Black Noise, White Girl

By Libby Howard

Hip hop is as American as

apple pie. Hip hop is a storm

at the doorstep, waiting to unfold

onto your body. This music is

the movement from object to subject.

Like most white middle-class

kids in the 1990s, I grew up

with hip-hop close to my heart,

far from my body. Say black noise.

Say white girl.

When I was nine years old I despised

the piano. My hands, dignified spiders

taught to censor throb and desire.

Nothing made sense to me in that

white rulebook of sheet music.

Until, I heard 2pac Shakur’s

“Changes” shake a piano for all

of its money. Jerk elegance

by the pant leg to give it

something to dance about.

Deviance was a bull breaking porcelain in the corner of my big heart.

My mom calls it “gangster rap.”

She listens “for the beat.” That

sounds stupid. But I knew hip hop

was resistance and I—the nine year old

antithesis of ladylike, had so much to resist.

When I first heard the word

feminist, it was an answer.

It debunked the mechanics of

what my femininity needed to look like.

Like hip hop, feminism didn’t ask anyone for permission.

Feminism told me that hip hop exploits women.

I was confused.

how my hero, the son of two noble

Black Panthers, an A-minor man

made of bandanas and roses,

could become my enemy so quickly.

I guess 2pac wasn’t the white—

I mean the right kind of feminist.

I should respect myself, know

that woman is a brand that marks me

regardless of if I identify with 2pac.

Hip hop has its own ideas of

what women can and should

look like. But so does this type

of feminism, wearing history with

a sinister innocence.

Historically, you take the blackness out of feminism and you have feminism.

Take the whiteness out of feminism and you have nothing.

I don’t care if you identify as a feminist,

hip hop is not the mug shot of misogyny.

I don’t care if hip-hop is your religion,

gender equality is not optional.

These movements are not mutually exclusive.

I will not choose between loving myself and loving this music.

One thing I will never abandon is

resistance, sitting inside me like

a fuming bull with porcelain horns,

the sound of a piano

splitting.

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