For this post I went looking for the voices of women. In Angela Y. Davis
Blues Legacies and Black Feminism the voices of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday gave rise to the roots of feminist thought for African American women in the 20th century. There were times when I felt I was taken over a cliff with her conclusions, because in her work she very infrequently (with the exception of Holiday) used the voices of the women ( not their lyrics or their singing) to draw conclusions about their actions or beliefs as it related to emerging feminist action or thought. So I went hunting for voices in the blogosphere. I decided on keeping it musical and went looking for voices from Hip Hop to see what connections could be made to the feminism espoused in Blues. What I found were voices that I think are helpful in informing our discussions in CRG, as they are current and from a sorely missing demographic in our class.
First off is a blog entry by Lynne d Johnson. Lynne d Johnson has served as the General Manager, for VIBE, SPIN, and VIBE Vixen and is a journalist, writer, new media specialist, and feminist. In this post she deals with the realities of misogyny in “gangsta rap” from a black feminist perspective. The issue of violence toward black women by black men was central in Davis’ work and while here we see a discussion of male artists speaking of violence against women, not women artists interpreting the violence, it is Johnson’s interpretations of where this misogyny rose from: white patriarchal culture, that is compelling. She calls men on the carpet for glorifying violence against women, but seems more concerned with informing a wider audience about the roots of this glorification.
Contrary to a racist white imagination which assumes that most young black males, especially those who are poor, live in a self- created cultural vacuum, uninfluenced by mainstream, cultural values, it is the application of those values, largely learned through passive uncritical consumption of mass media, that is revealed in “gangsta rap.”
This post is lengthy and delves into a variety of issues that move us toward understanding the complexity of being a “black feminist.” It is not possible to simply write, or speak or even think like a feminist for Johnson. The dominance of a white patriarchy informs all of her arguments and provides a window into a black feminist perspective.
Another voice representing a feminist perspective in relationship to contemporary musical form was found in the blog Gender Across Boarders. The author of this post Kimba King described her connection with this music:
As a griot, I inherit the West Afrikan tradition of using creative storytelling to document what is happening in the world around me. There will always be real stories that talk about the everyday lived experiences of people that cannot be shown on the afternoon special and won’t have a happy ending.
Kemba shares a love hate with the musical form that can be full of “promoting homophobia, classism and misogyny…” but sees her role as a “Hip Hop Feminist” to bring “various women’s voices to eke out a sizeable space to challenge the phobias and isms that silence and mark invisible the impact on and influence that women have had on hip hop.”
My interest here is finding a person who sees herself as an “active activist.” I wanted to hear the voices of people who sought actively to see feminist goals being worked for, and how they were balanced in the context of a contemporary form of music that might make a connection in someway to the blues.
The Blog Like a Whisper had one of the best-developed posts by Potente Susurro . She describes herself as “a woman of color with a PhD and an appointment in an interdisciplinary field. I used to write about my experiences as an academic alongside important and fluffy socio-political issues in our world.”
In this posts BHM: Queering Rap she highlights important female figures in hip hop but raises the specter of missing voices:
What has been largely absent from both male and female hip-hop artists work is a question of heteronormativity and hyper-dominant-heterosex. Thus power shifts from largely misogynist male gangsta fantasy to dominating/dominatrix heterosexual female ones
In this exploration I am reminded of the great Blues giants who call out their men, draw lines in the sand, and threaten them with violence, and praise good sex and good times. They assert their power through the very stereotypes they are maligned by from dominant white, and even middle class black culture. Susurro includes several examples of artists who depart from this hyper-dominent-hetrosexual model.
In all of these posts there is the melding of Race Class and Gender. Each speaker acknowledges the darker side to the music that they are discussing, but are hard pressed to completely condemn it because they seem to share something with it or realize that it is a product of the complex relationships of a dominant culture over a subservient one.
Like Rainey, Smith and Holiday, they are a product of the world they live in and must define themselves not only as who they are, but who they are in relationship to the larger culture. They share the same struggles, the same voices.