Take back your Roots
Written by: J. Stokes – December 13, 2016
Just last week a video surfaced, via social media, showing Atlanta-based hip-hop artist Young Thug having a verbal altercation with two Black female Alaska Airline employees. In this video, he referred to these women as “peasants” and “ants,” and offered them $15,000 to quit their jobs. This situation occurred as a result of Young Thug missing his flight, which the two women would not let him board since he was late. Watch this copy of the video for yourself and see what went down:
In addition to his insults toward the two Black employees, Young Thug also criticized their physical appearance and cultural background. This is made apparent when in the video Young Thug says “They hair nappy as a mutha’ f*cka’” and “They look like Africans. They done got deported over.” When the public got hold of this video, many used social media to express their disgust over the hip-hop artist’s behavior. In an effort to defend his actions, Young Thug stated on Twitter “BTW that message wasn’t to all my black women…… it was to those two black burnt women.” Unfortunately for Young Thug, this tweet wasn’t enough to stop the backlash that ensued. There was a notable change in the hip-hop artist’s tone, however, once his mother intervened. Earlier today, Young Thug posted a picture of himself on Instagram with a caption stating that his mother made him apologize to the two employees. While Young Thug apologizing to the women he offended seems like a reasonable conclusion to this story, there still remain many takeaways. To begin, the U.S. grants people with the ability to have free speech. Since Young Thug was only expressing his disapproval of the situation, though riddled with insults, he was still exercising his First Amendment right.
Nevertheless, speaking down to people is frowned upon in American society. One could say that the hip-hop artist had no right to call others “peasants” or “ants,” considering he was not always rich. The video of Young Thug’s verbal altercation is particularly interesting considering the fact that he chose to criticize the two women’s hair and cultural background. While the women shown in the video are clearly Black, it should be noted that Young Thug also identifies as such. One must question why a Black man would insult a Black woman’s hair, considering they both come from same racial group. Also, there was no indication that the two Black women in the video hailed from the continent of Africa. It can be inferred that even Young Thug is uncertain about their country of origin since he states “They look like Africans.” One must ask, then, why would Young Thug identify these two women as such?
Let’s address the hair first…
American society has a history of criticizing Black women who decide to wear their hair naturally, which many describe as “nappy.” According to Jeffries and Jeffries (2014), “those valuing the natural state of African hair types continue to struggle against a convoluted definition of what is considered beautiful and even acceptable hair” (Jeffries & Jeffries, 2014, p. 160). In the U.S. straighter or curly/wavy hair has always been prized. Some claim having these hair textures makes one seem closer to white. There are also those who believe a Black woman’s decision to straighten her hair is more complex than many think. Still, this does not answer our question as to why a Black man would look down on a Black woman who has “nappy” (i.e. natural) hair. One possible answer to this could be that American society supports and promotes straighter hairstyles. If you type “beautiful hair,” “beautiful black hair,” or “beautiful black women hair” in Google’s search engine, for instance, the first results seen are primarily women with straighter hair.
Young Thug could possibly be the victim of media promotion that has failed to discuss or embrace natural black hair. Jeffries and Jeffries (2014) have furthermore asserted that “media texts are multiple forms of commercial and public service communication, including television, radio, and Internet programs, box office films, advertisements, and so on, that intend to indirectly convey representations of the world to the world” (Jefferies & Jefferies, 2014, p. 160). Ultimately, the topic of Black hair could be expanded over a series of blog posts. A multitude of scholarly articles have been written on the subject, as well as books. Comedian and actor Chris Rock even made a documentary in 2009 called Good Hair, which centered on this topic of Black women and their hair preferences. As a result of these many informative resources and the many ways in which Black hair can be discussed, we choose to now end this discussion here. However, be on the lookout for a more thorough explanation of Black hair acceptance in a future post.
Now let’s discuss the comment about Africans…
Numerous people in the U.S. have been misinformed about Africans and the African culture. Many of the stereotypes associated with Africa in general are arguably the result of televised Save the Children broadcasts showcasing a starving African child or National Geographic’s interesting depictions of animals inhabiting the continent. If one were to base Africa off of mainstream media images, then they might view the continent through an ignorant lens. Nevertheless, there are those who have dispelled certain stereotypes, such as Ya-Marie Sesay. In her 2015 blog post entitled “I Am Not an African Booty Scratcher,” Sesay asserted that not all Africans live in huts or have interacted with wild animals such as lions and zebras. This is a valid point, especially considering the way many houses look and are positioned in Lagos, Nigeria.
Stereotypes in the media seem to have had an effect on both Blacks who identify as African Americans (i.e. the descendants of American slaves) and those who are immigrants from Africa. While many Blacks may judge Africans based on media stereotypes, there are some Africans who have negative perceptions of Blacks as well. It is important to note that multiple factors might’ve caused these perceptions. Below is a comedy sketch by comedian Mike Yard which may provide better context as to how Blacks and Africans perceive each other in the U.S.:
As was the case with Black hair, interactions between Blacks and Africans can span across multiple blog posts. Going back to Young Thug, however, one thing is for certain; black people are a part of the African diaspora, which refers to groups of people throughout the world descending from those who were removed from the continent of Africa. Members of the African diaspora include Blacks whose ancestors were a part of the transatlantic slave trade, such as African Americans, Jamaicans, Haitians, certain Brazilians, and even some Puerto Ricans. Therefore, if Young Thug tries to insult someone by calling them African, he is, in a sense, ridiculing his own ancestry. But then again, his rant could be the result of media stereotypes about African people and the continent they inhabit.
Drawing to a close, one can assume that Young Thug will most likely try to avoid insulting someone verbally and having the incident be caught on video in the future. The comments he made can be deconstructed and used as talking points in school lectures, bar conversations, and even blog posts (like this one of course). One thing is for certain, however. Celebrities, musical artists, and people with a platform have the ability to spark a reaction when they make particular statements or engage in certain behaviors. This, in turn, can affect people in a number of ways. Therefore, we at Tit 4 Tat would like to directly address those of you out there who might’ve been affected by Young Thug’s video, especially people belonging to the African diaspora. Videos that are meant to ridicule your culture, whether they be through social media or on television, do not define you as a person. Understand that you are beautiful. Your natural Black hair is beautiful. Your dark skin is beautiful. Your outward presentation is beautiful. Your culture is beautiful. Never let societal standards of beauty or media tell you otherwise.
**Please let us know what you thought about today’s post. It was definitely jam-packed with lots of info. Feel free to leave any comments or questions!
Jeffries, R. B., & Jeffries, D. (2014). Reclaiming Our Roots: The Influences of Media Curriculum on the Natural Hair Movement. Multicultural Perspectives, 16(3), 160-165.