Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Hiphop within a Womanist Lens

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Hiphop within a Womanist Lens

Article excerpt


How can womanism be applied to understand gender in Hiphop? Why is womanism an essential part of the analytical toolbox for those concerned with this research? This article deploys autoethnographic methods to explain the relevance of womanism as a theoretical framework to elucidate Hiphop culture and language.

Womanism is the theoretical framework that reflects the data I engage and womanist modes of inquiry represent my preferred research methods. Womanism addresses how inequalities have psychological consequences, and it is a holistic approach to exact balance and secure human rights for all. Explicit lessons concerning womanist theories benefit students of Africana studies interested in interpreting research within a woman-centered framework. Learning to identify and apply such historic and autochthonous theories is an essential part of an Africana studies curriculum.

Our students are hungry for such instruction. Issues they confront in their home communities and media they consume increasingly require tools of analysis that reflect their identity specific realities. Normative studies of gender that are not intersectional or autochthonous to Africana-identified communities often do not include this perspective. For example, this past Women's History Month I was invited to give a talk at a university concerning my research as well as work co-founding and working with national Hiphop social movement organizations (the National Hip Hop Political Convention; see Kitwana, 2005, p. 47, p. 177). While I was describing a particular campaign conceptualized by female leaders in the Bay area Hiphop community that utilized social media and cell phone technologies to raise awareness about details concerning the murder of Oscar Grant by Oakland police officer Johannes Mehserle, an audience member--a nonblack woman who identified herself as part of the university's women and gender studies program--interrupted to ask if I planned on speaking more about women because she didn't see how Oscar Grant, a male, related to the topic.

I share this story because it illustrates a womanist perspective regarding human equality discourse. My response included me registering my frustration with academics that refuse to see how pervasive state-sanctioned murder affecting black mothers, female partners, siblings, children and other family members is a women-centered issue. The Africana-identified students, as well as many non-Africana-identified students, applauded my response. The point of how women were organizing to reconstruct safety that affects whole families and communities was lost on the person who interrupted me. In addition to emphasizing the female leadership in the resistance movement that followed the murder of Oscar Grant, I shared information about the Khadafy Foundation, an organization that aids whole families after a member is violently killed [cf., http://]. This particular organization was relevant to the audience I was addressing, given the local statistics for black male youth death by peers or police. While, I shared many other examples of women and girls organizing in Hiphop culture (e.g., reproductive rights, domestic violence, sexual expression and more), my agenda was to highlight that in addition to those salient activisms, womanism entails a holistic approach that includes the transformation and empowerment of whole families and communities, with women in specific focus.

Why Womanism:

Womanism becomes a key tool to interpret the racialized phenomena occurring within Hiphop culture. The intersectional meanings of the language and performance that inform the culture can be lost on those evaluating the productions outside of a womanist rubric. Without a womanist lens, many may not understand how discussions of motherhood and black male death as well as other popular Hiphop discourse, for example, relate to issues of female equality and identity. …

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