OPINION: As black women take back our power and own our own narrative, how can we reconcile a love for hip-hop with its relentless objectification of us?
Dollar signs, cars, dice and black women in sexually suggestive positions. The cover of Meek MillThe latest project offers an artistic expression of stereotypical hip-hop culture – also likely a relatively accurate representation of Meek Mill’s reality. Art is subjective, and it is intended to fuel reflection and discussion. Naturally, as people stared at the artwork for Meek Mill’s latest album dear painthere were… a lot of thoughts.
Do black women get tired of being portrayed like this in hip-hop? Despite this longstanding practice of objectification, as a rapper 2 chains‘ fourth studio album proclaimed ‘Pretty Girls Love Trap Music.’ Why?
Does the fact that this art was created by a black woman, Nina Chanel Abney, change something? Have black women internalized this objectification and are they rappers like Lil’ Kim, Megan you stallionand Cardi B examples of this? These recurring questions have resurfaced once again, providing polarizing answers. Even when asking myself these questions, I find that my own thoughts contradict themselves.
While women, especially black women, are often over-sexualized and reduced to images that satisfy the male gaze throughout pop culture, there is a specific form of objectification that lives in hip-hop. Beyond your mundane sexualization, there’s an additional layer of degradation that can be identified in commonly used words like “bitch” and “hoe” that set hip-hop apart.
So when I looked at the colorful and captivating artwork Abney created for Meek Mill’s latest album, I came across a common struggle I have with hip-hop culture. The stories, the art, the expression are all beautiful, but they reduce black women to their most basic level of humanity – as sex objects. And despite this, time and time again, black women have managed to take control of our narrative and express us as full humans rather than things.
Perhaps that was Abney’s intention – to spark this internal dialogue and show us the dichotomy between the creator and the consumer of black hip-hop. In a interview with ICA Boston, Abney says of his art, “I would probably say my work is colorful and alluring. …perhaps a deceptively simple survey of contemporary cultural issues.
So what is the problem? In hip-hop, the narrative of black women has often been co-opted by men. We don’t say who we are, we are told who we are. We consume and promote this content, but when we oppose it or encourage it to review, we are told we are being too sensitive. Or the rebuttal to our arguments is that our points are invalid because black female artists objectivize. But does this argument hold?
Can black women, on the one hand, stand in solidarity with artists like Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Lil’ Kim and so many other women who have made a career out of flaunting their overt sexuality while criticizing Meek Mill for a similar artistic expression?
The issue itself does not begin in hip-hop culture but is deeply rooted in the historical fetishization of the black body, which has been systematically brutalized, ogled, and dehumanized. This stems from racist colonial myths and misperceptions of Africans. Sadly, hip-hop music does not live outside of this destructive legacy and, on the face of it, continues to breed these destructive patterns.
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