Black women on a leash -- satire or racist misogyny?

BlogHer Original Post

Feministing wants your opinion about the controversy MTV has stirred up with its cartoon -- aired on a Saturday afternoon -- depicting a character based on rapper Snoop Doogg leading leashed, bikini-clad women on all fours. At one point, one of the women defecates on the floor, and the "Snoop" character picks up the excrement with a plastic baggie. MTV's black female president is defending the episode as satire. The post's writer asks, "Could anyone who has seen this show shed a little light on how exactly this could be seen as social satire?"

The cartoon at the center of the controversy actually aired July 1, but a column by critic Stanley Crouch brought it to public notice, drawing condemnations from civil rights and feminist leaders, as well as hordes of viewers, journalists and bloggers.

Photographer, media scholar and writer Carla Williams reminds us that Snoop did come to an award show a while back with two women chained and tethered to him -- the incident the MTV claims to be satirizing. The fact that black women participated in or defended these portrayals raises all sorts of questions -- some of which Williams has explored in her book, The Black Female Body: A Photographic History co-authored with fellow photographer and scholar Debra Willis. She's also raised the issues in some of the essays on her vast website, including this one from 1998 that traces the history of the black female image as Naked, Neutered or Noble.

Here's a snippet from the conclusion of that essay that's worth considering in light of this latest incident:

"Given the legacy of images created of black women, it is an especially complex task for contemporary black women to define their own image, one that necessarily both incorporates and subverts the stereotypes, myths, facts, and fantasies that have preceded them."

So this raises a question about the women who originally allowed Snoop to parade them around. Were they perpetuating oppressive stereotypes, or having fun? Are they at fault for helping to create the image on which the cartoon was based. What about Snoop Dogg's responsibility as a black man? And as a black woman, should the president of MTV's stance have been different?

It may be, indeed, what Williams argued about Janet Jackson in a provocative 2004 essay after her breast-baring brouhaha can be applied to black women more broadly:

Despite the proliferation of images in music videos and magazines, black women still do not really have control over their own bodies. The black community vilifies them for embodying sexualized stereotypes (think of the outcry surrounding Toni Braxton's 1997 VIBE magazine cover, nonetheless one of the magazine's best-selling issues), while the dominant culture remains all too happy to let them to reify old notions of their supposed salacious natures. With all the cultural baggage they carry, Jackson's body-and her breast-are ultimately not her own. And thus she has very little "control" after all.

One thing is for shizzle - Snoop's lyrics make it clear that he couldn't care less what any of the rest of us think.
To paraphrase Positive K in a different context -- it's all money in his pocket/and his wallet's getting fatter.

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