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

Screenshot 2017-11-16 20.50.00.png

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.

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.)

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.

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?

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.

Four Things That Happened When I Stopped Caring About Getting My Hair Wet

You know how some women get really upset when you touch their hair? That's not me. I think a pretty good indication of the beauty and health of your hair is how "touchable" it appears. I've always believed it's the ultimate compliment when your hair is so attractive that it generates a reflex to reach out and touch it.

Note: That doesn't mean that I particularly enjoy complete strangers touching my hair (although this has never happened) or that I enjoy when people approach my hair with a curiosity that makes me feel inhuman (this has happened sparingly). 

An Open Letter to the President

Dear Mr. President:

For the past several days, I've been debating an issue regarding your administration with a few friends, all ardent supporters of yours. All of us have read your books; we've donated and voted for you in both 2008 and 2012. Some of us even volunteered for your campaign and we all resisted the urge to unsubscribe from your well-meaning, but relentless emails. One friend in particular, has over time become more and more frustrated with what he perceives to be your selective concern for citizens. He believes that while you may personally care about all Americans, your public concern is limited to specific groups, namely those who wield the most political weight and media opportunities. In short, he believes you have neglected the poor, who are often black and brown. My reflex was to defend you and I did. Yet, the more I discussed the issue with him and others and coupled it with research, I found myself struggling to continue to defend you in good faith.

True Southern Hospitality (and Christian love)

Ah. I love the South. The sizzle of hot, juicy yet crispy fatback in a cast iron skillet is one of my favorite sounds and always reminds me of South Carolina. Since my grandmother's passing, I haven't had any, and I can't bring myself to ask for it in these hipster California grocery stores. Soul food isn't all I miss about living in the South. It's also the traditional style of Southern Baptist churches. My home church had a strong, vibrant membership but was small enough that if I wasn't there, it was noticed. The hymns I sang there and the motherly love I received was enough to have me humming joyously on my way home.

The Myth of "I Like You Prettiest Without Makeup"

The other day, one of my friend’s Facebook status proclaimed: “I appreciate a girl as real as her hair.” As a weaveless woman, my reflex was to toot my own horn. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the notion that someone’s “realness” has a correlation to whether her hair was homegrown or not was ridiculous.

What is Traditional Marriage?

A few months ago I was kicking it with my friend and her mom called. She grabbed the phone and started yapping, then she said, "OK go ahead and put Dad on before you hang up."  I felt an unidentifiable pang in my chest and later came to realize what it was. Envy. Her parents are married, live in the same house, and she can handle her parental duties in one phone call. Sadly, most of my peers and I cannot say the same. 

Happy Mother's Day 2012

From age 11 to my departure for college, I lived with my younger siblings, Vanessa and John, and with my mother, Kim. My mom is many things, but cooker of large dinners, she is not. Our usual dinner routine was a phone call from Mom around 6 PM as she was on her way home from work, asking: What do you all feel like eating tonight?" One night, we'd opted for Popeye's. When she arrived home with the fragrant fried chicken, biscuits drizzled in honey, and greasy potato wedges, we were more than ready to dig in. Just as my mother was setting the table, there was a knock at the door. At the time, we lived in a community called "Little Africa" which is made up of primarily Black families, many related to each other, and many who had known each other for so many generations, we called them cousin anyway. So when my mother opened the door to reveal a middle aged man, who was more than a little dusty, I mildly recognized the face but couldn't quite place him. 

You Give Jesus A Bad Name (More than just a Bon Jovi Parody)

North Carolina is pretty awesome, specifically Charlotte. It’s pretty. They have several Cook-Out locations. Gas is only priced at half past ridiculous. My mom lives there, and my niece is only an hour or so away. But it seems like someone sneaked a couple bigotry roofies in everyone's sweet tea.

North Carolina is often viewed as a “purple state” because it is home to a fair share of both Democrats and Republicans. In 2008, North Carolinians voted for President Barack Obama and went Blue for the first time since Jimmy Carter’s administration. But yesterday, the country was reminded of just how red North Carolina can be. 

Men or Women: Who Decides to Define the Relationship?

Several months ago I was talking to my dad about a guy I’d gone on a few dates with. A few days later, our follow-up conversation went a little something like this:


Dad: So how’s your boyfriend?

Me: What boyfriend?

Dad: The guy you were talking about the other night.

Me: Oh, um. He’s not my boyfriend. We’re just hanging out, getting to know each other. I’ve only known him for like a month.

Dad: A month?? And you two haven’t at least discussed dating each other exclusively? Are you dating other people? Is he dating other people? What’s wrong with your generation?