Richardson – ‘She was workin like foreal’: critical literacy and discourse practices of African American females in the age of hip hop

In a semi-structured group interview with three middle-class African-American young women (one East Coast, 2 Midwestern), Elaine Richardson uses critical discourse analysis to explore ways that the young women negotiate stereotypical and hegemonic representations of black men and women. Richardson presents an analysis of her conversation with the young women about the video for Midwestern rapper Nelly and the St. Lunatics’ song “Tip Drill.” The controversial song and video portrays the commodified images of hypersexualized women of color and hypermasculine black men: ” The song could be considered a strip club anthem replete with signs of carnality and status, attractive young black women wielding their power signs – their beautiful shapely bodies…; virile men flashing their black men’s power signs – cash money…” (791)

Richardson’s primary question is: “How do young African American females negotiate stereotypical representations of African American culture, gender, labor, and sexual values in rap music videos?” (791) Through her conversation and critical discourse analysis, Richardson shows the “special knowledge” that the young women have about themselves, other black women and men, and their position in the racist, global, capitalistic system of the United States.

Richardson finds that the young women use Black and Hip-hop discourses, “smart talk” (Van Dijk 1997), and African American female literacies to understand and articulate their positions which are at times complicated and conflicted. One notable example of this is when one of the participants “represents” for the men in the video and their lived experience. “Representin'” as a part of Hip-hop discourse is a concept and practice that is “a part of the larger black discourse practice that emerged in the slavery experience and is akin to fictive kinship, wherein enslaved African devised a way of surviving, achieving prestige and creating a black human identity apart from dehumanized slave,” (797) Participants “BE” gives rapper Nelly the benefit of the doubt arguing that he would not talk to a woman of “class” the way he speaks to “Tip Drills,” women who are strippers, or opportunistic women that do not have class. This notion that implies that there is a category of black women unworthy of respect.

Richardson concludes that young people, like those in her study, are aware of the dominating forces that perpetuate stereotypes about African Americans, but they do not possess all of the necessary critical tools to “escape internal victim blaming for their predicament.” (806) She advocates for critical pedagogies that go beyond challenging to changing systems that allow for inequality, sexism, and racism. Of course, we can add a host of other “isms” based on social divisions.

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