Given its well-documented and inexcusable problems with sexism, hip-hop might not seem a wise place to look to start making that change. But that fact actually makes the medium more ripe for reformers. Moreover, as one of the dominant, storytelling-driven art forms consumed and made by young people, rap provides a way for survivors and allies to testify, argue, and change hearts and minds. And as a song released this past week by the promising young rapper Angel Haze proves, rap’s potential as a weapon against rape culture isn’t merely academic.
In recent years, hip-hop controversies have produced some of the most powerful conversations and activism around sexual violence. Last year, Ashley Judd made waves by calling out hip-hop’s “rape culture,” to the dismay of The Roots drummer ?uestlove and others who are tired of one genre of music being blamed for all of society’s ills. More recently, rapper Too $hort caught criticism thanks to shameful comments in a video blog post at XXL Magazine, which included instructions for adolescent boys about how to sexually assault girls under the guise of playfulness. After a tepid apology and mounting pressure from a coalition of black and Latina women called “We are the 44 percent” (44 percent of sexual assault survivors are under 18 years old), Too $hort sat down for a candid interview published by Ebony. He emphasized his previous ignorance, but also seemed genuinely remorseful and shaken, admitting he made a serious and harmful mistake, apologizing, and calling the controversy a “wake-up call.”
Into this battleground enters Angel Haze, the acclaimed Michigan-born 21-year-old, who recently released a brilliant and devastating track about her own story as a rape and abuse survivor, called “Cleaning Out My Closet.” This is not the first rap song that addresses sexual violence against women. Ludacris’s “Runaway Girl” and Eve’s “Love is Blind,” are two of the more commercially successful examples, though there are countless lesser-known songs, like Immortal Technique’s “Dance With the Devil,” that critique rape culture unflinchingly. But Haze’s song is amplified by the current political context, and differentiated by both tone and content.
The objectification of women and depictions of sexual violence are commonplace in hip-hop, as they are across the landscape of entertainment culture. The vast majority of artists with substantial commercial backing show little public concern for the cancer that is rape culture. But Angel Haze is proof that hip-hop can be both a warzone and a weapon in this fight, especially for young women of color. Despite the sexism they face, engaging rap music is one of the ways these young people come to know themselves and build political consciousness.
Without warriors like Haze, the baseness and sickness of sexual violence remains muffled, and the conversation proceeds on the deranged terms set by Mourdock, Akin, and others who benefit from the status quo. Survivors’ stories move us away from clarification and apology, towards righteous anger and action, and hip-hop can help.
The Chilling Facts
Every night, more than 800 homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth in Detroit have no choice but to sleep on the streets. These young people have either been kicked out of their own homes for being LGBT or escape to the streets to flee abusive homes.
If you asked most of these young people where they sleep at night, their answers would chill you to the bone. They sleep in abandoned homes and buildings, on park benches, squat with friends, or engage in survival sex work just to get a roof over their head for a night. In the winter, this number increases to a staggering level.
People often ask us: “If there are so many homeless youth in Detroit, why do we only see adults on the streets?” The tragic fact is that Detroit’s cash-starved runaway and homeless youth services have few options other than to send many of these youth back to the homes they fled in the first place.
That’s why the Ruth Ellis Center, which already provides support services to more than 4,000 homeless, at-risk, and runaway LGBT youth each year, is launching the End the Chill campaign to give these invisible youth a voice and a warm place to stay this Winter.
End The Chill
By donating to the End the Chill campaign you can help us meet our minimum goal of $20,000, which local corporations have pledged to match. That community funding will allow us to keep our drop-in center open longer as a place for our homeless LGBT youth to find warmth on cold winter nights.
This situation is unacceptable, but no one in Detroit, or in the rest of the country, has to accept it. A small donation can make a big difference in these kids’ lives, and help move us closer to a day when no youth has to sleep in a place like this simply because they are LGBT. We hope that the Detroit community, and the LGBT community around the country, will join us in helping us End the Chill.
There just aren’t even words for how messed up all of this is. At the very least Shantelle should’ve had the right to share or not share this information with her classmates on her own time and in a way she feels comfortable with. Big ups to Shantelle and what sounds like a very supportive mother bringing in the ACLU and letting people know this isn’t okay.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Mexico filed a lawsuit last week behalf of Shantelle Hicks, 15, who was initially kicked out of middle school and then publicly humiliated at an assembly by the school director because she was pregnant.
“It was so embarrassing to have all the other kids staring at me as I walked into the gymnasium,” Hicks said in a statement released by the ACLU. “I didn’t want the whole school to know I was pregnant because it’s not their business, and it wasn’t right for my teachers to single me out.”
Hicks attends Wingate Elementary School, a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school, and is currently in the eighth grade. She discovered she was pregnant approximately three weeks before the assembly, and she and her mother told the director of the middle school and two other staff members. They initially responded by kicking her out of school. The ACLU of New Mexico sent a demand letter to the school, informing them that it is illegal to deny a student access to education because of pregnancy status. Wingate readmitted Hicks after four missed days of instruction.
Approximately two weeks later the director of the middle school and another staff member had Hicks stand before the entire middle school at an assembly and announced that she was pregnant. Until that point, no one other than Hicks’ sister knew that she was pregnant.
“Too often, pregnant students face significant barriers or outright discrimination in school,” said Galen Sherwin, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Instead, schools should give pregnant and parenting students the support they need to help them succeed, for both themselves and for their children.”
and PLEASE don’t lose site of the fact that this is a *boarding school*. which means that while this sort of thing probably does happen at public schools—there is a *historical relationship* with pregnant native students and native sexuality and boarding school violence and *genocide* that absolutely can NOT be overlooked here…in other words, this isn’t “slut shaming”—except in how slut shaming is connected to *genocide*.