The Accountability Factor: Black women, we hear you & we see you
When you’re in a position of privilege, you can’t tell the oppressed how to feel.
About a week ago, Juliana Pache and Lakin Starling co-wrote an article for The FADER titled, “A Candid Conversation About Rap Culture’s Pervasive Disrespect Against Black Women.” Upon first seeing the title, I thought it was a reach for click-bait in the midst of the uproar surrounding the #MenAreTrash hashtag and YesJulz’s use of the word “nigga” (adding to her list of violations). However, after a day or two, I was compelled to read the article for no other reason than confronting myself with a simple question: As a black man, why was my first instinct to ignore black women making a statement? As a man in general, why was my first instinct to ignore women calling attention to their feeling of disrespect?
I literally asked myself those questions outloud and had to check myself for an action I knew was beneath my character. I was raised by a black woman and grew up protecting my black little sister. My first reaction should always be to listen. Beyond my personal quarrel with my response to the article’s title, I knew that I wasn’t the only man whose first reaction was to keep scrolling down my timeline.
When it comes down to it, no man likes to be called out on his bullshit. Our ego is what makes us leaders, but it’s also what stunts our growth. I proceeded to read the article, and it was absolutely spot-on. As a people, we have been doing a terrible job of safeguarding the culture we produce, which governs entertainment and fashion. As men, there’s a certain level of privilege we have that allows us to go without accepting accountability. We don’t ask enough questions about how to make women feel safe, and included. Finally, we don’t make it a habit to give credit where credit is due. Although entertainment is a male-dominated space, it can’t operate without women.
It’s time to start talking about solutions, and that begins with acknowledging facts that make us as black men uncomfortable to confront.
“When male artists degrade and violate women, we must hold them accountable. There’s a blatant disregard for verbal, physical, and sexual violence against women. We can’t accept that it’s simply part of the terrain.” – Lakin Starling
In entertainment, specifically in rap, there’s a constant variable we choose to ignore: women are degraded and that’s a fact. As fans of the genre, we have all witnessed verbal, physical, and sexual violence against women. We give artists, guilty of such acts, a pass when we know it’s wrong. What’s worse is we don’t even have a valid excuse for giving that pass. If another man dared to call our mothers, sisters, or daughters out of their name there would be hell to pay. Physical and sexual violence against someone we love? We’d undoubtedly seek bloodshed. Why then are we not up in arms when entertainers do these things?
“Men in this space could practice a lot more self-reflection” – Juliana Pache
Do we feel detached from anyone who isn’t family? If that’s the case, then it’s time to do some self-reflection on our level of humanity. I get it, rap comes with a certain bravado, but if that bravado hinges on making women out to be objects devoid of human compassion then we’ve got to question how secure we are with ourselves. Are there women who don’t carry themselves respectfully? Yes. Music videos are voluntary, so what we see is what she chose to do. Does that give us a right to demean them? No. However, I will say that it is not anyone’s direct responsibility to teach other people to respect themselves. We just need to keep in mind that our interpretation of someone’s lack of self-respect is not a pass to downplay their value as a human being. For that matter, it’s not up to us to define what self-respect means for other individuals. So, in moments like when Rick Ross says he dropped a molly in a woman’s champagne without her knowing it or Kodak Black being brought up on multiple alleged sexual offense charges, we’ve got to take that moment to hold our favorite artist accountable for overstepping the boundary. Whether it’s “just lyrics” or not.
“We can’t afford to let people off the hook.” – Lakin Starling
The music industry was built off the backs of black people. We know this, and it’s no secret. Musicians like DeFord Bailey laid the foundation for country music in the 1920s, while Ray Charles gave the genre its first platinum-selling record with Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. Country music drew its style from African-American’s use of the banjo and the blues. The blues birthed Rock n’ Roll, which drew heavy influence from Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Chuck Berry. Punk Rock originated in Detroit by a black band called Death. And if I actually need to give examples to show that we started R&B and rap, then I might just backflip out of the window.
My point is, without black people, music and entertainment wouldn’t be what it is. This trend continues today. We make up the slang, the hashtags, the fashion, and pretty much determine what is or isn’t cool. With great power comes great responsibility, and we haven’t been doing a good job of safeguarding this thing we call “the culture.” Black people love to love. When we’re having a good time, we welcome anyone to the party. The problem is, people like to walk in our house, disrespect the furniture, steal the interior design concept, and go build another house just like ours without giving credit to the inspiration. We call those “culture vultures.”
When folks like YesJulz, Miley Cyrus, and even the beloved Justin Bieber decide to use our sauce when it benefits them, only to back away when the attention turns negative, it can’t go unchecked. This is not a personal attack, it’s fact. Everyone loves to be black until it’s time to be black. Then the PR campaigns ensue and they return to their squeaky clean image, or become the victim after shedding a few tears. All I’m saying is, if we’re going to have guests, we should make sure they respect us. Black women are always the first to call these things out, but the last to be listened to. It’s time to stop acting like they’re just making noise, and appreciate them for trying to protect us like they always do.
“Men need to just stop talking. Just stop talking and absorb what women, specifically black women, are telling you about the way we’re being treated. This is true for all people who have some form of privilege.”- Juliana Pache
Hypocrisy isn’t usually intentional, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. Over the last 4-5 years, Generation Y’s black men have had their first true experiences as adults dealing with systemic racism and death at the hands of the police. We responded with #BlackLivesMatter (thanks in larger part to the efforts of black women) and in response we’ve been met with #BlueLivesMatter. We’ve been greeted with tear gas, arrests, and all the shit our grandparents talked about that we couldn’t fathom as children.
“Our noise is not us complaining, it’s the undying chorus to our survival” – Lakin Starling
All we want is for lawmakers and police officers to stop talking and listen to us. If every black person is saying the same damn thing, we can’t all be lying. The same concept applies to the efforts of women trying to tell us about the way they’re being treated. When you’re in a position of privilege, you can’t tell the oppressed how to feel or respond. If we don’t like the police doing it to us, why are we doing it to women?
At the end of the day, coming to grips with our need to hold ourselves accountable as men comes with maturity. I am by no means the poster boy for countering misogyny; I’ve still got plenty of bad habits to break. I couldn’t imagine myself writing an article like this, even six months ago. It’s a safe bet that most of us learned misogynistic habits from conversations with our fathers, uncles, and cousins who genuinely didn’t see the error in their ways. Those of us who weren’t fortunate enough to have male figures in our lives learned from what we saw on the television screen. Combining that with the need to fit in with friends, regardless of whether or not they’re wrong, and you can see how this problem keeps recreating itself.
Either way, it takes time to grow up and look in the mirror. For now, we can start with honest conversation about habits that need changing. Juliana Pache, Lakin Starling, and any other woman is more than capable of explaining themselves. Still, it seemed appropriate to let them know they were heard. This conversation is far from over, and needs to continue on the internet and amongst friends. For now, let’s start with giving credit where credit is due.
Click HERE for our list of women you may not know of, but should definitely be aware of for their positive influence on music, lifestyle, and health.