love and hip hop.jpg

Copyright Creative Commons

 

I really hate when I get angry. I’m not talking the kind of angry when I see a video of a kid being bullied or a police officer shooting an unarmed black person. I’m not even talking about the kind of  irrational anger when there’s an unidentified object in my bagging area and I have to wait that incredibly, infinitely long 47 seconds for one of the assistants to type in their little code only for it to happen again 3 items later. I’m not even talking the kind of angry when the lady threading my eyebrows decide to go renegade and experiment with my facial expression for the next 2 weeks (it’s always some sort of variation of permanent surprise). No. All these angers are, frankly, justified. Righteous indignation – be that at the ruination of my eyebrow or a much more serious injustice, I can live with. I would even argue that well placed anger is a healthy and necessary emotion.

But I hate being angry when it comes to my interactions with strangers and  especially the people who I love. I hate being the kind of angry where I feel completely out of control, where I say things that I don’t mean, the angry where I can see the words flying out my mouth and whacking the other person in the place where it really hurts, but I can’t seem to reach out fast enough to grab them and stuff them back into hiding.

Which brings me to Love and Hip Hop. If you haven’t seen it, it chronicles the lives of Hip Hop and R+B musicians and their partners, many of them black women, I don’t watch Love and Hip Hop routinely, but I’ve definitely come across it while flicking through channels. (I’m not perfect when it comes to my TV habits and I have my trash TV guilty pleasures that I’m trying to break, but Love and Hip Hop just ain’t one of them.)

Black women, apparently, alternate between anger and emotional breakdown. In the popular imagination we’re rarely in neutral gear we’re always accelerating somewhere,  whether that be some grand display of strength in the midst of adversity or a fit of rage involving wine glasses, hot grits, baseball bats, setting our ex-man’s car alight with petrol or dragging out weave. We’re also really good at ‘telling people about themselves’. Love and Hip Hop and other shows of their ilk are expert in displaying all these streotypes in the form of ‘reality’ television.

The natural response to this is to reply that this is simply a ugly stereotype, that black women aren’t any more angry than anyone else and to a large extent I agree with this.

However, I have observed in recent years an increasing tendency especially for young black women in certain socio-economic brackets, to model their behaviour in ways that seem strangely similar to the tired tropes that we seem to be seeing on our screens. There appears to be a trend for applauding rudeness,  which is framed as plain talking, aggressiveness which is classed as keeping it real, and a lack of ability to maintain friendships – cancelling the haters.

Wait, what are you saying? Are you suggesting that something a simple as watching Love and Hip Hop or  Real Housewives, can cause young black women to become angry?

Well, sort of, yes.

I’m not suggesting that after watching Nightmare on Elm Street age thirteen, I had to fight against the constant desire to become a serial killer but there’s fairly good evidence that television has an effect on the behaviour of children. Research has linked increases in anti-social behaviour with children who have increased television viewing time, and violent behaviour with violence seen on television. There’s even research that suggests that watching violent behaviour can impact adults as well. The good news is that there’s also evidence that children model good behaviour that they see on television.

In humans we know that the frontal lobe which is involved with conscious behaviour such as sexual behaviour, judgement and emotional expression isn’t fully developed until our late 20’s. This means that up until our late 20’s we’re particularly susceptible to influences in these areas. The hundreds of thousands of teenagers who watch shows like Love and Hip Hop and Real Housewives of Atlanta are inevitably affected by the behaviour they see. Arguably, the closer the on screen representation, the more likely a person is to model the behaviour seen. Is it surprising then if young black women who have an extremely narrow range of representation in mass media, are more vulnerable to modelling their behaviour on archetypes of angry black women?

In some black cultures (African American and Caribbean) black children disproportionately grow up in single parent households. I would like to think that most of us are sensible enough to not see many of the couples in these shows as #relationship goals (there may well be couples who are positive examples, but from what I deduce most aren’t) but unfortunately our subconscious mind is slicker than freshly laid edges, and what we see will influence what we do.

Hoping that teenagers and young black women will be able to sift through the negative ways of relating to others portrayed on these shows is wishful thinking and certainly not rooted in any knowledge of psychology.

It’s pretty simple really. Who are you? What do you want from life and what do you want your relationships with those around you to be? Make sure what you habitually watch reflects that. Your mind is stronger than you give it credit for.

nickiminaj

I’m no Beyonce fan. I don’t try to hide it. I ain’t scared of Beyhive, Bey-lievers, Bey-bies, or whatever they wanna call themselves. I like her voice, she’s incredibly talented, and I admire her business acumen, but I don’t appreciate a large portion of her lyrical content or her image. Neither am I a fan of Ms Minaj.I could add Katy Perry and Lady Gaga to this list, and everything I say applies to them too, but I’m more interested in Beyonce and Nicki Minaj because of how their images relate to black women specifically. Also, if I talk about Katy Perry I’d get myself into a fit of annoyance about cultural appropriation and how her and Miley Cyrus use black women’s bodies as conduits for their success without having any respect for those bodies, or their experiences – and that’s a really, really long post. (And please don’t get me started on folks trying to claim that Beyonce is not black because her Mum is a light skinned Creole woman, because #ijustcant. Could she have been a legitimate extra in 12 years a Slave? End of discussion).

Anywho, Ms Minaj has released a song entitled Anaconda, with accompanying video, and both song and video are pretty much about sex – more specifically about the magical sex appeal of Nicki’s rear end and its ability to obtain cars, shoes etc from men. I quote:

“Oh my gosh, look at her butt
Oh my gosh, look at her butt
Oh my gosh, look at her butt”.

That was legitimately the most innocuous line I could find in the whole song.  Oh, and perhaps “This dude named Michael used to ride motorcycles..”.
As usual, this has precipitated lots of conversations over the internet about feminism, female sexuality, media portrayal and all that good stuff.

There is an argument that goes a little bit like this:

1) Women have historically not been ‘allowed’ to be overtly sexual or sexually demanding in a similar way to men. (Due to patriarchy often practiced by religion and wider society in general).

2)Nicki Minaj and Beyonce are being subversive by being overtly sexual in a way that was previously denied women.

3) Therefore, Nicki Minaj and Beyonce are asserting their right to defy standards imposed on them by male supremacy and are acting progressively. They are feminists.

4)Also, they’re both curvy so they’re pushing back against mainstream standards of beauty.

Erm. Nah.

I don’t deny that there are elements of both artists approach that are progressive for women in some respect. I suppose the fact that they are both so successful in their field arguably automatically makes them progressive. It does beg the question of whether bad representation is better than no representation at all though?

Additionally, I’m not buying the idea that for black women specifically, the idea of us being overtly sexual is anything new. There’s a reason why the majority of the Caribbean and African Americans have stray white ancestry. It’s not because of some 19th century style Kim + Kanye interracial love fest. Black women have consistently been characterised in recent history (past 400 years or so), as passionate, overtly sexual and as a means of sexual pleasure for white men. Both white and black women have been oppressed historically by white men, but the coupling of racism and sexism meant that black women until recent years (post segregation in America, and probably slightly earlier in most the Caribbean) couldn’t even have the protection of their husbands to prevent the abuse of their bodies sexually. As in, if a white man wanted his way with a black woman, the fact that she was married made no difference – in fact one of the ways of emasculating black men during slavery would be to rape black women. It was a not so subtle reminder to black men that they weren’t really men, because they couldn’t even protect their women.

One of the ways this behaviour was justified was by promoting the idea that black women were ‘hot’ that and they ‘wanted it’, and that therefore, sleeping with them wasn’t really rape. So Nicki Minaj rapping “oh my gosh, look at her butt”, in reference to herself doesn’t strike me as radical. It’s just more of the same old stuff. Society has been looking at our butts for quite a while and at the same time denying us our personhood.(By the way, celebrating curviness is nothing new in black culture – we’ve never largely ascribed to the mainstream idea of skinny = beautiful, so nothing revolutionary there either – it’s just that white folk have begun to notice our celebration of it).

Even if we remove race from the equation, we still live in a misogynistic society where sexism is very much rampant so I’m not sure that any woman in popular media who is overtly sexual can claim that it’s entirely her own choosing. If we live in an environment where women’s bodies are still seen as commodities, where sex sells, where the majority of big business is owned and managed by men, where the directors in the porn industry are largely men, where media images are controlled by rich white men, do you honestly think you can rise to the top economically purely on your own terms? I just don’t believe that’s possible.

I’ll have a bet that a lot of the people watching the Anaconda video are teenage boys. I’ll also have a bet that although most of Beyonce’s fan base are women, part of the reason so many women emulate her is because her sexuality is ‘male approved’. I’ve heard it said that we overestimate the effect Beyonce has on young teenage girls, but I actually think we underestimate it. We underestimate how powerful images are in conditioning the minds of young people. We underestimate how many boys will listen to Anaconda who won’t decipher the video and realise the fact that it IS a group of women in a jungle, alone, outside of the ‘male gaze’, and so perhaps Minaj is trying to make a statement about women ‘owning’ their sexuality. What they’ll see is half naked women twerking. What they’ll internalise is women being available for their sexual pleasure.  What teenage girls will see when Beyonce is writhing on stage scantily clad as Jay Z poses next to her, calm and collected spitting “eat the cake Anna Mae” (a reference to Ike’s abuse of Tina Turner), is that men appreciate that. They won’t necessarily read female empowerment into it.

Why should we sift through all the negativity and rubbish to try and cling to the straws of goodness? Can’t we just admit that two light skinned black women with straight blonde hair being sexual objects is the same old, same old? Can’t we just admit that in 2014, a half naked woman sells more records than a fully clothed one and that really, the most subversive act would be singing about sex in a hijab, not a thong?

What do you think guys?