Quoted: Joan Morgan on Feminism, Hip-Hop and Everything Else

Excerpted by Latoya Peterson

(All bold emphasis mine.)

Joan Morgan on…

…finding the truth

Trying to capture the the voice of all that is young black female was impossible. My goal, instead, was to tell my truth as best I could from my vantage point on the spectrum. And then get you to talk about it. This book by its lonesome won’t give you the truth. Truth is what happens when your cumulative voices fill in the breaks, provide the remixes, and rework the chorus.

— When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, intro.dress up, p. 26


…on coming out as a feminist

Feminism claimed me long before I claimed it, The foundation was laid by women who had little use for the word. [...] I did not know that feminism is what you called it when black warrior women moved mountains and walked on water. Growing up in their company, I considered these things ordinary.

—When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, the f-word, p. 35

…on white feminists

The spirits of these women were no where to be found in the feminism I discovered in college. Feminists on our New England campus came in two flavas – both variations of vanilla. The most visible were the braless, butch-cut, anti-babes, who seemed to think the solution to sexism was reviling all things male (except, oddly enough, their clothing and mannerisms) and sleeping with each other. They used made up words like “womyn,” “femynists,” and threw mad shade if you asked them directions to the “Ladies’ Room.” The others – straight and more femme – were all for the liberation of women as long as it did not infringe on their sense of entitlement. They felt that men should share the power to oppress. They were the spiritual descendants of the early suffragettes and absolutely not to be trusted.

—When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, the f-word, p. 35

…on racism and racial solidarity

White girls don’t call their men “brothers” and that made their struggle enviably simpler than mine. Racism and the will to survive it creates a sense of intra-racial loyalty that makes it impossible for black women to turn our backs on black men – even in their ugliest and most sexist of moments. I needed a feminism that would allow us to continue loving ourselves and the brothers who hurt us without letting race loyalty buy us early tombstones.

— When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, the f-word, p. 36

…on embracing the term

And there it was, the f-word all up in my face daring me to blanket myself in the yarns I’d spun to justify my rejection. Go on, girl. Deny me and tell this fool about cha lover and the butch-cut white girls and see if he gives a fuck. Searching for a viable, less volatile alternative I did a quick mental check of the popular epithets. Strong Black Woman. Womanist. Warrior Woman. Nubian Queen. Bitch. Gangsta Bitch. Bitches With Problems. Hoes With Attitude. None of them offered even the hint of protection.

Finally, I realized that in the face of sexism it didn’t matter what I called myself. Semantics would not save me from the jerks I was bound to run into if I continued to do this for a living nor would it save women from the violence of teenage boys who suffered from their own misconceptions of power and manhood. If I truly believed that the empowerment of the black community had to include its women, or that sexism stood stubbornly in the way of black men and women loving each other or sistas loving themselves, if acknowledged this both in print and in person then in any sexist’s eyes I was a feminist. Once I recognized these manifestations of black-on-black love as the dual heartbeats of black feminism, I was purged of doubt. I accepted his challenge with confidence.

— When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, the f-word, pp. 43-44

…on rap music

Any feminism that fails to acknowledge that black folks in ninties America are living and trying to love in a war zone is useless to our struggle against sexism. Though it’s often portrayed as part of the problem, rap music is essential to that struggle because it takes us straight to the battlefield. [...]

As a black woman and a feminist I listen to the music with a willingness to see past the machismo in order to be clear about what I’m really dealing with. What I hear frightens me. On booming track after booming track, I hear brothers talking about spending each day high as hell on malt liquor and Chronic. Don’t sleep. What passes for “40 and a blunt” good times in most of hip-hop is really alcoholism, substance abuse, and chemical dependency. When brothers can talk so cavalierly about killing each other and then reveal that they have no expectation to see their twenty-first birthday, that is straight up depression masquerading as machismo. [...]

This is crystal clear to me when I’m listening to hip-hop. Yeah, sistas are hurt when we hear brothers calling us bitches and hos. But the real crime isn’t the name-calling, it’s their failure to love us – to be our brothers in the way that we commit ourselves to being their sistas. But recognize: Any man who doesn’t truly love himself is incapable of loving us in the healthy way we need to be loved. It’s extremely telling that men who can only refer to us as “bitches” and “hos” refer to themselves only as “niggas.”
—When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, from fly girls to bitches and hos, pp. 72-75