Monday, February 19, 2007
On Becoming a Pundit
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have officially become a pundit. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a pundit is described as "1) a learned person; 2) a teacher; 3) or an authority, critic." As many of you know, I have been giving out my opinion for years without recognition or compensation. In fact, I think more people would have paid me to shut the hell up. Still, for better or worse, I am a talker and have no problem telling people what I think about the world in general.
As it turns out, other people have decided that this is a good thing.
I recently participated in a panel of activists, cultural producers, and scholars discussing the impact of sexism in hip hop for Houston PBS. Specifically, we were discussing Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, a documentary by filmmaker Byron Hurt that engages issues of machismo, masculinity, gender, misogyny and homphobia in hip hop. Hands down this was one of the best documentaries I have seen in a very long time. The film follows Hurt, a former college quarterback who became a gender violence prevention educator. After beginning this work as an educator, Hurt began to critically evaluate his own relationship to hip-hop and the music and images that reinforce ideals of heteropatriachal masculinity and straight up hatred of women. Far beyond offering his own commentary, Hurt goes to the very heart of the matter interviewing everyone from cultural critics to record executives about their thoughts on sexism in hip-hop.
My partner and I went to watch an early screening of the film in Austin, TX in January. It was truly a community event with youth and elders, a multiracial, multigenerational audience, and artists, activists and intellectuals in attendance. It was remarkable to see how people in the crowd responded to the things that artists and industry people such as Busta Rhymes, Clipse, Jadakiss, Russell Simmons, and others had to say on issues ranging from homophobia in hip hop to the implications of Nelly sliding a credit card down a black woman's ass in his music video "Tipdrill." I, along with many audience members, was apalled when Hurt asked Simmons what he thought of the video, and Simmons responded that "I heard about that. I tried his Pimp Juice, I thought it was very good."
We're talking about sexist, misogynist representations of women in hip hop and all you can say is that the Pimp Juice was good?
So back to the original point about how I became a pundit. In February I was asked to give a presentation on women in hip hop for a friend/mentor's class that she is teaching at UT-Austin. I was honored to be asked and set out to make the best presentation that I could put together. Shortly after that, I received an email from a friend of mine in Houston who works with the Houston Hip Hop Group (Check out his work at HipHopPolitics.org). He asked me if I would be interested in coming to Houston to share my thoughts on the film and talk about the work that I do with Cimarron: Youth Building Community, a community organization that I co-founded here in Austin. After a few weeks of phone tage, emailing, and phone interviews, I was officially invited to participate. So I dragged my squeeze into driving me to Houston and we headed to the PBS studios for the taping.
I had a great time doing it. Following the taping we kicked it around Houston and had a lovely time hanging out with my friend Akil and talking politics over coffee. On the ride back home I received a phone call from a friend KC who works for the ACLU's Hip Hop Against Police Brutality project. He invited me to participate in a discussion on gender and hip hop on his radio show Concrete Skoolyard which airs on KOOP radio. I had a fantastic time doing it and was pleased to be invited.
It's a little strange to reach a point in your life where all of sudden things you say are being taken very seriously. On one hand it's a vindication of sorts, and on another, you begin to realize and understand that your life will never quite be the same -- you've made the leap from people who talk about ideas to those people whose ideas carry weight.
Now, I realize that in the grand scheme of things, what I say still may not carry as much weight in the real world as say Nancy Pelosi or Gore Vidal (a true man of letters, to be sure). However, things are a little different when people look to you to be an authority, a teacher, or a learned person who can speak knowledgably on a particular set of issues. It's gratifying and terrifying at the same time to be that person.
The other strange thing that I have been thinking about is what I like to call the "punditry ghetto," that is, the place that is reserved for pundits who are only qualified to talk about certain things. I am concerned that should I continue to do this work, I will become billed as the hip hop, gender girl, not that I mind, but the world generally tends to think that Black intellectuals can only ever speak authoritatively on race, or maybe gender if you're a woman or queer, but not on anything else.
For example, I wonder when I'll get that phone call to participate in a panel on the contradictions of Iran's nuclear enrichment programs as it relates to criticizing U.S. foreign policies of imperialism and military aggression.
You wouldn't think it to look at me, but I have lots to say about the Middle East.
Or what my thoughts are on existentialism, the work of the late Octavia Butler, Dorothy Parker's poetry, or the politics of interracial dating and revolutionary love.
I'd like to think that I am a multi-dimensional person and I don't have any desire to live (intellectually speaking) in a ghetto of any kind. I love to talk race and gender, but I see those issues as informing the larger world in which we live in significant and important ways. Maybe the gods that choose emerging pundits will figure that out.
p.s. In any case be sure to check out Beyond Beats and Rhymes which will be airing Tuesday, Feb. 20 on PBS. You can check your local listings for specifics. And if you want to check me out on PBS blowing up a spot visit www.houstonpbs.org/hiphop/index.htm to see me talking trash about Nelly and misogyny in mainstream hip hop.