Yesterday, I watched my friends Marc Lamont Hill and Brittney Cooper do this HuffPost Live segment entitled “Do ‘Hood Sites’ Normalize Black Stereotypes?” The conversation was mostly about the infamous WorldStarHipHop.com and their penchant for posting videos of black youth engaged in violence toward one another. These videos generate thousands upon thousands of hits, are circulated widely, and become entertainment for many. The discussion was about whether or not the distribution and popularity of these videos help to perpetuate stereotypes that are heaped onto blackness.
On that particular question, I think there’s a “yes, but…” These videos don’t help combat the stereotypes, but they would exist even without WorldStar. Getting rid of the video hosting site would not end the violence that just so happens to get documented there. But Brittney brought up an excellent point, that part of what drives the traffic at WorldStar is videos of young black girls fighting one another. The brutal “Sharkeisha” video is one of the most recent examples. And, as Brittney noted, while there’s this larger cultural concern for the violence black boys commit toward one another, a snickering goes on as we watch and circulate videos of black girls being violent. There isn’t the same type of conversation about root causes or understanding or compassion.
Apparently, that didn’t sit well with some of her fellow panelists. Shayne Lee, a professor at the University of Houston, and rapper/activist Rhymefest charged Brittney with being divisive. When they weren’t dismissing her point (or that of Amanda Seales, the other woman on the panel), they were derailing by talking about the violence shown on CNN and in the Bible. At one point, Rhymefest literally shouts over Brittney, “WHY YOU SO MAD???”
Well, here’s one reason: this type of shit happens all the time. Black women make a point to bring up a concern that involves the lives of black girls/women, and black men start acting like the world is ending. And look, I get it. Black men feel like we’re constantly under attack. We’re always made the scapegoats for the ills of society. But it’s long past time we take an honest look at the culture we’ve created.
The discussion between Brittney, Amanda, Rhymefest, and Shayne was eerily similar to those that have surrounded hip-hop for some 30 years now. Someone points out the sexism and violence in the culture, and black men rally to hip-hop’s defense. And the points are generally valid. Sexism and violence didn’t start with hip-hop. They don’t belong to hip-hop exclusively. As Americans, we live in a sexist and violent culture, and that has informed hip-hop. The artists are reflecting that. All of these things are true. No intelligent person who has actually engaged the culture would dispute these facts. But that doesn’t absolve hip-hop from cleaning up its own house.
The problem is that black men who have found their voice through this culture, black men who have been able to articulate their existence through hip-hop, want desperately to protect it from those who would seek to tear it down. And that’s understandable, but at the same time, we have to be conscious of the fact that, in part, the culture has been built on the destruction of black women. That doesn’t mean that is the totality of hip-hop, and it doesn’t mean there aren’t parts that are redeeming. But if we can’t reckon with the misogynist underpinnings of hip-hop, we’re becoming the oppressors we built the culture to fight back against.
That’s what Brittney was trying to get at, with reference to WorldStar. As Rhymefest talked extensively about the support his organization had received from the site, he couldn’t hear that part of the reason they are so popular is because they post videos of black girls beating each other up. Is the platform worth that? I can’t answer that for him, but I ask that he consider the question. We, as black men, can’t continue building cultural institutions that thrive on the destruction of black women’s bodies and psyches, then ask “WHY YOU SO MAD???” when challenged to think harder and do better.
Black women have stood in the fire fighting for black men for our entire history in this country. Isn’t it about time we do the same for them?
(P.S. If one of you lovely commenters has the time, it would mean so much to me if you could transcribe the above video. You have my eternal thanks and a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.)
Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute.