Dionne Taylor

Dionne Taylor

Dionne Taylor – Lecturer in Criminology, PhD researcher  

“They speak about us as ‘bitches’ and refer to us as ‘whores’ – but we are always there, when they need you” – this unwitting quote is taken from  some of the young women in the study I Wanna Love –  an exploration into the role Hip Hop and Dancehall play in regulating and influencing young Black British women’s sense of self. The quote is indicative of the contradictory yet clearly contextualised interpretations that young Black women strategically deploy to decipher through the conflicting messages that are received in Black Popular cultures. On the one hand the Black female body is celebrated and adorned, while sometimes in the same song told they have their “face down and ass up”.

When reflecting on my own experiences as both a researcher and as a “young” Black woman of African Caribbean heritage, who was born and grew up in Birmingham (UK), I have often felt that Black popular cultures, in particular; Hip Hop, Rap, R’n’B, Reggae and Dancehall, have been instrumental for me in developing an understanding of myself as a self-defined ‘Black British’ woman.

Through times with my family, education and now within my role as a parent, I have often found that music has acted as soother, comforter, and inspiration. It has acted as a source of advice in times of need and despair. Music has played a pivotal role in helping me contextualise, understand, relate, and thus challenge the world around me. Many times it has provided a space for me to question “What is going on?” “How do I make sense of this?”

Hip Hop and Dancehall cultures have made me feel proud, proud to be Black, proud to be young, proud to be female and proud to be British. I have found a place in the genres, a safe place, where I have been accepted and understood, where it was okay, for me to be me. It was okay to try to emulate the American accent, while attempting to do the latest dance from Jamaica; while watching Eastenders in the background. The place that I thought was safe, that I was proud of, had changed one day when I was watching Chaka Demus and Pliers song Tease Me (1993). While I was singing along to the song, an adult stopped me in my tracks and challenged me to explain what I understood from the lyrics.

Being ten years old, I do not recall my exact response. However I do remember being told that the song was “inappropriate for a young girl child” and that I “should not copy what I see on those music videos.” Left with a subsequent feeling of embarrassment and confusion, my thoughts drifted to the images of Black women I had seen on the television; most were in music, children’s entertainment, sports and most memorably the newsreader Moira Stewart.

As an adult I am now able to deconstruct the elders’ action; I am in agreement with the inappropriateness of the video and lyrics. The overtly sexual nature of gesturing and gyrating of teasing the man until he loses control now sends shivers down my spine. The thought of my own daughter repeating those lyrics and becoming a man’s ‘baby girl’ is incomprehensible.

By the same token Noble (2000), in her discussion of Ragga Music, talks about her own experience and explains the ways in which she has been intrigued by her own contradictory responses. For as much as I have ‘disapproved’ of some of the overtly sexist and pornographic lyrics in the songs, I have also found myself basking in their celebration of Black ‘womanhood’. Both Noble (2000) and Tate (2005) describe the ‘dynamisms of Black identity’. Noble explains:  ‘As a Black British woman I often find myself uncomfortably situated across ambiguous, conflicting and contradictory experiences of my body which engender feelings of pride & shame, pleasure & fear, power & vulnerability, liberation & oppression, abjection/ acceptance; belongingness/ Otherness; authenticity/ in-authenticity; same/ difference… I know that I am not alone’. This brings to our attention the juxtaposition that young Black women are faced with; on the one hand the Black popular cultural discourses bring about pleasure and on the other hand pain, hurt and shame (Noble, 2000).

 

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Dionne Taylor

Dionne Taylor

Lecturer in Criminology, PhD researcher