Academic journal article The Journal of Hip Hop Studies

Is Black Motherhood A Marker of Oppression or Empowerment? Hip-Hop and R&B Lessons about "Mama"

Academic journal article The Journal of Hip Hop Studies

Is Black Motherhood A Marker of Oppression or Empowerment? Hip-Hop and R&B Lessons about "Mama"

Article excerpt

For most Black women, the ability to create, nurture, and provide for their progeny holds boundless personal, cultural, and social significance. Although racism, sexism, and classism frequently make motherhood difficult,1 becoming a mother is one of the most salient personal and social identity symbols for many Black women. Several years ago, Shirley A. Hill2 wrote, "motherhood is a significant marker of womanhood. It provides a respectable social identity, an important set of child-rearing tasks, access to kin resource networks, and a space where authority, a sense of control, and self-expression can be cultivated."

Given the salience of this "significant marker of womanhood" for many Black women,3 however, with few exceptions,4 very little scholarly attention has been given to how Black male Rap artists discuss Black motherhood, and we are aware of no studies to examine whether descriptions of Black motherhood demonstrate oppression or empowerment. This study will extend the growing scholarly dialogue regarding the ways that the Hip-Hop and R&B genres speak to the personal, social, and cultural norms and values that are present in society.5 While page constraints do not allow for a lengthy review of the difference between Hip Hop and R&B, it is important to note that these music genres are not the same.

Past scholars have found that while Hip Hop is a more radical genre that has historically advanced political activism and social consciousness and more recently, materialism and misogyny against women, R&B is a softer music genre that essentially encourages the free expression of romantic feelings.6 Given the global appeal of both of these music genres,7 this study will examine whether Black male and female artists in Hip-Hop and R&B discuss motherhood in terms of oppression or empowerment. Thus, the following four research questions will guide this study: (1) How do Black male and female Hip-Hop and R&B artists generally discuss motherhood? (2) How is Black motherhood a marker of oppression in Hip-Hop and R&B? (3) How is Black motherhood a marker of empowerment in Hip-Hop and R&B? (4) What, in any ways, have descriptions of Black motherhood in Hip-Hop and R&B changed over time?

This topic is important for four reasons. First, this study recognizes the current trend of single-parent births among Black women. According to recent statistics from the Administration of Children and Families (ACF) - African American Healthy Marriage Initiative (AAHMI) (2013), although the rate for single parent households in America has increased societally, this trend is "especially alarming among African Americans." Between 1960 and 1995, the number of African American children living with two married parents dropped from 75% to 33%. At this moment, 69% of African American births are to single mothers as compared to 33% nationally." In light of this statistical reality, this study will bridge the family studies and Hip Hop cultural studies literatures by examining whether empowerment or oppression is the driving force behind these statistics regarding Black motherhood. Second, this study builds upon and extends Tyree's (2009) work by examining how Black mothers have been perceived by male and female Hip-Hop and R&B artists over time. Thus, an historical lens allows us to better meet the objectives of the study and allows us to determine similarities and differences in how Black motherhood has been discussed in these music genres over time. Third, this topic builds on Black feminist scholarship by highlighting the voices of a historically marginalized group, Black men and women, in two very popular music genres among the Black populace (i.e., Hip-Hop and R&B) discuss how Black motherhood is demonstrated and perceived. Last, and most important, instead of highlighting the pathology of Black motherhood, this study is based on a strengths-perspective and seeks to understand the ways in which Black families in general, and Black mothers in particular, are strong. …

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