It’s time for black men to stop building culture around the destruction of black women

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.)

MychalMychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted January 15, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Rhymefest wasn’t wrong. Brittany Cooper was wrong for saying that folks snicker at black female violence. That aint true, but if some think it is, how can you prove people snicker at the female violence more than male violence? And WSHH has just as many male on male violence. And black men are overwhelmingly more likely to be vics of violence. So lets stop it with this biologism and focus on the root causes of the violence. Because at the end of the day black women are less likely to be victims of violence. Having said that, WSHH is trashy for a host of reasons.

  2. Posted January 15, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Shayne Lee’s central point was we live in a violent society, and we need to push back against violence (rather than the mediums that individuals use to show violent content against certain groups).

    Worldstarhiphop, for Lee, is no different than CNN in that these are merely mediums for individuals/companies to show violence. As I’m sure you recall, CNN was the first to release the Trayvon Martin death photo, as well as pics of MJ, Whitney, Osama, and Hussein shortly after their passing. Therefore, in Lee’s view, we should join in policing the violence in all shows, rather than one specific medium that promotes violence against all groups.

    It’s unfortunate that your work mischaracterizes arguments surrounding gangsta rap. Black men were not merely rallying to gangsta rap’s defense in order to protect their love of its sexist content. In contrast, rappers such as Scarface and others pushed against the notion that gangsta rap was a significant factor in determining crimes among black Americans. As Scarface (1994) pointed out, “Gangsta Nip, Spice 1 or 2Pac never gave a gun to me.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGUhu5BUOKg

    In closing, I understand and share your outrage against violence. However, I’m indifferent to your claim that worldstarhiphop specifically promotes violence against black women, and the violence shown on tv has an effect on (fill in the blank) among blacks. At the very least, as Lee points out, that’s an empirical question, one that researchers should give strong attention to before making conceptually loose and possibly dangerous claims.

  3. Posted January 15, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    I think part of the issue is that people are suggesting that black men are destroying women by posting video of black women destroying women. Black men are blamed for enough in society to have to answer for the actions of black women. As far as black women’s violence being met with snickers and less compassion is concerned, do you really want women’s violence towards anyone taken as seriously as men’s? Do you really want women to have the same prison sentence a man would get? Do you really want police to take domestic violence perpetrated by women seriously? If you do, then we agree, but if you believe they should receive all the compassion without the violence being taken as seriously, then we disagree.

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