The day after the U.S. presidential election last year was grim, to say the least. I woke up, I cried with my kids. I went to work, I cried with our students. I think you know the reasons why. Well, at least if you didn’t vote for Donald Trump.
The 2016 election was contentious but up until election night I truly believed that DJT could not win. A bully of this magnitude does not get to be president I told my kids. I was wrong. The weeks following the election I strategized with friends; how would we survive the next 4 years? DJT’s campaign was hateful; full of abusive language, misogyny, and promises to divide people with walls. My people. Thanksgiving was difficult. No politics at the table, we said. But there was anger nonetheless. I tried to stay off of social media but I was drawn to it, trying to figure out why and what made people vote for him. I got into Facebook arguments. I felt horrible!
As the end of the year approached, I thought about how I would survive the next year, let alone four years given the divisiveness spreading through our country. I live in a bubble I thought — my community is supportive, they celebrate diversity. But reading online neighborhood bulletins told a different story. The campaign and subsequent actions from the new president emboldened racism and xenophobia. I felt uncomfortable even going to my local supermarket. A man wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat got in line behind us at the local bakery where I take my kids on weekends for sweet treats. Mama bear went into high alert to protect my brown children.
I had to calm down. I can’t live my life like this, I thought. I have to return to being the mom and wife that I remember, a productive colleague, an available and supportive friend. “Self Care” became a strategy, a coping mechanism. It’s a phrase my friends and I used often until one of them pointed out that “Self Preservation” was a much better way of describing how we protected our sanity in this tumultuous time. A few days ago at Christmas dinner I was telling my cousin it was like being on a plane losing altitude- you put on the oxygen mask first and then help others. She explained that she too looked for inner peace through a Buddhist philosophy that puts others first before the self. By helping others you help yourself, she said. This makes so much sense to me.
As the year closes, I reflect on what surviving 2017 means to me:
Process Anger. Who says anger isn’t productive? I used to say it. But there are many things to be angry about even before 2017. I’m angry now about apathy. 2017, I hope, has lit a fire under the ass of people who lacked concern, enthusiasm, or were passive about allowing injustice. Perhaps humanity depends on anger to get people moving.
Solidarity. That a man who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy could be elected president stoked rage and fueled the protests that launched the Women’s March the day after the inauguration. There were some like Christy from Facebook who started #notmymarch because they felt or feel like women in America have everything they need and if they don’t, it’s their own fault. We need to build solidarity, especially amongst women. We are ending 2017 with what Time Magazine calls the Silence Breakers as their Person of Year. #metoo as our battle cry. How can we survive if we don’t join together to fight for our sisters, our daughters, all women? We need to have each other’s back! At my job we created a group that meets once a month to discuss ways of empowering women in the workplace. We also have a Facebook group where we share helpful resources and encouraging tactics. And yes, we have happy hours where we celebrate accomplishments!
Focus. Daily, sometimes hourly; 2017 was filled with breaking news, bad news, follow-up tweets about fake news, and so much disruption. In my attempts to be an informed citizen I found frustration and a sense of impotence. What could I do from my little corner of the world? I found that focusing on what I as one person could do was more helpful than what I couldn’t do. I helped create workshops and working groups on digital and information literacy. I joined community groups that help people tell their stories. An effort, if small, to increase understanding of others and discourage fear.
Digital Hiatus. At several times during the year our immediate family unplugged and turned off all electronics (one to four days at a time.) It wasn’t that hard to do. I think we all needed it.
Practice Kindness. We are all fighting the good fight. 2017 has posed great challenges but I’m grateful that I never lost sight of this.
Wine. And Cocktails. Sometimes there’s drinking involved. Where would I be without my happy hour gatherings? Surviving 2017 involved family, friends, and free-flowing libations.
Laugh. If you don’t laugh you’ll cry. This is what I told myself to justify taking a break from the bombardment of serious material coming at us on the daily. I unwind by watching comedy shows. Not necessarily ‘late night’ comedy. The hosts often take news headlines and tweets from the president as a punchline but it’s often too real to laugh at. It’s like, you can’t make this stuff up!
Meditate. Earlier this year I downloaded an app that was supposed to help me do this. I never used it. I find that activities that involve time to myself work best as meditation. I need it. Sometimes it’s just skin care. I put on a sheet mask and my blood pressure drops significantly. Sometimes it’s just waking up early when my house is silent. I look outside and watch the sun come up. The day is about to begin and anything can happen. It helps me get started in a positive state of mind.
Reflect. There are many challenges ahead. The list can be daunting. But it’s important to also acknowledge accomplishments. If 2017 put us in a state of anxiety and insecurity it also triggered a state of action. Protests, marches, phone banking, support groups, and book clubs. We have found our ways of pushing through this darkness. Survival isn’t enough. It’s a balance that I’m still learning- putting others before the self as my cousin Krystle reminded me yet striving for self preservation.
In a few days I’ll hear the New Year’s song “Auld Lang Syne.” It’s a bit of somber song reminding me of the joys and sorrow of the past year but also signaling the coming year with all of its possibilities.
I recently read Anne Helen Petersen’s book Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of Unruly Women. At times I felt empowered and other times I was filled with frustration. The book is a set of profiles of women who have reached ground-breaking levels of success but not without heavy scrutiny. These women have attempted to break gender, race, and cultural norms by staying inside the cones of what society deems acceptable–the known, the safe- just long enough to then swerve out and chart a new course for themselves. There are still many bumps in the road.
The chapter in Petersen’s book on Nicki Minaj stayed with me. It made me question what I like vs. what I think I should like. It’s complicated. Petersen reveals a multi-faceted powerhouse in Nicki Minaj who has changed the rules of the hip-hop game on her own terms. What I knew of her before is what I think most people know of her–the costumes with the bright wigs and sexy clothing, the silly lyrics (I secretly LOVE “Starships.”), and the Anaconda video which apparently broke the Internet. I couldn’t figure Nicki out and I too wanted to place her in one of the categories that Petersen lists in her book:
“The ‘Righteous Queen’ (Lauryn Hill, MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa, Queen Latifah), whose music offered positive messages of empowerment and self-love, and the ‘Gangsta Boo’ (Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, Eve), all of whom were linked with a male rapper ‘mentor’ figure, and whose lyrics focused on crime and sex. But Minaj–like Missy Elliott, another iconoclastic artist to whom she is often compared–complicated the dichotomy of Righteous Queen or Gangsta Boo. She cites Lauryn Hill as her most significant influence, yet her early raps, and the artwork that accompanied them, place her with the lyrical lineage of the Gangsta Boo.”
I suppose the chapter on Nicki Minaj stood out to me because I weirdly felt vindicated for liking rap music. Nicki represents a strong woman, a boss with total creative control. It’s been difficult for me to admit that I like rap, well some of it, especially the songs with the heavy misogyny, the bitches and hoes lyrics that I’ve overlooked because I like the beats and rhymes that accompany them.
This past August, BET published an article titled Hip Hop Hates Me: The Complexity in Being a Woman ‘For the Culture.’ It included a tweet by Ava DuVernay:
My hip-hop jams are special. I know the words and I rap out loud when I’m driving alone. I can’t play the non-radio edits when my kids are in the car. It’s not just the cussing. Am I complicit in this misogyny for liking rap music?
So what about women in rap? How can they be a part of hip-hop culture without accepting the abusive language and at times the lifestyle that objectifies us? Could it be as simple as being a woman who makes music that people like?
Last Sunday, The New York Times Style Magazine published a set of profiles titled The Greats. Roxane Gay does an interview with Nicki Minaj where she describes her triumphs and struggles:
“I had so much going against me in the beginning: being black, being a woman, being a female rapper. No matter how many times I get on a track with everyone’s favorite M.C. and hold my own, the culture never seems to want to give me my props as an M.C., as a lyricist, as a writer. I got to prove myself a hundred times, whereas the guys that came in around the same time as I did, they were given the titles so much quicker without anybody second-guessing.”
Some have disqualified Nicki Minaj’s music from the rap genre. Or hip-hop. I have to admit that I looked up how the Internet was describing each. M.C. and rap philosopher KRS One, which I jammed to at Coachella in 2002 describes it like this:
If we’re talking about greats in rap then women lead my playlist. Before hip-hop was likely coined (or before I heard of it) I was rapping to…white women! Blondie’s “Rapture” and Teena Marie’s “Square Biz” were my first rap songs. People were also confused–is Blondie more like Disco, Teena Marie more Soul/R&B/Funk? Almost 40 years later, people are still trying to put us into a category.
So I don’t care which category Nicki Minaj falls into; Gangsta Boo, Righteous Queen, rapper, hip-hop or pop artist. Why can’t she be all of them? Or none of them?
She’s in control of her music, her style, and her business. As Petersen puts it:
“That’s the thing about Minaj: she understands, like few celebrities before her, how to get people to tell her story, pay her attention, appreciate her artistry, propagate her message, acknowledge her mastery–and all of it on her terms.”
The kind of rap I still enjoy is referred to as ‘old school’ now. Urban Poetry I would say when people would question my taste in music. When the social annotation website RAP GENIUS (now just Genius) came out I spent hours reading through the meaning of songs. Something I wish I had when my 10 year-old self rapped to:
“Ticket to ride, white line highway, tell all your friends they could go my way, pay your toll, sell your soul, pound for pound costs more than gold. The longer you stay, the more you pay, my white lines go a long way, either up your nose or through your vein with nothin’ to gain except killing your brain.”
I didn’t know what this song was about and neither did my neighborhood friends from Lynwood, CA. All we knew is that Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel were our boom box gods!
I am now a “grown ass woman” as Nicki Minaj would say. Sometimes I feel like I have more questions than answers about how societal structures are built and how women take part in them. Sometimes it helps to read how Nicki Minaj and other ‘unruly’ women are owning their style and their status to take control. It always helps when I put on my jams and listen to the power of women’s voices:
“Ladies Rule This Rap Game” Spotify Playlist by Sonia Chaidez
After nearly a decade of implementing digital storytelling into 18 different disciplines including study abroad courses and facilitating a range of community-based projects, I created the Digital Storytelling Guidebook. It is filled with information and best practices for faculty and students who want to explore digital storytelling as a pedagogy and as a tool to open transformational learning experiences.