Discussion Recap: 2/15/15

By Alice Barrett

This week we read and discussed an essay on Black Girl Dangerous by Martina “Mick” Powell entitled “Hold Up: A Lovingly Disgusted Note to Hip Hop.”  The discussion started out slow, which is such an organic, interesting element of almost all academic discussions I’ve taken part in, but the difference for this one was that most of us found the reading logical and anticipated.  We’ve all heard that rap and hip hop often employs sexist, homophobic, and oppressive positions.  “Kids and their dang rap music!” or something.

Powell’s piece, we agreed, seemed personal in ways that criticism of rap often can’t be.  She paints her history with rap music (seemingly a universal history for other black people, too) with intimate, detail-oriented phrases: “everything—every beat against bass, every drip of spray paint, every time your body contorts itself into a new shape—has a purpose.”  Powell is a black queer woman discussing the problems she has with rap and hip hop’s discussion of black and/or queer women.  Her complaints are the most valid complaints one could lodge; she experiences the way hip hop and rap have previously validated her experience, and she notes importantly that they still erase her.

“I want so much to love you endlessly but sometimes, it gets hard walking into a brick wall day after day, never being fully able to escape. As much as you confirm my existence and my struggles, you also erase me, ignore me, defile me. Sometimes you hate me so much that you keep repeating yourself over and over again and sometimes you want me so much that you can’t control yourself.”

Her writing is poetic and personal, and therefore effective.  Perhaps someone who has noted oppression in hip hop and rap–and noted it only negatively, only to reinforce racist concepts, only to cement ideas of black men being violent and savage–will read this work and see the many facets of the hip hop and rap experience.

Some problems several members had with the piece was that it focuses solely on the sexism and homophobia in hip hop and rap, which could suggest if taken out of context that the only problematic parts of popular culture involve an art that has typically been associated with black males.  Powell’s essay doesn’t seem to look at all of the forces that combine to create this homophobia and sexism in rap and hip hop.  It focuses specifically on hip hop–which makes sense because of her own biography–but in doing this it fails to comment on society’s ingrained discriminatory practices.  It does not comment on the appallingly oppressive lyrics in rock, in country, in alternative music.  It comments only on hip hop and rap, which could certainly be virtuous in that the conversation is specific and more likely to be effective but is also race-specific.  This seems to be a problem in lots of social justice work–how can we discuss specific injustices without scaling out to look at the patriarchal, white-washed society we constantly participate in?

We additionally discussed the opposite phenomenon, where specifically Macklemore was apotheosized for declaring–for setting the record straight, for deciding perhaps–that (!) it’s okay to be gay (!) in his song Same Love.  He’s a white straight guy who confirmed that queerness is natural–and he’s a white straight guy who was worshipped for doing so.  In this case, Macklemore wrote something super positive, criticizing the homophobia in some rap music and supporting the struggles of queer people.  This should be valued, absolutely!  He’s using his privilege to positively affect popular culture.  How people received this, how he was described as the first person to talk about Actual Important Things in rap, as opposed to money and hoes, how he seemed to some to save and justify rap–these are the problems we should have with his work.  We should find it problematic and disgusting that popular culture will ignore the beautiful, authentic work of past queer, black rappers to champion the commercialized, bastardized work of a white guy.  We should be so, so sad that an artist like Kendrick Lamar was overlooked and erased in the Grammy’s for this song of Macklemore’s.

Finally, we discussed attempts to reconcile problematicism of things we love so, so much.  Can I listen to Kanye even though he says fucked up things about women and queer people?  Can I ignore Azalea Bank’s negative slurs in her attempts to point out problematic aspects of other artists’ work?  How can one enjoy popular culture when racism, sexism, classism, homophobia stain so many aspects of it?  We don’t know.  We think pointing out problems is the most feasible way to be productive in the face of oppression.  Perhaps we could use our commercial power to send messages, by boycotting the work of artists who enforce oppressive power structures, and perhaps we can be vocal about the problems we have with their work.  We don’t know.  It does not appear that one cannot enjoy culture that participates in discrimination and oppression; instead, maybe, we need to realize why artists are reinforcing oppressive ideas, especially when they’re reacting against other power structures they’ve experienced.  We need to demand more.  We need to reject any ideas of Macklemore’s superiority in rap (and especially the race-tinged aspects of this).  We need to look at valuable essays that note the multifaceted aspects of love and culture.

Figure in History: Dauris Gwendolyn Jackson

By Alice Barrett

Dauris Gwendolyn Jackson

Dauris Gwendolyn Jackson (1933-1979) was the first African American woman elected to Wayne state University’s Board of Governors and the first ever elected to any Michigan university.  Jackson focused on civil rights and educational issues, believing “her primary mission on the board was as an advocate for change, for aggressive affirmative action, accessibility, and for helping the university become more reflective of and responsive to the surrounding community” (Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame).  She worked to create multiracial textbooks focusing on non-stereotypical depictions of African Americans.  She was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000 and is recognized in Barbara Love’s book Feminists who Changed America, 1963-1975.

History of Feminism: First-Wave

By Alice Barrett

The history of feminism is long, nuanced, often unrepresentative, and misrepresented.  In this series, we will look at the popularized conception of feminism in the United States.  By no means will the posts following this topic be detailed enough, fully appropriate in perspective, or historically superior to the many articles and histories online.  This is, however, an attempt to introduce our readers to what most historians generally categorize as the three waves of feminism.

Feminism today is a word associated with controversy and unease.  People think of the radicalism of the 1960s and 70s and begin to fear a world where women treat men as men currently treat women.  This thought process is dumb, of course, ignoring very basic definitions of equality and submitting itself to availability heuristic.  Feminism seeks the economic, political, and social equality of women.  The end goal is not to be rid of men.  People who do believe this, while definitely responsible for the outlandishness of their perspective, hold these views almost understandably.  A movement possesses less merit and credibility when written off as extremist, unnecessary, and foolish. Popular culture and people with power want to tell us that feminism embodies those three characteristics wholly.

Later posts will discuss how feminism became associated with radicalism and absurdity.  For now, I will discuss the first-wave of feminism, during which suffrage was sought.

Most historians mark the beginning of feminism in the United States as the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention.  During this convention, some 300 women and men discussed the role of women in society and debated and perfected the ideas of two prepared documents, one of which was the Declaration of Sentiments, a shocking yet reasonable compilation of the ways men held/hold irrational power over women.  Some of the sentiments include:

  • “He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.”
  • “He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes of divorce, in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given; as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of the women – the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of a man, and giving all power into his hands.”
  • “He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated but deemed of little account in man.”

This convention, in addition to making actual progress, also symbolizes the dynamics of early feminism.  Much of what women believed they deserved–the right to speak in public, to vote, to choose their own futures and beings–was viewed, even by other women, as too radical.

While these demands for equality appeared extreme at the time, in reality early feminists were typically conservative or moderate.  Many, including most of the members of the American Women Suffrage Association (AWSA), felt that they would need to use the political system in order to make gains; additionally, they believed that they must focus on the concrete, realistic goal of suffrage.  While suffrage and abolition coincided ideologically in many important ways, criticism of first-wave feminism centers on its limited definition of women.  Early feminists sought suffrage for white women and often, although generally supportive of abolition, ignored the plight of black women.  Still, many black women, including Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells, made important philosophical and tangible contributions to early feminism.  In Sojourner Truth’s 1851 “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech–during which, according to my Women and Gender Studies professor and relating to the delayed written transcription of the speech, Truth actually said “Aren’t I a woman?”, only to have her words changed to suit how leaders wanted her presented (uneloquent, charming)–Truth challenged conceptions of women’s place with her rousing, unrecoverable elocution.

“Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, because Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him…. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they are asking to do it, the men better let them.”

First-wave feminism is most basically associated with the suffrage movement.  It contained different ideological groups: the AWSA, which was more conservative, and the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), which was more radical and resembled the future second wave of feminism.  The NWSA focused on gaining a federal amendment for women’s suffrage and had broad, societally-implicative goals, while AWSA worked to gain suffrage on a state-by-state level and employed as its strategy lobbying, delivering speeches, applying political pressure and gathering signatures for petitions.  Many historians cite the first wave of feminism’s end with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 which gave white women the right to vote.

Meet Our Members: Alice Barrett

Ongoing series focusing on giving our members a platform to voice their experiences and opinions

Hello, everyone!  My name is Alice Barrett, and I am a Letters sophomore here at OU.  I am from Edmond, Oklahoma, I’m white, I’m female, and I receive many privileges daily because of these characteristics.  This series is intended mostly to give students who don’t receive these privileges–and in fact receive discrimination–a platform, so perhaps my introduction will be shorter and less compelling.

I get really sad when I read the news and hear about all of the inequalities and oppression that most people choose to ignore.  I feel so, so overwhelmed by how little some people care about the things that don’t immediately affect them.  When my brother spews sexist or subtly racist remarks–“white people are killed too!”–and ultimately ignores the reality that young black men are 21 times more likely to get shot than their white counterparts, I feel sad, and feel even sadder when his behavior is excused because he’s a young boy discovering the world and is able to hold harmful views for now.

(Perhaps I should explain why I find changing “#blacklivesmatter” to “all lives matter” so thoughtless and irrelevant.  This unnecessary change directs a necessary conversation about the devaluation of black lives in the United States to a blanket statement that is easily true and important.  As one person on twitter has famously said, we do not go to cancer support group and try to change the conversation to the fact that there are other diseases, and that these diseases are more important. Further, “black lives matter” does NOT say that white lives don’t.  It is simply focusing on the inequalities black people face.)

“Really sad” feels bad but doesn’t actually compare to how the people feel who are less privileged, or who grew up in poverty, or who have to work 30 hours a week to pay for school, or who are black and feel betrayed by the justice system and threatened by the cops.  “Really sad,” though, is important for gaining awareness and a dedication to attaining equality.  Many people are not really sad or slightly sad or even remotely affected by the oppression that others experience.  But I do think that if these people heard unbiased news or saw the multitudes of injustices, they would maybe begin to feel sad, then mad, and then would want to change things.  I feel overwhelmed by the misrepresentation of minorities in the media; I feel horrified by the lack of women in politics; I feel terribly saddened by the continued violence against minorities.  I also feel like change is possible, and that this generation is new, and that small steps are most important when facing enormous and misguided power.