Arguably, the biggest issue regarding the role of women in the hip-hop world is that of objectification. However, I’m finding myself even more annoyed by the culture’s suggestion that “regular old Black” or not visibly multi-racial just isn’t good enough for rappers when it comes to deciding who appears on album artwork or in a music video. That Black male rappers are equating success with non-Black aesthetics presents a troubling, albeit predictable, issue.
Quite simply, you ain’t major if you didn’t cast your rap video full of girls with only one Black grandparent, Brazilians, and full-blown White girls. While hip-hop has grown to a point where all races should be made to feel included, we know that inclusion or exclusion isn’t what this is about, nor is it to say that multi-racial women aren't ‘Black enough.’ However, when "racially ambiguous" seems to be the criteria for the cattle call castings for videos starring Black rappers, a dialogue needs to occur.
People of all races were still comfortable buying rap music back when all you saw was Black women of all complexions were gallivanting around swimming pools and gyrating next to Jeeps (back when most of them were fully clothed, nonetheless) in older videos. Now, the racial demographic of video models has changed drastically while the demographic of the men making the music has changed only slightly. The over indexing of the "light skin and long hair" aesthetic in rap videos has been consistent since the 1990s; some of us remember when a blonde Gloria Velez started making video appearances, which at the time was a bold statement in contrast to the darker shades around her. Despite her enviable curves, it was obvious she was often cast as the main video model because she didn’t look like the other women—who would then end up being relegated to filler alongside her. It’s as if once a Latina with blonde hair passed muster, it was open season for adding more and more women who looked the complete opposite of the guy rapping…and to act like that doesn’t speak to a deep, long-standing issue is just absurd.
We all know how much value has been placed on light skin and long, straight hair by many members of the Black community, something that has plagued us dating back to our plantation days. Contemporary self-hate is moving from light-skin praise to White skin praise. (Why get a girl who simply looks White? Get the real thing!) And when there is an obvious preference for light women, Whites or “others” by Black rappers and it is reflected in many of the visuals we associate in the modern day with hip-hop, we have to think of what message that sends to our young women. Our Black girls are being told that they are not good enough, pretty enough, light enough to be desired by Black men. On the flip side, our young boys are being told they haven’t “made it” if they’re not being seen hobnobbing with women who aren’t Black
The most appalling thing to me about Kanye West's "So Appalled" were the lyrics in the hook:
Champagne wishes, 30 White b*tches…Five-star dishes, different exotic fishes
Repeated throughout the song, the lyric seems to list White women among a number of luxurious acquisitions, perpetuating the antiquated, horribly ugly idea that a Black man has "made it" once he is able to bed White women. Extra points for well-off and/or foreign ones. Add even more points for blondes, bleached or otherwise. The concept brings to mind Nate Hill's bold performance piece “Trophy Scarves,” which satirized the idea of Black men treating White women as status symbols by depicting him literally wearing them like scarves draped over his tuxedo. While the approach was comical, it certainly made a hell of a statement about the way some Black men see White women as something to strive for, seeing their perceived "look at me/us" value over the actual person.
If it wasn't apparent from his rants during the infamous “Sway in the Morning” interview, West is curiously enamored by all things Eurocentric, including women. I once wrote about this strange obsession back when he released some of the artwork for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the controversial "Monster" video. Even some of the artwork for Yeezus depicts the same identity issues on the last album. However, the buck hardly doesn't stop at Mr. West's door, though. For a better idea of the notably non-Black images being sought after by Black rappers for today's rap videos, one need only check out the Saturday Night Sexy section of popular hip-hop blog 2DopeBoyz. The Nubian-ness is at a low while the "Venezuelan/Italian/Colombian/Irish/…" seems to predominate.
By no means am I saying that objectifying women sits better with me when it’s Black women as opposed to others. The problem I have is with the perception that White women are an accessory that’s synonymous with luxury and success; that there’s a golden stair lined with pretty women that symbolizes a Black man’s climb toward the Promised Land where Black women are relegated to the bottom step if they need to be present at all. Our young people are being told that “just Black” isn’t enough and that idea being associated with hip-hop is bothersome to me, to say the least. At one time, hip-hop culture was something we as Black people could call our own. No matter how the culture spread or evolved, it should still have a place at its origin and represent us visually and musically. While I’m ecstatic that hip-hop is more inclusive now and that people are more comfortable not being Black and still immersing themselves in it, I’m irritated that it seems we have lost the ability to operate as a culture where we could openly praise Black women as something desirable. I don't expect rappers to change, particularly the ones pandering for or hoping to remain upon the plateau of mainstream success, and I don't expect anyone but us to raise our children, but it's high time we stop ignoring the fact that we've been struggling with certain image issues since slavery and instead of hiding these flaws behind the guise of "preference" or "inclusion,” we need to learn to appreciate us first and foremost.
Shaka Shaw of Front-Free.com is a freelance writer living in Northern California.