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Thursday, March 03, 2005

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Taking back the music

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Taking back the music: "Taking back the music
Taking back the music

When Bill and Camille Cosby donated $20 million to the historically black Spelman College in 1988, consternation went through the black community because the size of the check was so shocking. No one, even Bill Cosby himself, could have imagined that within two decades the young black women at Spelman would spark what is easily the most important American cultural movement in this new century.

In April of last year, under the leadership of Asha Jennings, who now attends New York University as a law major, the Spelman women gave voice to the fact that they had had enough of the dehumanizing images of black women in rap. They went after the rapper Nelly, who was scheduled to appear on campus, for the images in his "Tip-Drill" video.

Nelly hid under his bed and chose to stay away from that female ire. Maybe it would blow away. It did not.

On Friday, Atlanta was set afire by the emotion and the hard thinking of black women. Spelman and Essence magazine presented a hip hop town meeting at the Cosby Academic Center Auditorium as part of their Take Back the Music campaign. The campaign is a response across generations that Essence has covered in its last two issues and will continue to address as long as necessary. One can easily see that many women find the overt hatred of females and the reductive, pornographic images of the worst hip hop quite disturbing.

The overflow audience filled three additional rooms. Michaela Angela Davis, an editor at Essence, was the moderator. The panelists were Tarshia Stanley, assistant professor of English at Spelman; Moya Bailey, Spelman senior; Kevin Powell, author and activist; Michael Lewellen, vice president of BET public relations; Brian Leach, vice president of A&R, TVT Records, and hip hop artist and actress MC Lyte.

The event lasted three hours. Said Davis: "It was most heated and most uncomfortable for those representing the companies. Lewellen and Leach received the most fire from the audience. These women are in pain and are confused. One woman asked, 'What did we do to make you all seemingly hate us so much?' There was a great silence, and a feeling of collective pain filled the air."

This mysogynistic and brutal turn in music is damaging the image of black American women to the point that they are approached outside of the U.S. like freelance prostitutes.

The Spelman women made their voices heard and have inspired thinking young men to fight the stereotypes and question the images. This is no less than an extension of the civil rights movement. But true change will only come when white females begin to identify with the dues their black sisters must pay as this hostility and exploitation continues to be splattered through radio and television. White women have to open up on white men, who buy four out of five rap recordings. Once they declare it uncool for white guys to support the dehumanization of black women, we will see much more than a sea change.

I'm an optimist. I think the tide is about to turn.

Originally published on February 28, 2005

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