I see that Paul Butler over at Blackprof has gotten a decent amount of mileage out of his recent post on Russell Simmons’ call for the entertainment industry to voluntarily ban the n-word, “bitch,” and “ho” from their media products. Butler roundly rejects the idea, taking the standard “if you don’t like it, don’t buy it” position, which I’m sure he shares with most hip-hop fans. I’m inclined to oppose it as well—focusing exclusively on misogyny in hip-hop in such a narrow way is problematic for several reasons. First, no one’s going to sign on with this ban because exploiting the sexist undercurrent in hip-hop is too profitable. Second, even if it was adopted, there are ways to be misogynistic without using those words. Third, the ban does nothing to address the unfortunate fact that sexism in the black community is deeply entrenched in certain of its subcultures, and that few are willing to acknowledge, let alone address, that issue. And finally, black sexism can be pretty overt, but guess what—American culture as a whole is shot through with a less visible form of the same impulse. 70% of hip-hop listeners are white, which means that they condone the attitudes expressed in the lyrics and videos just as much as black fans do.
The real problem is that the mediated degradation of women by young black men has become “cool” (in the sense of “popular” among young people). Hip-hop plays the role of both cause and effect of the misogynistic behaviors that play themselves out in our communities every day. But a list of banned words can’t change what’s already in people’s minds, nor should we trust the entertainment industry to look out for the best interests of our children. Both of those tasks are our responsibility.