Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Six Years After Spelman Students Took on Nelly

Lately my feelings have been hurt by the overly-sexual lyrics in songs and images in videos. I do my best to check in with what teens and 20-somethings are listening to every now and then, and I really dig VH1 Soul, which airs videos from artists like Jill Scott, Maxwell and Sade to old school hip hop and eighties R&B.

They also have a smattering of "urban" music, which is cool. But the other day, I was accosted by back to back, over-the top, salacious videos. There was Trey Songz with his headboard-banging sex video, Rihanna hyper-gyrating to "Rude Boy" (can you get it up!?!?!), and Usher singing "Lil Freak," where he's telling women they have to favor other women sexually if they want to get with him.

I almost had an adverse physical reaction from that much rawness. But I watched, thinking of my nearly 4-year-old daughter and wondering what kind of images she was going to face as a teen.

Unfortunately, it's already started. As we were driving last week, she saw a billboard that had a barely-clothed woman pulling up her shirt suggestively. "Ooowwee Mommy, she's showing her tummy," she screeched. "You're not supposed to show your tummy unless you are getting in the bathtub." I laughed outwardly and cried on the inside, simultaneously thankful that my baby knew what she was seeing was inappropriate and disturbed that I had to teach her that stuff as a toddler.

Of course I am not the only one who feels this way. This conversation has been reoccurring frequently since Salt-N-Pepa pop-locked to "Push It." (Funny, how tame that video seems now.) As editor of
Inside Spelman, Spelman College's on-line publication, I had the opportunity to edit a great article about a time when this issue boiled over.

In the piece,
Professor Tarshia Stanley reflects on how portrayals of black women have changed since Spelman students took on rapper Nelly in 2004, regarding his "Tip Drill" video. The students' protest spawned a national discussion about images of black women in the media.

There is still a lot to consider, whether you think negative images are the responsibility of the video dancers because they allow themselves to be objectified, or you feel that music companies and artists who exploit them are to blame. Maybe you believe viewers are at fault: if they didn't watch these images, they wouldn't be made.

All I can think, when I happen to see some girl bent over in a video showing everything her momma gave her, is, "Lord, that's somebody's child." And I hope and pray that everyone involved in the production of that video develops more respect for others and themselves.

So check out Prof. Stanley's article in
Inside Spelman, and let me know how far you think this conversation has come. Have images of black women in the media improved? Do we have more talking to do? More action to take?

Undaunted by the Fight: Six Years After Spelman Students Took On Nelly
by Prof. Tarshia Stanley, associate professor of English at Spelman College

I was sitting in a restaurant in Atlanta several years ago when a waiter approached me and instead of taking my order, asked me if I was the one who taught “Images of Women in the Media” at Spelman. I looked at the young man for a moment and responded, “The answer depends on what will happen to my food if I am.”

It turned out the waiter was an Atlanta University Center student and wanted to chat about my class. He’d had several friends at Spelman who’d taken my course and several others that deal with how women of color are represented by mass media. He said his Spelman friends were constantly challenging him on his music, his speech, and his overall behavior where women were concerned. I ended the conversation by asking him to challenge them right back.

I thought about the young man recently when my “Images” class had “bring-your-friends-to-class night,” when students are allowed to invite whomever they wish to have a dialogue about female representations. I was surprised that the class had nearly doubled in size for the visit. We had to find extra chairs, and everybody seemed really excited to have a mediated and safe space to continue their conversations.

I felt prepared to facilitate the discussion. After all, I have been at Spelman for a decade and there isn’t any subject that hasn’t come up in this class at some point. We were nearing the end of class, and I was feeling really pleased because of the level of intellectual discourse and engagement. I was about to chalk this class up to one of the best when a young person said something about it being “a shame the way y'all did Nelly.”

It had been six years since the moment when rapper Nelly canceled a bone marrow drive at Spelman because some students wanted to engage him in a dialogue about misogynistic rap music and videos. I should have been prepared, but the blood rushed to my head as I tried to control myself. All the panels and conferences I had attended with innumerable rappers justifying their treatment of Black women flashed before my eyes.

For the rest of the piece, please visit Undaunted by the Fight: Six Years After Spelman Students Took On Nelly

Tarshia Stanley, Ph.D., is the author of the forthcoming, “Mothering Our Daughters: Mediating the Messages," and founder of the annual Mothering Our Daughters conference held at Spelman College. The student-led conference invites mothers/mentors to bring girls ages 7 to 17 to campus to talk about the influence of the media on growth and self-esteem.

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