Rapper Lil Wayne’s music is in heavy rotation on most urban radio stations in the US. His misogynistic lyrics are generally (not always) tolerated and celebrated.
But when he released a track last week with the artist Future that trivialized the violent killing of civil rights icon Emmett Till, the misogyny and disrespect sparked public outrage. Although L.A. Reid, CEO of Epic Records (Future’s label, not Wayne’s) has apologized and promised to remove the offensive content from the track, Lil Wayne has been silent. The family of Emmett Till is demanding an apology from the artist.
We believe Emmett Till’s family and the black community deserve more than an apology — from Lil Wayne and the corporations that back him.
We want answers and real action from Epic Records, Cash Money Records, Sony Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Clear Channel, Radio One, and Viacom — media corporations that consistently provide a platform for misogynistic and hateful messages about black and brown communities.
We encourage others to join us and talk back to these corporations. How? Here are some ideas:
Share or create your own memes. Express yourself in an Open Letter and post it to your blog. Talk about this with your friends, film it and upload it to youtube. Make a PSA. Create a remix or mashup that gets people thinking. Use satire to critique what you see. Organize a petition. Organize direct action. Do something totally creative and unexpected to get people talking about this. Support the media that is reflective of who we are as a diverse people.
Together, let us TALK BACK – through our words and actions- and be heard.
Collectively, we are strong. The question is — are we willing to act?
Lupe’s latest video is causing a stir and lots of people are “talking back!” Check it out:
Media Literacy Questions for Bitch Bad:
What is the message of this song?
What values & points of views are represented?
Who is the target audience?
How may different audiences interpret the message differently?
What is omitted (left out) from this message?
In what context was this song created?
What messages do we hear about race and gender?
FAAN co-founder Nuala Cabral compiled a range of twitter reactions to the song/video in this storify. And then there are a series of pieces analyzing “Bitch Bad.” Here are some we recommend:
Blogger daintyblackpegasus wrote a sharp gender critique of the song on Tumblr:
Overall, the issue becomes one of reinforcing patriarchy by making it a man’s place to “protect” a woman by defining her. The surface message is that Lupe is trying to elevate his Black sisters by teaching them to be beyond reproach and more than a regurgitation of what they’ve seen. However, what it really does is place significant blame on women for ever internalizing these images while ignoring patriarchal issues like the men who support the internalization of being hypersexual by women while simultaneously shaming it. (More here)
Ebony’s Jamiliah Lemieux’s had this to say to music critics who dismissed the song as “half-baked conscious hip hop”:
“IT’S BIT ABSURD FOR TWO MEN WHO CAN ENJOY RAP MUSIC WHILE EXISTING ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE CULTURE THAT SUSTAINS IT TO DISMISS THE NEED FOR A CONVERSATION ABOUT “B*TCH.” (Read more here.)
Ádìsá Ájámú offered his concerns about men instructing women on their empowerment:
“I love the message in “Bitch Bad” more than the song. And I applaud any brother … But here’s my discomfort: With so much work for brothers to do on themselves within this patriarchal order I am still a bit uncomfortable with men instructing sisters on the finer points of womanhood, no matter how well intended.” (Read more.)
See Lupe discuss his intentions for “Bitch Bad” here:
What do you think? Weigh in. Talk Back. Comment here or go to twitter and tell @LupeFiasco what you think using the hashtag #BitchBad.
Check out these responses to today’s Light Skin v. Dark Skin Party at Adesso Night Club in Philadelphia. Feel free to circulate these memes. We want to provoke critical dialogue around this issue.
When we called Adesso night club, its manager asserted that the theme of the party is a “prank” and hung up the phone. But as one ally of FAAN noted, “If people are coming based on the promotion of the flier, than it’s more than just a ‘prank’. In the face of opposition, calling it a “prank” is probably their safety valve.”
These memes were created by FAAN Mail friends and allies. Special thanks to Race and Gender Studies scholar Dr. Yaba Blay of the (1)ne Drop Project for contributing insight as well as the Fuller quote pulled from her essay: Skin Bleaching and Global White Supremacy.
Watch this Talk Back video featuring high school students analyzing the memes above:
In this talk back, FAAN Mail responds to “It’s Free- Swipe Yo EBT” a controversial music video produced by emerging artist, Chapter. The music video has reached over 400K views and received over 3,000 comments on youtube, including many charged reactions.
In this conversation, we consider key media literacy questions about this piece:
Who is the AUTHOR and TARGET AUDIENCE?
What is the MESSAGE?
How might different audiences INTERPRET this message?
What TECHNIQUES are used to attract audience attention?
In what CONTEXT does this message exist?
What are the EFFECTS? (i.e. who benefits or is harmed by this message?)
We also ask– is this music video an effective attempt at SATIRE?
If you would like to hear artist Chapter’s commentary about her piece, see here.
We have developed questions to send the artist Chapter in order to get a better understanding of her motives and point of view. However, in response to our interview request, Chapter’s PR Representative wrote:
“Chapter is an College Educated young woman. I reviewed your FAAN Mail Project -I found it to be misleadng being that you never had any reseach done about Chapter background, nor have you took the time to read the above post- The music video “It’s Free Swipe Yo EBT is Satire Chapter is playing a role in her music video-Keywanda. Please look over her web-site http://www.chaptersworld.tv she has also been on the news NBC ABC – please look under news on her web-site to gather facts about the artist. Please also watch her interview. Chapter is from South Central Ca, her mother was a Welfare Queen, she was abused as a child. Her mission is in her music.”
Is it possible to enjoy reality shows like Jersey Shore and Basketball Wives, while keeping a critical eye? We explore this question and more in this living room conversation.
FAAN Mail is a media literacy and media activism project based in Philadelphia.
What do you notice about this picture?
What do you notice about this photograph of a news -stand at the 34th St Subway platform in NYC?
Have you seen this type of display before?
When I lived in NYC three years ago I walked by news stands like this on a daily basis. Recently while visiting NYC, I walked by this newsstand and took this photograph.
The other night I showed the picture to my friends and asked what they noticed.
It was a media literacy moment, FAAN Mailstyle. Here’s some video of the conversation:
What do I notice?
I notice a typical NYC newsstand. And as I point out in our discussion, I notice a discrepancy between the way white women and black women are represented. To put it bluntly, I see lots of white faces and lots of black booties.
BlackandBrownNews.com (BBN), an award-winning digital news and information distributor, did a fascinating news story about this in 2009 titled “New York City Newsstand Vendors: Exploiting Some, Protecting Others”:
We found shopkeepers – many of them people of color – who exploited the images of Black and Latino women while going to great lengths to protect the image of White women on like magazine covers.
This news story led to a campaign and according to the Founder, legislation is now on the table. I’ll come back to this later.
In addition to observations around representation when looking at this photograph, my friends and I discussed the question of impact. We wondered what we learn from these images. How do we interpret these spectacles (when we do notice them)?
The little boy holding his lunch box, the teenage boys with their book bags, the grown man who is my boss, what do they think when they see this? What does this teach them?
The black girls out there… the teenage sister who is looking for validation, excited to hear someone call her sexy as if it is the only compliment that matters… and perhaps the only compliment she hears on a regular basis. What does she learn from this?
The men who shout, grab and follow…. the ones who throw epithets and glass bottles when their cat calls are ignored… Do they notice the newsstand? What does it teach them and the men who silently look upon them?
Street harassment has often made me feel like I am on display…. humanity stripped, objectified. I remember feeling that way and then walking passed newsstands not much different than this one. Including a shot of a magazine display in Walking Home, my film about street harassment, was an effort to make this connection visible.
But this connection goes beyond how I personally feel. There is a connection that speaks to our history. This newsstand may appear insignificant, but it is symbolic of a history that is still unfolding, where black and brown women in particular experience a unique form of normalized sexual exploitation and violence, one that is colored by sexism and racism. It is symbolic of a history where black women go missing and so does the media coverage about their disappearance. A history where black women have been viewed as “unrapable,” where joking about sexual violence in song lyrics is interpreted as “funny” or “shocking,” but ultimately accepted as pure entertainment by audiences andjournalists alike.
Then and Now
bell hooks and other scholars have argued that the dehumanization of black and brown men and women’s bodies has been used to justify and reinforce the oppression of black and brown people. In Black Sexual Politics, author Patricia Hill Collins explains:
“For both women and men, Western social thought associates Blackness with an imagined uncivilized, wild sexuality and uses this association as one lynchpin of racial difference. Whether depicted as “freaks” of nature or as being the essence of nature itself, savage, untamed sexuality characterizes Western representations of women and men of African descent.”
It is this narrative that helps explain why it was once acceptable for a black woman named Saartjie Baartman aka the “Hottentot Venus” to be caged, scrutinized and demonized at European Freak Shows. And it is this narrative that helps explain why newsstands like the one above exist all over NYC.
So what do we do with this newsstand, this symbol?
I wonder how Saartjie Baartman would answer that question.
Let me suggest that we notice it, seek to understand its implications and impact and talk about it. And then– if we care– we can act.
To all of those arguments that blame women and black women specifically for choosing to objectify themselves (you know, the whole “well she CHOSE to be in that video, magazine, party flyer, etc.”) this newsstand illuminates a reality that those arguments often overlook. Rather than simply blaming women who make those choices, we should be asking in what context are women making those choices?
And for the black women who adamantly distinguish themselves from “those women” and argue that they are not affected by these representations, I want to know what they think of this newsstand as a symbol. Is there still a disconnect? Or is there a reason to pay attention?
I am curious about the action steps outlined by Black and Brown News which asserts the following:
New York City newsstands are licensed by city government and they are also bound to law. According to New York Penal Code Penal Law Sections:
–245.10 Public display of offensive sexual material is defined as showing of the female genitals, pubic area or buttocks with less than a full opaque covering, or the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any portion thereof below the top of the nipple.
–245.11 And a person is guilty of public display of offensive sexual material when he with knowledge of its character and content he displays or permits to be displayed in or on any window, showcase, newsstand, display rack, wall, door, billboard, display board, viewing screen, moving picture screen, marquee or similar place, in such manner that the display is easily visible from or in any: public street, sidewalk or thoroughfare; transportation facility; or any place accessible to members of the public without fee or other limit or condition of admission such as a minimum age requirement.
If you notice or think that a newsstand is in violation, please take the time to contact the appropriate authorities.
Apparently it is possible to report violations to NYC City Officials. Of course as BBN has mentioned, enforcement has been an issue.
Let’s keep this conversation going. What are your thoughts? What’s next?
By Nuala Cabral