Monday, May 7, 2007

Acknowledging the isms: Why is sexism still our dirty little secret?

by Angela Stanley, Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

In light of the Don Imus misdeed, issues of racism, sexism, and the intersection of the two have been given more attention than they have in many years. Much of the fallout has landed in the lap of the music industry with hip-hop taking much of the heat for the sexist and misogynistic language it often employs.

This is not the first time hip-hop has come under fire. C. Deloris Tucker and Tipper Gore called for accountability and reform in the music industry some 15 years ago; now many in the African American community and women’s rights organizations are following in their footsteps. While many rappers are standing behind their freedom of speech and expression, many activists and a few music industry heavyweights would like to see misogynistic and racist lyrics gone from the music industry completely. Unfortunately, there still exists a great deal of resistance by the music makers and the general listening public to call for or stand behind any movement to help end sexism.

All that has happened in recent weeks reminds me of an interview several years ago in Essence magazine describing sexism as Black America’s dirty little secret (Essence, July 2003). Sexism is alive and well in the Black community; however, it is so well ingrained that many either don’t know it when they see it, don’t want to acknowledge it, are consciously or unconsciously upholding it, or are benefiting from it. In her book Deals with the Devil: And Other Reasons to Riot, Pearl Cleage states, “I am writing to expose and explore the point where racism and sexism meet. I am writing to help myself understand the full effects of being Black and female in a culture that is both racist and sexist. I am writing to try and communicate that to my sisters first and then to any brothers of goodwill and honest intent who will take the time to listen” (Cleage 1993, 7). The question remaining then is: how do we get those brothers of goodwill and honest intent, and even the ones who don’t fit into either of those categories, to listen? Cleage suggests using our racial history and racial knowledge as tools to help Black men understand sexism. Because most adult male minorities know how racism works and what it looks like, we should be able to transfer that knowledge to explain and understand sexism and their role in it.

Sadly this has yet to happen and while other “isms” become less and less politically correct, sexism seems to remain steadfast. It is my hope that something good will come from the Imus situation, the reevaluation of hip-hop, and dialogue about race and gender that has been created. It is also my hope that those scholars, activists, and artists who study race or gender will not do so exclusively and will understand the importance of eliminating racism and sexism. Like Pearl Cleage, I am writing to those who will take the time to listen.

No comments:

Post a Comment