::Hip-Hop and the "H" Word::

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucketby Paul Butler

I love hip-hop. After writing a scholarly article about hip-hop’s progressive view of criminal justice, I now spend lots of time on college campuses speaking on the topic – and often defending the art form from its many detractors. As soon as I heard Don Imus’ sexist comments about the Rutgers basketball team, I knew that people would blame hip-hop for its own promiscuous use of the word “ho.” Eugene Robinson, for example, does so here in today’s Washington Post – calling for the “h” word to be banned.

Actually hip-hop deserves some of the blame. You’d expect people like 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg to use the epitaph, and they do. But the word even crops up in the lyrics of more politically conscious types like Jay-Z. In 99 Problems, Jigga’s classic commentary on racial profiling, he tries to take the sexist fangs out of the word by referring to a racist male cop as a “ho”. Jay raps “Now once upon a time not too long ago/ a nigga like me had to strong arm a ho/ This is not a ho in the sense of having a pussy/ but a pussy having no god damn sense try and push me.”

The “H” word carries too much baggage to be neutralized. But it would be a mistake to focus on that one word. After calling the racist cop a “ho”, Jay-Z calls him a “pussy.” This illustrates the real problem – misogyny. In addition to calling the Rutgers team “jigaboos,” Imus called them “rough” and talked about their tattoos. Imus’ equally stupid sidekick said they looked like the Toronto Raptors.

All this is about wanting to keep women – especially black women – in their place. It would be more constructive to focus on the ugly roots of that ideology than to talk about banning a word.

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