Black Women Are Never Priority: N.W.A, the Politics of Misogyny and My Battered Body8/17/2015
by Kimberly Foster @KimberlyNFoster Wrestling with the past is painful. If we were to try to write every figure who committed despicable ...
by Kimberly Foster @KimberlyNFoster
Wrestling with the past is painful. If we were to try to write every figure who committed despicable acts out of our histories, there would be no one left to revere. So it seems easier not to reckon with the violence that shapes our world—that shapes our thought.
But we never escape it. Whether it be the outgrowth of white supremacy, imperialism, homophobia, or misogyny, that violence transmutes everything it touches. It taints our being.
One of the most discomforting truths about living as a Black woman is that there is no safety from said violence. Those who continue to profit from it spread the lie that being “good” offers protection. It’s the kind of falsehood people like 46-year-old Ice Cube perpetuate when they speak of “bitches,” “hoes,” “despicable females,” and “upstanding ladies.”
Living in this body has taught me that there’s no use in jockeying for a position in the lauded latter category, because I will become a “bitch,” a “hoe,” or a “despicable female” as soon as someone decides they want to commit violence against me. The misogynists move the goal posts at will and effectively trap women on the hamster wheel of respectability. I discontinued that pursuit as soon as I realized that it is never “us” versus “them.” I am always them, and they are me.
This reality is why I prefer to speak about the violence I've experienced abstractly. I’ll admit that referring to "systems" and "structures" is often more comfortable. It allows me to avoid and suppress painful memories, but this, too, is a false protection.
After this piece on Dr. Dre’s history of beating women went viral, I’m more clearly seeing the failure of the duck and dodge. What we must confront directly is a status quo that accepts physical and verbal violence against Black women as mere inconveniences and excuses them as distractions from the real legacy.
We allow and encourage abusers of Black women to thrive, yet somehow the conversation turns to the spoiling of nostalgia or stripping of earned success. Here, again, we come back to an old story: a Black man’s triumph is more important than a Black woman’s body.
The consideration of anyone’s cultural import and influence cannot be done piecemeal, and those of us who desire real and meaningful acknowledgement of harmful words and deeds are not betraying our culture.
Misogyny is political. We cannot discuss the revolutionary politics of N.W.A., for example, without mentioning another clearly and dangerously articulated stance chosen by the group and its members. While it is correct to note N.W.A.’s role in giving voice to urban frustrations, it is also correct to consider their role in perpetuating virulent hatred of women—the kind that puts all women at risk everyday. We can't ignore it because it doesn’t fit the narrative. Misogyny kills, and it is not accidental. It is always a choice.
Both Dr. Dre and Ice Cube are now middle-aged men who have had notable careers in entertainment since the group’s split, but trying to explain away their verbal and physical violence towards Black women as typical transgressions of youth is insufficient. Though we must allow people space to evolve, we cannot conflate aging with growth. The trouble is there are few real consequences for unmitigated misogyny. Ice Cube can still call women "bitches" and "hoes" and Dre can still produce woman-hating music. Their legacies will not suffer.
One must be invested in dismantling a culture that normalizes violence against Black women before we talk about reconciliation. We’ve yet to see that from these men, and unless they’re going to do this work, linking the group to #BlackLivesMatter is an affront to the movement’s intersectional foundations. The current fight for Black liberation is for all of us—not just men.
Most telling in the push-back to conversations about misogyny and N.W.A. are the ways that Black women become unmourned casualties. In the age of #BlackLivesMatter, we see how violence breaks down communities. All violence is connected, and a refusal to take violence against Black women seriously—whether perpetrated by the State or otherwise—pushes us outside of the communities we work for and live in.
That is why some of us are opting not to see or support the film. And truthfully, it’s unsurprising that our choice is taken as a personal attack by Straight Outta Compton’s evangelists. Black folks still see our destiny linked to the fate of Black men while Black women are deemed non-essential.
I don’t excuse it, but I understand. I’ve protected and enabled abusers even as they victimized me. I feared for my safety and never told anyone. Embarrassment consumed me. I chose him, and I should've known better, I thought.
I’m a Black woman intimately familiar with the Black feminist and womanist canons. That did not stop me from taking responsibility for the actions of a volatile and violent man. When that man was arrested for attempting to solicit someone to kill the woman he began dating shortly after we split, I was not surprised. And, somehow, I still felt responsible.
I’ll admit it is personally hurtful as someone who has experienced all manner of sexist violence to see others who consider themselves to be "progressive" brush it aside, but most of our relationships to popular culture are complicated. From most reports, Straight Outta Compton is a wonderfully made film. This particular critique does not negate, completely, the efforts of those who helped to create and produce the film.
Black women deserve to be and feel safe. Refusing to challenge our degradation only fuels cycles of violence. We should not have to worry we may be implicating Black men when talking about our hurt. We need not be silent to aid your guilt-free consumption.