Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Hip Hop vs. America

October 3, 2007

Dear Debra Lee:

As two of the so called “Nelly Protesters,” we feel compelled to speak after the egregious presentation of “Hip Hop vs. America” on BET. Though purportedly trying to redress the sexism, misogyny, and materialism of hip hop videos, the program actually reified all of these by not engaging with feminist women panelists, or panelists that did not invoke a kind of celebrity worship. Once again the voices of young black women were marginalized in preference for a largely older black male voice of authority. Even the women panelists who were present were talked over and addressed less.

It was very disheartening to hear Nelly completely misrepresent the events leading up to the so called Nelly Protest. Upon hearing about Nelly’s desire to do a bone marrow drive on campus, the Spelman Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance placed signs on campus calling attention to his misogynistic lyrical and video content. Apparently, the foundation had been to campus earlier that week and seen the signs that the FMLA put up all over campus. They scheduled an emergency meeting with the Spelman Student Government Association and requested that no protesters be at the drive. SGA could not provide this kind of guarantee. The foundation then left the room so that SGA could vote on whether or not the drive could continue if, at the foundation's request, Nelly agreed to participate in a forum to address student concerns. Despite a unanimous vote to continue with the drive under the new stipulations, when the foundation came back they had already decided to cancel the drive. Our intention was to do exactly what Nelly stated on the program. We planned to have him come to campus and meet with a small group of concerned students, something he was unwilling to do. Not only that, we still had a bone marrow drive and all the students initially involved registered to donate bone marrow! The foundation was apparently so upset about this issue that THEY went to the press, saying that Spelman canceled the drive because of the video "Tip Drill."

Aside from this factual error, both Nelly and T. I. continued to skirt the issue of their own responsibility. Yes, America is racist and sexist. Yes, America is materialistic but that doesn’t make it right! That doesn’t mean that we as black women should have to negotiate a world that has historical portrayed us to be less than human and continues to do so in a genre that should counter that stereotype.

We aren’t asking for “positive” images as we know that this does not necessarily ensure representations that reflect the multitude of ways black womanhood is embodied. But why is it that the only way T. I. and Nelly can talk about or depict us are bitches and hos? How does framing the conversation as though they are not talking about us make it ok? If you are talking about any women in a derogatory way it’s a problem.

We understand that to some extent, rappers are the puppets and ideological whipping boys of a largely untargeted white capitalist power structure. We know that Philippe Dauman of Viacom, Doug Morris of Universal Music Group, and Rolf Schmidt-Holtz of Sony/BMG names aren’t often mentioned when we discuss the problematic state of rap music though we do realize and wish to hold them accountable for their own culpability in all of this. Unfortunately Nelly and T.I. missed an opportunity to recognize their own role in supporting and perpetuating misogyny in hip hop on the program. Their role may be that of individuals, but it is still crucially important. It is absurd for these artists not to recognize their complicity. Seduced by financial incentives, these artists are participating in the production and distribution of these images at the expense of all black people.

These images and lyrics, that suggest that black women are only hypersexual objects for male enjoyment are broadcast globally and are the primary images and representations of African-American women that people see. It reinforces stereotypes that white Europeans had about black women since we were “discovered” on the shores of Africa. Black men are portrayed as violent, brutal, equally hypersexual, and materialistic. It suggests that we have no hopes no dreams outside material gains and sex.

It makes it seem as though black musicians can’t rhyme about anything other than sex, money, and violence. We are tired of trying to defend hip hop when it becomes indefensible. We are tired of hearing music that assaults our very humanity. We are tired of hearing girls complain about being assaulted in clubs, or by partners, or strangers, of being called bitches and hos, of being cursed out because we didn’t want to give someone a number, of trying to reason with record companies and artists and convince them their actions impact the daily lives of black women in this country and abroad.

Now we find it is no longer a racially unifying act of resistance to challenge these images within the black community, but rather a divisive battle that pits black men against black women, artists and cultural critics, etc. The very title of the program “Hip Hop vs. America” presented a different agenda and encouraged this division which contributed to the defensive manner of some of the panelists. Spaces for unifying conversations and healing must be generated, where perspectives from women are equally honored and respected. Panelist who can speak to that sort of nuanced and complex conversation were not present. What about hip hop scholars Joan Morgan or Tricia Rose, MC and hip hop activist Toni Blackman, self-proclaimed feminist men Byron Hurt and Mark Anthony Neal?

We speak out because once again our actions were silenced and misread. We speak out because once again we are talked about instead of being included in the conversation. We speak out so that we can say we did, even if no one is listening.


Moya Bailey and Leana Cabral

wow... ok for a sister who has given up on television. what happened?
and yo whats up with the artists/cultural critics dichotomy? am i supposed to oppose myself? someone clue me in!
you were supposed t oppose yourself, as bet had it structured.

it was a mess nelly basically implicated spelman in the death of his sister.

It was a circus really, see if you can catch it on you tube you know someone prob. put it up
nicely done.
BET, MTV,and Vh1, should chabge they way they view black people because the way I see it it comes off racist.
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