mad excited to tune in to see this year’s team of five girls, the favorite Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, McKalya Maroney, Kyla Ross, and Gabby Douglas.

Gabby, Aly, Kyla, Jordyn, and McKayla

I’m cheering for all of them, but I have a soft spot for the girls of color on the team, including African American Gabby Douglas, and Kyla Ross, who is of African-American, Japanese, Puerto Rican, and Dominican  (Correction: Filipina) descent.

As with most sports coverage though, every time a Black girl participates in a sport traditionally dominated by white women, you can count on the commentators to show their asses. And they did not disappoint yesterday.

17 year old, reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber failed to qualify to compete for the individual all-around finals. As shocking as it was for all of us, it must be truly tough to have your life long dream dashed before a watching world. And I agree with Bela Karolyi that the top 24 girls regardless of country should compete in the all arounds, rather than the top 2 from each country. 

Be that as it may,  Jordyn’s best friend and teammate Aly Raisman will compete for gold along with Gabby Douglas. But Jordyn’s understandable disappointment in no way justifies the uneven and downright biased coverage that Gabby received for her performance.

First, during floor exercises, Gabby stepped out of bounds with both feet, resulting in several tenths of a point deduction in her score. That’s not an insignificant error for sure, but the rest of her routine was almost flawlessly executed.

You wouldn’t know it to listen to the sportscasters chomping at the bit, talking about how absolutely terrible it was, what a HUGE mistake she’d made, how low her score was going to be. And on. AND ON.

Never mind that Jordyn had a bad day. She gaffed on her balance beam routine and almost fell, but the commentators focused on how she recovered and pulled it off, by sheer strength of will. And a monster toe grip. I’m not tossing any shade to Jordyn. It was a beautiful routine.

But the sportscasters are far, FAR from impartial.

For instance, peep this coverage about Jordyn Wieber’s upsetting finish. Around the 1:22 mark, you’ll notice that they show an individual picture of every team member EXCEPT Gabby!

Aly and Gabby advanced to the all-arounds, coaches and teammates hugged and congratulated Aby. They comforted and consoled Jordyn. But they said not a word to Gabby. There were no hi-fives, congratulations (not on any coverage I saw), no celebration. Just total disappointment on Jordyn’s behalf, and the overwhelming sense at least among the sportscasters who talked about Jordyn’s dashed hopes and dreams that Gabby didn’t really deserve it, that she’d taken a spot that didn’t belong to her. 

Why celebrate Aly and not Gabby?

In the immediate interviews afterward, Aly got asked questions about how excited she was, how she felt about her friend, but ultimately what this meant for her dreams. Gabby on the other hand got three questions about her shortcomings — her mistakes during the floor exercise, the belief among the coaching staff that she couldn’t handle the pressure, and her feelings about coming in ahead of her teammate (who presumably) deserved it more. The fourth and final question asked her how she felt to be there, and like Black girls used to this kind of passive aggressive white hostility are so deft at doing, she responded with an affirmation of confidence in herself.

And then she gave that big beautiful smile that everyone keeps focusing on.

Her smile is beautiful to be sure. And a world in which Black girls smile, giddy from the joy of being able to pursue their dreams, is a world I want more of.

But after having read Toni Morrison’s analysis of Clarence Thomas’ nomination hearings for the Supreme Court, and the copious amount of times that Congressmen referred to his great smile and jovial personality (rather than his record of legal scholarship and groundbreaking rulings), I am suspicious of these kinds of smile politics.

Perhaps, focusing on her smile makes Gabby seem non-threatening. And make no mistake–she’s in it to win it.

It remains unclear to me why Kyla Ross is not subjected to similar kinds of coverage, but I think that she is exoticized a bit on the one hand, and on the other, while she is a strong part of the team, she hasn’t presented herself as a threat to any of the individual goals set by the white girls on the team. But Gabby’s ambitions and her ability to achieve them are clear.

I guess I should be used to this kind of shamtastery in the sports commentating after years of watching the Williams Sisters dominate women’s tennis. But it still irks me. Even so, I’m cheering on Team USA, and I’m #teamGabby all the way!

Feel free to weigh in:

Are y’all watching the Olympics?

What are your fave sports/athletes?

Have y’all noticed this differential coverage in the Olympics?

Thoughts on Lupe’s Bitch Bad

27 Jun

On most days, mainstream Hip Hop is a place that makes me grimace and shake my head derisively (at the exact same time that my hips begin to gyrate and my ass demands to follow the pull of gravity.)

It’s Du Bois remixed for a new era: this inherent two-ness that Hip Hop engenders. If you’re a Hip Hop (Generation) feminist or even just a Hip Hop Head – which means at base that you listen brain first, then you understand the duality/the duplicity of the encounter, music with beats so good, and words so bad (by bad, I mean bad, not bad as in good #peacetoMJ) that you are left with an amplified sense of being   “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

But we stay trying to stay (put) together in this place of (un)enviable contradictions. Ever confronting our need for mutuality in a place that seemingly only begets duplicity.

Lupe Fiasco’s latest joint “BitchBad,” offers some hope, that there can be a cross-gender and cross-generational dialogue about the misogyny in the music. (You should probably listen more than once.)

“Bitch Bad”

In it, he masterfully weaves a story of two young people – a young boy fast becoming a man, who has gleaned his understandings of womanhood from watching his mother – a self-proclaimed “bad bitch” reveling in her ability to do for herself and her son – and a young girl, “malleable…unmentored” perhaps too quickly on her way to being grown (or thinking she is) caught up in fanciful, video-chick informed ideas of what it means to be a bad bitch.

Inevitably, the two meet.

“And he thinks she a bad bitch…and she thinks she a bad bitch/ he thinks this (dis) respectfully and she thinks of this sexually/ she got the wrong idea/ he don’t wanna fuck her/ he thinks she bad and a bitch like his mother.”

This, Lupe, let’s us know is “the fruit of the confusion.”

Thus the refrain that he hopes will bring clarity:

“Bitch Bad. Woman Good. Lady Better.”

Two warring ideals…

When it comes to contemporary womanhood, the trajectories of who we can and should be are not so easily summed up in these facile superlatives –good, better, best.

I’m not sure I aspire to ladyhood, or that my future daughter should either.

So there is that. Then there is the fact that the word bitch moved into regular rotation in my lexicon after I became a feminist. Not before.

There is also my troubled sense that for all Lupe’s trying and  despite the sincerity and potential truths of his critique, it is Black women and girls who come off as the villains and not the victims here.

(Yet, we can’t seem to talk gender politics in Hip Hop without a villains and victims narrative, and that will probably persist until we realize how infrequently such narratives beget victors.)

The young man in the song gets his confusion from watching his mother uncritically sing along to the copious “Bad Bitch” anthems of our times. The young woman gets her questionable ideas about Black womanhood from paying more attention to the willing video vixens than the rappers who pay them.

In the end, the boy has a grip on “reality,” while the girl is “caught in an illusion.”

The root of the problem becomes in Lupe’s estimation, gender role confusion, wrought by Black women’s failure to parent their sons and mentor their daughters more proactively.

 “Mama never dressed like that/come out the house hot mess like that/ass, titties, dressed like that/all out to impress like that.”

To be sure, disrespectability politics reign in Hip Hop. And we have left Hip Hop’s youngest generation struggling to find their way to freedom and each other, with only the narrowest of labyrinthine paths, carved out in a desert of landmines.

In these kinds of conditions, superlatives are easy.

Bitch bad. Woman good. Lady better.

I want respect. Hell, I command respect. But I don’t want to return to respectability politics. The distinction is important. Respectability politics might seem better in the short run, but in the long run they aren’t best.We can place a high value on receiving and giving respect in our interpersonal interactions, without falling into the trap of  believing that changing our behaviors will have the power to transform a system that actively works against us. We become accountable for changing shit we didn’t cause. And in the process we lose sight of those who have more power to change things than we do.

Men have some power.  They are not hapless victims of less-than-thoughtful mothers and confused, non-self-respecting schoolgirls. As corporations go, male rappers are Davids fighting Goliaths. But at least David saw himself as having a stake in the fight.

Clearly, so does Lupe. And in that regard, what he has done (at least in terms of the music) is summarily GOOD. There is confusion. We are all complicit. Yet, despite all the bad, at the microlevel, in our everday interactions with those under our tutelage, we can do better. Much better. Thanks to Lupe for the reminder.


Now weigh in:

What do you think of the song?

Does it elevate gender discourse in Hip Hop?

Does his attempt to invert/subvert the Bad Bitch meme in Hip Hop work?

How do we navigate our way out of the endless maze of confusion? 

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