“I don’t know any black woman that could go out here and make a sex tape and get a cupcake line, a clothing line, a perfume line, and be touted around on the arm of an athlete like this is my girl, cuz you know when we do that kind of stuff we called Supahead… I’m [not] put on a pedestal like the other women.” ~Sherri Shepherd
These were the words spoken by Sherri Shepherd on a panel discussing black men and women’s relationships. I was struck by the relevance and accuracy of the sentiment but also by her ability to push this reality much farther than how we usually like to see and talk about such issues: as “double standards.” This notion of “double standards” just doesn’t go far enough and stops incredibly short of any real analysis. I prefer bell hooks’s terminology: “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy”— a totalizing and interlocking system. Strange as it may seem, there was something, or rather someone, in particular who triggered my memory of Sherri Shepherd’s words and my general disdain for every everyday discourse that names social violence on black women as “double standards”: that person is Lauryn Hill.
Quite frankly, with the exception of my classrooms that enroll large numbers of young black women, most of what I hear black folk— men and women alike— discuss in relation to Lauryn Hill is her mental and emotional collapse after her album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Between the emotional abuse she has obviously endured from her partner, the inability to perform with her original music and hence the bands she deploys, the legal tax issues she faces, and the allegations of mental breakdown and drug use, she gets dissed all around. And yet, every time I see Bobby Brown or Q-Tip, I suspect the crackpipe is not far away. In the words of Rick James, cocaine is a helluva drug! I always (secretly, I admit) wonder when Busta Rhymes is going to leave the steroids alone because something just ain’t lookin right (I say the same about L.L. Cool J and Botox). Wesley Snipes still ain’t figured out what taxes are. I am also amazed by the way we enshrine Eazy-E without nary a word that the brotha died of AIDS with seven children from six different women. Needless to say, that brotha was clearly into some shit (not unlike the many, many men Supahead so fabulously chronicled for us). The folk who are so curiously silent on these issues are the same fools who diss Lauryn. Double standards? Naw. There’s more than just that going on here.
Like what I recently said about Aja Monet, Lauryn Hill gets love from my students every semester. I don’t even have to bring her name up— they will do the work. I am noticing this more now as I close out a semester of teaching black women’s rhetoric. I see my students’ embrace of Lauryn Hill as a way they combat a system intent on stealing a black woman’s light, a system that they too are up against.
I am confident today that my students have a substantial, new body of knowledge on black women’s history, that they even know some rhetorical theory as well as black feminist thought. But what I am most impressed with is the way they fight for black women’s lives: they fight to let. black. women. live. That’s what I see them doing with Lauryn Hill against an “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy” that intends to obliterate her. I stand with my students on this one: much love to you, Lauryn!