African-Americans invented sexism, and other interesting tales

Now, having read Toufe’s piece on moral agency I am not about to try to make some kind of case absolving an artist like Nelly for creating a video in which women are treated in degrading, sexist, and appalling ways. Social change is made by moral agents who decide not to follow the script that is laid down for them. By people who face all the social forces and do not succumb to them. It is these exceptions to the social script that provide possibilities for hope.

Having said that, I saw this article on hip hop and gender politics and thought it was provocative, in the opposite way that Toufe’s piece was. The author is saying — look, there’s plenty of sexism and misogyny in hip hop, there’s no question. But sexism and misogyny wasn’t invented by rap artists. It is consumed by huge numbers of people. (And, a point that the author doesn’t make, it is put forward by incredibly concentrated media companies as *the* dominant voice of hip hop, creating enormous pressures on artists to create that kind of work if they want a shot at recognition, reward, etc.) So there is an institutional context for this, and hip-hop artists alone shouldn’t have to take the fall for sexism.

The fact that they are is actually telling. By blaming hip-hop for sexism and misogyny, other sectors of society (no less infected by sexism) can throw up their hands and wonder why *they* are so sexist and misogynist. Must be a pathology of ‘black culture’ or ‘hip hop culture’ or ‘youth culture’. The one thing it can’t be is something that is pervasive throughout a patriarchal society where men beat their wives and girlfriends senseless, rape and terrorize women, and just generally keep women in their place across the board.

This is something worth watching for. It is not unlike a lot of what is being said about the ‘new antisemitism’. Remember the ‘old antisemitism’ is what was practiced by Europe since the Crusades and the Inquisition and culminated in the Holocaust. But many pundits are saying, look, the ‘new antisemitism’ is worse than the ‘old antisemitism’, and the ‘new antisemitism’ is criticism of Israel, and it is practiced not by whites and white supremacists but by Muslims and their supporters. So whereas in the past, opposing anti-semitism meant opposing white supremacy (and those things that accompanied it, colonialism, racism, and imperialism), today you can oppose ‘the new anti-semitism’ and still be firmly on the side of white supremacy, because the ‘new anti-semitism’ is something that is, by definition, practiced by white supremacy’s victims (Muslims, Arabs).

In this way, blacks can be blamed for sexism (and homophobia), Muslims can be blamed for anti-semitism (and sexism and homophobia). Not only does this justify doing bad things to them (locking them up or bombing them), but it also helps us to avoid any reckoning with these diseases of our own society.

Still thinking through this, but I might try to lay out the argument in an essay or a commentary.

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.