Identity, Sexuality, and Social Communication in Hip-Hop
When rereading “Black feminists’ dilemma”, an interesting article by well-known Dominican researcher and feminist Ochy Curiel, about the work of various women’s organizations in Santo Domingo, Brazil, Honduras and Belize, I noticed something in some paragraphs that held my attention and made me think about motivations in the case of female hip-hop groups, specifically Las Krudas.
One of the said paragraphs underlined how, despite the existence of several approaches to feminism and regardless of its diverse political strategies, all had a prime, common goal: exposing patriarchy as a system and proving the social, cultural and economic formation of sex differences until then assumed as both biological and natural. That is, the fact that girls have to be in pink and boys in blue, that women are not in power in the same proportion as men, that women must be at men’s service, and that men don’t cry, paved the way for an education differentiated according to sex, where one discriminated against the other, which proves it is just a matter of construction in detriment of them both.
We discussed that when men and women are born equal as human beings and later on become socially unequal, with women getting the short end of the stick, that’s food for thought. If, at the same time, this situation was subtly constructed for centuries and passed on through education, first within our families and then reinforced by school, the media, religion, and every socialization instrument, then it’s only natural that prejudice as well as stereotyped social roles, should arise.
Prejudice brought by that kind of education, permanently related to negative attitudes when we compare the standards of a social group’s conduct to another’s, reflect an image that entails stereotyped answers which, obviously, have a bearing on identity development.
In this regard, in another paragraph Ochy resorts to a definition by Larkin (2002) to state that, “Identity is a complicated thing if we understand the psycho-social dimensions of an individual and social relationship. From an individual viewpoint we could see it as an intimate, subjective process by which a person uses his/her own experience, depictions, and interrelations with others for purposes of self-conception and definition of how to act with both his/her own self and other people’s. From a collective viewpoint, these references govern all interrelations among society members or inside differentiated groups therein. From a sociological perspective, identity is framed by a structure of social events and conflicts. Hence it is not static, but fluctuating and inconstant according to historical processes.”
Psychologically speaking, identity, in its never-ending metamorphosis, presupposes a permanent game among self-image, self-ideal and self-esteem, said game being based upon referents. Brazilian psychologist and anthropologist Ronilda Iyaquemi Ribeiro states that when a society establishes that being white means to win and being black means to lose, then white is the agreed ideal self, since in all fairness, who wants to identify with defeat? Who wants to be a loser? This, of course, gives rise to many difficulties and conflicts in the forming of black people’s subjectivity.
A great deal of prejudice has sprung up, as one major priority strategy, from groups and collectives engaged in fighting these systems of domination. It involves a number of actions aimed at reaffirming a subjectivity contextualized in the outcome of historical events such as colonization and slavery, which turn “being black” into a depreciated, despised and often negated situation.
That is why when we talk about subjectivity, we say that it has developed individually, as well as collectively, while the act of self-identification has been built taking into account other men and women similar to each other, and other men and women who are different in terms of race, class, gender and sexuality. Actions contained in the politics of identity range from the recreation of African culture elements (cooking, esthetics, music, dance) to the creation of spaces for reflection where that “black” identity can be strengthened and positively appraised in order for black women to achieve a proper self-esteem.
Covering this issue in the media makes it possible to recover and reinforce the “black or African identity” as an acknowledgment of African cultural heritage, until now negated and thus made invisible, and then to develop a subjectivity in which black women’s self-esteem is not mutilated by values of a white culture that prevails in esthetics, cultural expressions, representations and symbology. Finding mechanisms to help reinforce the identity of many black women is conceived as a necessity given by experience and history that makes it urgent for them to take stands as both individual persons and social group.
Ochy stresses in this case that when a woman assumes herself as “proudly black”, some shaking occurs in the scale of negative and disregarded values that for many years has hung over her because of her racial condition. Namely, she redesigns negative as positive, although not necessarily by deconstructing any categories. Appealing to the politics of identity, accordingly, is to many black women a political act of resistance and, many times, of transformation, which can happen in different ways. In our case we have the advantage that the politics of racial approach is different, but it is not only a matter of regulations: we have to keep an educational work in place that helps eliminate all remaining prejudices. Prejudice are not deleted with appointments; they entail continued and simultaneous efforts by many forces, ourselves included.
There is no doubt that identity goes through subjectivity and also through collective political action, but mostly because we assume as an ethical principle that our practice and our political budgets must be constantly reviewed so as to make progress in constructing the utopia we hope for. It is exactly in the middle of those efforts where we are right now.
We know that most black people are integrated into the poorest social groups of our country’s economic structure. If we are already capable of changing the ideological values, from now on will have to further develop our conscience and that of people around us in order to do away with some traces of social exclusion that we sometimes feel at unconscious level. Unlike countries mentioned here as a subject of discussion, we have access to health care and education, but there are still some economic differences that put us at a disadvantage. We can’t deny the significance of any action to rescue our ancestors’ values and to bring our thoughts towards these topics, since they shed light on a part of that culture that is otherwise invisible, invalidated and at times nonexistent. Although these are well-defined elements which have been turned into political strategies and recreate culture, they fail to eliminate economic inequality.
I am in agreement with Ochy Curiel’s statement that, in order to find solutions to these disparities, there is no need to go to the extreme of generating self-segregation, sectarianism and nationalism with respect to identity-related problems. This is the risk facing us should a proper, conscientious readjustment of the politics of identity not be made. We must conduct relative analyses to understand that, on one hand, they enable us to recognize the experiences of social groups and to set up radical subjectivities, and on the other, they lead us to essentialisms by shifting our struggle only to construct psycho-social subjects. Racism is absent from any psychologizing thought. It does have an impact on our lives and emotions, but its causes lie outside of this sphere.
That is why I believe the process of constructing female political subjects must be based upon both reaffirming and deconstructing identities. Thus, the plan is to be on the alert for its weaknesses and strengths and see them always as a short-term process-oriented strategy, not as our ultimate struggle objective. Let us not be confined by these identities, for would then be embroiled in a reductionism which would make us lose sight of our history, its processes and the way racism has been long expressed in our societies. We must have dialectical thoughts, because the world is intrinsically full of contradictions.
Such reflections must be tackled with educational purposes in all fields and by all mass media and used as well in that new manner of speech undertaken by rap music. As a novel type of poetry, hip-hop provides a means of conveying things, dreams, wishes, feelings and, primarily, daily life.
The Cuban magazine Movimiento publishes confessions by male and female rappers alike who say that hip-hop has shown them a way to reassert their identity. Their lyrics, deportment and dress codes also echo an identity; ergo, they become, in fact, communicators, and must be aware of that. As soon as they stand in front of an audience they are offering an image, even without saying anything, and that image is communication, which entails a great responsibility.
KRUDAS: ANALYSIS AND BRAVERY OF THEIR MESSAGES
In our discussions we stressed the importance of educating and providing adequate information on gender at an early age, by way of school, family, the media, religion and every available socialization tool, using as much help as possible with a view to identity build-up. Anyone regardless of his/her age can hear the message coming from a song’s lyrics. In their lyricss, Las Krudas offer various kinds of messages which evoke strength, courage, positive energy and feelings related to race, identity and diversity. Independently produced, their record Krudas Cubensi includes songs such as:
1. Vamo’ a vencé
A proposal of confrontation and unity to overcome hardships. An acknowledgment of their being female rappers who know very well about the difficulties involved. They make a call to raise awareness and appeal to their ancestors’ help to break molds and develop the pride of being black women. Still an interesting way of having a thought voiced by many feelings of unity to construct their utopia.
2. Pa’ keténtere
Topics related to self-recognition and calls for men to think about their mistaken concepts of a woman’s role and to realize that women are neither sex objects nor servants. They highlight the patriarchal historical drama and flaws in their teachings. The concept of beauty with no influence of every one’s nature, and that of reviewing our own image and ideal self. They acknowledge historical women, their heroic deeds and the strength they must inspire in us.
3. Madre Natura
Once again relying on nature as life’s root, which is bound to become a tradition. Nature’s beauty and that of its stars and planets, and its elements, mythical and full of energy. On the recognition of the black race and its own type of beauty, and the need to modify inherited esthetic codes. A quest strong enough to penetrate and change the subjectivity of black women with a complex.
Provides a very good idea to gather men in the understanding of this change of thinking, unite them to the runaway slave’s spirit and have them mix their fluids spontaneously to, men and women together, do.
5. 120 horas rojas
By breaking barriers they lead their fans to talk about the natural issue of sex, but for them it’s still a taboo and so they are therefore prevented from doing so by their prejudices. Thus they ask both men and women to pluck up courage and show what it means to be a woman. They portray themselves as emancipated, free, fearless women who call us all to raise our self-esteem and not to be scared of recognizing ourselves for what we’re worth. They break schemes, touch on the subject of pregnancy and put it in its right place, and go on to emphasize how its social and historical role assigned to it was used as a means of control and domination.
A song for their black race to remember past and present difficulties yet to be eradicated. A song about how they lived and everything they went through; about how the mass media are still incapable of changing these schemes and the work to be done to that end. They commemorate our ancestors with both their music and its contents.
7. Eres bella
It calls for participation, to demonstrate that there is no revolution, nor more lives without women. A praise to ancient wars and their meaning, and to how more space can be conquered through the struggle for recognition. Again they cover the topic of self-recognition and beauty, and exclusion when a woman meets no historical beauty standard, and ask us to recognize not only people’s physique but also their values and intellect, and to not let ourselves be used or let our bodies be for sale. Let us be people of value instead. Let us show that everywhere we women must have the same possibilities men have, that we need to break our chains and stop being valued as objects, and enjoy our sexuality as we wish.
8. Cubensi Hip Hop
Don’t be afraid to reveal your feminist points of view, don’t be afraid of that word and what it stands for. Music’s potential communicative and educative role. They courageously recognize and accept themselves as they are, for they believe in diversity and evoke the need to be strong to face up to anything if you have that right. Showing that unity among women helps them grow, they call us to recognize the path to take in order to achieve internal peace. If we join forces with as many mass publications as possible to start breaking these inequality-based thinking processes, if we change and eliminate all outdated behavioral norms from our textbooks and erase the rigid differences between males and females, and if we sing along with Las Krudas their songs ‘Vamo’ a Vencé’ and ‘Pa’ keténtere’, we’ll be already laying the foundations of the modifications.
BY WAY OF CONCLUSION
Be it with our songs or our emotions, every one of us must provide support for a solution. May the above reflections be taken into account at will, since to achieve the modifications we want there must be articulated strategies. Nothing would succeed without support.
Identity construction and deconstruction involves analyses and corrections whenever necessary. Let us not put this topic aside. Let it be covered whenever possible.
We have to give top priority to alliances between women and men and in every possible sector, mainly in the mass media. Let us keep an eye out for inequalities.
When we make reference to our subjectivities and emotions we must work on our own racism, our own homophobias and even our own classism, because if we continue breeding privileges in our interpersonal relations, few of the changes we are demanding will ever be made.
 Curiel, Ochy: Essentialist identities or the construction of political identities: A dilemma for black feminists. www.creatividadfeminista.org/artículos/fem2003negras.htm.
 Ribeiro Ronilda, Iyakemi: “Até quando educaremos exclusivamente para a branquitude?”, Redes de significado na construcao. University of Sao Paulo, February 2000.