Toxic, Part III
“Some men need lots of women
For their passions to feel
But I want only you, girl
If it’s in, if it’s in, if it’s in Lord’s will, ’cause I, ’cause I love you…”
My Mama sits on the floor of her apartment, softly singing along to Lenny Williams as she cut out patterns. It is late 1997, my senior year of high school. Mama loved many R & B artists from the old school but there was no solo artist she adored more than Lenny Williams. To this day my sisters stop what we are doing when we hear the intro to “Cause I Love You” to sing it from the top of our lungs with accompanying theatrics, in tribute to our mother. But on that day in ’97 the changes of the coming years were far off. Watching my Mama fully enraptured in her old school groove amused me, and I teased her about it.
“Mama how many times have you listened to this song? You don’t get tired of this?”
She cut her eyes at me and put a finger to her lips. Once her song ends she engages me.
“Now what were you saying about my music?”, she asks with her usual bluntness.
“Your generation’s music was great Mom, but why not try something new-”
“Like what? The mess that passes for music nowadays, like your rap?”
My mom obviously wasn’t a major fan of the genre that dominated my adolescence. Mom’s level of disapproval wasn’t as strong as that of my Grandma-who probably would have burned all my CDs and tapes had she known what I was listening to. Mama knew and was more savvy than Grandma. Indeed, when I woke up on Sunday morning on March 10th, 1997 she would be the one to inform me that Biggie had been murdered in L.A. Yet and still she kept a wary distance from the music and culture. I was going to challenge her-or so I thought.
“Mom how can you say that without listening to it at least?”
She put her sewing scissors down.
“Why would I bother listening in detail child? The majority of it is incredibly demeaning to women! I’m not going to stand to hear us called bitches and hoes! All the time it’s something about bitches!”
“But it’s not like they mean all women”, I whined, echoing my BFF’s words to me in the spring of the same year. It wasn’t a wise move on my part. Mama slammed her hand against her cutting board.
“OH I see”, she said, stretching out her words to express her incredulity, “So you’re fine with other women being degraded. Long as you think it ain’t YOU it’s permissible?”
I inhaled. Mom continued.
“Is that we’ve taught you? What did I tell you about words like that?”
“You said they are major insults to women.”
“YES! So that’s why I stick to my old school. I’m fine living in my time warp. You are never going to convince me that women being talked about that way is acceptable.”
She was right in that: I wasn’t going to change her mind. My mom was very opinionated, and would never back down if she believed she was right. This wasn’t a battle I could win. The discussion ended. I retreated to my corner occupied by hip-hop; mom strutted to hers.
I look back at our exchange that day and truly shake my head at cognitive dissonance. There was no future in my fronting. How could I act so brand new? For I was quite aware of how subjectively words like bitch and hoe were defined. I also knew how frequently and casually they were thrown at young black girls, for they were thrown at me. In the streets of my hood and the halls of my high school it was a common insult. Indeed, the typical response when a boy/man failed to obtain a phone number was :” fuck you BITCH, you ain’t that cute anyway!” Sometimes they would reference our color. My ebony skin meant I became a ‘black bitch’. My BFF Tisha was called a ‘yella bitch’. We’d also get called bitches when we objected to guys grabbing handfuls of our rear end. It angered me-but not enough to motivate me to reject an entire culture which devalued girls who looked like me. I put myself in the ‘good girl’ box, outraged for myself but not black womanhood in general. My compartmentalization would enable me to listen without guilt. I was full of shit. My rationalization allowed me think I was being progressive; in reality I was perpetuating the tired Virgin-Whore dichotomy.