“This book by its lonesome won’t give you the truth. Truth is what happens when your cumulative voices fill in the breaks, provide the remixes, and rework the chorus.”
So begins Joan Morgan’s book on her experiences and thoughts as a hip hop feminist. This resonated with me, as I often struggle with writing a blog entirely based on my own opinions, beliefs and voice. I often call for guest posts because I think the most valuable discourse is one in which there is a plurality of voices.
A couple of months ago I suggested my social justice book club read “When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost.” Not only was it an engaging read but throughout the book I found myself scribbling down page numbers and quotes whenever Morgan writes something particularly spot-on (which, if you take a look at my notebook, is every other page!).
I recently took the book out of the library again so that I could return to these pages and share them with readers of this blog. If you haven’t read this book, I couldn’t recommend it enough. It’s an accessible, often informal text – in fact, it even led one of my friends to realizing she is a feminist. That’s powerful stuff.
Morgan discusses being a black woman and a feminist (these are not mutually exclusive identities, she argues), the misogyny in hip hop lyrics and videos, and the value of sisterhood – among a myriad of other topics that are still relevant a decade after she wrote the book.
I’m kicking myself because I didn’t write a more thorough review months ago when the material was fresh in my mind so I’m going to quote a few brief excerpts from her book to give you a taste of my favorite parts:
“Are we no longer good feminists…if the A.M’s wee hours sometimes leave us tearful and frightened that achieving all our mothers wanted us to – great educations, careers, financial and emotional independence—has made us wholly undesirable to the men who are supposed to be our counterparts? …And when one accuses you of being completely indecipherable there’s really nothing to say ‘cuz even you’re not sure how you can be a feminist and insist he ‘respect you as a woman, treat you like a lady, and make you feel safe – like a li’l girl.’” p.58
“We are the daughters of feminist privilege. The gains of the Feminist Movement (the efforts of black, white, Latin, Asian and Native American women) had a tremendous impact on our lives – so much we often take it for granted. We walk through the world with a sense of entitlement that women of our mothers’ generation could not begin to fathom.” p.59
“More than any other generation before us, we need a feminism committed to ‘keeping it real.’ We need a voice like our music – one that samples and layers many voices, injects its sensibilities into the old and flips it into something new, provocative, and powerful.” p. 62
“Similarly sistas have to confront the ways we’re complicit in our own oppression. Sad to say it, but many of the ways in which men exploit our images and sexuality in hip-hop is done with our permission and cooperation. We need to be…accountable to each other…To acknowledge this doesn’t deny our victimization but it does raise the critical issue of whose responsibility it is to end our oppression. As a feminist, I believe it is too great a responsibility to leave to men.” p.78-79
“I know that ours has never been an easy relationship. Sistahood ain’t sainthood. That nonsense about if women had power there would be no wars is feminist delusion at best. We might not get down with guns and bombs but when it comes to emotional carnage we can be quite brutal with ours. Ain’t a black woman alive who hasn’t experienced the jealousy, duplicity, backstabbing, and competitiveness sistas are capable of. This is especially true when racism and sexism’s got us convinced that there just ain’t enough happiness to go around…
That being said, know that when it comes to sistahood, I am deadly serious about my commitment to you…As long as inequality and oppression remain constants in our lives, sistahood is critical to our mutual survival.” p. 231-232
Morgan, J. (1999). When chickenheads come home to roost. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.