Friday, March 20, 2009

Thoughts on the Movement Potential of "Women in Hip Hop"

These thoughts flowed forth from reading Bakari Kitwana’s “A Hip Hop Response to Chris Brown and Rihanna.” Kitwana’s basic premise was that the Hip Hop political organizers could transform this incident into an opportunity by launching a public policy campaign around domestic violence. This got me to thinking about the issue, the Women in Hip Hop surge, and whether or not this is evidence that such a campaign could be effective.

Hip Hop needed its woman’s movement, and the last few years have been a blast. We needed our voices heard. We wrote books, dropped albums, made documentaries, launched initiatives, built youth programs, nonprofit organizations, conferences, shows, support networks, and Hip Hop Association even declared 2008 the “Year of the Woman in Hip Hop.” It was inspiring. I don’t know how many records or books it sold or how many careers it launched, but I know we all got a little more press. I also know that programs were funded, stipends were dished out by universities, and all of a sudden, everyone wanted a token woman in Hip Hop at their fund raising dinner. I also know that women who were the most active in their communities realized there was a whole network of sisters doing just the same all across the world, all because of this “Women in Hip Hop” spotlight. Was it self-empowering? Yes it was. Did this at all have an impact on domestic violence numbers? I’m guessing not at all.

The reason we have fallen short on impacting public policy is because we let misogyny dominate the conversation. It’s not exactly our fault; many of us didn’t know it was happening. Journalists wanted to know what parts of ourselves we were sacrificing to be in Hip Hop, feminist and women organizations wanted us to generate youth interest, colleges wanted us to speak on the subject, and we were caught off guard. But now we have to come back and face the consequences. In the field of the Hip Hop movement base -the artists, the hood, there are places where this conversation has not only alienated our male counterparts, its reinforced divisions between organizations and individuals on the local level, and even blocked open honest dialogue on sexuality and relationships amongst women ourselves. Here is why:

Liken misogyny in Hip Hop to domestic violence in relationships. Now, look at the detrimental impact that compartmentalizing the issue of domestic violence has had on families, especially in the case of people of color and immigrant communities in the criminal justice system. I was in court earlier this week and a Bosnian woman crying while pleading the judge to release her husband in custody. She said, “In my country when you call the police, they help. Here they don’t listen.” It’s also been show that public financial assistance programs also have divisive consequences in the relationship of parents, reinforcing a negative cycle of unhealthy relationships. Thus, the human rights advocacy and service provision framework that centralizes women as victims of either her partner’s abuse or his inability to provide is unhealthy because it is divisive in real life application. Likewise, focusing on misogyny is incorrect for the Hip Hop movement base because it removes real life women artists and activists from their relationships, family, and community context.

While I agree that Americans need to think change their thinking about dating violence, domestic abuse and gender equity, we need a holistic, empowering approach to reach the masses and address the root causes. For women in Hip Hop, in the context of the broader movement, this means refusing to let the misogyny and domestic violence discussion further criminalize our brothers, sons, cousins, and fathers, who are already either disproportionately imprisoned, or out dying on the streets. For a Hip Hop public policy initiative on dating and domestic violence to make real changes, we can't replicate the flaws of the criminal justice system and the state. We need to turn our energies toward healing our families and communities as one.

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