Tag Archives: sexuality

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.

Tagged , , ,

Transforming Misogyny into Homo-Eroticism: The Full Spectrum of Sexual Dominance in Hip-Hop

When you hear critics of hip-hop talk about the problems with hip-hop music “these days,” the prevalence of misogynist lyrics—lines overtly boasting a man’s masculinity through his dominance over women—surfaces as a serious issue within the genre.  Aside from the occasional R&B love ballad (i.e. any track by Miguel, Frank Ocean, or The Dream), women only appear in mainstream hip-hop as one of essential items on a rapper’s to-do list; it goes: get money, purchase some fresh Jordan sneaks, fuck bitches, and then rap about the journey.  Not necessarily in this order, but for simplicity’s sake, that’s usually how it goes.

Rappers find something evidently comforting in telling the world of their hyper masculine habits of objectifying women, whether it be ordering “hoes” to get into their cars, teaching “shorties” how to perform proper oral sex, collecting “a group of bad bitches” for poly-amorous pleasure, or why not all three?  Aside from Wiz Khalifa bragging about how he smokes more weed than us (wooptie-doo), you’ll never hear a rapper assert his bravado with his drawing or cooking skills.  The hip-hop world doesn’t find value in being able to drive a stick or change a flat tire.  God forbid, rappers start showing off their ability to raise children or cook a meal for their family.  While masculinity can certainly be proven with all of these skills, sexual dominance over women continues to pave the easy route to being a “certified G.” In a mainstream cycle where materialism is the only material, rappers have established women as the hot item.

The fact that hip-hop is primarily dominated by men is, to me, the root of the problem.  When women surface as mainstream rappers, they spend far too much time vying for the spot of the top woman in the game, or as the men would say, “the baddest bitch.” Even in one of Nicki Minaj’s best verses, her feature on Kanye West’s “Monster” that boasts the line “you can be the king, but watch the queen conquer,” her video performance shows Minaj’s evil persona avowing sexual dominance over her other self, her Barbie persona.

Men will not fully understand how their misogynist lyrics affect women until women can successfully turn the table and find a way to brag about their sexual dominance over men. For now, sexual domination over men is entirely absent from mainstream hip-hop.This got me thinking, what about about queer rap?  How would straight men, ever-concerned with their masculinity, feel about men rapping in their ear about their ambition to objectify other men? We have small samples of queer rap, with artists such as Le1F and Cakes da Killa emerging as gay rappers, but the likelihood that queer rap will surface to the mainstream in the near future is dim. Instead, I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands with an experiment: what if we changed the lyrics to mainstream rap so far as to make the songs about men objectifying men?

Let’s take the chorus of Lil’ Wayne and Drake’s hit single “She Will” as an primary test.  After all, the song only needs a simple change in pronoun to transform into a homo-erotic anthem:

Uh, he just started to pop it for a nigga

And looked back and told me baby it’s real

And I say I ain’t doubt you for a second

I squeeze it and I could tell how it feel

I wish we could take off and go anywhere

But here, baby you know the deal

Cause he bad, so maybe he won’t

Uh, but shit, then again, maybe he will

Do it for the realest niggas in the fucking game right now, he will

Do it for the realest niggas in the fucking game right now, he will

Maybe for the money and the power and fame right now, he will

Do it for the realest niggas in the fucking game right now, he will

All you straight guys out there: is this making you uncomfortable?  Are you squirming at the thought of a man sexually dominating you? Do you think you can keep reading?  If not, maybe you should consider how the original lyrics make women feel on a daily basis. Let’s continue the experiment, this time with something a little more jarring.  Some tracks don’t even need to be changed to be about a man; all it takes is imagining the subject as a man.  Here is the first verse from Trillville’s radio hit “Some Cut,” appropriately rapped over the sound of squeaking bed springs:

You looking good, I think I seen your ass in the hood

With your friends dressed up, trying to front if you could

But anyway, gone and drop a number or something

So I can call you later on, on your phone or something

Take you home, and maybe we could bone or something

It’s no limits to what we do, cause tonight we cutting, gut busting

I’m digging in your walls something vicious

With your legs to the ceiling, catch a nut something serious

You delirious, or might I say you taste so delicious

With your pretty brown skin, like almond joys and kisses

And you a certified head doctor

Number one staller that takes dick in the ass and won’t holler

Bend you over and I”ll follow you straight to the room

Where it goes down lovely in the Legion of Doom.

Whew, how many straight guys do we have left reading after that trial?  After hearing about men calling them a “certified head doctor” in the “legion of doom,” ready to “catch a nut something serious.”  Women who listen to hip-hop have to hear about themselves getting sexually dominated in almost every song, but if men had to hear the same, the song wouldn’t gain a single spin on the radio.  I’m not necessarily trying to make men uncomfortable, or shove homo-eroticism in their faces. Hopefully this experiment offers a change in perspective, a baby-step for men to understand how it feels to hear men threatening sexual dominion. Perhaps we can soon change the culture of hip-hop, in so far as rappers feel comfortable bragging about other qualities that prove masculinity.  Perhaps we’ll reach the point where rappers are no longer concerned with their masculinity in the first place.  For now, a simple change in the gender of the song’s subject provides a small glimpse into the issues within hip-hop’s misogynist material.

Tagged , ,