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Dear Black Woman, You Are Not a Victim

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After watching the April 17 episode of Oprah featuring Ben Chavis, Russell Simmons, and Kevin Liles, I am convinced that until we as African-Americans stop playing the "victim" card and take responsibility for our actions, how we treat ourselves and how we allow others to treat us, we will continue this vicious cycle of self-degradation that continues to plague our community and that gives permission for others to openly disrespect us in the media.

Simmons, Liles, and Chavis repeatedly skirted around the issue at hand, blaming poverty, and ignorance for making hip-hop "the mirror of the parts of society America wants to ignore." They were convinced and are on a crusade to convince the world that they truly care about the well-being of the black community and have vowed to support each other's initiatives through the all-powerful "Hip Hop Summit."

This sickened me and it should sicken any other African American who has risen above, or watched their families and friends rise above, their circumstances, not letting what goes on around them control their lives, but rather taking control of their destinies… all while refusing to call anyone out of their name.

Simmons, Liles, and Chavis should be ashamed of themselves, and on today's episode of Oprah proved themselves to be the self-promoting executives we all know them to be. I am convinced that the HHS is to them a large body of people they can influence and control — specifically to buy products, support artists, and most importantly vote for candidates the "leaders" choose to endorse.

Maybe this is a stretch, but after the comments and insincerity I felt coming from the their mouths, I find it hard to believe anything else.

I say this just to advise everyone to be very careful who you look to as leaders. I heard author and talk show host (booted from BET) Tavis Smiley say once "You are the leader you have been looking for." I couldn’t agree more. Stop blaming "the world" for your circumstances. Take control of your life, your mouth, and your thinking. Poverty is not causing anyone to call their sister a ho, ignorance is not forcing Snoop to call women bitches, and desperation is not forcing black women to participate in their own disrespect — or is it?

We as black women must realize that we hold so much more power than others would like us to believe. We do not have to participate in our own disrespect to win the approval or attention of any human being. What kind of sense does that make? We are the single moms, we are the college-educated professionals, and we are the doctors, lawyers, and teachers of our community. We must stop supporting the crap that does nothing but help kill our spirits, the spirits of our children, and of our community.

Think about it, would CBS and MSNBC really have pulled Imus' show if advertisers didn’t pull out first? Women and African-Americans make up a heck of a portion of the consumer community and where we choose to spend — or not spend — our dollars is an extremely important lesson from this whole situation. Stop supporting what brings you down and instead use your economic power to build you and your community up.

When you go to the club, if there is a song that you know degrades you and your sisterfriends — don’t run to the dance floor saying "Ohh girl, thats my song!" Instead sit down and convince your friends to sit down, too. When people ask why you cleared the floor, tell them it's because you wont dance to a song that basically labels you a prostitute. Tell them you're better than that, and tell them you are there to have fun, but not at the expense of your self-respect. We all know the guys aren’t going to dance alone. And we all know that the one girl who will still get out in the middle of the floor and perform for everyone wont keep dudes' attention for long. Take a stand until the DJs stop playing the songs — stand up until the radio gets a clue that you've realized your power and decides to stop playing those artists because they aren’t making them any money. If you don’t hear the songs on the radio are you really going to have heard it enough to go buy (or download) the album? Probably not.

You see, it's the little things that make the difference. Start small, and infect the world with change. YOU are the leader you've been looking for. Not Russell, not Jay-Z, not Kevin Liles, not Al Sharpton. YOU. Start making your own decisions. Do what's right, do unto and treat others the way you would want them to treat you. Most importantly, do unto yourself the way you know you should.

I'm not dismissing that Imus was a complete idiot for saying what he said and stealing the Rutgers' women ball players' moment of glory, nor am I disregarding the institutionalized racism that is so ingrained in our society. What I am saying is don't let others' negative opinions and beliefs stop you from doing and being your best. When you do, you become a victim, and victims are never victorious. And having someone call you out of your name is living way below your potential.

As a Black woman, don’t forget about your pain and your frustration; instead use it and turn it into positivity that will change you and the world that surrounds you. We are better than who the world is trying to tell us that we are, and what we are choosing to believe about ourselves. But nothing will matter until we take control of our lives and redefine our identities as the loving, beautiful, intelligent, and most of all worthy individuals God has created us to be.

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  • http://mediaverse-memphis.blogspot.com Richard Thompson

    Greetings Ayofemi,

    I plan to write a response as well to Oprah’s show, a reaction that differs from your own. But I want to echo some common ground in these comments.

    I agree that black women, or women period, need to claim their own ground. It’s a rekindling of feminism, and yes one could argue that the fight for women’s rights had died down on a macro level until now.

    Part of your argument rails against a woman’s own decision making, her own ability to choose.

    One woman might decide to go to the dance floor on a Snoop song (for example, Gin and Juice) because it reminds her of a good time in her life. She might identify more with that remembrance and overlook the word choice, especially if she doesn’t believe the words refer to her.

    And though I respect the women at Spelman, I have to say that if anyone relies on music as the sole source of definition for their character then something is truly wrong — with that person. So, Simmons and et. al. are right that there are more factors that should be taken into account when we discuss self-esteem.

    (And I would argue that poverty plays a greater role than music because if poverty was diminished then music would become less of a means of mental escape.)

    Peace.

  • Ayofemi

    Richard —

    Thank you for your comments.

    I agree there is something about music that transcends the physical boundaries of our world. One DJ spin can immediately take us back to the first moment we heard a song, even to the point where we remember everything about the time and place — from the people we were with to the aromas that surrounded us.

    That is the beauty of the art, but we also have to remember the powerful effects of the art, and that everything we allow into our minds has an affect on our spirit and seeps into our subconcious. That’s why after listning to any words placed on top of a musical schema, we can find ourselves singing along, almost without any effort.

    I wont deny it, I’ve found myself in my car listning to the radio and bobbing my head to a hot beat, only to realize that what is being said about me is completely misaligned with what I choose to identify with. At that moment, I make a choice — that choice being to turn the dial to protect my spirit and my integrity.

    The women of Spelman are not relying on music to define them, rather, they are also recognizing the influence music has had and will continue to have all over the world. If they dont stand up for themselves and how they are being protrayed, who will?

    And yes — poverty does play a tremendous role in music. Frustration plays an immense role in all creativity, however as so many have done in the past — this frustration, anger and discontent can be used to elevate or contaminate a situation. Which of these do you think this type of music is doing to the Black community?

    Again thank you for your comments, and for taking the time to respond.

    Ayofemi