Dr. David Ikard’s recent book, Breaking the Silence:Toward a Black Male Feminist Criticism (LSU Press), has not only generated buzz within academia but has made its way onto the pop culture scene because of its insightful analysis of the writings of such literary giants as Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley and Toni Cade Bambara.
But it has been Ikard’s trenchant and often irreverent commentary on hiphop culture in recent months that has catapulted him into a spotlight shared by such notable scholars as Mark Anthony Neal of Duke University and Joan Morgan of Vanderbilt.
Ikard left the University of Tennessee-Knoxville last year for a position as an assistant professor of English at Florida State University, where he currently has a Ford Foundation postdoctoral research grant.
His new work-in-progress is To Be Real: Representing Black Humanity from Zora Neale Hurston to Dave Chappelle, which he summarizes: “Borrowing from the idea within Black feminist theory that all oppressions are interlocking, my project will examine literary texts … to demonstrate how de-centering race as a marker of identity can empower traditionally oppressed and victimized groups.”
During the past year, Ikard has been an occasional panelist, with Neal and Morgan, in a series of high-profile discussions titled “Does Hip-Hop Hate Women?” The session last April at the University of Chicago was featured on National Public Radio and televised on CSPAN.
In his final semester at UT last spring, Ikard co-created a course led “Hip-Hop Culture and Cultural Theory.” The popularity — and notoriety — generated by the class led the student newspaper, The Daily Beacon, to interview Ikard. In the subsequent article, he took the university to task when asked about UT’s social climate for faculty and students of color.
“The potential for UT to be productive is very high,” he told The Beacon. “Yet, I do not think that enough is being done to foster this. I want there to be a genuine effort, instead of just tolerance, to foster a productive climate of mutual respect.”
Ikard says his interest in hip-hop culture and in developing the course at UT with Dr. George White, “evolved organically” from his work on Black male feminist criticism — “that all forms of oppression are intersecting and interwoven.”
He addresses the misogyny in hip-hop as a more complex paradigm than the obvious images and lyrics emanating from electronic devices.
“It’s what I like to call the bitch/queen phenomenon,” Ikard explains, “that women should operate ultimately in the service of pleasing men, whether through sexual gratification or motherly nurturing. This dichotomy of representation doesn’t allow for shades of gray, so to speak, regarding Black women’s complex humanity.”
However, he is quick to point out, “the misogyny in hip-hop is in no way unique or specific to hip-hop. But, rather it reflects the ominant culture’s ideas about gender roles.”
He says it’s time the artists recognized their role in the perpetuation of oppression.
“Given the ways that Blacks generally, and Black women in particular, have been exploited in U.S. culture, it behooves us to find alternate and more productive ways of creative expression that don’t repeat or confirm dominate patterns of subjugation.”
—By Pearl Stewart
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