Ya’ll have me thinking…

I’m constantly thinking about parenting, specifically, how to do it in a way that will “guarantee” that my son grows into a responsible, healthy, spiritual, generous, socially active, loving, compassionate warrior. There are times when the task is daunting, especially when I dare venture into the world of popular media culture.

Yes, I’m talking the world of “106 and Park”, the various music award shows, and lord help me, the radio stations with POWER, KISS, and LIVE in front.  Each time I’m more distraught, terrified even at the thought that the young folk today are being “raised” on sex, sex, and more sex.  Casual sex.  Unprotected sex. Irresponsible sex. And my worst fear: Teen sex.  They can’t escape it-  the teenage musical icons: Rihanna, Drake, Lil Wayne, and even Miley Cyrus have ALL made sexually provocative and explicit songs and videos.  It absolutely boggles my mind.

I’m sure we could all share anecdotes about young girls and boys reciting sexually explicit lyrics, simulating the infamous ‘stripper dance’ to the obvious delight of all within visual distance.  I imagine we’ve all swapped stories, appalled by the mamas who let their young daughters go out dressed in ‘booty’ shorts and barely there tops, quickly passing judgment on their questionable parenting styles. How many of us were ready to storm BET after watching Lil Wayne, Drake, and whoever else perform “I wanna ….. every girl in the world” while those young girls came out on stage, dancing and performing for the audience?  Yet since then Drake has become one of the biggest selling rap artists in the last few years.

I bring this up because media is a powerful cultural transmitter. Society’s values, norms, and even expectations are reflected in the music, film, television, and even social networking sites.  Research shows that young people interact with some form of media for multiple hours everyday. They can’t escape it.

So I have a question, should we do everything in our power to keep children from interacting with media, in hopes to keep them safe from it’s influence?  Do we stage local and national protests? Do we write letters? Do we boycott? What do we do?

Or do we even care?

18 thoughts on “Ya’ll have me thinking…

  1. Growing up, I didn’t have a radio in my room until the 8th grade. Although we listened to a lot of music, it was exclusively what my parents liked, and because they were both immigrants, their tastes were a little different from other black Americans. Hence, my appreciation of Kassav and Zouk Machine, The Sound of Music and the Jackson 5, Elton John and Anita Baker; not so much whatever my peers were listening to. I still remember hearing “Doin’ the Butt” blasting from a neighbor’s house, and thinking “ooooh, that song is bad!” My mother also went out of her way to buy us kids music; nursery rhymes and silly songs that she played in the house or in the car. I still remember dancing to it with my sister. In the car, we did fun movie soundtracks, like the Little Mermaid, Sister Act, and Dirty Dancing. I’m not sure if my mom was purposefully careful about the music we listened to, but she was on to something.

    I know every generation believes the music of the generation after it is just awful. But I think that it really is harder for young black children growing up in today’s musical climate. I’ve given up on the black stations, not just because of the adult (and problematic) themes in the music, but because a lot of it just isn’t any good anymore. It’s unoriginal, repetitive, devoid of quality singing, musicality, or thoughtful lyrics.

    When I got to college, there were definitely some holes in my black music knowledge, and I thank my black college singing group for helping me catch up. I wouldn’t, however, change my musical upbringing. And I intend to bring up my kids in the same sheltered way. They shouldn’t be asked to listen to themes that they don’t yet have the mental ability to process. When they’re young, they take what they hear as the truth, the same way they take what they see on TV advertisements as the truth. And I refuse to give them the truth as teen sex, violence, and an obsession with material things.


    1. Thanks Orj for reading and responding. And KNOW that I’m with you…I can honestly say that music RAISED me. And thank GOD that by and large, the offerings inspired and motivated me to be loving, compassionate, and dare I say dreamy. I can only believe that just as I spent hours and hours each week listening to the radio, watching videos, making tapes (lol), our children by and large do the SAME. MULTIPLY it by the social networking, the texting, the mp3, itunes, youtube…?? And then raise it to the exponent of the abysmal lyrics?!?! I don’t know if we can FATHOM the consequences….


  2. This is such an important topic. I grew up listening to all of this music. I always had a radio and stereo in my room, always knew all the lyrics to all the popular black music. In one way, I was typical of my peers – they knew them all too. It was important cultural capital, especially because I could also sing and dance. I loved the music, loved the beat, in a way that other types of music could never come close. But my dad is a musician, so we listened to every type of music – Public Enemy as well as the Police and Genesis, The Roots and Janet Jackson as well as Vince Gauraldi and Bach.

    But on the other hand, I do admit, that those songs, especially as they related to the degradation of black women and sex, led to teenage and young adult years of self-loathing and depression. I did subconsciously believe that my body was normatively the domain of men; I did things that reflected that. I hated the fact that my body wasn’t as “developed” as other girls, wasn’t as developed as the women in the videos, because I wanted the boys/men to “want” me like they wanted them. Those songs and videos created my self-image in a very negative way. It wasn’t until I was in college that I could truly put that music in a proper perspective, that I could love my body, that I could respect it.

    With my children, I take a hybrid approach. They listen to Public Enemy, for example, and the clean versions of many popular artists. I turn on the popular radio stations, but will quickly change the station when songs that I consider inappropriate come on. We are more likely to listen to the “old school” station than anything else, and I am cultivating an appreciation for some artists like Michael Jackson, Alicia Keys, Prince, MeShell, The Roots, etc when we listen to music at home. We don’t watch videos all the often, but when we do, I do the same thing – I monitor.

    I grew up with a radio and TV in my room – that will not be the case for my kids, because I do think you lose control over what they are taking in that way. I think with close monitoring, and a lot of conversations about what they are seeing and hearing, we can explain the media and hopefully diffuse its impact.


    1. Peace Toya! I use the same approach with Is as well as with my students…giving them that “balance” a lot of hip hop (for example) purists say is lacking. He knows Stevie Wonder, classic hip hop, the Motown sound, and r&b from the 80’s and 90’s which he refers to as “old school”, Bob Marley, MJ, etc. etc. Needless to say, my heart BROKE when I realized that even after laying this foundation AND having explicit discussion about objectification, drugs, violence, etc in music and it’s effects…he STILL has some Drake and Lil Wayne on his ipod. I’ve talked with him about it, he ASSURES me that he doesn’t listen to the worst of it: but that each of these artists has some “good” and “positive” songs. STill, it makes me nervous. So I continue to remind him of it all…


  3. This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I grew up in a Christian household where we were not allowed to listen to anything other than gospel in the house at all. And even among Christians, that was rare. I went to a Christian elementary school for six years but I remember a school trip where all of a sudden, the whole bus erupted with “I wanna rock right now / I’m Rob Base and I came to get down …” and I had no idea what they were singing! I played along at the chorus, but I was lost. I remember another girl and I at another time singing “When I was 17, I did what people told me … uh!” I didn’t know then that that was janet’s “Control” – I was just following along. I knew the Thriller album of course. It was so pervasive that many other households who didn’t allow secular music had a copy of it and everywhere we found it, we listened to it non-stop. And my parents didn’t really object to that, but I still couldn’t listen to any secular music in the house.

    My love for music and summers at my Grandmother’s house eventually took over, and I begged my parents for a walkman where I could listen to the gospel tapes my Dad would make me. I also of course wanted to listen to R&B on Power 99fm in secret. And I did. I also lobbied and won the right to listen to it on the radio in my room provided it couldn’t be heard through the door. Not only did I listen to R&B, but I also discovered a love of country music which has persisted to this day.

    But as the Sista before me said, once I started watching the videos and comparing myself to those girls (who I didn’t realize were heavily made-up and much older), I started to feel inferior. Never mind the fun detail of my fixed vow of chastity in a culture that turned sex and love into synonyms. My self-esteem went on a steady decline that lasted well into my 20s. I’m not solely blaming the music, but those lyrics and images left a distinctly negative impression on me.

    And that was 10+ years ago! That was before rampant, mindless sex polluted every area in our culture from advertisements to primetime TV. We don’t have cable so I don’t have to fight against the evils of BET, but the CW gives us enough trouble on its own. Between 90210 and Gossip Girl, not to mention Family Guy which is an adult cartoon that my older children think is for them, I may as well just give them subscriptions to Playboy and a pack of condoms and be done with it!

    And that’s another wrinkle in my life – I have five older (step)children (aged 11-18) who for the most part have already seen (and done) too much and are almost beyond my borders. My husband did the best he could alone, but he couldn’t really fight the dubious influence of other family members and the freedoms they were given when visiting their mother. The truly troubling part is that they don’t see anything wrong with the music they listen to, the videos they watch, and even worse, the inner life that it creates. And they’re sweet, wonderful kids! But there’s this undercurrent in their attitudes, this cynical, selfish, carnal undercurrent that I am determined to keep from my younger children, who are one and three years old.

    How do I do it? Simple – I ask them to respect my position as the babies’ mother and to not watch or listen to certain media around their youngest siblings or when I am around. I ask them to watch their language – I even censor the “Crap!” and “Darn!” they might utter while playing video games, which by the way I also monitor. I frequenty search their rooms for questionable or unacceptable content and remove what I find. And they comply with my wishes.

    It bothers me that some of my older children are past the point where I can corral them and keep them locked in their rooms, away from the negativity that has discolored a lot of the media. But my comfort lies in the knowledge that my Husband instilled the right things in them, and the Bible says that if you train up a child in the way that He should go, when he is old, he will not depart from it. It never indicates the gap between the training and the returning, nor the harsh lessons that might be learned in the meantime, but as long as they return, it’s worth the wait.

    Lastly I think that we consumers have more power than we think we do. If every person who objected to the content on BET or whatever radio station called, wrote, or otherwise informed the stations, that would make a difference. We could perhaps block any content on our TVs that is above a certain rating (I did that when we had DirecTV and our kids forgot BET and MTV existed in here bc they couldn’t see anything!). We might have to get tough, vigilant, or even radical with it, but to preserve our children and protect their future, I think it is well worth the eyerolls and attitudes that might result. We can’t protect them everywhere they go, but we can turn our homes into the safety zones we desire them to be.


    1. Thank you Denise for building on this topic. You hit it on the HEAD: we can’t completely shelter them from the media. It’s EVERYWHERE. and I mean EVERYWHERE. So from my perspective the best we can do is encourage our young folk to develop a critical media consciousness. And part of that is empowering them to be aware of injustices, to develop empathy, to ask questions, and certainly to develop an internal moral compass. Sounds like you’re clear and explicit about your desires and expectations, and I wish MORE of us stood up and did what we KNOW is right…


  4. You bring up a good question, Denise, that also ties into the last question Salina poses: do enough of us care to fight the TV and radio stations? Do enough of us care to boycott the “musicians” who produce a product we don’t consider worthy of the title of music?

    I don’t want to censor others; what I find despicable might be great to somebody else, although sometimes I listen to these songs and think “how can anyone objectively think this is quality?” But the bigger question is: is the market for better music large enough? Are there enough disturbed people to actually hit the companies, networks and stations where it hurts–in their pockets? Marketing creates desire, and so I think that if better music were marketed, the market for better music would grow. At the same time, the music industry will not market a product that they don’t see some initial desire for, and conscious rap just doesn’t make money (anymore?). Misogynistic and violent rap does! And these videos reflect current societal norms; we place a premium on beauty and sexuality in all our communities, not just black ones. The music and videos are just extreme reflections of our values as a society.

    In light of that, I think our best defense is to control what our kids are exposed to. And on that point, I think about LaToya’s suggestion–about monitoring and conversation. At a certain age that may be useful; especially as children approach their teen years, and their mental abilities develop. But I’m not sure there’s much talkin’ to a 4 year old; the truth is, even if I’m explaining to my daughter why the images in the video, or the words in the song, are problematic, she’s still observing me watching and listening to the stuff, which turns into a mixed message: it’s “bad,” but it must be good, otherwise Mommy wouldn’t be nodding her head to it. Easier, and probably more effective, to limit their exposure to it all together.

    It’s hard, though, to figure out what should and shouldn’t be banned. Some songs are little more than 2 minutes of pure bravado (Jay-Z’s verse on “Never Let Me Down” comes to mind); is that problematic for children to hear? How about love songs that make tame reference to sexual encounters (“One Night Only, from the Dreamgirls soundtrack, for example)? This is complicated stuff!…


    1. COMPLICATED indeed! That’s my struggle- to find the balance that folk are always talking about. For some balance means let all the misogyny, violence, and drug dealing in lyric and video remain, but let’s also offer more positive narratives. I have a tough time with that…i just don’t accept that as balance. I mean, WHEN is it ok to promote drug dealing? When is it ok for young girls and women to be objectified? I just don’t understand. I don’t know that those who would fight against the imagery and stereotypes in media are CLEAR about what they want. If we want ALL our youth to feel loved, empowered, and powerful…then how do we justify the music and film that we consume?


      1. That is so powerful. I don’t want to censor either, but the market works (allegedly) by people acting in their own self interest. Music that denigrates me is not in my self interest. Music that extolls the benefits of selling drugs is not in my son’s best interest. Music that says women are bitches and good only for giving head is not in my daughter’s best interest. So us working against this music, as black women and mothers is not an act of censorship, but rather us flexing our market muscles.

        However, it is important to target who I think are the real monsters behind this music. The artists, yes, must take some responsibility. But the executives must take even more. And more and more these days, they are “us” too. Diddy, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne. And of course the white big execs.


      2. And hence, the problem with market rationales. Under that theory, musicians and the music execs should keep pushing the same damaging product that they’ve been pushing, as long as it maximizes their profit, and as long as they can escape the ruined communities for which their music is partly responsible (which they can, given the profit-maximization part). *sigh* Communities and societies never improve when people act solely in their own interest…


      3. But see, that’s not true. The problem is, I think, is that people are not acting in their best interests. For example, I bought Drake’s album. Even after the shameful BET performance and the video that I found horrible. Why did I do it? Because I love music, because I wanted to see what all the hype is about … No matter what my reason, it was surely not in my best interest because Drake is on Young Money records and we know for sure that Lil Wayne and them hate black women, and hence hate me. I spent my money on something that was very much not in my best interest.

        Right now, the record execs have the upper hand bc of people like me, and people who are worse off than me. The teenage mes who don’t understand their best interest and don’t have anyone monitoring what they are spending their money on. And all the other folks, the non-black women, ie all the white folks who buy this shit and could care less.

        I’m not saying that market economics would fix everything. But black women spend a lot of money on music. And I do believe that if black women were educated and empowered to stop accepting this music and depictions of ourselves we could have a huge impact on the hiphop market. Music execs cannot sell music that people do not buy. 106 and park would be wack if girls stopped showing up to be in the audience. Videos would look stupid if there were just a bunch of dudes in them. We have power. We need to recognize it.


      4. How does the market account for you, an educated person, going out and acting against your self-interest? If you can’t be taught to act in your self-interest by education, to stop accepting negative depictions of yourself, then who can?

        Market economics principles make all sorts of assumptions about actors in the market that just aren’t true in real life. It doesn’t account for irrational behavior that operates counter to self-interests; it doesn’t account for differential levels of knowledge and power in the market; it doesn’t account for the ways in which the market is structured to reinforce hierarchy and subordination. And, assuming we want to go with the market anyway, as I understand it, the largest consumer of “gansta rap” is white males. So, in theory, we could all get together and boycott the music, but the music execs aren’t depending on us at all; rather they’re depending on whites in the market who consume products that degrade black women. And because the music doesn’t degrade those white males, it’s not against their self-interest to buy the music.

        Unless, of course, self-interest includes care for others…which is typically not a key feature of the market. And that’s my problem with the market. Instead of valuing care and concern for others, because they are connected to ourselves, it elevates individualism and consumption above all else. And oftentimes, to move forward as a society, people have to be willing to put somebody else first. “No, I won’t buy this music because of how it degrades another group…No, I won’t market this music because of how it degrades another community; it doesn’t matter that I stand to gain so much from it.” Now, I’m not saying that the market can never be a weapon. I know they stopped playing Chris Brown’s music because of how the market perceived him. But I often think that with market economics principles at the starting line, we’ve already lost the race before we’ve started running.


  5. Thank you for writing about this! I was sitting there lost in these same thoughts last night (your comment rocked this morning btw!). For starters, I don’t think keeping kids away from media is the answer (the more you keep them from doin…g something, the more they wanna do it) … As parents we need to keep the lines of communication open. It’s important for us to tell our children what’s inappropriate and unacceptable – the scary thing is, a lot of parents aren’t doing this. Babies havin’ babies <— this needs to stop.


    1. I agree with aNu

      For real, my baby is obsessed with MJ
      But you know what?
      MJ was singing “There’s something about you baby that makes me want to give it to you” and “Hold me baby and I’m in ecstacy” etc.
      Not so innocent lol
      Oh, and he can easily identify Prince and the Minneappolis sound.
      This, to me, is important because I believe having a solid musical foundation is the key to SO many things and to being advanced in many ways.

      However, we can pick and choose what out kids are exposed to. BET does not exist in my house. VH1Soul is on most of the time (when Noggin isnt) and even then, if the images are too risky, I turn the channel.

      This… from the mother who still walks around naked and encourages nudity in the home. Hmmmm. “Mommy whats that?” “My breasts” “What’s those things on the end?” “My nipples” “Do I have nipples?” *grabs chest* “Are these my nipples?” “Yes” “Do you have a penis too?” “No, I have a vagina.” “Can I see it?” “Ummmmm”<<<<< standard convo in our house

      So if I continue to have these kinds of open, candid conversations, I believe I will set the stage to be able to provide education to my son and information to counter what the media portrays.

      I never play the radio while my son is in the car. It is always the iPod. I dont want to risk him bopping his head to a song about a 3 some or getting a woman drunk and all but date raping her. Nope. Not me. However, if there are curses, that isnt an automatic turn off because I dont have as big an issue with cursing. I teach him that he shouldnt use those words because he is a little boy, but that other adults use them. I watch adult shows when he is asleep or playing in another room. He never goes to a movie not rated G, and I have STRONG issues with parents who take small children to R-rated movies.

      Its about explaining things, making parental choices, etc.


  6. Yes, traditional market principles don’t account for any of the things you mention. But that’s not the end of the analysis – so what? People act irrationally – why? Black women have been brainwashed to believe these things about us. So let’s work on that brainwashing. White men will typically be the largest consumers – they make up the largest group. So the market for hip-hop is structured against us, and perhaps white men could care less. But if black women stopped buying, we would still be a very large proportion because we are consistent consumers of hip-hop music and we spend a lot of money in the industry, disproportionate to our numbers in the population. If you ran a business, and suddenly lost even 15% of your sales, wouldn’t you care?

    No, people don’t always act in their self interest. And I gave reasons why I didn’t when I bought Drake. And I don’t think any of us are talking about “gangsta rap” LOL, at least I’m not. Talking to Salina tonight, she brought up the issue issue with hip-hop that it’s a lot more complicated than “gangsta rap” is. While Drake, on the one hand, makes a song that seems to degrade women, he also makes songs that celebrate black women, and he’s actually really talented. A lot of hip-hop artists are really talented, and in their work, the relationship with black women is back and forth, sometimes up, sometimes down. I love 40 y.o. Jay-Z, but 1996 Jay-Z hated black women. I’m educated, but I’m also a product of my environment, born and raised 29 years listening to this music that’s now in my bones. I love hip-hop. I’m also old enough to not be as affected; I love me now, and what the video girls look like don’t matter to me.

    I still think that even if market principles are not the end-all-be-all of the solution, something about educating ourselves and our girls, deconstructing lyrics, supporting artists that aren’t misogynistic, and realizing that we do have economic power and control can make a difference. But it needs to be a big, organized, sustained effort.


  7. I agree it’s not (only) about “gangsta rap.” LOL. I was using the phrase to make a point, and because I know that while white men buy the most violent hip hop music in numbers disproportionate to their numbers (which is, btw, the issue is larger than just their population presentation; it seems they’re abnormally invested in images that degrade us), I wasn’t sure about their purchasing power among all hip-hop generally.


  8. “something about educating ourselves and our girls, deconstructing lyrics, supporting artists that aren’t misogynistic, and realizing that we do have economic power and control can make a difference.”

    I have ABSOLUTELY NO quarrel with you there. 🙂 I do tend, however, to resist the impulse to find solutions solely in the market, which you, Toya, have also acknowledged. The market destroys communities and reinforces oppression. It seems silly, sometimes, to then look to the market for solutions.

    And would somebody please tell me what the big deal is over Drake? So, he’s clever, and raps (ad nauseam, it seems) about the darker side of success (although I’m not sure what else he has to rap about; his upbringing wasn’t all that difficult). I guess that’s cute, but “really talented?” I’m just not seeing it. Maybe I’m just blinded by his cheesy acting in Degrassi…


    1. To be sure, I don’t think rappers should only rap about difficulty, or being from the hood; it was my lame attempt to take a dig at Drake’s vanilla persona. To me, he just lacks complexity, but hey–to each, his own!


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