Commentary by Jill Nelson: It's Hard Out Here for a Sister . . .
Recently, a grown-up, apparently sane Black woman suggested that I was being overly sensitive because I found the very words "It's hard out here for a pimp" to be absurd--let alone the idea that a song by that name would win an Academy Award in 2006. Couldn't I understand, she asked, that I was taking the words out
of context? After all, she continued, what about the pimp's perspective?
The pimp's perspective? Correct me if I'm wrong, but last time I looked, pimps were predators and parasites who didn't work. Men who made a living off the sexual labor of women they controlled through abuse and violence. It seems to me that being a pimp is kind of an easy, if reprehensible, way to make a living. I can't see where "hard" has anything to do with it.
But maybe that's just me. It's a measure of how far we haven't come that the only Oscar awarded this year to an African-American went to a song whose lyrics < ttp://www.lyricsandsongs.com/song/515917.html
> go like this: "You know it's hard out here for a pimp/When he tryin' to get this money for the rent/For the Cadillacs and gas money spent/because a whole lot of bitches talkin' sh--."
According to one report < http://www.eurweb.com/story/eur25144.cfm
>, Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, and Will Smith--all of them previously recognized by the academy either as nominees or as Oscar recipients--convinced Terrence Howard not to sing the song from Hustle & Flow at the Academy Awards. It seems they were trying to protect both Howard's Best Actor nomination and the Black community. Poitier is quoted as having told Howard, "Do not get up there and represent the African-American community singing about a pimp."
Although an anthem to "exploited" pimps is as good as it got at the Oscars this year, we shouldn't be surprised. This is, after all, the same Hollywood that produced and celebrated D. W. Griffith's racist 1915 film Birth of a Nation; made the wonderful actress Hattie McDaniel sit in the back of the auditorium http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1077/is_6_55/ai_61619022/print
when she won as Best Supporting Actress in 1940 (for Gone With the Wind) and limited her throughout her career to mammy roles; and continues to bankroll movies that, for the most part, portray Black people as predators or objects of ridicule.
All of which makes George Clooney's suggestion that Hollywood was in some sort of vanguard when it awarded an Oscar to McDaniel sound especially ridiculous. Of course, this year no Black woman stood a chance of winning an Oscar, since none was nominated. (That Crash, a film that grapples in complex ways with racism, won the Best Picture Oscar instead of the gay love story Brokeback Mountain
probably has more to do with a brilliant marketing campaign for Crash, fear of an organized backlash against Brokeback from the Christian right, and homophobia than with Tinseltown's commitment to fighting racism.) Still, the Black race did not go home empty-handed.
Nope. Instead, Three 6 Mafia, aided by actress-singer Taraji Henson, performed their nominated song, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp"--complete with actors as pimps abusing Black women with big butts, who were dressed in hot pants and writhing for the camera--and then received the Oscar for Best Song. As if the performance of that number weren't enough, we were all treated to Three 6 Mafia, barely able to speak English, accepting their award. The spectacle of the group members onstage, complete with gold fronts and baggy
clothing that featured designer names in oversize letters--the modern-day equivalent of branding slaves as property, as far as I'm concerned--is something I could easily have lived without.
Many years ago a distinguished older attorney confided to me that he had always regretted not having publicly criticized Eldridge Cleaver's book Soul on Ice, particularly Cleaver's confession that he had raped Black women as "practice" for assaulting White women. He hadn't, he said, wanted to be attacked and dismissed as an Uncle Tom or old fogey for voicing his beliefs. I've never forgotten what he said.
Call me a snob or a hater or whatever you'd like, but I've had enough. I'm bored with, tired of, and disgusted by the overwhelming majority of hip-hop music and culture. I fail to see where it has done much of anything except make a few Black people rich--and many, many, many more White people, from the owners of major record companies and MTV, to clothing designers on their last legs and jewelers who no doubt make that hideous bling-bling out of conflict diamonds
I don't think it's OK that Nelly sells pimp juice or Snoop pornography, and yes, I like Kanye West, but his progressive lyrics are a drop in the huge bucket of hip-hop mediocrity. Maybe what breaks my heart most of all is that the uncritical embrace of hip-hop culture by so many of us--and the attempts to dismiss those who speak out against its misogyny, violence, and materialism--are a manifestation of the profound cynicism and hopelessness that define so much of
contemporary American life.
It seems as if we no longer believe in the possibility of working for social justice or implementing transformative change, or in our own limitless potential and possibility. Integrated and Americanized, we believe that it's all about the benjamins--or, more precisely, my benjamins, and the rest of y'all be damned. The truth is, I don't care about the Oscars or Three 6 Mafia. What I care about is Black community, culture, and conscience, and that 's what I see being bought and sold for a few ducats.
But maybe I'm old-school. Perhaps recent events are evidence that we are now truly integrated into American culture, that we finally belong. Instead of having to be overqualified and superbly talented, and possessed of a vision greater than the individual, now Black people can get rich being just as mediocre and small-minded as the worst of White folks.
--On the Verge columnist Jill Nelson's http://www.jillnelson.com