Em-URGE-ing Voices

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The Failed Rap Detox

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December 2, 2014

The Smithsonian Studio Arts Blog

The Smithsonian Studio Arts Blog

I often refer to myself as a black feminist. The term I use to define myself calls me to intersect race, gender, classism, and sexuality to analyze the world. The title “black feminist” gives me comfort. It gives me a sense of belonging and pride.  Even so, it is hard for me to navigate today’s popular culture as a youth in college. As I become older, I am reintroduced to the public figures I blindingly respected in my youth. The classes I am taking and the inescapable presence of the media in our lives has caused me to reexamine myself and what  I stand for.

The civil rights speeches I listened to on YouTube, the television show re-runs I watched, and the songs I shimmied to on the radio now hold a different meaning now. I realize the speeches I adored were missing the black woman’s voice. I am learning that behind closed doors, women were relegated to “domestic” tasks. I realize that the comical characters from my youth harbor problematic views. Maybe I am at fault. I chose to idolize people I know nothing about. I expected them to uphold the standards that  I created for them. Make no mistake, we should all strive to be our best. I have decided, however, not to force any expectations or standards upon others. I am learning that I can only control myself. I am learning to create realistic standards and expectations for myself that I reassess and redefine when I need to.

I remember going through this phase in high school where I listened to every song on my iTunes playlist and deleted every song I thought was misogynistic and homophobic. When I came across some of my favorite songs, I tried making excuses for each song.

Examples: “Shake it Like a Salt Shaker by the Ying Yang Twins can stay because I grew up on this music. I guess I can keep it.”

“Tupac and Biggie. That’s classic. They can stay as well”

“He’s not talking about me”

“I just like the beat”

Suffice it say, my music detox was quite unsuccessful. In retrospect, it was also unnecessary. I realized that acknowledging the misogyny and the homophobia that exists in some of my favorite songs was an important step.  Perhaps it was the only step I needed to make. By recognizing the misogyny and homophobia in the music I enjoy, I can be a critical consumer that does not perpetuate the negative imagery embedded in the art.

I reject the idea that I cannot simultaneously listen to my favorite rap and hip-hop songs, dance at parties, and expect respect from others. As a human being on this earth, I deserve respect no matter what music is on my iTunes playlist. I do my best to respect people’s different views. I simply ask for the same courtesy.

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