By Guest Contributors Moya and Whitney; originally published at Crunk Feminist Collective
*TRIGGER WARNING: Expletives, misogyny, and violent lyrics*
Pop a lot of pain pill’
‘bout to put rims on my skateboard wheel’
beat that pussy up like Emmett Till
“I just couldn’t understand how he could compare the gateway to life to the brutality and punishment of death,” said Aricka Gordon Taylor, spokesperson from the Till Family. We can, though. It’s happened before, from Wayne and friends.
People are mad. Real mad. They’re even talking about it on the radio here in Atlanta, while simultaneously continuing to play the song with Emmett Till bleeped out. Folks are calling for a boycott of Clear Channel and the removal of the song from the airwaves. There’s Twitter activism in motion as well from Dream Hampton to shame LA Reid (who should be shamed, for this and more) because he should know better. Epic, Future’s label not Wayne’s, has apologized saying that this lyric won’t appear on the final version of the song and the family has written an open letter to Wayne.
We understand why folks are mad and in no way want to diminish this important call to action. One of the things Moya hated about other media activism she’s been involved in is the question, “why you mad about this and why now?” We want to think about these lyrics in the context of calls by feminists of color to interrogate the problems of violent sex metaphors before the name of a slain civil rights icon was invoked. With this in mind, we want to add some thoughts to the growing conversation.
1. We need intergenerational conversations–“beating the pussy up” is a hip-hop metaphor for sex that’s not new. We need and have been trying to have a conversation about the violence this metaphor (and others) conjures, but folks using it don’t understand themselves to be talking about intimate-partner violence when they use it. It is used by men and women to describe sexual prowess, not violence, despite its employment of the violence of “beating.” In reading the framing of the outrage we see elders taking issue with Till being compared to the “anatomy of a woman” and “domestic violence.” That’s not quite what’s happening, and we wonder if intergenerational strategies can help alleviate some of these misreadings. Rather than domestic violence, perhaps we can shift our frame to think about sexualized violence and violent sexualities more broadly, which, to be clear, are not always practiced in the context of traditional understandings of intimate partner violence or under duress or coercion. Patricia Hill-Collins already hipped us to the violence that undergirds many discussions of black sexual prowess in her incisive reading of black colloquial usage of the term “booty” and its dual meaning/invocation as both the spoils of war and conquest (i.e. violence) and as the long-standing icon of black women’s sexual desirability. Too much connection to be coincidental, no? This framework might allow us to see how violent sexual prowess acted out on the bodies of women of color is a staple of hip-hop and popular culture more generally. The issue is not just the ill-informed invocation of Till’s brutal murder but the normalization of brutality acted on women’s bodies.
Additionally, what does bleeping out words on the radio do? Particularly when it’s part of a rhyme scheme? The absurdity of radio editing is just more than we can fathom sometimes. You want to protect children from hearing the words “Emmett Till” and “pussy” but not the “beating up” they are used in conjunction with? Not to mention any other songs that have other violent metaphors that don’t have curse words in them that are perfectly fine for radio play. Can we talk to children as opposed to shielding them from certain words? Why are words bleepable but problematic concepts aren’t under review?