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Eva Shang Headshot

It's Time for Women of Color to Talk Back

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If you haven't seen the music video for 2 Chainz's "Birthday Song," the refrain is, "All I want for my birthday is a big-bootied hoe." The video reduces women to bouncing breasts and backsides; one women is actually laid out on a table covered in frosting.

This video is simply the newest addition to a long-standing pattern of degradation of colored women in the media, specifically in music videos. Between the songs and videos that reduce women of color to a large backside and a willing mouth, and the very real violence that confronts many women, the assault on women -- both lyrically and literally -- is stunning.

As a member of the SPARKteam, a group of girls fighting objectification of women in the media, I recently had the privilege of becoming involved in the fight against the degradation of women in the media industry. To fight back against the culture of misogyny, especially towards women of color, that has continued to spread throughout our culture, the media literacy group FAAN MAIL, which stands for Fostering Activism and Alternatives NOW, is pushing back against these degrading images. Based in Philadelphia, FAAN MAIL's founder, Nuala Cabral, wrote this moving and poignant criticism in the form of an open letter to CEO Lucian Grainge of Universal Music Group.

Lucian Grainge is not a name that most have heard of, in the colored community or otherwise. Yet he is CEO of the most powerful company in the music industry, and thus he should hold responsibility for promoting linguistically violent and degrading messages towards women of color.

Violence towards women of color is all too real. For every African-American woman that reports her rape, at least 15 African-American women do not report theirs. The National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS) found that 18.8 percent of African-American women reported rape in their lifetime. What degradation in the media does is normalize this behavior and desensitize us to these horrific statistics.

Media is insidious. We cannot separate the culture of objectification of women from literal, physical attacks, where women of color are often disproportionately targeted due to their exotification and stereotyped hypersexuality. From a culture that condoned slavery to the 19th century European freak shows that exhibited the "unusual" body of Saartjie Baartman, the dehumanization of women of color has a long history that still survives today. In Cabral's words in her open letter, CEO Lucian Grainge's lack of action in enforcing standards of basic humanity shows blatant disregard for black women's bodies -- the same disregard that enabled a history of forced sterilization, the shackling of birthing black mothers in prison. Universal Music Group's indifference resembles the indifference of a rape culture that overlooks the men who rape, while blaming the women and girls of color who experience sexual violence at disproportionate rates.

Silence and apathy, not only towards objectifying images in the media, but also towards cases of domestic violence towards women of color, speak volumes about the values of music corporations. Nineteen-year-old Def Jam rapper Lil Reese was recently caught on tape attacking a woman later identified as Tiairah Marie with a flurry of punches, continuing to kick her even after she fell. Although he later apologized on Twitter for his actions, UMG and Def Jam remained silent. And their silence and unwillingness to take a stand marks their endorsement of a corporate-sponsored culture of violence. From the images portrayed to the physical actions of their artists, Universal Music Group is allowing women of color to continue to be treated as objects.

It's time for this failure to shoulder responsibility to end. As long as these images and instances of domestic violence are condoned, women of color will never overcome the history of fetishization and objectification that manifests throughout the media today.

But FAAN MAIL is taking a stand. As an organization of colored women that SPARK is thrilled to collaborate with, FAAN is laying out an action plan. We, FAAN and its allies want transparency and accountability in the music industry. We want Universal Music Group to give platforms to artist who empower, not degrade and dehumanize, women of color. We want consequences for Lil Reese and other artists who promote violence against women through their actions and lyrics. We want a clear message communicated to the public that this sort of degradation of colored women violates basic human rights and cannot continue.

We want UMG, as the largest corporation in the music industry, to answer to these issues and propose concrete solutions. To achieve these goals, FAAN has published a "Talk Back" video with real women of color taking a stand. Join our Twitter Movement by publishing these two tweets:

@UMG stop degrading women of color in your music: http://goo.gl/3148n.
@UMG your silence speaks volumes. Stop condoning violence against women. Be transparent & respond. #LilReese

Together, let's hold the music industry accountable.