For Corporations, When Colored Girls are Degraded: An Open Letter to CEO Lucien Grainge of Universal Music Group
“All I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe.” – 2 Chainz, rapper
Well all I want for my birthday is for music corporations to be held accountable for routinely degrading women of color.
Four powerful corporations are behind the majority of music we hear on the radio and the videos we see on tv. Four Corporations are behind the artists who get rightfully criticized — and then quickly forgotten. But how often do these corporations get called out?
Let’s keep this in mind as we watch the recently released music video “Birthday Song” performed by rappers 2 Chainz and Kanye West. The song is owned by Universal Music Group (UMG), the world’s largest music corporation.
Okay, so most of us probably know rappers Kanye and 2 Chainz. And we definitely know what they want for their birthday. But let’s turn our attention to someone less familiar, someone else who helped get this song/video in front of your eyeballs and ears — because well, he and his team of senior executives produce, market, distribute and profit from it. Let’s meet Lucian Grainge, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Universal Music Group. He is regarded as the most powerful executive in the music industry.
Mr. Grainge, I will cut to the chase: Have you watched any of the videos, listened to any of the music you own lately?
Why do you (and your staff and board members) think it is acceptable to routinely exploit women of color in your music?
Do you ever think of the black and brown girls navigating the lifestyles and values that your music glorify?
Do you consider the historical and present day context in which your music circulates?
After all, women of color being degraded, dehumanized and reduced to ASS — is nothing new. We live in a world where black and brown women’s bodies have been exploited since slavery. Where 19th century European freak shows exhibited the “unusual” body of Saartjie Baartman, a South African woman whose remains were finally returned to her homeland in 2002 after legal battles with the French government. Mr. Grainge, your disregard for black and brown women’s bodies is the same disregard that enabled a history of forced sterilization, the shackling of birthing black mothers in prison. Mr. Grainge, your indifference resembles the indifference of a rape culture that overlooks the men who rape, while blaming the women and girls of color, who experience sexual violence at disproportionate rates. Research has proven that the objectification of women in today’s toxic media environment has harmful effects on women and girls.
It is in this greater context of sexual exploitation where the dehumanization of black and brown women has become standard in commercial hip hop. The “Birthday Song” is simply one example. There are countless others.
For decades, artists, fans, and scholar activists have been writing and making films about this exploitation, rallying against it, provoking dialogue, engaging community and offering alternative messages that are rarely celebrated by corporations like UMG. Even young girls are speaking up (see Spark Summit and Watoto from the Nile). Are you listening to them?
Together we are fighting this exploitation and the internalized oppression that it reinforces in communities of color and our greater society. In your mansion, Mr. Grainge, you probably never concern yourself with the struggles of black and brown girls or something called internalized oppression. But this reality is too close for many of us to ignore.
Mr. Grainge, as CEO of the largest music company in America, be clear that you, your senior executives and board members are contributing to a legacy of exploitation.
Now, I realize that considering questions and providing a moral response would compromise your bottom line. Your bottom line is more important than any black and brown girls and women who are internalizing the harmful messages YOU own and distribute.
Given this logic, it is clear that you will ONLY support change if your bottom line is at stake. And that’s why I’m writing this. I’m calling on advertisers & consumers to stop supporting your company, Universal Music Group, until you stop exploiting black and brown women in your music. It’s that simple.
I am also asking educators everywhere to help young people understand the role that corporations play in our mediated lives. Young people need to understand why it is that UMG’s music, songs like “Birthday Song” – flood our radio, youtube and music television. Educators, parents and peers need to have conversations about the meaning of popular music, unpack the harsh and complicated realities these messages reveal. Ultimately, it’s bigger than one corporation. One artist. One song.
Right now, you, your board members, your staff — are a critical part of the problem. I’m calling on you to be part of the solution. And I hope others join me.
What is your response?
Nuala Cabral, FAAN Mail
 Halliwell, E., Malson, H., Tischner, I. (2011). Are contemporary media images which seem to display women as sexually empowered actually harmful to women? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35(1) 38-45.