I think about Black Girls Rock and the whole concept of the power behind the music and rock ‘n’ roll and the women entertainers who are the embodiment of current day womanhood, and think about those who have provided inspiration for generations to follow. And when I do, rivulets of tears run from my eyes as I look in recent years at the denigrated images of African American women — and some of it by their own hand.
I was happy to celebrate the experiences of a woman who represents strength and commitment to technology and growth in the brand. BET CEO Debra L. Lee, spoke eloquently regarding the issues facing our community. Lee said during the historic Table of Brotherhood tour that there are places and spaces where young people no longer dream or dare to hope that they can be or do anything they can imagine. Lee’s position often requires her to assess the often conflicting images depicted in broadcast media and she spoke to the issue by representing the absent voices and faces of those who historically have been neglected and ignored. In short, she is an advocate for positive and accurate representations of and for young adults.
I stood there and took a wonderful picture in my mind’s eye of how regal she was when reminding us of our hopes for the industry, explaining that people understood that BET was a means by which to share entertaining television done well by black people.
It is in this moment that I thought about advocating relationships with entertainment giants whose videos we play, like Kanye and Jay-Z, and I was surprised that “B—h” would be a song title on their album. I pondered how many young women had made the song and the album popular.
I thought about how many women had not exercised restraint and stood on principle to not purchase hip-hop music that was misogynistic or demeaned women by portraying them in a negative manner. I wondered, too, why we lacked the control or the ability to be honest enough with ourselves to admit that we lacked the intellectual capacity and personal integrity to refrain. Why did these women allow themselves to be denigrated and abdicate the responsibility for being held in a better light by men who treated the gender so callously? It is even more ironic that Jay-Z’s wife made the song “Put a Ring On It.” What would Beyoncé say if her husband called her the B-word? Would these women stand up and reach out to those who were still being maligned in music? But Debra Lee was a woman who had taken a stance and I stood next to her.
Lee sits on the board of the Mariott Corporation. She is an integral figure in a huge telecommunications concern. But could she have been there had she not secured her academic credentials? Could she be in this position had she not decided she wanted to be the best, having attained a law degree? Where did she get the drive and the ambition to persevere and excel? Why is she so acutely aware and sensitive to the issues of self-respect and self-esteem? Does she possess a special ability to discern the difference between entertainment and reality? Would she have put herself in the position to be on the arm of some celebrity for 15 minutes of fleeting fame and the short-lived aggrandizement that accompanies it?
Has some new form of pixie dust blinded black women, rendering them unable to see the problem with these stereotypical images of over-sexed sexual beings. I surmised that Michelle Obama and other successful women choose to not be associated with this type of buffoonery. They instead live by a standard that is not dictated by money or the proverbial few pieces of silver. They would not allow themselves to be placed on the slave block to be had by the highest bidder. But African Americans and Negroes are putting ourselves in an untenable position by fostering the fallacy of these risqué images.
The women who struggle with raising children in an environment of out-of-control sexual tendencies and gender proclivities ultimately have their task made exponentially more difficult by images in the media. I think of those sheroes who fought so hard to advance women’s causes and how they must feel about seeing the clock turned back. What must they think of women being mules for drug dealers? And then I wonder what action will we as a culture take? How will we define and remember African American women in the current day? What will the canons of history say?
What I do know is that I was happy to meet a woman like Debra Lee and to see the hope in her eyes for the future. And my hope is that we are not destined to erase the greatness that is a black woman.
Peace. —Munson Steed