- You ain't a bitch or a ho!
Now that everyone has seen the Hollaback! video, seen the young white woman getting harassed on the streets of NYC almost exclusively by black and brown men (the one white guy says to her, "Nice"—apparently there were lots of white catcallers but they did not make the cut because "for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing, or off camera”). Now that the video, developed by an ad agency (Rob Bliss Creative), has achieved the desired goal (to go viral), we can look back from the heat of the moment and try to see if it is anything new or original or even helpful. A quick look back shows almost immediately that the real problem of street harassment has been tackled with far more intelligence and greater racial sensitivity by black comedians such as Sasheer Zamata and Jessica Williams of The Daily Show. But if one looks even further back than that, he/she will find the problem was dealt with in the most direct terms by hiphop. Yes, hiphop! And not in some unknown underground track by an unknown rapper, but in a mainstream hit record by Queen Latifah. The track is "U.N.I.T.Y.," and a street harassment incident is described in its very first verse...
One day I was walking down the block/I had my cutoff shorts on right cause it was crazy hot/I walked past these dudes when they passed me/One of 'em felt my booty, he was nasty/I turned around red, somebody was catching the wrath/Then the little one said "Yeah me bitch" and laughed/Since he was with his boys he tried to break fly...Latifah turned and punched him (Naughty by Nature's Vin Rock) dead in the eye. "You gotta let them know you are not a bitch or ho."
"U.N.I.T.Y." was dropped in 1993, four years before hiphop completely lost its autonomy as a black art form and, as a consequence, its openness to a variety of black-related issues. In those days, a rapper like Latifah could throw down about issues that concerned the black community and still make a buck, still be a commercial hit. This radical openness, or hiphop democracy, started dying around 1997. By 2000, it was very dead, and today, hiphop is mainly in the business of entertaining white consumers. In the current cultural climate, issues that really mattered to the black community, such as street harassment, have little to no value for a market dominated by suburban whites.
And so with Hollaback! we find two insults in one: Blacks get criticized for street harassment by the very same people who have de-democratized one of the few cultural institutions that provided a popular platform for social issues meaningful to the black community.