Nelly Doesn't Get It: There's Never A Good Time for a Black Woman to Confront Male Privilege

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When women, especially young women, stand up for themselves or a cause we believe in, and that cause does not align with the immediate interests of men who wish to set the agenda, we are vilified. Women who dare speak out are characterized as selfish and self-serving simply because they drew hard lines. That is a consequence of a patriarchy in which said women are expected to bend and submit to the wills of men who wish to dominate under all circumstances. While men are principled, women are just bitches.

Nearly 10 years after the students of Spelman College rejected the hyper misogyny represented by Nelly's, now infamous, "Tip Drill" video, the rapper reignited the years old debate with recent comments on HuffPost Live. In this discussion, Nelly explains his feelings on the protest against his visit to Spelman college shortly after the release BET UnCut staple.

Nelly continues to  perpetuate false information in an attempt to paint himself as the victim. Spelman grads confirm that Nelly's organization chose to pull out of the bone marrow drive. The university did not cancel it. The truth is Nelly chose to evade the women who would not let him enter their space without some sort of accountability. Those facts, however, don't tell a sympathetic story, so he continues to point fingers.

Nelly's primary quarrel with the college women who chose to speak out was their timing. He told Marc Lamont Hill, "It felt so wrong to me because here I am losing time trying to save someone special to me, and you want to talk about a video." Telling is the fact that even when talking about the event that his organization planned to save his sister who suffered from Leukemia, Nelly centers his personal desires. There's no question he cared for and loved his sister Jackie, who passed away in 2005; however, his assertion that the young, black women who felt victimized by the video's explicit visual and rhetorical content should have waited for the "right time," a time I presume he would have picked, is nothing more than an attempt to silence their concerns. Nelly speaks as if he would have been open to the discussion under circumstances, but waiting for Nelly to sanction the time and place of this discussion would have been a concession these women should not have had to make.

Tip Drill is not just a music video. It represents the glee with which black men degrade and humiliate black women. The video's most noted  image features the rapper sliding a credit card down an exotic dancer's butt cheeks. The men we are expected to fight for and stand by use the power that they obtain to perpetuate the misogynoir  that marginalizes black women at every turn. There is no correct choice for a woman who simply wishes to thrive. Whether we comply or we refuse we will be called names and questioned.

Nelly went on in the interview to pose a question to Marc Lamont Hill. He asked, "What's more important here?" But only  women are expected to choose between our dignity and our health. Though our psychic well being is just as important as our physical, that's a difficult notion to comprehend for men like Nelly who care not for the former and only for the latter, it seems, when someone he loves is in peril.

There's never a good time for a black woman to raise her voice against the oppression that so often mediates her lived experience. That is why we must not wait to be passed the microphone. We must refuse to sit in silence why those who do not and cannot understand our journey attempt to set our priorities.

10 years later, I commend the group of young women of Spelman who seized this opportunity to speak out. Though the entire ordeal was disheartening for the women and faculty, I'm sure. This was an important moment -- a recognition and celebration of our power.

We're continually told to subvert our interests and values in support of the greater good. Nelly still contends that he should have "kicked somebody's ass" over the run-on. His ongoing lack of empathy and overt hostility for and towards the women demonstrates how little has changed. Nelly, nor anyone else, is entitled to use black women or our spaces in a way that forces us to choose between the many parts of our humanity. We have a right to be heard on our own terms and in our own time.

Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or

1 comment:

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