My homie→author→cultural critic Joan Morgan coined the term “hip-hop feminism.” I recently asked her a few questions about teens attitudes towards gender violence and female misogyny for a feature I wrote. Below are snippets from our conversation. ~ By Raquel Cepeda
What do you make of the rancor Rihanna’s been receiving after Chris Brown assaulted her?
Unfortunately, It’s not really surprising. I’ve covered the Mike Tyson rape trial for the Voice eons ago, in 1991, and one of the things that became very clear to me after covering that trial was that we live in a society where celebrities are worshiped. And even in the case when you have two celebrities, particularly in the black community, that’s where gender tends to trump anything else. We are really reluctant to cast out our happy-ending stories: Chris Brown is considered by many people to be a successful clean-cut kid. The black community in particular that’s very reluctant to give up the dream, so to speak. In that sense, just as in the Mike Tyson rape trial, the woman and her work becomes immediately disposable.
Are you surprised that someone so clean-cut on the surface like Chris Brown—
I don’t think that it’s that unbelievable. I think that shows peoples lack of understanding about what domestic violence is. People who commit acts of domestic violence don’t [necessarily] appear as bad people all of the time. And I don’t even necessarily like the term “bad people.” I think they’re either people who were exposed to domestic violence: it was committed to them or they witnessed it at some point in their lives themselves. It’s that pattern of the abused becoming the abuser.
He witnessed his mom get abused by a boyfriend.
I think he is young and carrying a lot of anger and pain, the kind of stimulus that can really make you hurt someone you supposedly love like that. I don’t think it’s very clean cut that way. I think that in cases of domestic violence, people love in the way that they love, and they’re able of committing tragic acts; that’s why we call them acts of passion.
Many women—the 12- and 13-year old girls I interviewed for this piece included—protect Chris Brown at the expense of scapegoating women. Compassion is show for Brown, sheer hatred for Rihanna!
I think that women come up with a really strange set of defense mechanisms to protect themselves from the amount of real violence and sexism that exists in society. And I think that in order to protect themselves—to believe they could escape it—women tend to be very harsh critics of other women’s judgments.
Many of these women have kids, many of whom are inheriting their attitudes towards gender violence.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be discussed in terms of gender violence but I think that we live in a society where women don’t necessarily get their self-worth communicated to them at a very young age. And I also don’t think that boys do either. When this happened, I was extremely saddened for both of them because, like I said, it was a horrible thing to have happen to Rihanna at such a young and to have to process it so publicly. And it’s also a horrible thing to have to happen to Chris because, clearly, he fucked up, and clearly he’s in a lot of pain.
What do you tell your son Sule about what transpired between them?
My son is a huge Chris Brown fan and so am I. We listen to all his music, we love him as a dancer. My son is taking breakdancing classes and Brown is his idol and his role model. My son is turning 10 in July so we’re not talking about a teenager. He had a fanzine with Chris Brown and all these posters, and he asked permission to throw them out, and I told him “Ok, but I needed to know why you’re throwing them out.” He said, “Well mom, I really love him, he’s really talented but if he’s going to beat up on women, he can’t be a role model.” I don’t believe that I have the only child in the world out there like that. And I don’t believe that I’m the only parent communicating in these ways to my child. I do believe that the media often seeks the loudest and most sensational voices, and those are the ones that tend to get heard.
Do you think it confuses teens to hear Kanye West flip-flop like John Kerry about gender violence, and then hear others like Sean Combs, Tyrese, Terence Howard and others be so public in their support of Chris Brown?
I think it’s confusing because they feel conflicted. And I understand that because I feel conflicted. But I’m in my 40s and I’ve been dealing with gender issues, violence and sexism for a long time. And I understand that the enemy isn’t always awful and that you can love someone who hurts you. And that you can continue to love someone and not allow them back into your life because they’re toxic.
You know, I kinda wish that we lived in the kind of culture where people were interviewing people who were experts in domestic violence and value those opinions. To me, the onus falls on the celebrities; Why are you giving comments to the press. And also, I haven’t seen a whole lot of female celebrities interviewed about what they think about misogyny and Rihanna. It’s not about what team are you on: Jennifer Anniston or Brangelina. These are people’s lives, not a soap opera.