Black Bodies: White Faces | The Commodification of Black Bodies in Hip Hop


Noth­ing has changed. The slave-mas­ter paradigm has simply shif­ted to the cre­at­ive sphere of rap music. The mas­ter being the white record label own­er, the slaves, the cre­at­ive black youths and the plant­a­tion, the extremely luc­rat­ive hip hop industry which is estim­ated to make over $13 bil­lion a year.

The nicki-minaj i am hip hop magazinemusic industry profits off of innov­at­ive black minds but our bod­ies too with Black women being the hap­less vic­tim. Using black bod­ies as cap­it­al in the music industry in order to sell and pop­ular­ize hip hop music, draws sin­is­ter par­al­lels with slave cap­it­al. Black women in the slave sys­tem had two func­tions: to breed the next gen­er­a­tion of slaves; and to sat­is­fy white col­on­izers sexu­al needs, with the former being pivotal to assur­ing the cen­tur­ies long Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Col­on­izers viewed black women’s fig­ures to be hyper­sexu­al­ized and there­fore they thought they were jus­ti­fi­able in their viol­a­tions. How­ever, cur­rently this pro­jec­tion of ‘sexu­ally-devi­ant beha­vi­or’ on black women is being per­petu­ated by some of our broth­ers in the music industry. MTV is bom­barded with rap songs littered with ‘bitch’ or ‘hoe’ as many times as the word ‘and’ or ‘the’. All while black video vix­ens dance seduct­ively in the back­ground upon a Mer­cedes (Oh the irony). It seems atti­tudes towards black women are stuck in the 18th cen­tury. Rather shock­ingly, the story of Saartjie Baart­man is still shock­ingly rel­ev­ant to many young black female hip hop artists in the industry. Saartjie Baart­man was born in 1789, in South Africa and des­cen­ded from the Khoik­hoi tribe. She attrac­ted atten­tion from white col­on­izer due to her large but­tocks and elong­ated labia (com­mon fea­tures in her tribe). Con­sequently she was shipped to Europe where she ‘enter­tained’ audi­ences with her ‘exot­ic fea­tures; and became a cult in European cul­ture.

The Slave Trade Act (1807) meant many abol­i­tion­ists were cam­paign­ing for her release and end to her sexu­al nicki-minaj 2exploit­a­tion. Unfor­tu­nately Baart­man fell vic­tim to the vicious trio of cap­it­al­ism, pat­ri­archy and white suprem­acy and thus chose to remain as an exhib­i­tion, under the false pre­tenses that she was ‘lib­er­ated’. This atti­tude can be is also seen with­in, accord­ing to For­bes ‘Hip Hop’s Most Power­ful Woman’- Nicki Minaj who has a per­son­al for­tune of $29 mil­lion. Minaj has profited off the media’s fas­cin­a­tion with her curves. The Anaconda record where the pub­lic gets to appre­ci­ate every curve and edge of Minaj’s body, while she is suck­ing on a vari­ety of phal­lic objects has 432 mil­lion hits. How­ever this isn’t a time to attack Minaj, she is a vic­tim, a well-com­pensated vic­tim, but nev­er­the­less a vic­tim of what I deem ‘com­mod­it­ive racism’.

What are the effects on the rest of us young black women? Low self-esteem, a long­ing to con­form to a video vix­en lauryn hill i am hip hop magazineideal and also col­or­ism. Col­or­ism, anoth­er divide and rule tac­tic implanted dur­ing col­on­iz­a­tion is fur­ther per­petu­ated by the com­modi­fic­a­tion of black bod­ies. Hip Hop has digressed from the vari­ety of black beauty such as; Queen Lati­fah; Lauryn Hill; Salt n Pepa; Mc Lyte; Foxy Brown and Lil Kim (pre-sur­gery). Through these hip hop queens we saw the multi-dimen­sion­al black woman, aware of her beauty but didn’t let that define her. Now black beauty is defined light skin, straight hair and slim fig­ures, but fat in all the ‘right’ places. The Dark Girls and Light Girls doc­u­ment­ar­ies poignantly depict the emo­tion­al dis­tress of col­our­ism and the tri­bal­ism in black cul­ture. Back­lash towards Kendrick Lamar’s light skin fiancée is emblem­at­ic of the sens­it­iv­it­ies between light skin and dark skin women. Off­hand play­ground remarks such as ‘Err she’s blick.’ ‘You’re not even black’ or ‘you’re pretty for a dark skin girl’ are all indic­at­ive of slave men­tal­ity. Twit­ter is a bat­tle­field, littered with #Team­Light­Skin or #Team­Dark­Skin, this pref­er­en­tial treat­ment for cer­tain shades of black­ness impede the black com­munity from reach­ing many shared goals.

So how do we approach ‘com­mod­itve racism’? Firstly as cliché as it sounds we need to under­go a deep heal­ing pro­cess, in which we become com­fort­able with both our sexu­al­ity and black­ness. How long this Page 2 of 2will take, no one knows. The com­modi­fic­a­tion of black bod­ies is a cul­min­a­tion of the mul­ti­tudes of struc­tur­al forms of oppres­sion which are rooted in cap­it­al­ism. Black women are vic­tims from the inter­sect­ing forms of oppres­sion. So, what do we do until cap­it­al­ism crumbles? As the Com­ba­hee River Col­lect­ive State­ment ( Abori­gine Fem­in­ists) ‘If Black women were free, it would mean that every­one else would have to be free since our free­dom would neces­sit­ate the destruc­tion of all the sys­tems of oppres­sion”. There­fore we as black woman need to pri­or­it­ize com­munity act­iv­ism; wheth­er we are a clean­er or a law­yer, we are pivotal to the revolu­tion. Lastly let’s love ourselves and not have hatred for dif­fer­ent shade of black, but for the white elit­ists who have caused these ten­sions.

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Maya Rattrey

Maya Rattrey

Edit­or / Author at No Bounds
Maya is an aspir­ing writer and revolu­tion­ary whose heart and soul can be found in the Glob­al South. Hav­ing become edit­or of I Am Hip-Hop Magazine at the age of 17, she is keen on using hip hop as a ped­ago­gic­al tool for the oppressed and help­ing fel­low young people into the media industry. Cur­rently a stu­dent, men­tal health work­er and arts facil­it­at­or- Maya brings both her aca­dem­ic and street know­ledge to pro­jects pro­duced by No Bounds.

About Maya Rattrey

Maya Rattrey
Maya is an aspiring writer and revolutionary whose heart and soul can be found in the Global South. Having become editor of I Am Hip-Hop Magazine at the age of 17, she is keen on using hip hop as a pedagogical tool for the oppressed and helping fellow young people into the media industry. Currently a student, mental health worker and arts facilitator- Maya brings both her academic and street knowledge to projects produced by No Bounds.

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