Tag Archives: sexism

Re: Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture

Earlier this month, TIME magazine published an essay by Sierra Mannie, a young black woman who made an eloquent, fervent plea for white gay men to stop stealing black female culture. Simply put, we need to “check [our] privilege.” Mannie embodies the voice of many black women who are sick of seeing white gay men appropriate their fashion, slang, and style with no apparent awareness of their own inherited privilege. She claimed that these white gays have no notion of the line between appreciation and appropriation, and that this reenactment of black womanhood was therefore an offensive gesture.

Mannie’s essay is, without question, a profound statement, and it forced me to consider a different perspective on the behaviors of the white gay community. Some of her arguments, however, leave no room for the complexities of masculine and feminine identities within the gay community. She steps back momentarily to explain that she isn’t trying to “suck the fun out of your life” with her demands:

All of this being said, you should not have to stop liking the things you like. This is not an attempt to try to suck the fun out of your life. Appreciating a culture and appropriating one are very, very different things, with a much thicker line than some people think, if you use all of the three seconds it takes to be considerate before you open your mouth. If you love some of the same things that some black women love, by all means, you and your black girlfriends go ahead and rock the hell out.

This conflict is not as simple as “you can have your fun with your black girlfriends, but don’t take my culture.” Mannie claims that the line between appreciation and appropriation is “much thicker than some people think,” but doesn’t expand upon where this line begins and ends. The gay men who I know that come remotely close to appropriating black female culture are not doing so for pure enjoyment. They act this way out of appreciation, and more-so admiration for black women. They repeat slang phrases because they find them to be powerful expressions of femininity, a perspective that Mannie’s essay very rigidly dismisses: “womaness is not for you.”

I don’t have any claim to womanhood, but in this world where masculinity still has a firm grasp on cultural power and agency, I find the expression of the dominant feminine to be few and far between. Regardless of our white male privilege, gay men still have a rightful claim to femininity, and I’m proud to say that some of our best role models are black women. Women like Sierra Mannie and Beyonce and Lauryn Hill and Maya Angelou. I admire the way they express their femininity with such grace and power.

When white gays repeat a phrase like “throwing shade,” they may not be trying to appropriate black female culture. I, like many gay men, can often relate more to this expression of feminine power over the violent, rigid world of the masculine. In embracing and expressing the feminine, are gay men not then surrendering to its societal burden? Are we not leaving ourselves vulnerable to the oppression and discrimination that comes with feminine embodiment? While I certainly have the choice to pass as a straight man, isn’t my abandonment of this choice—whether it is manifested through the admiration of black female culture or through other mediums—a way to tear down the wall of masculine supremacy? The gay community has enough trouble idealizing masculinity and degrading feminine expression, as I’ve already explored here.  We don’t need any more voices telling us that we have no right to the feminine just because we have the privilege of passing as straight, or the convenience of getting back in the closet.

I have to assume that Mannie’s impressions of white gays are limited to young gay men who are still trying to figure out how to express themselves. And while they do not represent the entire community of white gay men, there are plenty of white gays who choose to imitate drag queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race because they finally have a source of feminine power to relate to, but have no concept of the line between admiration and appropriation. They just know that they love telling their friends to “sissy that walk” or “oh no she better don’t.” And this is by no means an excuse. I think her essay goes a long way to stop white men from “breathing fire behind ugly stereotypes” of black women. The gay community does not get a free pass to objectify black women or appropriate their culture, and we are responsible for policing our own circles to stop any sort of perpetuation of “ugly stereotypes” that mock women, or the black community, or any other community that faces oppression at the hands of white privilege. As much as her plea has surely resonated with the small sample of white gays who imitate black women for pure enjoyment, she fails to delve into the complexities of the problem. We shouldn’t be saying “don’t even think about identifying with black women.” We should be asking why gay men seek refuge in black female culture, and why they identify with the strength expressed through black womanhood.

Racial appropriation, alone, is part of a larger problem that extends far past the gay community. To think that white gay men have any right to identify with black oppression because of their own experience with discrimination is erroneous. Drawing parallels between black and gay oppression doesn’t do any good for social progress. White people–gay or straight–who perpetuate black stereotypes or appropriate black culture for enjoyment are inherently racist. There is nothing about my sexuality that will ever erase my white privilege, and nothing about my experience that will ever make me understand what it’s like to face the burdens of an American societal system that was built to privilege whites and disenfranchise the black community. But I don’t think singling out white gay men for their appreciation of black women is a solution, especially without considering that any semblance of misappropriation is certainly rooted in admiration for black female culture, and for the strength of feminine expression.

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Parental Advisory: The Brutal Reality of Misogyny in Hip-Hop

My mother would stubbornly insist on having sit-down family dinners as often as physically possible.  Often, these meals would consist of brief anecdotes about my parents’ work frustrations, neighborhood gossip, or my most recent book assignment for class.  I  usually had nothing to contribute aside from answering their questions with the least amount of information possible before I scooped another twirl of spaghetti into my mouth.  But this time, I had something on my mind.

“I have something to announce to you both, “ I said, trying to hide my nervous shaking with some façade of confidence.  Both of my parents put down their forks and raised their eyebrows simultaneously.

“I think I should be allowed to buy parental advisory CD’s.”

This request wasn’t the bold statement my parents had expected.  They didn’t have a clue what was going to come out of my mouth.  But this family rule, prohibiting me from purchasing any explicit music that wasn’t previously censored, had been grinding away at my temper for some time now.  I was eleven years old, attending an inner-city public middle school.  I was bound to hear explicit language regardless of my parents’ restrictions.  It only seemed fair that I should be able to purchase Eminem’s latest album without the corny edits.  My mother thought otherwise.

“Name an album you want to buy,” she proposed, “and we’ll look up the lyrics and talk about why I don’t you think you should be listening to it.”

Perfect, I thought, I’ll pick an album that’s about love and companionship.  I’ll prove her wrong.

So there we were, looking up the lyrics to Ja Rule’s most recent album “Pain is Love.”  I know, you’re probably laughing now, because I naively picked an album titled “Pain is Love.”  What I initially thought would be my mother’s soft introduction to a softer side of hip-hop turned into an endless nightmare of “I told you so.”

At the obliviously confident age of eleven, I was trying to explain why I should be able to listen to Ja Rule rap about his so called “love” of women, with lyrics like: “Hold down on the bed while I’m yankin your braids/Thug style, you never thought I’d make you smile/While I’m smackin your ass and fuckin you all wild.”  I had convinced myself, perhaps because of the song’s catchy hook, that this was a love song.

Sometimes I find myself, eleven years later, still turning a blind eye to the ever-prominent displays of violent sexism in hip-hop.  For whatever embarrassing reason, I’ll cringe at one mention of the word “faggot” buried in a song centered around sexually dominating the entire female population.  This conflict appears in my hip-hop critique, too, as a few of my close friends have confirmed. I’ve written countless pieces praising rappers–Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, and Common to name a few–for their socially-conscious messages without so much as addressing the rampant  misogyny in their verse.

Playing the “naïve brainwashed victim” role isn’t a substantial excuse.  I’ve close-read far too many hip-hop lyrics to try and pretend like rappers don’t objectify women in disgusting fashion.  Rather, I’ve been puzzled about how to appropriately criticize this glaring conflict.

Just as hip-hop embraces the “Black CNN” role for reporting inner-city violence, the genre’s widespread sexist imagery is a testimony of much broader, equally complicated problems within our societies double standards on gender and sex. We can label all mainstream hip-hop as offensive, sexist garbage, but that won’t change the fact that women are objectified in all areas of artistic expression, fashion, the workplace, and countless other platforms.

I don’t intend to give rappers a free pass on their sexist content.  But rather than dismissing its presence as simply wrong or shameful, we’re better off asking more critical questions: why is misogyny so frequently used to assert excellence or status? Why do rappers feel the need to objectify women, or use them as metaphorical subjects to claim dominance?

I don’t have simple answers to these questions. I do know that rapping about money and hoes is the easiest way to get a hit single on the radio.  Countless rappers align with this role of a sexually dominant pimp, in part because they feel pressured to perform that image, not necessarily because they believe everything they say in their lyrics.  From the schoolyard cypher to the BET Awards, hip-hop finds itself grounded in a braggadocios mindset.  Every rapper wants to be at the top, and this guy at the top has plenty money and plenty women, so why not start rapping about making it rain at the strip club?

Then, there are rappers who are simply being honest about their sexist thoughts. Sure, we can blame them for openly discussing their misogynist state of mind, but do they really deserve more culpability than any other 20-something straight male who objectifies women?  We can criticize rappers for perpetuating the idea that sexism is acceptable, and we should. But we must also recognize that their lyrics display the brutal truth about the tainted relationship between men and women in our society.

The problem, as I see it, is that men are born into a culture that glorifies sexual dominance over the opposite sex.  The alpha male is the ultimate desirable image, whether it be a CEO, rapper, or a pimp on the streets.  It’s the same glorified image that convinced me that Ja Rule was singing a genuine love song when he bragged about yanking braids and smacking asses.

I’ve made it a personal goal to criticize rappers more often for their sexist lyricism.  Even my favorite rappers are responsible for perpetuating an image of a sexually dominant, and inherently successful man.  But let’s take it a step further, and recognize that hip-hop isn’t here to paint a pretty picture about the world.  Hip-hop will always thrive on screaming the candid reality of our societal problems into our ears.  If we dismiss these rappers as repulsive scoundrels, then we just can’t handle the truth.

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