There were some good readings this week. I especially liked the piece by Bernice Johnson Reagon. She kept it too real, exposing all the ways in which people form and then maintain exclusivity within groups in society, as well as the many challenges we face when we attempt some sort of coalition between groups, challenges which are not to be taken lightly! But I think I’ll hold off on those readings until I get a chance to hear from everyone else about them when we discuss in class.
Instead, I’d like to add to our talk on sensitive language, which I thought was a great discussion. I grew up listening to hip hop (albums like “Encore” and The College Dropout were some of the first I ever loaded into my old walkman back in the third grade), so I was listening to the music before I was socially aware enough to understand a lot of the lyrics. As a white male, I kind of knew even at nine or ten that the ‘n’ word, while used often by the artists I listened to, was not for me to use.
However, I don’t think I ever understood the implications of the use of the word ‘bitch.’ In some ways I grew used to hearing it through the lyrics I listened to, but I don’t think it’s just hip hop heads who have had this derogatory word normalized in their lives to a point where most people fail to see how it’s problematic. As I write this in my dorm room, two girls next door are loudly addressing one another with the word. “Hey bitch, I’m back!” one of them says. I’m not trying to criticize anyone in particular, I think a lot of people are guilty of using the word casually. But I think it’s important for us to stop and think about what we’re saying. It may seem harmless, but the truth is, the word is not always used harmlessly. Often it is used in an aggressive and degrading manner not just to refer to women, but to put them down and insult them.
Within hip hop, the sexism runs rampant. I think most of us have heard the phrase “never put a bitch over my niggas,” or “money over bitches.” These phrases only help to promote division between men and women in black communities, and they make listeners wonder if women have any kind of importance in the eyes of rappers, or if they are just being told that they are at the very bottom of society.
To end, I want to bring up a brief comment on Lupe Fiasco’s “Hurt Me Soul.” The song actually talks about a lot of interesting things (Lupe is among the most socially conscious rappers in my opinion), so I’d recommend giving the whole thing a listen. I’ll include the link here. But the lines I’d like to focus on are the following:
“Now I ain’t tryna be the greatest
I used to hate hip-hop… yup, because the women degraded
But Too $hort made me laugh, like a hypocrite I played it
A hypocrite I stated, though I only recited half
Omittin’ the word ‘bitch,’ cursin’ I wouldn’t say it
Me and dog couldn’t relate, ‘til a bitch I dated
Forgive my favorite word for hers and hers alike
But I learnt it from a song I heard and sorta liked”
I think Lupe does a good job at capturing the hypocrisy and general lack of social consciousness amongst hip hop listeners as well as artists. While he acknowledges that he has problems with the use of the word as well as the overall degradation of women, he still grows to love hip hop. Too Short, who is notorious for his use of the word ‘bitch’ (he even has an album titled “What’s My Favorite Word?”) still has lyrics that, in Lupe’s opinion, are funny and clever, and so he tries to rationalize his use of the word.
I think a lot of people who listen to hip hop probably feel a similar kind of guilt, but the word ‘bitch’ has become so normalized that something really horrendous (e.g. Nelly’s “Tip Drill”) has to happen for people to say something. I know I feel hypocritical because I disagree with what a lot of my favorite artists say, but that doesn’t mean I will stop supporting them or listening to them. So where do we draw the line? Can the lyrics of hip hop really be rationalized or separated from the artists’ personal opinions? Let me know what y’all think!