I Owe Who I Am to Queen Latifah

BlogHer Original Post

Allow me a few moments to express the indescribable joy I felt upon learning that Queen Latifah will be at BlogHer '13, hosting the Voices of the Year Community Keynote. When I saw her tweet that she was headed to the conference, I literally squealed with joy and became teary-eyed. She is the primary reason I am a Black Feminist.

I grew up in the "hood" (inner city of New York City). I was born in 1979, right when Hip-Hop music hit the mainstream and the culture began to emerge and spread beyond New York City. As a young girl in Queens, being raised primarily by my divorced mom, I found inspiration in the few women who spoke hip-hop's language. Salt-N-Pepa were the first to bring forth a message of female empowerment that was accessible to young women of color in the inner cities. Queen Latifah came along and thrust our issues to the forefront, going toe-to-toe with the male MCs who often sought to shut us up, not unlike the men of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.

She would not be silenced.

Women and girls in the hood can't readily access feminist theory and the writings of Patricia Hill Collins and bell hooks. They're not taking classes in gender theory and women's liberation movements. When they can, many struggle to understand and make connections to their daily lives. What Queen Latifah did was make Black Feminism accessible to the women who, arguably, needed it the most.

Domestic violence disproportionately affects women of color and poorer women. Latifah gave us a way to speak out against it and to affirm ourselves as worth of respect. She wrote the first anthem against street harassment, "Unity," and this is something I've dealt with for 20+ years on an almost daily basis. She is why I feel empowered to respond, "Who are you calling a bitch?" when men demand I pay them attention and seek to verbally retaliate when I ignore them.

If we are to discuss intersectionality, we cannot stop at the Black intelligentsia. Educated, middle-class Black women generally have more opportunities to study these types of movements. There are women struggling every day in the inner cities around the nation who have no idea what you mean when you speak of "feminism," but they know Queen Latifah and they know they want to feel stronger and be respected.

My step-mother is the housing commissioner of East Orange, where Latifah grew up, and believe me... it is still bad out there. I lived there for a year and had to come back to New York. To see someone like her come from "the gutter" and become the successful woman that she is, all on the uncompromising platform of female empowerment, is an inspiration to so many forgotten and ignored women around the country and world.

Queen Latifah Made Me Who I Am (© Kristin Callahan/Ace Pictures/ZUMAPRESS.com)
Credit: © Kristin Callahan/Ace Pictures/ZUMAPRESS.com

She is Black Feminism, in the flesh. She is Hip-Hop feminism. She is everything all of us growing up struggling wanted to be when we grew up. She is trailblazer for my generation. In undergrad, I wrote a paper about how she and Pam Grier were unsung agents of the Black Feminist movement, and last week, I wrote a paper about the song "Freedom" (from the Panther soundtrack, upon which Latifah appears) and how music has been one of the best ways for Black women's voices to be heard. Latifah continues to use art as media to spread her message, now through music, television, and film (as an actress and producer).

I get emotional speaking about her, because there were times when my days were so bad, having dealt with abuse, harassment, etc, and her music literally helped me keep going. I'm done gushing, but I just wanted to share how happy I am that she will be at BlogHer and what she means to me. I wouldn't be doing ANY of this were it not for women like her.

Peace,
FJ

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