Recently, Michelle Obama very publicly called out Trump on his misogyny after the release of audio tapes in which Trump openly talked about sexually assaulting women. Many people took such comfort and found such healing in the way Michelle Obama unapologetically outlined how rape culture makes women feel—how it has made her feel and continues to make her feel—that there have been many calling for her to step up to run for office during the next election cycle. She is receiving praise and accolade from women and men all over the country and all over the world.
Despite the universal appeal of Mrs. Obama’s speech, there were some who took problem with her words. I first noticed the criticism on my Facebook newsfeed. One of my friends posted a story about Michelle Obama’s speech. Her relative responded in the comments by saying, “She hangs out with rappers that rap slang hate and misogynist language. Hypocrite much???”
Though I was relieved that my friend called out her relative for their racist remarks, I was more confused about her claim that Michelle Obama is a hypocrite as it relates to matters of calling people out on misogynistic behavior. Still, I thought this comment existed in isolation until I came across an article that made the same claim. And then I came across countless other articles attempting to make the same argument in American Thinker, Snopes, Gossip Extra, Fox News, from Rush Limbaugh, etc, etc.
Knowing that this is a more widely held view than I had known to be, I feel the need to challenge it.
So it is true that the Obamas are friends with many rappers and artists at large. They have hosted many rappers at the White House, but they have welcomed them on the grounds of their public persona as artists and entertainers. The first question that comes to my mind for those holding entertainers to the same standards as the person who is trying to be taken seriously in the political realm—someone attempting to be the leader of our country—is, “on what grounds are you able to compare them?” Second is that if you are as outraged by misogyny as you claim to be, then why don’t you have a greater sense of outrage towards Donald Trump? Why is it that you need to pen articles about the misogyny in the rap world and not that which is blatantly on display in this election—for the entire country to see, not just music aficionados to hear?
Another aspect to this, perhaps the most important, is the substance and message and influence of the work of so many of the artists that the Obamas have welcomed to the White House in the recent months. The first that comes to mind is Kendrick Lamar, who was one of the artists mentioned in the articles criticizing Michelle Obama. Not that it wholly matters, but contrary to what many of these right wing pundits would think, Kendrick Lamar not only doesn’t drink or smoke, he is considered a social activist for speaking about and raising awareness of issues that plague the African American community through his music. Anyone who has listened to any of his music knows this. In his most recent album, To Pimp a Butterfly, he has sampled a Tupac Shakur’s speech in which he warns society of the dangers of violence and poverty in the African American community. And far from being misogynistic, Kendrick doesn’t even promote any sort of violent or materialistic lifestyle. His song “Alright” is an example of how he attempts to offer healing to his community. His song “I” is about overcoming depression and celebrating oneself despite the world’s opinions and setbacks.
Obama has also met with artists like Chance the Rapper, who will also be at the White House for the Tree Lighting Ceremony this Christmas. Specifically, Obama has met with Chance to discuss the topic of criminal justice reform—an issue that hits very close to home for the Chicago native—one that he knows a lot about and can offer some productive insight on. In addition, anyone who has listened to Chance—especially his recent mixtape—knows that he is an even greater anomaly to some of the harshest negative stereotypes surrounding what it means to be a rapper. His words speak to a fondness for his childhood, his loyalty to his friends and family—the deep respect and love he has for the mother of his child, a reverence for community, his tone offers a lighthearted and upbeat feeling that you just want to dance to, his style is so youthful and playful. For god’s sake—his recent mixtape is called Coloring Book!
And just a few days ago Obama met with rapper Macklemore. They met to discuss how to combat the opioid epidemic that is sweeping our country. Macklemore also uses his music as a vehicle for social good. For example, his song “Inhale Deep”—though it is technically about drug use, shows how detrimental it (drug use) is and how it took away from his own creativity and career in the past. Macklemore has also offered consolation and healing to countless members of the LGBTQ community through his hit song “Same Love”. He is well known campaigner for gay rights among other things.
To me, the types of rappers that the Obamas have welcomed to the White House seem to be doing the opposite of what the criticisms claim. They seem to be choosing those artists that are notably role model worthy—those with a positive message. And why go after artists and rappers to do the work of uplifting and inspiring and conveying positive messages to youth in the first place? Why not seek out another—perhaps less controversial—profession? Because the reality is that kids are more likely to pay attention to what their favorite artist is saying—to emulate their qualities, something they can possibly relate to—than they are in just another politician or removed public figure advising them or attempting to seek some sort of influence over them without having much of an emotional connection with them. And so what these rappers bring by being at the White House is a sense of relateability to so many people in this country that feel they exist at the margins.
Common is yet another artist who has been criticized for his affiliation with the Obamas and yet he is committed to social activism in the form of the incarceration epidemic and youth empowerment in the form of greater access to college education.
The list goes on and on.
To me, it seems that what might be more bothersome than misogyny to those criticizing Michelle Obama is the particular policy and social issues that these rappers align with and stand behind. And if that’s the case, I would hope there is a more honest conversation around policy points. Because as it stands now, dismissing an entire genre of music that happens to be rooted in the African American community frankly does seem pretty racist.