Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Misogyny Continues...

by Jennifer McLune

Author’s Note: The following essay represents my attempt at articulating a response to Kid Cudi’s “Make Her Say (Poke Her Face),” featuring Common and Kanye West. I’d like to be honest in stating upfront that, during the process of writing this piece I only listened to the song and read over its lyrics on an absolutely-as-needed basis. The words & the images these contempt-ridden lyrics created in my mind left me feeling physically sick and emotionally depleted, even at times to the point of being traumatized.

As a female listener, one willing to allow herself to really hear this song’s words and take them to heart, the message was painfully clear: women like dick; we like it violently shoved in our faces, and, according to Common at least, we want oral sex forced upon us, however brutally men see fit to give it. We even enjoy having a man’s penis shoved down our throats, pushed up our mouths, literally rammed through our faces so far and with so much force that a penetration of the internal matter of our skulls occurs, i.e. the man hits “brain” with his dick. According to Common, Kanye and Kid Cudi, some women enjoy this kind of brutal, body punishing oral sex; they can learn how to beg, not only to be used as receptacles for men’s semen, but to be violated to the point of physical injury. Having to deal with this type of pure, unmitigated misogyny, and needing to think about it for an extended period of time in order to write about it made the completion of this piece extremely difficult. I enlisted the help of another radical feminist, Stephanie Cleveland, whose support and contributions in editing and writing spared me the ordeal of having to complete this essay all alone.

When the song “I Poke Her Face” was first brought to my attention, I thought that, if nothing else, at least Common’s “consciousness pimping” would finally being exposed. I imagined the singer would no longer be able to hide behind what we his listening public have so long pretended he’s about; this songs lyrics seemed to make it painfully clear who Common really is, and has in fact always been: a consciousness pimp who likes and expects to get my dick sucked by “stripper bitches,” just like any other woman-hating guy. Common seemed to be indisputably articulating that sentiment in the song, but leave it to one of his male fans, DC area poet and activist Kenneth Carroll, to dissent with a comment that is not only unoriginal, but also does exactly what Common and Kanye must have banked on—it demonstrates how their fans will dismiss any song, even one this overtly hateful, as a mere “inconsistency” in their struggle to be better men, certainly not an overt manifestations of the sadistic, full-blown misogynist these men really and truly are. Carroll writes:

I like Common, but this song reminds me of the Gil Scott Heron admonition to rappers on his album Spirits, when he told rappers "You can't be progressive on every other song. She's your queen on one song and your bitch on the other." Inconsistency is an issue for all of us however, that's part of the struggle to live to our highest ideals.

Why did the above statement make me feel almost as nauseated as the actual song itself? For starters, Carroll's response demonstrates no mere inconsistency, but rather, a particularly dangerous form of hypocrisy with respect to violence against women. He purports to care about honoring black women, but then proceeds to mask the sexual abuse of his sisters in callous euphemisms. "Inconsistency" is way too mild a term to use for inflicting the kind of sexual abuse on a woman Common sings about. Often times, I have noticed that most men, who won’t actually bring themselves to defend a song like “Poke Her Face,” but will instead use vague excuses in order to avoiding critiquing its message, may be doing so in order to continue living vicariously through these kinds of misogynist lyrics. Common creates a fantasy with these songs that many men can relate to, a fantasy world where men can be sexually dominant over a woman, and, at least in their own minds, put her back in her place.

Carroll makes it sound as though he’s somehow privy to a special knowledge of the decent human being Common supposedly is deep inside; he wants us to believe that a man shoving his cock down a woman’s throat to the point of making her gag couldn’t possibly be what Common is really about. The sad truth however is, it very well could be. As a radical feminist, I am critical of misogynist constructions of sex, one’s that make it seem as though women enjoy our own subordination and crave being degraded. In the past, people have often responded to my critiques of sexual behavior that degrades & even inflicts pain on women, by claiming that I have to accept that “Some women just like it rough.” These people assume that, if the woman who, in this case, is having her brain fucked by the tip of a man’s penis, consented to “that type of sexual role-play,” then my criticism is irrelevant, a denial of her right to freedom & autonomy. It is not actually any less misogynist however, to argue that some women, rather than all, enjoy violent oral sex, or any sex where a man dominates us; this argument assumes women have as much real, socially defined freedom as men to give or refuse to give consent; it also completely avoids asking any questions about the implications of some men’s desire to control & over power women during sex.

Yet, for the man who gets turned-on by the idea of hurting and shaming a woman, both the fantasy of the “bad girl” who likes to be hurt, who is sexually “liberated” enough to embrace her true, masochistic nature, and the “good girl,” too delicate, too prudish or too repressed to take it, are essential components to his patriarchal vision of human sexuality. Both of these male-supremist representations of women’s sexual role work to uphold misogyny. They both revolve around rigid, patriarchal stereotypes of gender and female desire. In the end, the man is still defining the terms on which women are allowed to be sexual or to pursue sexual freedom and sexual dignity—and, reluctant to grant us real sexual dignity, men even redefine “dignity” as a woman’s “right” to get poked in the face.

Yet, is there any true sexual freedom or sexual dignity for women when the only two options we are given are, learn to like being face-fucked, or learn to deal with being ignored, invisible, written off as worthless? We must not lose sight of the fact that the bad/liberated girl is only as free as the confines of a male-dominated sexual fantasy allow her to be; the good/repressed girl for her part, is only able to feel superior if she tells herself she is “not like those women” Kanye and Common rap about. Men like Common depend on this divide among women, and the fear and mistrust it produces, in order to perpetuate their sexist songs virtually unchallenged. This division among women leaves those who allegedly asked for sexual abuse open to any form of exploitation and degradation as long as they appear to have consented or enjoyed it. Meanwhile, women who would never willingly consent to having a dick shoved through our faces convince ourselves that we need not care about this song, or any song like it—those sorts of things only happen to “dirty” nasty women, after all, women who asked for it, women who deserved it. The fear of sexual violence these songs strike into the heart of any woman willing to allow herself to really feel the lyrics is painful, but we need to understand that these words are directed, not just at some of us, but all of us. Many of us as women would prefer to tip-toe around the issue, to keep pretending that, incomprehensible as it is for us, there must be women for whom the act of getting throat raped and the song can be a legitimate turn on. Do we work so hard to convince ourselves these women asked for it and somehow deserved it, because, deep in our hearts, we know all to well that most men simply aren’t interested in a sexuality that’s more humane?

One problem with this coping mechanism for dealing with hurtful lyrics is that it asks no questions of men. When men experience pleasure over the thought of hating, hurting, gagging, shaming or otherwise overpowering a female person, even one who has supposedly asked to be treated in this way, perhaps the questions should be less about whether or not the woman gave consent or liked it, and more about why the idea of humiliating a woman is so appealing to so many men in the first place. When men still assume a woman can enjoy being subordinated, humiliated or abused during sex, that ideology affects all women. The idea that women are sexually masochistic is an old one, and fundamental to patriarchy itself. It allows men to justify not just the act of hurting women, but the ideology of sexism, their very worldview of women as socially inferior objects made for sex. If a man is self-destructive, if he wants to be degraded or abused, often we ask questions about whether or not he is mentally healthy or might be struggling with some emotional problem. With women however, masochism is all too often considered an innate part of our sexuality. As feminist women, we need to be about the business of reclaiming our sexuality and examining our own ways of thinking about and experiencing arousal. Sometimes this involves asking difficult questions, for both women and men, about why we “like” certain things, how our conceptions of desire came into being. For women socialized, as we all are, in a culture that tells us we are by nature submissive and should enjoy being objectified, it stands to reason that man of us come to really believe these things about ourselves. But why is it forbidden to ask how these views got constructed, or to ask men to change how they feel about, and treat women—all women, all the time, even during sex? I am simply not convinced that women will ever have equality outside the bedroom, when during sex, we are still treated as abuse-hungry masochists.

Unfortunately, the fact that some individuals can be turned-on by a dichotomy that allows misogynist fantasizes to be worked out on and in the bodies of some women, does not advance women’s struggle for emancipation. Nor does it really help to free any individual woman; women who agree to this kind of abusive sex are frequently used, by men, to pressure those of us who admit to disliking it into doing it anyway. “Why can’t you be more like that woman who likes me to come in her mouth and up her nose? Why can’t you be like the women Common raps about?” Under this kind of pressure, many women are made to feel that if we don’t fulfill his sexual fantasies, another woman will. This track spends a lot of time trying to convince women of the fun to be had if they go “wild” and get “poked,” and for many men, the need to convince a woman is actually part of the thrill. It’s not just the sexual dominance itself in the form of violent oral sex, but the humiliation, the power involved in making a good girl go bad, in wringing consent from her as proof of her total submission.

There is a quote of Maya Angelou’s that I love, about the importance of believing a person when they show you who they really are. I think we have a hard time not trusting that people are indeed, who they are, who they show themselves to be. This goes for artists we admire as well as friends, potential partners, even family, and I think it is especially true when it turns that our idols are not what we expected or wanted them to be. Realistically, why wouldn’t it be Common’s highest ideal to win praise for his supposed consciousness, and still get his dick sucked? Through making some pretense of having political consciousness, he can get the obligatory pity we always dish out to men: “At least he gave it a try!” This seems to be the standard consolation for men who at least pretend to do right by women, before being “overcome” as helpless victims of their own inconsistency?

It is difficult for me to believe that men who fail women so enormously, and so dangerously as Common does in this song, were ever really struggling all that hard to be anti-sexist to begin with. In fact I think failure is a part of the dance these men do with so-called consciousness, and the dance always seems to end with women getting shafted, a pun of which I’m sure Common would approve.

Maybe if he knew that recording a track that reifies the disrespect and abuse of women under the banner of “rough sex” would do serious damage to him with fans, Common might not have recorded “Poke Her Face” at all. I’m sure he knew however, that he could count on being excused, that the song might even be used to prop-up an endearing image of him as somebody with human imperfections. He and so many other male public figures are able to spin out this excuse whenever it’s needed, but if Common had known there would be real consequences for his betrayal of women, maybe he would have made different choices. He might well have felt the need to show a little integrity, and compassion towards women as well.

But Common knows I’m sure, that he can afford to play with his reputation. He even mocks the farce of himself being “conscious,” pointing out that it’s no real burden on him, just a brand he knows his fans have loyalty to. They love his act; he can feel confident no one will ever expect more from him, especially when it comes to disrespecting women. Common is pimping his consciousness as a brand. Even in this song, he’s pimping, pimping the fake idea of his consciousness to get a woman to suck his dick. He raps:

But they say you be on that conscious tip
Get your hair right and get up on this conscious dick

Is it really fair to use such tame language as “inconsistent” to describe what Common is doing here? Without condemning these lyrics, those who defend him actually help perpetuate violence against women; they minimize the responsibility of all men not to engage in, celebrate, or excuse male sexual violence, treating it instead as entertainment, a quirky, inconsistent song.

And fuck them other niggas cause you down for her bitches
Fuck them other niggas cause she down for the stickin’
And fuck them other niggas hope she down for some lickin’
And fuck them other bitches

Of course one of the main goals of music can be to create imagery that appeals to the senses and even evokes passion and desire. But as women, are we really supposed to be excited by a song about three men poking their dicks into a woman’s face to the point of gagging her. Are we supposed to believe this is sexual pleasure for women? This is not a song about lust or passion. The imagery is violent, the intent to humiliate. When passion and lust are invoked to explain away violence against women, no wonder so many women, especially young women who now grow up listening to and constantly bombarded by these types of songs, think love is supposed to hurt, humiliate, even kill.

Significantly, the song’s comment response thread on YouTube focused around a debate on whether or not it was a successful remix of Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face.” There was no mention about whether or not re-tilting the title as a violent metaphor for forced oral sex was immature, male-supremacist, or derogatory. Material focused on sexual violence against women is now easily ignored in both music and pop-culture. We appear to have become so desensitized when it comes to misogyny, that anyone who notices it is almost immediately dismissed as prudish or overly-sensitive. It has never been hip to question male-supremacy, particularly in the area of sex, where men’s sexuality has long been assumed to be “naturally” more violent than women’s. But now, questioning these attitudes about sex seems more difficult than ever, as the media co-opts certain aspects of feminism to promote a patriarchal ideal that defines misogyny as the “most sexy,” exciting, empowering, even inevitable component of sex. Women are encouraged to believe rough sex is the type of sex a women a woman who is truly liberated and sexually uninhibited would choose. Thinking critically about issues of power inequities or asking difficult questions about sexual violence could threaten to put a damper on this “sexiness parade,” and yet, it is precisely such eroticizing of power and powerlessness that keeps traditional, patriarchal constructs of gender and sexuality afloat. The new breed of “fun feminists” understand this; they act accordingly, celebrating or attempting to reclaim a male-supremacist sex- industry, and measuring women’s liberation by the “get off test,” i.e., “If I get off, then get off my back about it!” Radical feminist critical of BDSM and the global sex trade are considered old-school party poopers; how dare we continue to remind people that, unfortunately, ain’t a damn thing changed when it comes to how most men continue to view sex, as an act through which women were created and predestined to be dominated. This song is certainly an obvious and disturbing example of how strong that belief still is.

She wanna have whatever she like
She can if she bring her friend
And we can have one hell of a night
Through the day

On the track, each man takes his turn at rapping, almost as if he is symbolically taking his turn at getting oral sex. Even if the rap is meant to be about multiple women (the initial woman addressed, better, of course, bring her friends, because after all, she’s nothing special) the continuous flow of the song makes it sound like a gang bang. Common even raps about how the woman he’s using is drunk. Men love to argue that if a grown woman gets drunk, then that grown woman gets what she deserves’ she’s been irresponsible, and shouldn’t expect men to be gentlemen, men don’t owe her a damn thing. These rappers even revel in the idea of a woman being too drunk to put up much resistance; if she’s easier to use and control for sex, it doesn’t matter much whether her ability to give consent is impaired.

She Blamed It On The Al-A-A-Al-A-Alcohol
She Had Her Hair Did, It Was Bound To Fall

It sounds as if the male singers are talking about one woman or “bitch” as they call her, whom they are jointly using together. All we know about her is that she’s at least 21, in college, a stripper, and of course she loves to suck cock…having it poked not in her mouth, in her face, the implication being that Common and Kanye own her entire head. In fact, Kid Cudi brags about making this woman vomit up, and then swallow down, his ejaculate:

I’m hopin’ she a rider
When it’s said and done
And she spit it up and swallow now

There is no doubt in my mind that this song is describing an oral rape; specifically, it describes a group rape of one woman by several men. Any intelligent adult could draw the same conclusion from even a casual listen to these lyrics. But, of course, Common and his buddies win, because all “art” is up to interpretation. Since this culture positions women’s sexuality as being inherently masochistic, this song can also be viewed as simply and innocently reporting on how a woman (or a “bitch” because, after all, it isn’t enough to humiliate her by fucking her, she must also be ridiculed and called names) consents and loves to have her face “poked” by the dicks of three guys. And of course, even though rape boils down to an issue of consent, placing all responsibility and blame on the woman (did she agree to it or didn’t she? if she did agree but was subsequently humiliated, well, that’s her own damned fault). We are meant to assume that this woman has given her consent for an oral gang bang, but even while offering this supposed agreement, she must also endure being called a “bitch” by Common and his buddies? The name calling is necessary, because these men hate her for being a woman; the more she lives up to their assumptions about her as a self-abnegating, masochistic bitch, the more they feel justified in doing whatever they want with and to her—she apparently “enjoys” it after all.

And lest I be accused of unfairly picking on Kid Cudi, Common and Kanye, let me point out that this is not the only hip hop song about oral rape. Another example of this “genre” is Lil’Wayne and Cam’ron’s, “You Gonna Suck It or Not?” Not only is this song about violent and degrading oral sex, it makes sure to take a swipe at lesbians and feminists as well, so that there is no confusion about its misogynist intentions. Just in case you had any lingering doubts, Cam’ron croons:

You don't like men? me neither, what a coincidink (what a coincidence)
Ms. Jiggy, Ms. Piggy, Pinky mink, pinky ring blingin'
Ma, are you gonna suck it or not?
I ain't the type to diss you, kinda like to hit you
That's the situation, bring wifey with you
Would you like a tissue? (Why?) You gon' need it
for the cum up in your nose babygirl cause you suckin my cock

After this earlier meditation on the theme of oral rape by two obvious hip hop bad boys, I guess the “conscious brothers” could not stand to be outdone. They had to have their own oral rape song, to show the bad boys they ain’t soft, they can go hard on a bitch too. They like getting their dicks sucked as much as any red blooded African American man. And since sucking dick is so expected nowadays, no longer shameful enough in and of itself, the “conscious brothers” are going to make sure this bitch knows this is not for her enjoyment, this is to put her in her place. They will say the most violent, humiliating things they can think of while fucking her, so that she never forgets they are the big men, and she’s nothing but a woman, a hole to fuck, a face to poke, some “brain” to get and hit. If she “likes” it, that wouldn’t be as much fun; it’s not fun unless she suffers a little; so shove her head down on your cock, so her brain matter feels it. And then, see if you can even somehow make her say she “likes” not liking it. Make no mistake, these types of songs are not about celebrating sex and pleasure, certainly not women’s pleasure. These songs are constructed by men who get off on hurting women, and who expect women to at least pretend to get off on being hurt.

Although I doubt Kanye really wants to kill a woman with his dick (though godess knows, whether or not he’d want to if he could get away with it I can’t say) he uses the metaphor of a woman’s “brain” getting him off. This is violent, and has nothing to do with physical stimulation. The idea of fucking into a woman’s brain is only necessary for a man who wants to exercise complete control and domination over another human being. Interesting how, in hip hop, women are consistently portrayed as nothing except tits and ass. A woman’s brain is only considered an asset when she’s giving head, since, after all, every part of her must be put to use in servicing men. Her mind, worth nothing in men’s eyes for its intellect, becomes something worth rapping about if he can use his dick to rape it. And don’t get it twisted: Kanye and Common, the most famous of the trio, are no better than Kid Cudi. They co-sign everything Kid Cudi says. Here’s Common, in his rap:

Down, down for a damn, Cudi already said it
A poker face book I already read it

The one consolation I felt after hearing this song was that I’ve never been a fan of Kanye or Common. Not ever. And I know a lot of “progressive” folk who are. Still, this did not feel like a betrayal for me. It felt like just another slap, or another poke in the face I guess, from black men. It reminded me why, while I still may have a little lingering faith in black men individually to do the right thing by women, I no longer have any faith in them collectively.

Hold up, born in 88′?
How old is that? Old enough

Make no mistake about it, this so-called inconsistency of Common’s is not simply about his use of the word “bitch”. This song is a celebration of a man using a woman’s “face” to plant his dick in. It is not a song in which otherwise conscious rappers call some women “bitches”; it’s a song in which three guys take turns (aren’t they gentlemanly?) poking their erections through a woman’s face. The sounds used to create the chorus is like a grotesque mixture of moaning and gagging. And isn’t this what most men want to hear during sex, what they want to believe women are truthfully like? They want to be confirmed in their belief that, though we may resist at first, we will ultimately enjoy being mouth-fucked, because we’re all closet-masochists who get our pleasure from being in pain. How can a man who claims to care about gender equality like Carroll, not see the danger in this song’s deeply anti-feminist assertions?

When you use your Medulla Oblongata
And give me scoliosis until I comatoses
And do it while I sleep yeah a little osmosis

And it’s not just about Common. It’s also about Kanye. Kanye too is considered “different”—he’s no Snoop Dogg after all, right? He even comes up with the occasional political statement about race, religion or homosexuality. There was even some speculation about his sexuality for a while there, what with his “man bags” and above average fashion sense. This song may well represent a misguided attempt on Kanye’s part at trying to reassure us of his heterosexuality. Heterosexuality, however, does not have to be, and moreover, should not be, misogynist. Kanye made the choice to express his manhood and sexuality in some of the most woman-hating ways possible, and he did this because of who and what he truly is: a misogynist. And in many ways, Kanye’s misogyny is even more dangerous than the hyper-masculinity peddled by the usual suspects in hip hop’s war on women. He is more dangerous because he is essentially telling men the world is yours: you can have your skinny jeans, man bags, and blow jobs! You can have what she’s having (mani, pedi and a purse!) and you can still have her (on her knees, so that she never forgets who’s boss, of course).

Kanye actually and ridiculously even invokes Rosa Parks as a metaphor for orally violating a woman.

And That’s My Commandment, You Ain’t Gotta Ask Moses
More Champagne, More Toastest
More Damn Planes, More Coastest
And Fuck A Bus, The Benz Is Parked Like Rosa

Is this what being “conscious” and literate means for men in hip hop? Does it make you smarter and better to be able to write songs about shoving your dick so far up a woman’s mouth, you hit her brain matter, or, as Kanye puts it in that oh-so-sophisticated way of his, her Medulla Oblongata? This is rape. What man seriously believes that it could be a pleasurable experience for a woman to have her skull, her brain, invaded by a penis? And if indeed this is all just a metaphor for “rough sex” it sounds violent and hateful rather than erotic; it sounds soul-crushing and humiliating, rather than reciprocal and pleasurable. The only man who could enjoy puncturing a woman’s brain with his genitals is not really a “conscious” rapper; he’s a misogynist, a sadist, a rapist.

What exactly will it take for people to understand the seriousness of this kind of violence against women? What would it take for people to stop conflating sex with power, to see sexual violence against women as real. Do you still like Common because he’s only rapping about a gang bang? Would you keep on liking him if he admitted to joining in a real gang bang? Is that still excusable, just as long as he was having an “off day”? Like Kenneth Carroll says, we all struggle, and nobody’s perfect. It would be crazy to demand a man be “perfect” enough to consistently refrain from orally raping or sexually humiliating women throughout his entire life, wouldn’t it? Not taking out the recycling, accidentally locking your keys in the car, forgetting to bring in the mail, maybe poking your penis in a woman’s mouth with your homeboys while she moans “oh, oh, oh, oh” once in a while—it’s all the same thing at the end of the day.

Except, men’s sexism isn’t actually something accidental and forgivable. Fans may want to reduce it to something trivial because that makes them feel better about continuing to support both Kanye and Common, but that doesn’t make the violence less real. And for their part, these men know they can get away with singing about whatever they want to, that men like Carroll will understand and forgive them; if they can justify the struggle of these artists to live towards their ideals, maybe fans can even forgive themselves for their own misogyny, and live vicariously a little bit too, through these other men’s exploits. And women…well, women will, as always, lower our standards for men, partly because we’ve been warned not to expect to much from them. And partly because the realities of our lives have taught us all too well that, when it comes to asking for more ethical, egalitarian sex from men, that offer is rarely ever on the table.

There seems to be endless sympathy for the men, but no concern for the women they’re degrading. But one thing we cannot allow ourselves to fall for is, men doing dirty, and then indicting anyone who dares to call them out on their bullshit. No one is perfect, that’s true, and yet, not everyone goes around making tracks about poking their penises into women’s faces. Common is not simply flawed, or human, or inconsistent. He and Kanye hate women, and in that way, are no better than Lil’Wayne, Snoop Dogg or Ludacris. They have packaged their woman-hating a little differently; they have a different brand on the outside, but are very much the same underneath. We don’t expect much from these men in terms of being anti-sexist, and because of this, saying Bush doesn’t care about black people, or whatever Common is famous for saying (I honestly don’t know because I normally just ignore him) somehow manages to pass for political integrity. I’ve always been suspicious of black men who call me “sister” or “queen”. As far as I’m concerned, these men should earn the right to both call us sister and be our brother. Black women need to stop accepting meaningless bones of acknowledgement from black men, and I think our standards for doing right by women must have sunk to an all time low, when a song like this one can be written off as just a “bump” on the road toward a man becoming a better person. If only we’d listen:

But man, her head was gooder than the music
electro body known to blow fuses
A stripper from the south lookin for a payday
Said bitch you should do it for the love like Ray Jay

In hip hop, an artist needs a brand. That’s how it works. Consciousness is Common’s brand. Being an asshole (sorry, a successful gangster-rapper-turned-entrepreneur) is Jay Z’s brand. Either way both rappers are given a free pass, for being conscious but flawed, or for being a sellout but having fame and fortune to show for it. Might seems to make right either way, and the dudes always win.

I can’t help but wonder if there could even be a coalition building between the Jay Z’s and 50 Cents of the world and the Commons and Kanye Wests? Both brands know they need each other to keep hip hop going. Everybody is getting paid, and male bonding around that power—the power to define both consciousness and selling out—ensures that both groups ultimately owe no real integrity or consistency to anybody else. Their success and immunity to criticism are guaranteed, and they become bulletproof, seamlessly complementing each other. They are untouchable, since different people need to believe different fantasies, though in the end, both fantasies are two sides of the same coin, the same dirty sexy money.

If Common or Kanye makes a sexist song, well hey, nobody’s perfect. Remember how he stood up to Bush?? That’s important. You feminists are never satisfied. If Jay Z talks about being a pimp, hey, he’s just keeping it real, and look, he’s savvy, a real businessman. Might makes right, all ya’ll feminists are just haters.

In his November 2007 interview with Charlie Rose, Jay Z makes it clear that he hasn’t just been Kanye West’s boss, he’s also a fan and a mentor to the rising star he called a “Hip Hop heir.” Jay Z’s siding with Kanye against 50 Cent in their battle to outsell each others new album releases made great business sense as was his infamous Black Album rhyme: "If skills sold, truth be told/I'd probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli." Jay Z knows that the more he gives props to artists that are supposed to represent an alternative to him the more they wont bite back at the ideological hand that feeds them scraps of mainstream acknowledgement. Critically acclaimed artists are too busy being honored by the commercially acclaimed to resist and challenge their messages directly.

I now realize there’s absolutely no point in trying to keep track of which one of my favorite critically acclaimed artist is collaborating with yet another unsavory and sexist rapper next. Apparently in the music industry resistance by the “underground”, if resistance is indeed the point of being unlike the mainstream, is futile because rapping critically about materialism, ignorance, violence and even misogyny clearly doesn’t mean you won’t then give props to or make songs with artists who peddle materialism, ignorance, violence and misogyny.

Clearly the idea among these male artists was never to change the industry’s treatment and messages about women. Kanye’s most commercially successful and signature song is still his Jamie Foxx collaboration “Golddigger” which peaked at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 on September 6, 2005.

So where exactly does this leave women? What can we except and hold on to, when it comes to the men we admire and support?

I don’t even think it’s a forgiving heart that compels men like Carroll to refuse to condemn “Poke Her Face” and the rappers who made it out right. I think maybe, like most people, he’s just of the mindset that, “boys will be boys”. We can’t expect them not to disrespect a woman at least some of the time, and Carroll urges us to take pity on Common for his struggle to live up to his ideals, as we’re supposed to assume they must be. Wow, it must really hurt Common so much, to treat women like dirt; it must have really been difficult for him to call women bitches, to demand they suck his cock. Poor, poor Common.

But they say you be on that conscious tip
Get your hair right and get up on this conscious dick

The truth is that Carroll’s argument is actually one conscious men use to get off all the time, and unfortunately it flies with most people. At least it flies when the issue is the mistreatment of women. Being a man who is consistently anti-sexist is never expected or demanded of men; men can afford to be only as conscious as they need to in order to get by, and not a bit more. Is this why a man can’t possibly be expected not to make a track about violently using a woman for oral sex? Is this the twisted standard by which three men singing about jointly orally raping a woman is somehow equated with a “struggle” to live up to their highest ideals? We have to face facts: this song is Common’s ideal. This is who he is, and has been all along. His fans just had him wrong. And that’s actually their bad, not his.

Now, if you continue to support him and Kanye West after this, fine. But you won’t be able to do so anymore in ignorance. Now you know, and are complicit in the success of misogynists. Maybe you can blame that on your own inconsistency, right? How convenient. Still, it leaves unanswered the question, are progressive folk who excuse the blatant hatred of women demonstrated by the Commons and Kanyes of the hip hop world, bigger fans of these artists, or of human justice?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"Birthers" are DUMB

Racism Is the Prime Cause for Debunked Obama Birth Certificate Conspiracy Theory
By Liliana Segura, AlterNet
Posted on July 28, 2009, Printed on July 28, 2009

By now, everyone has heard of the "birthers," that rabid crop of self-appointed patriots who insist that Barack Hussein Obama is not a legitimate president because he is not really an American citizen. What was once a nasty little rumor in the early days of the presidential race has since evolved into a full-blown conspiracy theory whose proponents, though "viewed as irrelevant by the White House, and as embarrassing by much of the Republican Party," in the words of Politico's Ben Smith, nonetheless enjoy increasingly high-profile political support, and media coverage 9/11 "truthers" could only dream of.

The birthers' conspiracy theory -- which holds that Obama was born in Kenya, despite all evidence to the contrary -- has long been debunked. The Obama camp released a copy of his birth certificate as early as June of last year (although that only seemed to fan the flames). Yet, last week the "birthers" became big news again, after a video emerged showing Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) confronted at a town hall meeting by a woman who angrily accused him of being complicit in the cover-up of Obama's true origins. Castle, who is commonly labeled a "moderate Republican" -- and whose subsequent remark would earn him the label "RINO American Traitor" in some corners of the internet -- seemed genuinely perplexed. "Well I don't know what comment that invites," he said, to a chorus of boos. "If you're referring to the president, then he is a citizen of the United States."

The video of Castle's unfortunate run-in with the birthers hit YouTube and went viral. MSNBC put the clip on heavy rotation; "Hardball" host Chris Matthews devoted multiple segments to the topic; On CNN and on his radio show, sneering nativist Lou Dobbs fanned the flames with such remarks as, "What is the deal here? I'm starting to think we have … a document issue," and on Larry King, Dick Cheney's increasingly vocal daughter, Liz, shared her highly unempirical view that "one of the reasons you see people so concerned about this" is that "people are uncomfortable with having for the first time ever … a president who seems so reluctant to defend the nation overseas." By midweek, Jon Stewart had lampooned the birthers and their media allies on Comedy Central, a move that, given his recent distinction as the new "most trusted man in news," might have spelled the death of the birthers.

Of course, it hasn't.

This week alone, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Ok) was quoted as saying they may "have a point," while the fourth-highest ranking member of the House, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) said she'd "like to see the documents." Meanwhile, an attempt by Hawaii Democrat Rep. Neil Abercrombie to pass a resolution to commemorate his state's 50th anniversary (while also proclaiming the state as President Obama’s birthplace) was temporarily blocked by Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann on Monday, only to pass a few hours later.

By now it seems everyone has put in their two cents (and then some) about the birthers. But while most media coverage has treated them as incurable wackjobs pushing a conspiracy theory to be classified alongside the moon landing "hoax" (40 years old last week!) and the (considerably larger) group of Americans who believe 9/11 was an inside job, the "truth" of Obama's birth seems to fall into a slightly different category. Like all conspiracy theories, it springs from the fertile soil of collective denial. Unlike all conspiracy theories, it thrives on a deep-rooted, racist belief: that a black man with a foreign name could never have won the presidency in the United States through anything other than trickery, deception, or fraud.

"If Barack Obama was an Irish American or a Polish American or a German American, there would be no discussion anywhere in this country about his citizenship," radio host E. Steven Collins told Chris Matthews on Thursday, in response to his fellow guest, deranged right-winger and Nixon Watergate operative G. Gordon Liddy, whose own attempt to defend the birthers should mark a low point, even for his career. "This is because many people in this nation cannot still accept the fact that a brilliant African-American is the commander-in-chief."

Tim Wise, author of Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama, puts this in perspective: "When [Arnold] Schwarzenegger became governor, there were people who were saying,'hey we should amend the constitution to allow people who are naturalized citizens to maybe run for president."

"Although that didn't go anywhere -- and my guess is that the 'birthers' who are doing this crap with Obama probably wouldn't have been real keen on that idea -- notice that there was no groundswell of anger and opposition."

It's the Racism, Stupid!

Perhaps it is too obvious to say that the birthers' insistence on Obama's illegitimacy is based on racism. Even so, why isn't this collective racism at the heart of the "debate"?

"That's one of the problems with this so-called post-racial era that we're in," says Wise. "White folks in particular -- and some folks of color -- are very quick to avoid that angle at all costs, lest they be accused of somehow being the ones who are somehow racist in some way or who are thinking in racial terms."

After all, Americans have seen what happens when people of color dare to suggest that the country is anything but perfect: they are ruthlessly attacked. Take the rage over Michelle Obama's remark during the presidential campaign that "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country," which was treated as unpatriotic hate speech. Or the controversy prompted by Eric Holder's remark that we are a "nation of cowards" when it comes to race.

Or, more recently, the ugly backlash against Obama's (considerably mild) remark that a judge should have a capacity for "empathy" and an understanding of "people's hopes and struggles." "Usually that's a code word for an activist judge," Sen. Orrin Hatch told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week, a line that became a rallying cry against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. ("I will not vote for, and no senator should vote for, an individual nominated by any president who believes it is acceptable for a judge to allow their personal background, gender, prejudices or sympathies to sway their decision in favor of or against parties before the court," Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions proclaimed at the confirmation hearing.) In the end, the obsessive harping over Sotomayor's "wise Latina" remark and right-wing accusations that she is a "reverse racist" because of her ruling in Ricci v. DeStefano (otherwise known as the Connecticut firefighters case) hijacked her confirmation hearing.

In fact, no sooner was the latest "birther" story gaining ground last week than we saw this same phenomenon on full display with a new controversy: the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In an unguarded moment, Obama dared to say what might have seemed pretty obvious to even the most superficially race-conscious: the Cambridge police, "acted stupidly" by handcuffing Gates in his own home, particularly given the "long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately." Obama's comment became national news; the networks seized on it, the blogosphere went wild, and by Friday afternoon, Obama had backtracked, issued a qualified apology, and invited the arresting officer, Sgt. Jim Crowley, to the White House for a beer.

"There's a bizarre tendency, every time a person of color criticizes white folks -- or just white racism -- to say 'that's racism,'" says Wise. "So, by that logic, Rev. Jeremiah Wright is a racist, Barack Obama is a racist, Sonia Sotomayor is a racist … Meanwhile, people like Pat Buchanan, who say Sonia Sotomayor is unqualified or that white people built the country and are basically entitled to 100 percent of everything -- they're not racist."

The attacks on Sotomayor, the hysteria over Obama's criticism of the Cambridge police, and the persistent rumors about Obama's origins seem symptomatic of something larger, something Wise believes is "the culmination of centuries of ingrained privilege and hegemonic control."

Even it you are not yourself in a position of power, "… if you've gotten used to seeing people who look like you in almost every position of authority," he says, "to then have to wake up every day and see a man of color basically running the country … is psychologically debilitating to white folks who all their lives weren't necessarily bigots or racists in any overt sense, but had simply gotten complacent with the way things were. They had internalized these notions of entitlement and superiority."

Given how deep such notions of entitlement and superiority can run, it’s hard to know to what degree the birthers are fully conscious of the racist impulses behind their crazy allegations -- or whether they are in such denial that they actually believe their own bullshit.

White Hegemony Challenged

To explain the devastating effect of Obama's presidency on those ordinary Americans who were quite happy with their white privilege, thank you, Wise quotes W.E.B. DuBois's concept of "the psychological wage of whiteness."

"A lot of white folks don't have much. They're struggling, they're hurting, but they've been able to content themselves with the idea that at least they're not black," Wise says.

"So they get this psychological wage from their whiteness. The problem is, that's a wage which is diminishing in value. If you say to yourself, 'Well I may not have much, but at least I'm not black,' and then you look around and say, 'Shit, Black is the new president!' -- now the value of your psychological wage is reduced in real dollar terms. Now you've got nothing."

In Wise's view, "The people who latch on to the birther stuff (working class and struggling middle class whites) aren't any more racist than elite white folks, but their way of expressing it is so much more raw and visceral, because: a) they may not have the filter that you get when you're elite (you sort of know when to check yourself), but also because they're the ones who feel the most threat."

Of course, white elites have their own fears over the erosion of white hegemony -- and not just televised bigots like Pat Buchanan. For a real measure of the panic over their own supremacy, a prime example is the growing number of elected officials who are pandering to -- and emboldening -- the birthers, not just by paying them lip service, but actually introducing legislation based on their outlandish claims.

This past February, Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) introduced a bill that would require presidential candidates to provide a copy of his or her birth certificate. (Posey has been widely quoted as saying he "can't swear on a stack of Bibles whether [Obama's] a citizen or not.") As David Weigel recently wrote in the Washington Independent, "While Posey initially said that he disbelieved conspiracy theories about the president's birth, he told the host of an Internet radio show that he'd discussed the possibility of Obama being removed from office over 'the eligibility issue' with 'high-ranking members of our Judiciary Committee.'"

According to Weigel, who has covered the birthers extensively, "as of July 15, nine fellow Republican members of Congress were backing the bill."

"While Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) has said that he supports the bill because he didn't know whether Obama was a citizen, other sponsors say that they weighed in to pour cold water on the conspiracy theories."

One such sponsor is Rep. John Campbell, a California Republican, who parroted this dubious claim in an interview with Chris Matthews on July 21st.

"Wouldn't you like to put all this to rest?" Campbell asked. "That's what this proposal is about." ("Nice try," Matthews responded.)

MATTHEWS: No, no. You are feeding the wacko wing of your party. Do you believe that Barack Obama is a legitimate native-born American or not?

CAMPBELL: That is not what this bill is about, Chris.

MATTHEWS: No, what do you believe?

CAMPBELL: As far as I know, yes, OK?

MATTHEWS: As far as you know?


Campbell and his ilk may be an embarrassment to more "respectable" and powerful members of the Republican party. But they have more in common than they would like to admit.

"It appears to me that the Republican party, because of the choices it has made -- going back 40 years or more -- on policy positions have guaranteed that they were destined to be, at the end of the day, the white nationalist party," says Wise.

When "your budget-cut philosophy is about cutting programs that are perceived as helping 'those people', your attacks on affirmative action are very clear, your attacks on busing are very clear, all your law and order stuff … when you sow those seeds for several decades, you ought not be surprised when a whole crop of people who have grown up with that -- that's what they're about now."

Take the new chair of the Young Republicans -- a 38-year-old woman named Audra Shay. She recently came under fire when she was caught cosigning a racist Facebook post that read "Obama Bin Lauden [sic] is the new terrorist … Muslim is on there side [sic] … need to take this country back from all of these mad coons … and illegals."

Shay's reply: "You tell em Eric! lol."

From "Barack the Magic Negro"; to e-mails depicting watermelons in front of the White House, to, most recently, a conservative activist's circulation of an image of Obama as a witch doctor, incidents like these are as ubiquitous now as they were during the presidential campaign. And the people yelling "terrorist" at Sarah Palin rallies or those informing John McCain that Obama is "an Arab" have not gone away. Mainstream Republicans who wish to look respectable may want to distance themselves from this "lunatic fringe," but as representatives of a party largely built on structural racism, this is a very real part of their base.

In order for the GOP to survive, says Wise, Republicans are going to have to somehow bring in more minorities -- a task that would require a fundamental revamping of the Republican identity and agenda -- or "they're gonna have to start making a lot of babies."

"I don't think the Republican party ever thought they could get a lot of black folks," Wise says. "But they thought they could get Latinos. And the reason they thought so was because of this ridiculous and fundamentally racist naivete that said, 'Well, Latinos are family-oriented so they'll be against abortion.' If you don't think white folks are that one dimensional how can you think Latinos are so one-dimensional? Well of course you can -- if you're a racist."

For a number of people, the Sotomayor confirmation hearings were a sign that the Republicans are no longer particularly set on attracting "the Latino vote," something that might make the Pat Buchanans in the party smile, but which will ultimately prove costly for the GOP as a whole. As the country's demographics evolve, the party that brought us the Willie Horton ads in the '80s will have to evolve too. And so will white Americans who continue to insist on blaming their problems on people of color.

"The birther stuff to me is part of the same narcissistic breakdown that is at the heart of every e-mail I get from a college kid or that college kid's parents who say, 'I couldn't get enough financial aid because they're giving all the scholarships to black people,'" says Wise. "This narcissism is especially evident when you watch such hateful right-wing media buffoons as Rush Limbaugh -- who supports the birthers -- and "who are just becoming totally unglued."

"On the one hand it's funny," says Wise. "On the other hand it's really frightening, because people when they're in that sort of meltdown mode don't make good decisions and do really crazy things." Take James W. Von Brunn, the white supremacist -- and "birther" himself -- who shot and killed a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in June.

It would be pushing it to see the birthers phenomenon is a a sign that white hegemony is nearing its last throes. However, "one really positive thing about Obama's presidency in regards to race" says Wise, is that "its created this nuttiness on the part of a lot white folks who have always been thinking this stuff but they just haven't been as bold with it."

"At some point it will become increasingly difficult for those who like to deny racism as a problem to continue completely burying their heads."

"At some point, people will have to say, maybe black folks aren't the crazy ones. Maybe it's not the folks of color who have lost their minds. Maybe it's you."

Liliana Segura is an AlterNet staff writer and editor of Rights & Liberties and World Special Coverage.
© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

Thursday, July 02, 2009


The hit-making producer behind the King of Pop's rise discusses Jackson's life, death, and love of chemical peels

Q: Did you believe him about the disease?
A: I don't believe in any of that bullshit, no. No. Never. I've been around junkies and stuff all my life. I've heard every excuse. It's like smokers—"I only smoke when I drink" and all that stuff. But it's bullshit. You're justifying something that's destructive to your existence. It's crazy. I mean, I came up with Ray Charles, man. You know, nobody gonna pull no wool over my eyes. He did heroin 20 years! Come on. And black coffee and gin for 40 years. But when he called me to come over to see him when he was in the hospital on his way out, man, he had emphysema, hepatitis C, cirrhosis of the liver, and five malignant tumors. Please, man! I've been around this all my life. So it's hard for somebody to pull the wool over my eyes. But when somebody's hell-bent on it, you can't stop 'em.

Q: But it must've been so disturbing to see Michael's face turn into what it turned into.
A: It's ridiculous, man! Chemical peels and all of it. And I don't understand it. But he obviously didn't want to be black.

Q: Is that what it was?
A: Well, what do you think? You see his kids?

Q: Did you ever discuss it? Did you ever ask, "Michael, don't you want to be a black man?"
A: No, no, no, please. That's not the way you do it.

Q: But he was beautiful before?
A: Man, he was the most gorgeous guy.

Q: But he seemed to have some deep-seated issue with how he looked?
A: Well, that comes about a certain way. I'm not sure how it happens. I'm just a musician and a record producer. I'm not a psychiatrist. I don't understand all that stuff. We all got problems. But there's a great book out called Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart. Did you see that? That book says the statute of limitations has expired on all childhood traumas. Get your stuff together and get on with your life, man. Stop whinin' about what's wrong, because everybody's had a rough time, in one way or another.

Q: I've heard you say that you wanted Michael to sing "She's Out of My Life," the great pop ballad from Off the Wall, in part because you felt like he had to deal with reality.
A: I just wanted to hear him deal with a romantic relationship with a human being rather than a rat. I'm saying that facetiously, but it's true. I saw him at the Oscars very emotional about "Ben." I wanted to hear him get in touch with a real human relationship. "She's Out of My Life" was written by Tommy Bahler from a very bad ending to a marriage. So it was very real. I was saving it for Sinatra. But I gave it to Michael. And Michael cried during every take, and I left the tears in.

Q: It's interesting you mention this, because I was just watching a clip on YouTube where you're sitting on a couch with Michael and he's petting a snake the whole time.
A: Oh, I remember that. Yeah, that was Muscles.

Q: Muscles?
A: Muscles. That's a big boa constrictor he had. Muscles used to wrap around my leg in a record session and crawl across the console. I was never comfortable with that. It was a choice between that and Bubbles—you know, the chimp.

Q: Did you ever meet Bubbles?
A: Are you kidding me? He bit a hole in my daughter's hand! Rashida's hand. Rashida Jones—did you see I Love You, Man? That's my daughter. She was a little girl. And Bubbles bit her hand. Michael used to bring Muscles and Bubbles by the house all the time, you know.

Q: What did you think of that? Wasn't that a little weird?
A: I don't know, man. Everybody does his own thing. I've met every freak in the business. Everybody has their idiosyncrasies. I try not to judge it, you know. I know all women are junkies for little dogs and bags and purses. Ha ha ha ha!

Q: At root, what do you think killed Michael Jackson?
A: I don't know, man. I'm a musician. I'm not a psychiatrist. I would think that the pressure of the concerts and the debt and everything else . . . look, I've been in the hands of Nobel doctors for the last five years, in Stockholm, at the Karolinska hospital, which you can't even pay to get in. I've learned so much about the human mind and the body, and the doctors talk all the time about how you become your thoughts. It's true. With one thought it starts, you know, and if you sit there and just stay hung up on one negative thought, you will become that thought. I know that Lisa Marie Presley said that she always thought he was going to die like Elvis. You sit and think about that stuff, it'll happen to you. If you start thinking about darkness instead of light, or fear instead of love, you'll get in trouble. I really believe that.

Q: With so many people asking you about Michael Jackson, is it hard to find the private space in which to mourn his death?
A: Yes, it is. It's surrealistic. I don't know how to process it at all. Because everybody's reacting to it, and making up their own answers.

Q: You've said that you don't attend funerals anymore because you've lost so many friends. Do you plan to attend Michael Jackson's funeral?
A: No, not at all, not at all. Because it's going to be, like, 9 million people there, and it's not what I want to see.

Q: You're not going to be there?
A: No. I can't be there, anyway. I'm going to Wales the day after tomorrow, I go to Montreux, I go to Marbella, I go to the south of France. My condolences and love I've already sent to the family. But being there with 10 million people is not my idea of a tribute to somebody you were so close to—who's got a part of your soul. Our souls were joined, you know. And a piece of it goes with him.