Keeping it in the family

Eminem is under fire for denigrating black women. That’s the job of black rappers

Helen Kolawole
Monday November 24, 2003
The Guardian

Eminem never uses the word “nigger”. But the white rapper, normally so careful to be ultra-respectful to black people, currently stands accused of having written a song in his youth which denigrates black women.
After he’d split up with his African-American girlfriend at the tender age of 16, he wrote poignantly:

Blacks and whites they sometimes mix
but black girls only want your money
cause they’re dumb chicks…

Don’t date a black girl
if you do it once you won’t do it twice

Black girls are dumb,
and white girls are good chicks.

Leading the condemnations of the rapper as a racist are Raymond “Benzino” Scott and Dave Mays, co-owners of influential US hip-hop magazine the Source, with whom Eminem has been involved in a schoolyard spat for the past year. Not only has he stolen black culture, they claim, but he has now been revealed as a racist to boot.

This is rank hypocrisy. Scott and Mays are largely silent when black male rappers go about their daily business of disrespecting black women, both lyrically and visually. They are tight-lipped as white big business lies back and reaps the rewards of multimillion-selling misogyny, titillating white consumers with deliberately brutal images they dare not produce themselves.

Considering that Eminem has said little out of the ordinary in a genre in which, to a considerable degree, black women are subject to daily insults, their indignant stance is confusing. Of course, since he is white and at pains to placate African-Americans, Eminem has had to apologise for his lyrics, saying they were “foolishness” written when he was a “stupid kid”. His black contemporaries show no such repentance.

On the front of his new album, the rapper Ludacris – incidentally, the Source’s November cover boy – is shown nibbling on an unidentified black female leg protruding from a mound of juicy fried chicken. The video for Fatman Scoop’s current top 10 hit depicts him lifting up a black female lap dancer by her hair and putting her in his car.

Indeed, in rap and R’n’B videos it is rare to see a black woman portrayed as anything other than a lap dancer – or what is colloquially known as the “video ho”. So awash is MTV Base, the TV music channel dedicated to black music, with denigrating images of black women that it should really relaunch with a jauntier title. Perhaps MTV: Black Bitches, or Butts R Us.

If the Source really cares about the sensibilities of black women, it should prompt a debate about misogyny and sexism in elements of black culture and how they are sustained and promoted by white big business. Instead, we are treated to a personal spat dressed up as an investigation of white inroads into rap. By narrowing the argument down to one individual’s stupidity, the focus of the argument is lost in a haze of banal male posturing.

The Source’s head-in-the-sand stance reflects a wider black reluctance, both in the US and the UK, to debate the issue. But debate there could be – there have always been alternative voices in rap, and to portray the entire genre as unabashedly misogynistic would be to do it a disservice. It has produced female rappers as diverse as Lil’ Kim (a black woman in white female drag, and certainly no challenge to sexist representations) and Lauryn Hill, the standard-bearer of a progressive black female image in rap.

There are also male rappers, such as Mos Def and Common, who resist dick-swinging bravado. But, as the feminist critic bell hooks points out: “Mass media pays little attention to those black men who are opposing phallocentrism, misogyny and sexism… Alternative, progressive black male voices in rap or cinema receive little attention – their voices are not celebrated in patriarchal culture.”

The only conclusion to be drawn from the current furore is that misogyny against black women is fine so long as it’s kept firmly within the protective bosom of black folk. Take heed, Eminem, we like to keep our dirty business in the family. Stick to dissing your own in future.

‘ Helen Kolawole is former arts editor of Pride magazine

hkolawole@hotmail.com

http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/features/story/0,11710,1091934,00.html

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