It’s not uncommon to see columns on this page cataloging the plethora of institutions, structures and even words that allegedly condition and perpetuate oppression. These columnists are not the only ones who parrot the party line. People of all backgrounds post, tweet and rail against Yale’s purported love of enforcing inequality. Yet what confounds me is that many of the same students who decry microaggressions and demand trigger warnings are quite content to blare violent, hyper-sexualized hip hop music from their speakers.
Rap music is not inherently misogynistic, but the genre’s appalling record of sexism is difficult to ignore. Ice Cube describes how a “dumb-ass hooker aint nuttin’ but a dyke.” Snoop Dogg suggests that “bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks.” I won’t profane the News by transcribing some of Lil Wayne’s boasts.
Contrary to what this summer’s critically acclaimed movie “Straight Outta Compton” might have you believe, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre’s lyrics did not concentrate exclusively on police brutality. The founders of N.W.A also delivered lengthy monologues that denigrated and objectified women. Ice Cube’s “I Ain’t the One” and Eazy-E’s “A Bitch Iz a Bitch” are just two examples. These violent songs were more than testosterone-fueled fantasies: Eazy-E dismissed Dr. Dre’s well-publicized assault of a reporter critical of N.W.A. with callous indifference. “The bitch had it coming,” he remarked.
Many liberals excuse refrains like “Fuck Tha Police” as indictments of a failed criminal justice system. Such arguments have great purchase in the post-Ferguson era, and indeed, some rap is intended to shock its audience out of complacency. Immortal Technique’s “Dance with the Devil” chronicles the lawlessness and depravity of gang violence in an impoverished ghetto community bereft of a sufficient social safety net. This song’s sober depiction of drug abuse, gang rape and suicide hardly qualifies as glorious or fetishistic. As Americans become increasingly aware of the structural barriers facing African Americans, it can be tempting to explain away all problematic hip-hop lyrics as a form of social consciousness or empowerment.
But nothing about this country’s treatment of African Americans justifies Ja Rule’s endless stream of chauvinistic epithets. No amount of redlining makes it okay to profit off sexual violence. The professor Cornel West calls rap “a cry that openly acknowledges and confronts the wave of … cruelty and existential hopelessness in the black ghettoes of Afro-America.” Frankly, I find these intellectual gymnastics absurd and offensive. Growing up in unfortunate circumstances does not dilute one’s obligation to treat women with respect. The notion that the very real problems facing black America somehow rationalize hip-hop culture’s attitude towards women strips rap artists of their moral agency. To claim otherwise infantilizes the very men West seeks to exonerate.
If there were ever a campus willing to stick up for progressive causes, it would be ours, where an Overheard at Yale post detailing Stephen Davis’s decision to abolish the title “master” received nearly 1200 likes. But do all those students boycott explicitly misogynistic music that should nauseate any civilized human being? I highly doubt it. When the organizers of Spring Fling announced Ja Rule’s appearance in 2014, it’s true a few protested his appearance. But the vast majority of the school still showed up in droves. Similarly, it’s hard to go to Toad’s or Box for a night out without being forced to hear such vile music.
Those in favor of eliminating “master” argue that its benign genealogy is less important than the feelings of an unspecified minority of students. Yet anyone who subscribes to this context-is-irrelevant philosophy should be especially outraged that so many Yalies subject their peers to music that will clearly make some people uncomfortable. And I would hazard to guess many more students feel uncomfortable when they hear Chief Keef claim, “you gone suck my dick, or I’ll kill you” than an Oxbridge title meant to impute academic gravitas and respect.
Before we start theorizing nebulous hierarchies of race and gender, let’s take a cold hard look at the hierarchies we quite literally buy into. Before we make hysterical Facebook posts about microaggressions, let’s stop ignoring the macroaggressions of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre or Kanye West. We have commercialized misogyny for a few good dances and work-out routines, yet we have the gall to demand Yale abandon names and titles that have been around for centuries. This is hypocrisy at its finest.
There is no case for funding misogyny. We are straight out of excuses.
Aaron Sibarium is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. His column runs on Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org