In the Wake of #MeToo, Should Our Musical Tastes Change?

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Just before my flight to DC to attend my alma mater’s homecoming, I read the chilling account of Lupito Nyongo’s horrifying experiences with Harvey Weinstein in the New York Times. Of all the accounts shared, her reflections unnerved me the most. When she wrote about how she struggled to “extricate [herself] from this undesirable situation,” I felt like she was telling an all too familiar story.

It reminded me of the time when I was a broke, hungry, woefully naive student and a man I’d been talking to for a few weeks offered to pick me up so that he could “cook dinner for me.” After a long drive into the far reaches of Maryland, we walked into his apartment, and a quick perusal of his refrigerator revealed that he in fact had no groceries and certainly no dinner planned. When I realized the ruse, I asked him to take me home and he said, “Well first you need to eat your dinner...” and he gestured at his groin area. I panicked. I was 18, far from campus with no money, and had no intentions of taking him up on his offer. I bolted for the door, sprinted to the 7-Eleven I’d spotted about half a mile from his place, and hitched a 45-minute ride back to DC. It’s a miracle that my story had a happy ending.

So fast forwarding to Fall 2017, it is HBCU Homecoming season and Future, 21 Savage, and Rick Ross are playing from every corner, speaker and sound system on campus. DJs - men and women - spin records directing us to “twerk for a real nigga”, Cash Money is taking over for the 99 to the 2000s, and men are leering appreciatively at women dressed to impress. And just like that, I am thinking of the #MeToo Campaign, Lupita’s article, and my unwelcome memories.

A tinny alarm is ringing in the back of my mind. I hit snooze. I compartmentalize. Everyone knows you can be woke and ratchet at the same time, right?

But as alumni push strollers with adorable cherub babies in “Future HBCU grad” onesies alongside ladies and gents yelling back “BITCH” in response to Too $hort’s catchy refrain, “What’s my favorite word?”, the alarm comes back. This time it’s louder, and is accompanied by a sickening feeling, because I find myself mumbling the words too.

It seems we’re in an interesting space, where feminism (or womanism if you’re super woke), are the standard for any self-respecting, educated black person. Most folks know now that cat-calling is not ok. Despite a few outliers, men’s overwhelming response to the rallying “Me too” cry has been, “How can I help? What can I do?” And yet, I haven’t heard yet a (recent) appeal to take a closer look at our music*. Much of what tops the charts has an ugly underside that is often the perfect soundtrack for the catcalls, the assault, and the rape that a staggering number of collegiate women experience. Even the “conscious” artists refer generally to women by snarling “bitch don’t kill my vibe” (Kendrick) or “all my bitches the pick of the litter (J. Cole).”

Let me be clear, the only ones to blame for sexual assault, harassment and rape are those who commit the crime. To blame Lil’ Wayne for misogyny is to give him too much credit and gives the actual perpetrators far too little responsibility. Those of us who chant and dance to lyrics that would cause us to squirm if our kids, nieces and nephews heard them aren’t necessarily the problem. But aren’t we the silent bystanders? We’re not writing the music; but we’re not dismissing it either. We are all complicit.

This of course, is not a new argument. I’m reminded of the women at Spelman who protested Nelly’s scheduled appearance on their campus after his extremely misogynistic and degrading Tip Drill video. (By the way, in light of those recent allegations and creepy concert videos, the Spelmanites were certainly on to something.) But with recent events creating a communal sense of responsibility, it feels especially apropos to revisit the conversation, with a special focus on the sexual violence hinted at or even directly referenced in many of our favorite jams. 

I’m not the cultural police and I’m not in the habit of shutting down free speech. But in this current space of resistance to all things “grab em by the pussy”, does it make sense to stop short of our music? The lyrics that we pump into our earbuds as we’re on a run or cleaning our house, in our cars on the way to work, and at our get togethers… can we honestly say that it lives in its own world, disconnected from our real lives? That the two don’t mingle, creating a toxic stew we’re all unwittingly slurping up?

I can’t call it. Maybe misogyny as part of a rich and varied diet of music is just as negligibly harmful as a small bite of candy when chased with a plate of vegetables. Nevertheless, it’s certainly seems worth it to look at hip-hop’s nutrition facts and respond accordingly.

Author’s note: I don’t presume to speak on behalf of all music; I’m most familiar with hip-hop and R&B lyrics. I’m sure misogyny has made its way into country, rock, heavy metal, pop, indie, techno, and every other kind of music as well.

The Church is Called to Be Political, Not Silent

One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s name without the “Reverend” in front of it. Earning a doctoral degree is certainly an accomplishment, but Rev. Dr. King’s political and civic action was fueled by his work as a spiritual leader. The man who looked on as President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act spent more time preaching from pulpits, singing hymns, and pastoring a church than people often remember. With the clear view of hindsight, it is easy to see no conflict between his faith and political action.  In fact, Rev. Dr. King is the only American to be honored with a national holiday arguably because of his courageous and skillful ability to create political change through the power of his faith-based morals.

Churchy Things People Say That Don't Really Help At All

Several years ago, the media reported that there was an extremely important message from the President that would be interrupting evening programming. No one knew whether the news was good or bad and I remember Twitter had some hilarious predictions (Michelle is dropping a mixtape!) and somber ones (we're entering another war in the Middle East -- eek!) As we waited for the POTUS, I mentioned to my two roommates, "I'm starting to get nervous." One scoffed and said "It doesn't really matter what he says; Jesus is Lord and God's got it all under control. Worrying doesn't do anything so stop wasting your time. Where's your faith?"

Random Thoughts While Wedding Planning

1. Everyone's an expert. There are more opinions on what vendor, date, dress, food, flowers, venue, beverages, favors, hotels, locations, and literally everything else under the sun wedding-related a bride and groom should choose than there are Black people voting for Trump. (Admittedly - a low bar.)

The only Nat Turner I acknowledge is… Nat.

Several months ago, when I heard whispers of a film based on Nat Turner, I didn’t believe it. It seemed too good to be true. Then it was purchased at Sundance for a record $17.5 million, the trailer dropped and I was GEEKED. Actually, we (my fiancé and I) were geeked, because there’s rarely a time where we both want to see the same thing. (He’s a “Walking Dead” fan; I’m more of a “This is Us” kinda gal.)  

I Am Slowly Becoming My Mother (And My Goodness, I’m So Glad!)

When I was a kid, I knew the easiest way to get a “yes” from my mom was to ask while she was reading a book. She’s one of those people that gets so lost in stories, that the permission slip I’d slide under hand was a blurry distraction that she simply wanted to dispose of – no review needed. (Ask her poor husband; an evening with Stephen King means she’s reliving the stories in her sleep and he wakes up with a few bruises).

I Choose Chipotle (I'm With Her)

Way back when, during the era of Bush II, I was a college student, hungry for cheap, filling food that didn't induce the deep feelings of shame and guilt I got from scarfing down McDonald's fries. A good friend recommended "this Mexican spot with really good burritos where you get to pick the toppings"... a selling point he knew would work for me as I am pickier than an 8 year old with a nostril full of boogers. And that was how I met Chipotle. Ah... the golden age of Chipotle. It was bright, inviting, and my palette was too immature and uncultured to know that I wasn't eating authentic Mexican food. "Barbacoa" sounded exotic and the price was almost too good for a student eking it out on a scholarship and part time waitressing job to believe. Plus... it tasted amazing. Before I knew it, I was following up late night study sessions with two burritos. Yes, I said it... two burritos. Like I said... this was the golden age. 

That Time I Got Handcuffed In Front of My Office

I was really hesitant to share this story, because it includes a lot of personal details, and also... it was just an embarrassing incident that I would rather pretend never happened. But that is selfish and it makes the incident about me, and ignores that this is a symptom of a bigger problem. Transparency is an important step in recognizing patterns, trends and finding solutions.

The Three Big Questions That Are None of Your Business to Ask

A few years ago, my friend marked her 32nd birthday by crying all the way through it. Not because she was worried about aging, or because she didn't feel like she'd accomplished enough or even because she was having an Eat Pray Love moment. It's because she spent most of the day responding to texts or calls that sounded like this, "Happy Birthday girl! So... did he propose??!" It probably didn't help that leading up to her birthday, various family members and friends had asked her if she was expecting a ring.

Three Ways You Can Be A More Informed Citizen Once You Finish Complaining About The Media

The media** is biased. But so are we. Let me explain. 

A few days ago, I ran with a local runners’ group, and we paused at a beautiful “Love” mural to have a moment of silence for “people suffering all over the world… especially in Paris.” Save for those of us catching our breath in the chilly fall air, all was still and then one runner said “And Kenya!” I glanced in his direction, undecided if I appreciated his spontaneous candor or if I was annoyed by his marring of this solemn moment. That dichotomous feeling has plagued me for the past few days. After the run, I caught up with the outspoken fella -who turned out to be Ethiopian-American- and asked, feigning curiosity, “What is the capital of Kenya anyway?” He drew a blank and when I used my acting chops to affect an aha moment, I said “I think it’s Nairobi… yeah that’s it.” 

Teaching Kids Respect for Authority AND for Themselves: The Balancing Act

My first experience with Spring Valley High School was a scary one. I was a scrawny seventh grader who had barely made it onto the varsity track team (which was basically a come one come all type situation) and we were headed to Columbia to compete against Spring Valley's track team. Although I went to a suburban high school, our co-ed bus full of seventh graders to high school seniors was pretty rowdy and spirited.  Until the bus slowed and we all saw the sprawling campus with what looked like hundreds of track athletes in impeccable track suits, stretching with the uniformity of a Marine Corps. The bus grew quiet - almost respectful -  and as we took our beating that year, Spring Valley became imprinted on my mind as the gold standard to work towards. By my senior year, our women's track team had eked out one win against Spring Valley through some kind of Remember the Titans like underdog strength, but I will never forget the fear they inspired at our first encounter.

The Post about That Certificate of Purity That Went Viral

If you're reading this, you probably already heard about the young lady whose certificate of purity has gone viral. Here's a quick recap:

At 13, Bre Bowman signed a covenant with her parents committing to abstain from fornication, sexual activity, and other behaviors too - like drinking, smoking, et cetera. Fast forward to her wedding day and she gives her father a certificate of purity. This certificate is signed by a doctor and is meant to be verification that she has abstained from sexual activity.  Then she took a photo of this certificate and shared it on social media; and the rest is viral Internet history. 

I'm a Pro-Life Christian and I Support Planned Parenthood

What does pro life mean to me?

At the risk of being told that I am misleading, I want to clarify what I mean by pro life. When I say I’m pro life, I mean we should be concerned with the lives of folks who indisputably have life, and that they have it more abundantly (John 10:10 - did I mention I am a Christian too?)  

The term pro life implies that the opposing side is pro death, and perhaps that was intentional. But I don’t think it’s fair. To me, pro life is a stance that should extend beyond the abortion issue.

Why Basketball is the Most American of Sports

If you can picture a scrawny, wild-haired 9th grade girl in oversized shorts, panting on the sidelines of the shiny basketball court, you can conjure up an image of me over a decade ago, wondering how in the world I ended up there. I was at tryouts for the JV basketball team, despite never having played a single day of organized basketball in my life. I naively believed that as a track athlete, I had the kind of athleticism that just needed to be guided by a firm but caring coach into excellence (like Blind Side!); the coach disagreed. Coach Murray gently told me to "Practice and maybe try again next year." Since she was also my geography teacher, it certainly made things a little awkward during 3rd period, but she was right. I had no business out there; so why was I?

Why I'm Quitting Football

I have written this post in my mind probably a dozen times, and each time I mean it a little more. This post may be better titled "The Evolution of My Attitude toward Football." But before we get into that... a couple stories for you.

My freshman year of high school, I was in the marching band. More specifically, I was in the drumline. Before you conjure up images of a young female Nick Cannon wow'ing the crowd, I should clarify... I played the least glamorous (but very necessary!) instrument of them all -  the cymbals. There were two incentives for doing this. 1) I had a crush on one of the snare players, Jay Free (I mean with a name like that - how could you not?) and 2) Being in the marching band made me a part of something big - something very big - our high school football experience.

Ferguson, Missouri is Everyone's Concern

Yesterday afternoon, I met up with a friend in a coffee shop to do some work, and he started streaming the press conference from the Ferguson Police Department providing some follow up to the death of Mike Brown (at the hands of a police officer.) Immediately, I was uncomfortable. We were in a room with a few other people of various backgrounds, and for whatever reason, I felt it was inappropriate to draw attention to our concern about the passing of this young black teenager. I didn't want to ruffle feathers; I wanted people to believe that I was one of the safe Black people that wouldn't make them face hard questions.