The readings last week literally gave me life. Before taking this course I had conversations with friends about how mainstream hip hop portrays women and in turn how that affects how society views African American women but I had never read any articles about it. As I was reading I felt that Morgan, Durham, and People were very articulate in relaying their beliefs on how African American women are, in a way, tainted by the images of video vixens in hip hop music videos or suggestive lyrics in hip hop songs. Even more, I was ecstatic that they also payed homage to the African American women in Hip Hop who defy these stereotypes.
In "Pheminists of the New School: Real Women, Tough Politics and Female Science", author Marcyliena Morgan writes Nina Simone's 1966 piece, "Four Women". This section was by far my favorite because Morgan relates the story that Simone tells of four black women and how they are viewed in society at the time to Talib Kweli's 2000 recording of his song "For Women". Kweli simply took Simone's characters and placed them in the context of the U.S. in the 21st century, which allowed me to see how little has changed in 50 years regarding how society views African American women. Simone described and Kweli revisited "four corporeal types of black women and then inextricably binds them to each other through their relationship to patriarchy, sexism, racism, and whiteness." (pg 140) After reading through the stories of Aunt Sarah, Safronia, Sweet Thing, and Peaches, I found Aunt Sarah stuck out to me the most.
In Simone's version, Aunt Sarah is usually depicted by a dancer in tattered clothing and wears a headscarf knotted in the back. Her name is a sign of her low status and lack of control over her own identity as "Aunt" is a term of disrespect when used by white women in the south towards black women who were often in the role of servant or caregiver. Simone goes on to explain Aunt Sarah with the following monologue;
My Skin is Black
My arms are long
My hair is woolly
My back is strong
Strong enough to take the pain
Inflicted again and again
What do they call me
My name is Aunt Sarah
My name is Aunt Sarah
- Simone, "Four Women"
I enjoy that although there is so much disrespect in Aunt Sarah's background, her words reflect the strength within many women of color. I was immediately reminded of strong African women in my life. They tell me stories of the hardships they faced as new immigrants in the U.S., but their strength and resiliency always overshadow the hardships. They consistently tell me to keep my head up and keep moving forward no matter what others say. Without saying it explicitly, in the nine lines about her, I feel that Aunt Sarah represents the strong women in all of our lives.
In Kweli's version, aunt Sarah is a strong old African American women in Brooklyn who has "lived from nigger/ to colored/ to Negro/ to black/ to Afro/ then African American/ and right back- to nigger" (pg 141). He describes the aunt Sarah of the 21st century as a strong and determined women who is a caregiver, but for her children and not those of her owners. Kweli goes on to say;
Her back is strong and she far from a vagabond
This is the back of the master's whip used to crack upon
Strong enough to take all the pain, that's been
Inflicted again and again and again and again and flipped it
To the love for her children - nothing else matters
What do they call her? They call her Aunt Sarah
-Kweli, "For Women"
As much as I enjoy Simone's original work, I find so much more in Kweli's "updated" version. My favorite part is when Kweli explains Aunt Sarah's age via the evolution of terms used to describe the African American community in the U.S. This evolution of terms reminds me of the evolution of women in mainstream hip hop, in the sense that there is an irrelevant/ subhuman phase, a minimally accepted phase, a self-empowerment phase, then a fall from grace/ self- dis-empowerment phase). African American women went from being viewed as irrelevant to artists such as Queen Latifah (empowering phase), then to artists such as modern day Nicki Minaj (fall from grace phase). Aside from that, Kweli reflects on the bitterness of Simone's version of Aunt Sarah, but both Simone and Kweli were able to emit the image of a strong and resilient African American woman. Once again, as I listened to Kweli's version, I was immediately reminded of the strong African women in my life.
Overall, I encourage everyone to revisit this section of the readings because I would love to hear other thoughts on the retelling of "Four Women" and which tale people prefer.