I recently wrote about America’s Obsession with Black Female Identities. Ronald Reagan, Mitt Romney, Lupe Fiasco and Shonda Rhimes were among those I examined to explore the various identities created for Black women. The article, shared at Curlynikki.com, drew comments from readers who thought I was too harsh in my treatment of Lupe Fiasco’s “Bitch Bad, Woman Good, Lady Better.” My point is that Lupe Fiasco’s track, in much the same way as Reagan and Romney, ultimately serves to create and maintain an identity for Black women. Understanding that Lupe sought to create a positive image, the question remains whether he has any place in constructing our identities. Black women scholars such as Dr. Venus Evans Winters have weighed in on whether Lupe’s “Lady” is just as harmful as Reagan’s “Welfare Queen.” Given that most responses have been from a predominately female audience, I decided to reach out to a few men for their thoughts on Lupe’s track and my article.
Track 1: Sammy’s Rhapsody
I did not know that Ronald Reagan said that about women on welfare! Wow! However, I do remember the term “Welfare Queen.” I’m reminded of my Father getting into an argument with a White man at his job. My Father is a retired policeman and had this partner for many years and thus had numerous conversations with him about various things. In one of those conversations (circa 1989), his partner implied that most of the single women on welfare are Black women. My Father countered that in general, most individuals on welfare are White. His partner found this unbelievable and scoffed at the thought. The shift ended, both remained friends; this was just another one of “those” conversations that fade into history. But the next day, my Father brought in an article from a periodical that happened to write about the subject that very morning. It cited a government agency’s statistics and it stated that 80% of welfare recipients are White. My Father’s partner couldn’t believe it but couldn’t argue with this article because the source of the statistics was the government. I shared this to say that I too thought that most people on welfare were Black until my Father told me this story. And like me, most people failed to investigate many things in the past and used to simply accept ways of thinking instead of seeing for themselves. Many still do so.
People in general mostly accept previous ways of thinking and media spin and unfortunately listen and believe the media including people like Ronald Reagan and Mitt Romney. Romney didn’t have to put the word “Black” in any of his diatribes about single parents because in the heads of most Americans, a Black person comes to mind. I submit that even among most Black people, a Black face comes to mind when someone mentions single parents or government aid! Sure, lately there have been instances of media mentioning “Rednecks” and “trailer trash.” But the underlying assumption remains.
So, the Black male is susceptible to making certain assumptions about women partially constituted of what he has seen in the media all of his life. He decides what he does want and what he doesn’t want in a Black woman. Internally, he works out the negatives and positives and comes up with a “construct” of what he wants and what’s desirable. And often times, this “construct” is similar amongst Black men because they’ve heard and seen similar things. The construct is internal and only manifests itself when he chooses to expound about it. It may be to the chagrin of many Black women who feel he has no place defining or constructing the identities of Black women let alone categorizing them into bitch, woman or lady, nonetheless, this is the internal thought process of many men. I don’t think it’s as cut ‘n dry as Lupe makes it seem. Most men have not taken the time to go into details or definite categories like Lupe has. But best believe every man has a “prototype” of what we wants and a mental example of what he DOESN’T want. Most don’t want the “Bitch, will like a lady and would love to have a woman…if you apply Lupe’s template.
And do women do any “construction?” I’m almost positive that somewhere in Hip Hop history….or even in R&B music’s past, Black female Rappers and singers have come up with – have “constructed” identities for Black men. I feel that Black men don’t have as detailed a “radar” about such things and aren’t as sensitive to the feeling of being forced into one of a few identities that many Black Women may construct. I’m sure parallels can be made from bitch/woman/lady to say……thug/man/gentleman. And I’m sure a woman can place each man in her life into one of those three categories if asked. Thus, she too has a mental classification system as Black males do. She makes certain identities and “files” men into each classification. She has her own preferences and some Black women may choose to expound in the near future in song, poem or blog form. I wouldn’t be negatively affected if/when it happens. But, I do understand how initially, a woman can be kind of irritated by the thought of someone defining them. However, it’s simply a mental process that bubbles to the surface occasionally; recently in this rap song. I believe that most people are mentally lazy and hastily construct identities for many objects and persons in their everyday lives. It’s simpler that way…….
Recent attempts by Black women to increase the “standard model” of the Black woman have been modestly successful along with certain recent realities. A Black woman is the first lady; she has two beautiful daughters. Susan Rice and Condoleezza Rice are respected powerful Black Women. Suzanne Malveaux and Tameron Hall are nationally recognized as competent news professionals and successful Black Women. Positive Black Women have been on both movies and TV shows far more than when I was growing up. Of course, we still have the half dressed Black women, shaking their “thang” on the latest music videos. But, these instances are being countered by positive images far more than ever before and positive images of Black women are more “in style.” Information is pretty much more accessible than it has even been and the media have to be far more careful of what they choose to spin and skew or they risk becoming unreliable or “jokes.” There is a progressive movement of Americans in general towards a more realistic view of all races and cultures. I’ve recently had the pleasure of witnessing an argument between two White men in which one stated that it was more Whites on welfare than Blacks. I immediately thought about the argument my Father had with his partner in which he had to cut out an article and show his White friend that this was a fact. I was mildly surprised at the fact that a White man was adamant that Black weren’t the main ones on welfare.
There will be more instances of Black women doing big things (writing, producing, governmental success, etc) and these instances will serve as the impetus behind slowly but surely changing America’s views of them. At the same time, young Black men will slowly become more aware of certain facts and realize a more positive Black woman in their midst. Progressive Black women will continue to define their images and America will look and take notes. Black men will take mental notes and apply them to their internal construct making mechanism. Nonetheless, they will always be the maker of “constructs” and will no doubt expound in verse, music or other form in the future. This construct, in my humble opinion, should be used as a gauge of where the Black man’s head is at, not a source of irritation. But, I understand…
Track 2: Siddiqu’s Interlude
The song was true. Woman do like to be referred to as a bad bitch. I think if they can wear it go for it. I think its a difference between a bad bitch and a bitch who’s doing bad. Lupe is an observer not a transformer. The song didn’t make me look at woman differently. Like a keep your head up by 2pac.
Track 3: Cedric’s Take
We live in a very romanticized world where we have been taught to “dream big” which ultimately only leaves a masked reality. A reality whose main goal and purpose is about discovering one’s own identity. Along this journey we face several obstacles that only aid in forming our perspectives not only about the world, but all of its inhabitants. They range from economic depravity, false deity worshipping, all the way down to freedom of speech; the latter being the more prominent. When convenient, we encourage people (especially the youth) to exercise their 1st Amendment rights, but the moment when it starts to make sense we pull the “limited” covers over freedom’s head. Enter: rap music. Kids with loud, infectious voices and no sense of self, chosen by rich white men to help them make more money by allowing them the “freedom” to talk to their peers. But while one tends to nod their head to funky rhythms and rhymes, no one is there to inform the master of ceremonies of the effects of such freedom. He (or she) now grows up only knowing one thing…what makes money. And money is POWER! With power comes a following of individuals who look to you for answers when needed. They look to you to help them figure out who they are and/or who they should be. But how can one accomplish such a feat if they know not who they are themselves? Simple…create it.
We now live in a world where we have not yet taken the full journey to figure out who we are, so we take the shortcut and create one out of thin air. If we can do this for ourselves then surely we can do this for others…right? Absolutely. But, the hidden gem behind what makes all of this happen is acceptance. In the movie “Lean On Me,” actress Lynn Thigpen plays the role of Ms. Barrett, the mother of a high school student recently expelled with the inclusion of a new principal. Her public outcry and persistent effort for his removal gained her an identity quick: “bitch.” She is called “bitch” twice in the movie. Once by the Fire Chief of Paterson, NJ who calls her a “bitch on wheels.” The other by student Thomas Sams who, after she gets Principal Joe Clark arrested and claims that she’ll get the school board to vote him out, grabs his crotch angrily and tells her “Yo bitch…vote on this!” The ending scene where the students have gathered outside City Hall in an effort to help free Mr. Clark, she is called a “loud-mouthed wench” by another student. Her immediate response was “you can call me what you want…” Does that means she accepts that? Is it because she is mean and attitude prone? Coincidentally, we call people who always have an attitude…”bitchy.” Even cars (which also coincidentally we give women names) that have a “mean” look to them we call…”bitchin'” It is examples like this that only further perpetuates the stigma placed on women of color.
So is it only “acceptable” from woman to woman? Is it “acceptable” from men to women? Behind closed doors, we all have this “perfect” person that we have in mind in who we would like to be with. We all have “the list” of character traits that must be present in a potential mate. We secretly create the opposite sex’s identity. We’ve been doing it for AGES! Could it be that all men want a little “bitch” in their woman? This, in my opinion, is the angle that Lupe Fiasco took. Decoding the word “bitch” while depicting real life scenarios with children who witness hearing and seeing it firsthand. So, if the mother proclaims to be a “bitch,” then surely any potential girlfriend for the boy who claims to be a “bitch” as well must exude those same qualities. But again, it comes down to acceptance. If someone called Olivia Pope a “bitch” in an episode (which it will at some point), what do you think her reaction will be? One of disdain of the title? Or, one of acceptance? Is she that much different than Lynn Thigpen’s character of Ms. Barrett? We create identities instead of exploring them and when one person demeans or misconstructs our image, we make it a personal goal to recreate it for the masses to see to convince them otherwise. Regan’s “welfare queen” gave birth to Lupe’s “bad bitch,” neither of which is a totally accurate depiction of black women as a whole. Romanticism at its finest hour.
Track 4: Franklin Weighs In
YES I am a Fan of the Lupe track, while I realize a lot of Black Women may have misinterpreted the meaning, I think the message of how we understand the word Bitch and it’s different meanings to people depending on upbringing is very relevant to the conversation and that song made me realize how Men and Women come to conceptualize terms and associate meanings to words and a lot of times its different.
Track 5: Darian’s Breakdown
I believe the song “bitch bad” was less of an attempt to define black women, but it was made to combat the hundreds of songs which call black women “bad bitches.” He attempted to explain the psychology behind the term and what type of effect it could have on black females and males alike. However, minority groups such as women of color will always be defined by the majority class until equality is reached. For instance, the “black” community has never had a chance to define it’s own identity. We have gone from nigger, colored, negro, black, African-American, and now person of color or “of African descent” is the term of the day. I petition that all groups be allowed to define themselves, and stop letting mainstream American do that for us. On another note, the notion that single parent families are the reason for crime is a class warfare statement which would require another paragraph or so. For now, I digress.
Of course, a piece examining an aspect of Hip-Hop culture would be remiss without allowing for the answer track (think UTFO/Roxanne Shante or L.L.Cool J/Kool Moe Dee) so I had to reach out and let the ladies give their thoughts one more time.
Track 1: Zipporah’s Answer
While I agree with a lot of the points you made in the article, I can also defend Lupe’s track as well. I understand how the terms “woman” and “lady” can be seen as destructive or offensive to some, however I will take a term that likens me to a human over an animal any day. I don’t believe that “Bitch Bad” is an attempt to construct the identities of women, but more so an attempt to free women from an identity that is being forced upon us by the music that is being pumped into our communities. In my opinion Lupe’s purpose was right on point, in that he was addressing the behavior of his peers and pointing out how words become reality and the confusion and destruction that can cause. I think that for someone in the rap/hip-hop world to step up and point out the problem with the word “bitch” being used, is a huge step in the right direction; and I am absolutely okay with it coming from a man. When a female artist steps up and refuses to use the word to refer to herself, I will applaud them, but do we have to wait until that happens to step out from under this shadow. I think that by focusing on the two alternative terms Lupe uses in the hook of this song, we are missing the message and that message is more valuable
Track 2: Elizabeth Talks Back
I think we all have a part in shaping identities. . . it’s not just an “inside job.” What I mean is that the shaping of identity is not just the work of the people inclusive of the group being identified because identity is all about understanding, and understanding is based on perception and we are all bound to perceive differently. It’s impossible for Black women to be the only ones to define to the world who they are. Every individual who encounters a Black woman understands who she is through a number of filters- what they understand Blacks to be, what they understand women to be, what they were raised to believe Black women to be and what they have found them to be through personal experience. Can Black women be the only group to control and influence those filters? I think not.
Of course Black women as a group have a major role in influencing their identity. We are the only ones who can tell our own unique stories from our perspective. But others will still have their own stories about us that may or may not be just as legitimate as our own stories about ourselves. In as much as identity is a social construct, it is subject to the influence of all of society’s parts.
So what are your thoughts? Do men have a place in constructing the identities of women of color? Do women create contradicting images for themselves? Are the identities harmless? Can they be useful?