Feminism in Hip Hop Conference Part Deux
Greetings From The Academy...>
(To the tune of “You Must Learn” and the entire Edutainment LP, thanks to KRS-1 and Boogie Down Productions…)
After much more chauffering, and the subsequent skipping of the morning panels at the FHHC, I finally found a parking space close to International House (not the international house of pancakes (nor hoe cakes)) and made my way inside the Assembly Hall just in time for the introductions to the 1 p.m. panel “The Hip Hop Archive: Standards and Questions in Hip Hop Research”. The panel included speakers Marcyliena Morgan, Dionne Bennett and Dawn-Elissa Fischer. Please accept my up-front disclaimer that I didn’t record this session (audio recording was kyboshed), and I’m working from my wild-style notes. Onward and upward, toward the Ivory Tower…
The Hip Hop Archive was once housed at Harvard, and is now at Stanford. The archive is a resource for academics and Hip Hop heads alike. First we heard from Marcyliena Morgan who is the Director and Founder of the archive. I took copious notes (no, for real, serrriously I did), so please bear with me and note that what I’m writing in this post comes from the presentations of the panelists, not my own sick & twisted mind.
Marcyliena spoke about Hip Hop’s legitimacy within the academy, which turned out to be a pivotal argument throughout the conference, and one of the underlying divisions. She let everyone know that the Hip Hop Archive is a resource for the Hip Hop community at large. This fall the archive will host a conference entitled “What’s Goin’ On – Hip Hop Scholars Meet Hip Hop Journalists” – interested parties should check the website for updates. She posed a few questions, simply as food for thought – what is Hip Hop within academia? For academics working with Hip Hop, how do you develop your career? She mentioned self-promotion and how as an academic you must continually promote yourself and your image in order to stay at the forefront. She also posited that it’s nearly impossible to maintain an academic schedule and a “Hip Hop schedule” simultaneously. And that it is literally impossible to maintain both schedules during exam time. She was serious.
She also outlined some of the “standards of Hip Hop”. She posed further questions. What are the gender differences in Hip Hop? She pointed out that the majority of Hip Hop researchers are women. I repeat, the majority of Hip Hop researchers are women. She also asked the audience to think critically about the race hierarchies within Hip Hop (assuming she meant both the business side and the music/creative side).
She then mentioned the next panelist sitting to her right, Dionne Bennett who’s an Anthropology PhD from Loyola. Marcyliena mentioned that Dionne is one of the foremost writers on Black love and emotion. Dionne went on to explain that she sees a number of General Principles, or GPs, of feminism in Hip Hop.
1st – Yo Mama’s Not the Only Woman on Your Side
2nd – Poor women are drowning next to their brothers (Hip Hop ignores poor women)
3rd – Hip Hop Feminists are not ignoring misogyny but refuse to let the issue obscure the complexity of Hip Hop or limit discourse on Hip Hop. (insert gunshots here 10X)
4th – Calling yourself a feminist empowers you through naming, self identification, and joining a collective movement.
Another question for the audience (there will be a quiz later) – How do we recentralize everyday feminism and apply it to Hip Hop feminist discourse?
Now wake the fuck up, ‘cause she drops it HARD right here…
“THEY’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT ME!” – Refusing to acknowledge yourself as a target won’t prevent you from being shot. This exact theme/quote comes up in Rachel Raimist’s documentary film Nobody Knows My Name, when the illustrious Zenobia Simmons explains that “girls be like, oh they said Bitch, Hoe, but they ain’t talking about me though” and goes on to let those girls know, “YES, they are talking about you.” Again, refusing to acknowledge yourself as a target won’t prevent you from becoming one.
She cautions the audience to be wary of white academic feminists who tend to apply and appropriate others’ struggles upon themselves.
So what do the feminist movement and Hip Hop have in common? Both are LIFE and DEATH issues. Hip Hop makes a way out of no way. The movement is transforming marginal Hip Hop discourses (in other words, discussions of women in Hip Hop) and using them to create main discourses. To many young, feminist women of color, the “third wave” felt like a small puddle. “Hip Hop Feminism is the true third wave,” explains Dionne.
Next up to speak is Dawn-Elissa Fischer, a University of Florida student pursuing a PhD in Anthropology. Her company is Edutainment 4 Life, a non-profit organization. Dawn-Elissa prepared an amazing powerpoint presentation from her research on ethnography of Hip Hop artists in Japanese culture, which she had to cut short due to the familiar “lack of time” but a few key points she discussed were
1. State-Regulated Identities. For example, have you ever become confused when filling out those boxes? Are you Black, white, Asian, Latina, or other? Do you check one box, or a number of boxes, or no box at all? Those are the few choices for your state-regulated identity.
2. Hip Hop is a trope of blackness. In other words, when Japanese artists do Hip Hop music, they’re assuming a Black identity. They’re borrowing blackness, and to borrow blackness is to borrow gender and sexuality. This is a main reason why non-black youth use Hip Hop in their political strategies.
3. Hip Hop leaves behind a racialized/sexualized residue. Hip Hop is transnational and translational. Hip Hop simultaneously exploits and subverts Black/white and Male/Female binaries.
At this point the panelists broke for questions. I went up to the mic and posed a question about Hip Hop journalism, framed around the fact that the source does very little to fact-check, research or confirm quotes when they publish pieces. I asked how we can standardize fact-checking/research within Hip Hop journalism and in what ways we can control/regulate companies such as the source that we neither own nor operate. I think that the panelists weren’t expecting such a question, and they did their best to offer possible solutions.
Dawn-Elissa suggested that we all write/publish opinion-editorial or Op-Ed pieces, and that we employ ethnographic research methods. Also she mentioned blogging as part of the solution, as a way to publish thoughtful, researched critiques of Hip Hop culture as a means to inform and educate. Good shit.
Marcyliena, in answering another question posed to the panel, gave one of the most awesome and dead-on quotes I’ve heard in a while.
“NOT KNOWING IS NOT HIP HOP”. She framed this by saying that Hip Hop is all about ego, and braggadocio, and all about Knowledge. And that it’s very much “not Hip Hop” to be ignorant, unaware, uninformed, or under-educated when exploring a topic.
Yes, these ladies were dropping it. I just fed ya’ll a lot of information and knowledge here. Mind you, this panel and question and answer session was stuffed into a chock-full one hour and fifteen minutes. Each of the panelists could have easily presented for an hour, and questions could have gone on for an infinite amount of time. I applaud the presenters of the Feminism in Hip Hop Conference for what I hope will be an annual event. Next year, I hope that there’s more time to build, and some time set aside for a town-hall meeting and/or group session at the end of the conference to plan and create strategies for action.
There will be a third post on this, but I’ll let ya’ll digest this very large meal of Hip Hop and feminist discourse for a while before I get to the moment everyone is drooling for – Day Three and the Media Representations of Women in Hip Hop panel featuring Melyssa Ford, Jessy Tererro, Kim Osorio, and Cheryl L. Keyes.
Until next time,