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Was C. DeLores Tucker Right?

More than a decade after civil rights activist Dr. C. DeLores Tucker took up a national campaign against obscenities in rap music lyrics, some scholars believe she was right in the light of the comments made by Don Imus towards the Rutgers University women’s basketball team.

The late Tucker, who was the Secretary of State for Pennsylvania and a delegate to the White House Conference on Civil Rights, believed that rap music was unhealthy for children. She said it was a crime to promote messages from the rap music industry that are drug-driven, race-driven, and greed-driven. However, her attacks instigated rappers such as Tupac Shakur and later, Eminem, to ridicule her in their lyrics.

Dr. Tukufu Zuberi, professor of sociology and the Lasry Family Professor of Race Relations at the University of Pennsylvania, agrees with Tucker.

“If a group of people want others to respect them, they have to respect themselves,” says Zuberi, who is also the director of Penn’s Center for Africana Studies. “You are still responsible for the history of your people. If there has been a derogatory phrase used against you, you’re not open to repeat it.

“The people who are part of this music and who sponsor this music should reconsider what they say… it’s not a question of what happens on the street, but showing respect on the street because that is where women are still disrespected,” he adds.

But Dr. Leith Mullings, professor of anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center, says Imus’ remarks aren’t at all related to hip-hop music, although critics say he used the same language that rappers routinely use in some of their music.

“Imus involves racism and sexism in people of power. In hip-hop, it’s a different kind of situation. That creates a diversion,” says Mullings.

She says that racism and sexism has been fundamental to the building of the country and slavery gave rise to certain rationalizations – not stereotypes – that absolved the slave owner.

“It continues around the notion that Black women are whores. It is also implemented around discussion of poor women and how sexually promiscuous they are as opposed to not [working legitimate] jobs,” says Mullings. “Imus is a crude example but similar examples [of sexist and racist commentary] exist in the congressional records.”

Dr. Benjamin Chavis, president of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, and rapper industry pioneer Russell Simmons issued a joint statement saying the comparison between Don Imus and hip-hop artists was unreasonable.

“Comparing Don Imus’ language with hip-hop artists’ poetic expression is misguided and inaccurate and feeds into a mindset that can be a catalyst for unwarranted, rampant censorship,” said Simmons.

Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, the associate professor of politics and African American Studies at Princeton University, provides a historical context to the phrase “nappy-headed hos.” Comparing Black women to the biblical character of Jezebel, she writes on that Black women have been victims of a racist, patriarchal society.

“During slavery Jezebel excused the profit-driven sexual exploitation of Black women… The point here is that Jezebel is more than a demeaning and false stereotype of Black women… Inaccurate portrayals of women’s lives and characters are intentional, not accidental. Myth advances specific economic, social and political motives.”

By Shilpa Banerji


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