The outcry regarding my remarks, 2 paragraphs of my 400+ page book, regarding hip hop and rap, has been as astounding as it is out of context. As reactions continue to rage on Twitter and blogs, I am addressing it where I have more than 140 characters. The general theme is to express my gratitude for a chance to learn, to be corrected where I was wrong, to make amends, and hold firm and strong on the original intention and context of the points I made, with a commitment to try to do so less clumsily and with more sensitivity in the future.
I am also aware that, no matter what I do, some will call me disingenuous and impute bad motives to me.
Original context: The paragraphs are about an introductory dialogue I had with YouthAIDS in 2002, the organization for whom I serve as Global Ambassador. They had collaborated with artists such as Snoop Dog to spread reproductive health and gender empowerment messages. I asked for more information about how the organization reconciled Snoops’ lyrics and gender posturing with its public health mission. YouthAIDS answered my questions satisfactorily and I have traveled the world with them since that time. I also serve on the board of directors for YouthAIDS’ parent organization, Population Services International.
The Outcry: As a thoughtful friend put it, “fans stand behind their artists,” and rightfully so. Hip-hop and rap—which are distinct from one another, although kin—stand for a lot more than a beat and vibe. They represent more than I, an outsider, has the right to articulate. This tweet capture’s the essence of what you have taught me: “Rap is something you do….Hip-Hop is a CULTURE you live! Don’t let a few bad apples’ lyrical message speak for a whole culture!
My equivalent genres, as an Appalachian, an oppressed and ridiculed people, would be mountain music and bluegrass. Those genres tell the history, struggles, grief, soul, faith, and culture of my people. In imagining how I would feel if someone made negative generalizations about that music, I am deeply remorseful that anything I may have said in All That Is Bitter & Sweet would hurt adherents of genres that represent their culture. This book is an act of love and service. Insulting people of goodwill is the antithesis of its raison d’etre.
I have looked closely at the feedback I have received about those two paragraphs, and absolutely see your points, and I fully capitulate to your rightness, and again humbly offer my heartfelt amends for not having been able to see the fault in my writing, and not having anticipated it would be painful for so many. Crucial words are missing that could have made a giant difference. It should have read: Some hip-hop, and some rap, is abusive. Some of it is part of the contemporary soundtrack misogyny (which, of course, is multi-sonic). Some of it promotes the rape culture so pervasive in our world…..Also, I, ideally, would have anticipated that some folks would see only representations of those two paragraphs, and not be familiar with the whole book, my work, and my message. I should have been clear in them that I include hip-hop and rap as part of a much larger problem. It is beyond unfortunate that I am talking about some, for example, of Snoop Dogs’ lyrics, an assumption has been spread I was talking about every single artist in both genres. That is false and distorted. Here, I am again aware that it would be impossible for me to get this “exactly right.” Some will find fault, no matter how careful I am, no matter what my intentions.
Easily the most ludicrous thing about the Twitter wars has been the perpetuation of the ridiculous accusation I am blaming two musical genres for poverty, AIDS, and the whole of rape culture. Please, people. Seriously? It’s beneath all of us that this even merits a comment. Gender inequality and rape culture were here a long before the birth of the genres and rage everywhere. Someone pointed out American history includes extensive white patriarchal rape. I’d add genocide, too, but that is another essay.
Regarding what is happening on Twitter:
Thumbs Up: In those 2 paragraphs, I was addressing gender and gender only. However, the outcry focused so much on race (and at times class) that it was naive of me to assume that everyone knew I was discussing only gender. My favorite feminist teachers, such as bell hooks and Gloria Steinem, would probably have admonished me, as they write that gender, class, and race are inextricably bound in the conversation about gender equality. My amends for thinking you could read my mind and know I was only talking about gender. I understand why you were offended.
Thumbs Up: Thank you to the fans of both genres who have introduced me to artists whose lyrics embody activism and progressive values. I know India.Arie is soul and R & B, but she gives you an idea about what I enjoy: positive, affirming, prayerful. I am glad to have more beats for my playlists. I celebrate the music, its meaning, and those who love it.
Thumbs Up: Thank you to the fans who have emphasized the two genres are historically and musically distinct. I know, but I could not have anticipated that by merely using “and” to link them in the same sentence would be hurtful. I apologize. To return to my analogy above, mountain music and bluegrass are totally different, but most “outsiders” don’t know that. I also am hearing you loud and clear that they represent much, much more than music.
Thumbs Up: To those willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, asking for a clarification. Your graciousness stood out. I hope I can extend the same mercy and patience to others who initially offend me. Thank you.
Thumbs Down: I take full responsibility for the book. It is my text. However, it was read by scores of people, none of whom gave me feedback that I might be inadvertently offensive. How was this missed? Why wasn’t it mentioned until it was too late? Thumbs down to all of us for not having the sensitivity and acuity to catch the paragraphs might be hurtful.
Thumbs Down: There are those tweeting who are not of goodwill. The extraordinary violence, venom, slander, and character defamation expressed by some toward me and my body is exactly what I was isolating and identifying. Some say I deserve to be sexually humiliated, dominated, hurt, and raped. There are death threats. You are making my precise point with a lucidity that is stunningly clear. Hatred of girls and women, I will oppose with spiritual and non-violent principles every day. Abuse and violence in any form, at any time, in any expression, are never okay. Period. I, and other girls and women, are not afraid of you. You can keep on hating, but I am going to keep on loving.
Because “no one is born hating another person because of the color of their skin, or their background, or their religion (or gender). People must be taught to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite” (Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom) And “hatred never ceases by hatred. Hatred ceases by love. This is an unalterable law” (Compassionate Buddha).
That’s it for now, but my guess is it’s hardly the end.