The Shame Of Respectability Politics

“I used to be scared of the dick, now I throw lips to the shit, handle it like a real bitch.”

— Lil Kim

I grew up on 90’s rap and hip hop. I’m from the NYC area, and as a young girl, listening to the radio dominated by hyper-masculine males, L’il Kim, Remy Ma, Trina, and Foxy Brown were welcomed influences in my life. I was tuned in keenly to their lyrics and was feeling their raw, raspy voices matched with raw, unabashed boldness in their lyrics. These ladies were what we now call bad bitches, and they were unapologetic in their delivery, and I loved it. To this day I blast these women’s music and I still feel my heart pumping and racing as their words hit my psyche. They bring out the undercover gangsta I have in me and I just love that side of my personality. Trust me, most black female intellectuals have a gangsta bitch side that comes out at the appropriate time, ask somebody. Haha.

I have been guilty of writing off some of these new female rappers because their appearance has been unappealing. I imagined what they would sound like, and I knew their content was going to be trash so I didn’t give them the time of day. However, I recently heard the beat to Act Up by City Girls, and I listened to the lyrics and I was pleasantly surprised. These young girls are basically telling other ladies, don’t let these boys stunt on you, give them hell, and take nobody’s shit. That’s a message I could get behind because that was the message being told by the female rappers I liked too. Their brightly colored clothes and wigs are an homage to L’il Kim, and I’d be a hypocrite to think they were tacky but praise Kim and her peers. I had to check my bias, ageism, classism, and my indoctrination of what my gauge on what’s appropriate based on what white people think…I was missing the mark.

City Girls, Cardi B, and are a host of other female entertainers are unfairly targeted for being poor role models. I’m unsure who told any of these people these ladies wanted to be a role model to their children. I listen to a lot of Cardi B, with my 8 year old around, unedited, and she and I both know, Cardi isn’t who she’s aspiring to be. I’m responsible for teaching my kid the appropriate actions in this world, but what she can take from Cardi B is; have the courage to be authentically and audaciously yourself while monetizing your god given skills. The intellectual community admonishes these young women for their brazen, uncouth and often wild behavior, but that’s who they were before they became famous. We shake our heads and our fingers at these women and judge them but how do we propose they behave? Why do we need them to behave? For whom? To appease who? To be more appropriate for whom?

It’s dangerous when black intellectuals who have come from some of these same environments as Cardi, Kim, Foxy, and compare their life paths to their own for the sake of comparison. When you’re poor and your choices are between shit and shitty shit, you find your way the best way you can, and you do what’s best for where you are on your journey with yourself. The danger is in the divisiveness and the dismissive behavior. It’s forgetting, or a pretending or a blatant disowning of the fact that these women and girls are parts of us.

Their display outwardly, in public, and in the mainstream media is how I feel inwardly often but can’t afford to act out. I feel extremely frustrated, overwhelmed and pissed off at times, but I channel my energy into writing, yoga, and mediation. My path has lead me to that way of being. These young ladies, their experiences and their choices let them express what’s authentic for them. We have to be careful not to become pearl clutchers when observing our young, black female entertainers. Our Big Mamas probably thought the same about Lil Kim, and we figured that she just didn’t understand. The same applies here.

When we write off these young, black and female rappers we miss the opportunity to connect, listen and hear what they are talking about. I’m not going to pretend all of their content is shit I’ll listen to all the time, but I also don’t listen to Luther Vandross all the time either. There are a time and place for all kinds of music, but I find it necessary to always make room for young black women who are on the radio and on television. I would be failing as an educator, as an older black woman and as a woman in general if I wrote off these bold young females because I thought I couldn’t relate.

NYC public schools the girls who have the loudest, smelliest, nastiest attitudes are the ones who need the most love, affection, acknowledgment, and room to be heard. Shaming young black girls who have yet to discover who they are is an injustice, too often played out at the hands of older black women who forget where they come from. I have been guilty of looking at young black girls and wondering why they are behaving that way. However, I know exactly why, and my judgment and refusal to humble myself haunts me when I interact with my own students. I wouldn’t want anyone judging them based on what they think they know about my babies. They deserve someone who will reach in and listen to them. Our girls deserve to be heard, and as grown black women, we are their first line of defense and we have to listen. We owe it to ALL of our girls to listen, ask questions and rise above what we think they should be doing. We reach the youth when we have earned their trust.

We love Misty Copeland but we are mad at Cardi? We embrace Megan Markle but bash Nicki Minaj. Not all black girls will grow up to be ballerinas and be a part of the Royal Family BUT they can grow up to be a part of a world where they feel the love from older women who look just like them and come from a similar background. It’s hard enough being a human being in this world, harder being a woman, even harder when you’re poor and an added strain when you’re black, and god forbid you’re gay or trans. The world is hard and when you have the education and life experience to show you how hard it can be, it is pretty counterintuitive to shame the people who YOU KNOW could benefit from your love. My only ask is that you check yourself, check your bias, check your privilege and make room for the young ladies who you could teach AND learn from because love makes the world a softer place.

2 thoughts on “The Shame Of Respectability Politics

  1. There’s this song called “Murder Ink” by Dr. Dre, and this wonderful lady named Ms. Roq does a verse or two in the song – and that was the first time I heard a female raper that wasn’t Rated PG (like Salt n Peppa – though if you give me a pair of skates and turn on “Push It”, girl it’s on!), and it was so amazing. Lil Kim sent my mother screaming into another room with her ears plugged, which was a bonus for me. Missy Elliot was my shit though, I ain’t even gonna lie. En Vogue empowered my little 14 year old ass to be a strong independent woman.

    Today’s rapers (men and women alike) …. I don’t know. I just can’t even with them. I’ve tried, God knows I’ve tried, but I just don’t think I understand what they are saying. Somewhere along the way, probably after motherhood, I couldn’t get up on the lingo. Nicki Minaj pisses me off with her … I don’t know, demeanor? I cannot find a single song of hers that I like. I don’t think I’ve given Cardi B a chance, but now with the recent scandal of her openly admitting that she drugged men to get through the higherups in the “biz” I’m not sure if I ever will listen to her.

    Has music changed that much or am I just well on my way to retirement and Elvis music?

    Like

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