Monday, August 13, 2007

Black Women Rap Against Discrimination

CUBA: Black Women Rap Against Discrimination
By Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Aug 13 (IPS) - They are few in number, but women's loud chants
of resistance against sexism, racism and discrimination against sexual
minorities have left an indelible mark on the hip hop movement in Cuba,
a little more than a decade old.

"Women's first challenge within hip hop was to confront a 'machista'
patriarchal society, which gave them a role even within their
marginalisation," poet and freelance researcher Carmen González, who is
writing a book about what women rappers are saying on this Caribbean
island, told IPS.

"Not every woman dares to get up on a stage and rap, because the social
perception of hip hop is that it is a violent, male thing," said the
expert. However, some have defied prejudice and have earned recognition
within the movement.

"Because we don't have women producers, or leaders who make the
decisions, the movement has a sexist feel to it," said Magia López of
the Obsesión hip hop duo.

"We're basically just 'guests' invited to take part in projects planned
and directed by men, so the space that is allocated to women has been
constructed in a 'machista' manner," she said.

For the last three months, López has been head of the Cuban Rap Agency,
which aims to stimulate the development here of hip hop, the
confrontational cultural movement and musical genre born in the poor
neighbourhoods of New York.

From her post, she hopes to increase the participation of women, whose
voices "have given a different nuance to the general discourse" of hip
hop made in Cuba.

According to Epsy Campbell Barr, former coordinator of the Afro-Latin
American and Afro-Caribbean Women's Network (RMAA), and president of the
Costa Rican Citizens' Action Party (PAC), undervaluing women in the
region has gone hand in hand with racism, which has persistently and
systematically denied the continent's black cultures.

Racism and patriarchy are deeply rooted ideologies in Latin American and
Caribbean culture, and are found throughout the societies, from every
angle, said Campbell at her presentation to the Second Meeting of
Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Women, held in San José de Costa
Rica in 1996.

There are an estimated 150 million people of African descent in Latin
America and the Caribbean, who make up 30 percent of the total population.

They are, to a great extent, the poorest people in the region, they have
the worst socioeconomic indicators, and they have very little cultural
recognition or access to decision-making processes, says an April 2006
report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean

The situation is especially difficult for black women, who generally
receive the lowest pay and have the worst jobs and highest unemployment
rates. In addition, they have the lowest educational levels, are barely
represented in political leadership, and often live with the threat of
gender violence, the report says.

The last population census in Cuba, in 2002, found that 34.9 percent of
the population defined itself as black or of mixed race.
Afro-descendants occupy 33 percent of the seats in parliament.

However, according to a study by the governmental Anthropology Centre,
blacks receive less money in remittances from abroad, have less access
to emerging sectors of the economy, and live in the poorest neighbourhoods.

Some of these inequalities arise from inherited structures that have not
been overcome, while others were reproduced and generated in the crisis
and the economic reforms of the 1990s, the study said.

Meanwhile, González said that "nearly every country in the world has a
hip hop movement, and it is black people who are doing it, because
they're the worst off, even in Cuban society, which has made some social

Rapping is at the core of the hip hop movement, which also finds
expression in graffiti and breakdancing. A disc jockey provides an
electronic mix of music, over which the rapper recites the lyrics.

Cuban women rappers are articulating "a very clear discourse on gender
and race," said González, who is also editor of the magazine Movimiento,
devoted to hip hop in Cuba, where it emerged in the early 1990s.

In her view, the problems of black women in Cuba have been neglected in
studies of sexism and racism.

"When they talk about women, it's always about white women, and when
they talk about racism, it's about how it affects men," she said.

"Rapping I'm a woman / not some bitch for you to bite / not some thing
for your delight," go the words to a song by Las Krudas, a group with
overtly lesbian identity, which has introduced lyrics about respect for
diversity, and has equated sexism with the slavery imposed on their
black women ancestors.

"If (women) rebel / they will be condemned / to family exile / to moral
exile / outside their circle of friends / outside the land of good
feelings / that you didn't get any more, / you made the decision / to go
against the norm / you got a passion for the forbidden / or you didn't
repeat / what those who don't love you any more / once taught you," goes
another song.

The women's lyrics include the prostitute, "forced to do what she
doesn't want / because poverty and want's / got an ugly face / believe
it or not," in the song "They call her a whore" by Magia López; and the
woman who "isn't just / breasts and butt," because she also has a brain
and feelings, say Las Krudas, and she is "resisting as a fatty, as a
black woman, as a guerrilla."

Without any precedents in Cuban music and very few reference points,
these young women "are starting out with a revolutionary, emancipating
discourse" constructed "on the basis of themselves and their life
stories," said González.

In Cuba, hardly anyone has heard of them, outside the circle of hip hop
fans. "Society shuts its ears and doesn't want to listen, it shuts its
eyes and doesn't want to see," she added. (END/2007)

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