Considering the best way to address some folks responding to viral spread of inaccurate information taken out of
context from my book, I phoned Russell Simmons, with whom I have been friends for 15 years. We chatted for a while about the situation, and within an hour, he sent me a typed transcript of our call, which he had recorded on his cell phone! He posted it on his web site, and here I also provide a copy.
So, I guess the shit storm started when I was on the plane heading to Miami where I will be speaking this weekend at The Summit Series on a boat somewhere between Miami and the Bahamas. Right when I got off the plane, I got a frantic call from a long time friend, Ashley Judd, who just released her book about her international social justice, human rights, and public health work and revelations about painful experiences growing up as a child. There is a paragraph in the book where she briefly mentions the misogyny in some hip-hop and has caught a lot of heat because of it, in the past twenty-four hours.
As the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador to the Permanent Memorial On Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, I have worked closely with Ashley on her inspiring work to end modern day slavery and the abuse of the poor, and women and girls, in particular, around the world. I wanted to give her the platform to express what she does, as she has been one of the great champions. While she’s in Africa or India or Central America Southeast Asia fighting to end poverty and exploitation, a lot of people are unfairly criticizing her. While we can debate her views on hip-hop, a debate we have had since the days of Def Jam, let us not lose perspective on her love for our people and all people.
Below is the transcript from our phone call:
Me: What brought you to a point that you wanted to write a book?
Ashley: I was trying to bring voice to the voiceless, bring attention to the exploited and disempowered and make a difference at both the grassroots and international level. I’ve spent the majority of my time in slums, brothels, refugee camps and hospitals, in make shift schools, and clinics that in this country would be condemned buildings, listening to the sacred narratives of the oppressed and then bringing those narratives to the public and trusting that once the truth is shared, the world can start to change. I have been to Kenya, South Africa, Madagascar, Rwanda, I’ve been to the Congo multiple times, I’ve been to Guatemala, El Salvador, India, Thailand, Cambodia. I addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations regarding the abolition of the modern slave trade, I was the keynote speaker in May of 2008. And I addressed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the urgent need to protect the health of African girls and women. I recently visited for three hours President Kagame of Rwanda about strategies to stop mass rape in Congo. I basically retired from Hollywood in 2004 and have been doing this full time, serving on multiple boards and advisory councils, but, most importantly, sitting and standing with people worldwide who need to be heard.
I do this work and I wrote the book because I know that there is no difference between me and another human being. The heart beats the same under the skin. I myself was neglected as a child, and I have fought hard to recover my personal dignity and self-esteem and I consider it my responsibility to fight on behalf of others who are still suffering. I carry a message of resilience, hope, perseverance, and identification. Together we can accomplish what no one can do alone.
Me: What were intentions when you wrote that paragraph about hip-hop, Snoop and Puff?
Ashley: My intention was to support artists to know that they have so much power. That they make incredible life changing impressions, particularly on the young. And we have choices everyday with our expressions, we either empower and celebrate unity or we re-enforce inequality and degradation. We are either part of the problem, or part of the solution. There is no in-between.
There are elements, and that is the part that has been so distorted – what I’m being accused of is condemning rap and hip-hop as a whole, and the whole community, which is understood to mean the fans, and African-Americans! It’s become so generalized and taken out of context! My intention was to take a stand: the elements that are misogynistic and treat girls and women in a hyper-sexualized way are inappropriate. The male dominance that is displayed, and the reinforcement of girls’ and women’s value and identify as primarily sexual, is not helpful in any artistic expression, in any cultural form, whether its country music or in television story lines. And if they read amore than one paragraph in the book, they would see that all four hundred pages are about that! We do live in a worldwide culture in which the sexual interests of boys and men are privileged over the bodily integrity and sexual autonomy of girls and women. What about this 11 year old child, gang raped multiple times in Texas over months? That is rape culture: a crowd of people, repeatedly, participating in and allowing sexual violence and humiliation. The images of her on the other kids’ cell phones are crime scene photos and child pornography. Rape culture isn’t always that extreme, or evident, but it is pervasive. Men having constant sexual access to compliant females (or sometimes sassy, but in the end, she always wants it, and if not, hey, nothing wrong with a force, right?) is a theme everywhere: sock commercials, shoe ads, hamburger advertisements. I so regret that my indictment of rape culture as a whole has been with that paragraph interpreted as me blaming rap and hip hop exclusively. That was absolutely not my intention, and I so regret it has had that effect on some people. The hip hope and rap community is incredibly important to me and to the cause of social justice. It is filled with bad ass and brave activists whom I admire, who work under duress fighting epic discrimination, who struggle to be heard for who and what they really are. As for the artists themselves who I mention, I write about being friendly with and enjoying Curtis Jackson’s company, then being confused when on stage his .50 personae comes out. I know Sean as a lovely, gracious guy who always remembers my husband’s name, with whom I have had heartfelt talks about the role of pop culture in improving social norms and eliminating discrimination.
Me: Here’s where it gets a little tricky. People would argue, and it’s a fine argument to have, that the artistic expression is simply a mirror. And there are many people who are concerned with the reality that exists and when they hear it echoed in poetry, in art, on television and other places they sometimes can be as angry as the artist, the exploiter. However, this language, I do understand that it can be hurtful to people who are suffering and who understand the suffering and the plight of women. You are only guilty of saying what every preacher, every black preacher says and I know that your intentions are pure. You have the right to not like Snoop Dogg or elements of rap music, but that certainly doesn’t make you a racist .In fact, you, Ashley are the farthest thing from it, considering you have committed your life to uplifting people around the world, mostly people of color.
Ashley: You mentioned the black minister, and that brings to mine my favorite: Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He is my spiritual director. He’s my dearest, most valued friend and my spiritual mentor. We’re in touch all the time, especially when I’m on my trips. He’s the one who keeps from losing my mind when I am going insane with grief because I’m sitting in a brothel.
Me: I love you for the work that you do and I will always support you.
Ashley: Thank you Russell, that means a lot.