Toxic, Part II

I stood in the bathroom at my Mom’s place. The year is 1997 and I’m preparing to go to my high school’s Tolo-a formal dance, sort of like a prom for underclassmen. My dress is looking right, but I think I could use another coat of lipstick. I rummage through my Caboodles makeup case until I find my tube of Prescriptives color. After smoothing a final coat on I go out to check the time. It’s 9:10pm. Tisha said she’d be here by 9:15, I think to myself. Deciding it would be wise to be fully prepared I grab my shawl and purse.

“Mom I’m leaving now”, I call out as I slip on my heels.

“Wait! You didn’t even let me see you all put together!”

I smile at her and sashay across the living room floor, ending my performance with a spin. “Is that good enough?” I tease.
“YES, I love that dress! Make sure you have your keys! And do NOT drink anything out of a cup that a boy brings you, do you understand? I am not playing!”

“Yes Mom”. We hug and I open the door to the stairway. Pulling up the hem of my ankle-length black and white fitted gown I make my way down the stairs. By the time I make it outside Tisha, my BFF, is posted at the corner in her Mom’s white Mazda Protege. I amble over to the car and open the door.

“Perfect timing”, she says as she smiles in greeting. “You ready to roll?”

“Let’s do this!”

Tisha makes a left onto Martin Luther King Jr Way S and presses play on the stereo. Suddenly I hear:

I love bitches, thug bitches, shy bitches
Rough bitches, don’t matter you my bitches
Gold diggers witcha eyes on my riches
Can’t Knock Your Hustle for real, exotic bitches
I’m game tight, see it all through the platinum french
frames with the french name in the same night
Pull you and your tight friend
lift your little dress like light wind, hah, then I slide right in…

The song, of course, was “Who Ya Wit” by then-new rapper Jay-Z. My introduction to Hova came in the summer of 1996 via his duet with Foxy Brown, “Ain’t No Nigga”. The lyrics on that song and the mentality expressed in it both gave me pause. But as with the songs of Snoop and Dre during my junior high years my generation ate it up. But STILL: as I listened and tried to count the number of times Jay-Z uttered the word bitches I felt deeply conflicted and rubbed the wrong way. Mama said it was always a grave insult to be called a bitch and I shouldn’t tolerate the word under any circumstances. However in the genre most popular with my peers the word seemed to be ubiquitous. Indeed the only problematic word used as much as bitch was the N-word(which I won’t delve into with this post). I couldn’t help myself from making a comment to Tisha about what I just heard.

“DAMN, does he really have to say ‘bitch’ so much? Is all that really necessary to get his point across?”
Tisha shot me a sideways glance. “Girl chill out. You know he’s not talking about us anyway!”

I sighed, and with that we dropped the topic. Tisha was far from alone in her apologetics. The “some women not all” line would enable us to listen without thinking of the deeper implications of what we were participating in. At the time it was the easy way out, and I took it.

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A native Seattleite and East Coast transplant, I have been interested in politics, religion, and race from the day I saw “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” on the bookshelf belonging to my BFF’s mom back in 1991. While my zealotry has thankfully diminished with maturity, I remain the deep thinking, passionate, and humble woman I have always been.

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