Author Archives: hashire

Can Kanye West Empower Black Women? (Stick with me here…)

Race as it is, and as it has been constructed in America, is dictated through Morality. Ferguson notes that in classical social theory, morality refers to the social powers and privileges that come with political and civil enfranchisement. We see it as a myriad of possibilities rather than the boundaries that restrict and contain us. Ferguson argues that morality and its promise of enlargement and endowment made liberatory demands for freedom in the US, into vehicles for regulation.

“When women of color and third-world feminists troubled the gender and sexual footings of anti racist social movements, they were actually struggling against the moral inheritance of those movements– not simply the gender and sexual norms of those movements, but also the imperative to stipulate freedom through regulation” (Keywords, 192-193).

Now we have put a name to this conflict–intersectionality, but what are the ways in which Black Women can and do reckon with/combat a moral inheritance in their everyday lives, since it has been bequeathed to them through the effects of anti racist social movements that both struggled for their equality as it pertained to their race, but did so by reinforcing the inequalities that regulate their “freedoms” of gender, sexuality?

Locke’s “The New Negro” circa 1930 and The “Black Excellence” circa 2013 via Kanye West & Co., are both seeped in patriarchy and hegemony that regulates femininity and excludes women. Yet the way it excludes them, and the instances where their performances allow inclusion, call into question those very hegemonic forces they seem to reverberate.

“In relation to corporeality, race has rendered the body into a text upon which histories of racial differentiation, exclusion, and violence are inscribed” (Keywords, 192).

I loved that “Darkening Mirrors: Imperial Representation in Depression-Era African American Performance” by Stephanie Batiste decided to focus on the ways in which Black Americans were and are complicit in configurations of power “in ways more complicated than only domination or only resistance.” Batiste also got at the muddiness, the double entendre, and the irony that draws attention to and makes Black American performances circa 1930’s “modernist” America, oh so slippery.

“The new Negro” as a nationalized American entity developed in specifically western terms of progress and triumph, it also defied racist notions that African Americans could not be full Americans. One could argue that Kanye West is one such descendant of Locke’s “new Negro” in his promotion and performance of “Black Excellence.” Kanye’s regular “acts of ignorance” are widely viewed as a display or performance of Primitivism, but is he doing similar work in his “performance of Kanye” as the Black performances of the1930’s did? Is it possible that Kanye can empower women with his verses that are so tainted with Imperialism? Batiste argues that, “By ignoring the apparent conundrums in black representations of imperialism and the investments in power they imply, we risk perpetuating a naive view not only of black people but of power itself”(10). No one can deny that Kanye yearns to be included in our conceptions of American Exceptionalism, I mean just listen to Watch the Throne. But neither can we deny that he has consistently provided a critique of the U.S. as a nation and an empire, whether his critique is made outside of his body, or through it.

“The One” – Kanye, Big Sean, 2 Chainz

On the surface level this song is about good ‘ol pre-ordained destiny for greatness Protestant work ethic style. It focuses on the individual within our society/world, what makes you different by stressing difference. “Black Excellence” as Kanye appropriates it, is really just black American Exceptionalism– it’s exclusionary in nature. But somehow the Emcee’s in this song provide a truth that is accessible to a black female like myself.

Kanye spits in the first verse about how he’s been trying to live with the burden of being “The One.” Through this song, I am forced to embrace my masculinity and its gendered power dynamics within Hip-hop. How does this happen you may ask? My best guess would be some kind of warped sense of a communal American diasporic blackness as identity that I’ve adjusted in my head over the years. Part of me thinks there’s no space for femininity/women in this song because of how race has been constructed in America through hegemonic forces that protect patriarchy both through exclusion and normalizing gender norms for the sake of black solidarity and a bit of acceptance in some white spaces.

“African Americans’ style of imagining nation through performance of imperial codes experimented with what nationhood could mean. The performance of these representations challenged access to and ownership of modes of power through the body and, in doing so, upended assumptions about where power resides and with whom”(6).

But Kanye and other black men aren’t the only ones who yearn for power in America. I sure know that I do, and I think black Feminist in the 60’s did too. They were putting in work just like the men, but their power had less if not zero authority (and yes sure, there are exceptions to this claim).

“Revising notions that black American culture has primarily produced and negotiated conditions  of survival, continuity, and resistance, black performance in the 1930’s shows that black culture also contained an aggressive current of desire for power” (6).

Most black male Emcee’s are afraid of women, because women have some mythic power to emasculate them. Keywords notes that nationalism typically has sprung from “masculinized memory, masculinized humiliation, and masculinized hope,” So I guess I can see how their fear translates as anger towards women in their verses. In this song, I think all of the Emcee’s say the B word at least once or twice along with many other extremely sexist (sometimes humorous in their absurdity) things about women. I mean come on, “and yea my bitch cold, nigga thin sweater.” I think that’s funny. But these moments are hypothetically the messed up misdirection, or at least they signify that these dudes are immoral in the delivery of their message. AND YET, women are responsible for the same kinds of “social crimes” as men are in this song. Kanye knocks an unnamed woman for being “a slave to the funds” but 2 Chainz confesses that he can’t handle his money right either. We must believe then, that women are also to be lauded for surviving in White America; they’re black too after all. Women are potential “soldiers” as well as men, and that creates a space where being “The One” becomes a state of mind, providing power to all three Emcee’s in this song, and potentially the listener as well.

“Expressive histories of indirection, signifying, masking, and displacement have become signature elements of a black aesthetic. Through masking and misdirection African Americans have managed to express subjectivity, a sense of their own humanness, and concern about American race relations”(12).

Putting other people below you or degrading parts of yourself in order to prop yourself up (or certain parts of yourself exclusively), is a big part of how I see “the boast” as a performance structure or theme in Hip-hop.

When Kanye spits: “It’s hard preaching the gospel to the slums lately”

When Big Sean spits:

“I don’t wait, I marinate. Variate, every day/ Living life behind a pair of shades/ I’d be a billionaire, if I could get a dollar/ For all the bullshit that I hear a day.”

When 2 chainz spits:

“Niggas treadmillin’, going nowhere fast.”

and       “like my Verse suede an my beat leather/ Just tryin’ to stay above sea level.”

But this song is also about remittances; they each are giving back to their communities and families who they owe for helping them achieve their personal successes. Ultimately the song ties these three perspectives together through a common thread of perseverance.

Ending with the hook, “I’m as awesome as possible/ I’ve been on this the whole time.”

What is the  “it” that they’ve been “on” this whole time?

“The absorptive mirrors of performance capture and refract images, deepening and changing the possibilities of racial and national identity in their reflections. Performance becomes a space to imagine and posit a form of blackness that both exploits and transcends national boundaries”(5).

 

Sexy Citizens?

In “Sex and Citizenship,” Laura Briggs explores the relationship between the Keywords Colonial and Body. She states, “Between 1917 and 1918, then, gender and women’s bodies became a significant idiom in which colonial relations were negotiated (70).” Briggs poses the question: who controlled the sexuality of Puerto Rico’s poor women? The terminology created and utilized by the U.S. reflected that of an empire in its naming of Puerto Rico as a “incorporated territory.” Briggs argues that the relationship between island and mainland was rapidly changing during this period, and that the inaction of a prostitution policy provided a concrete and safe platform to debate these new relationships. As the U.S. began to seize control over its newly “incorporated territory” it started with those bodies at the bottom of its racialized and gendered social hierarchy. The representation of these “citizens” through the production of stories on who prostitutes were, focused specifically on the status of their health. These women were portrayed as sickly and diseased by those supporting the prostitution policy; either dangerously infectious or sympathetically in need of health care. Ironically, the U.S. presence most likely made the health circumstances of the population worse in Puerto Rico as a small number of Americans accumulated the concentration of wealth. Although there was much push back against the prostitution policy in Puerto Rico, the production of these stories functioned to emphasize and moralize rhetoric of American Exceptionalism in the United States.

I’m specifically interested in what led some Puerto Rican women to support the prostitution policies put in place. In other words, what are the ideologies and discursive structures that led these women to support “sanitization” efforts?

Indigenous Women Rendered Invisible in U.S. Society

In this weeks Keywords reading for “Indian,” Robert Warrior points to the essence of the word as a position of social and cultural misunderstanding both within communities of indigenous peoples, and the remainder of the U.S. populace. Warrior recognizes how most college students don’t have the basic knowledge about how to refer to indigenous people of the Americas, leaving our modern understanding of indigenous people clichéd if not disturbingly caricatured by the teachings received in elementary and secondary school. It is our very lack of understanding that keeps a discussion silenced. Without the tools and the rhetoric to speak frankly about minority group that has been systematically rendered invisible. This point is particularly intriguing given the legal studies research paper conducted at William Mitchell College of Law by Sarah Deer entitled, “Relocation Revisited: Sex Trafficking of Native Women in the United States.” The focus of Deer’s paper is to illuminate the reality that the U.S. faces in terms of sex trafficking (particularly American Indian and Alaska Native women) and how in failing to acknowledge this reality, we hinder the resolution of sexual exploitation which is/has been an epidemic in this country. Further more, Deer argues that the U.S government’s efforts seem disingenuous given their failure to understand the sexual subjugation of women of color as a product and legacy of the European and American colonization projects.

Taking into consideration the U.S. government’s historical superiority complex, actually lets make that the entirety of “Western Society.” The hypocrisy in this situation grows beyond an alarming proportion in the wake of this quote by scholar Jack D. Forbes, “from the raping of women to the raping of a country to the raping of the world. Acts of aggression, of hate, of conquest, or empire building [evolve to] Harems of women and harems of people; houses of prostitution and houses of pimps”(625). Forbes suggests that sexual violence can be used as a metaphor for the concept of colonialism as a whole. Sex traffickers’ tactics utilize systems of oppression in the United States today, the exploitation and displacement of Native women are causes them to be both physically rendered invisible (due to official indifference and institutionalized racism and prejudice) and metaphysically (a lack of representation in media) in the “American” cultural imagination.

As residents of the United States, we are not frequently provided the opportunity to revise this cultural imagination, yet are we not complacent if we do not seek it out?