Yesterday, I wrote about Nelly’s Huff Post interview with Marc Lamont Hill. Though he talked about a variety of things, the conversation didn’t get juicy until Hill brought up the Spelman/”Tip Drill” controversy. Naturally, since it concerned his sister Jacqueline’s life, Nelly was still very passionate about that event. I noticed that some of you said Nelly should be over this by now. Umm… his sister died. That’s not something you don’t ever fully get over. But I digress. Yesterday, after watching Nelly’s interview I understood his point. I understood his frustrations and outrage, (with the exception of wanting to kick someone’s, presumably a woman’s, a$$), over the perception that the women of Spelman’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance were putting their protest over the life of Nelly’s sister. It seemed that the women of this group were so hellbent on calling out a black man that they were less concerned about the life of this black woman. And if Nelly’s interview were the only account of the incident, I would be happy to stand by that stance, my original stance.
But yesterday, one of our commenters let me know that the women of Spelman did indeed conduct another bone marrow drive. And when I asked her for a link to corroborate that statement, she directed me to an open letter written by Moya Bailey, one of the members of the feminist group, addressed to Nelly. In the letter, which was published on the Black Youth Project she answered all of the questions I had about the incident, after Nelly’s interview, and exposed some of the holes in his argument. Here are the highlights from the letter below and you can read the entire thing on the next page.
What the organization originally hoped to do
My group raised questions about the misogynoir in the video and lyrics, and when we heard that you were invited to campus by our Student Government Association, it seemed fair to us that we could ask you about the dehumanizing treatment of black women while you were asking us for our help. You declined our offer to talk about your music and lyrics. Instead, you chose to go to the press, which made our alleged threat of a protest an international news story.
Who canceled the bone marrow drive
Let’s be clear: No student or faculty member of Spelman College canceled your bone marrow registration drive. In fact, we held our own drive after you and your people chose to cancel the bone marrow registration drive for fear that there might have been a protest.
People railed against censorship as if our efforts were an attempt to get you banned from the airwaves, when all we really wanted was to have a conversation about the representations you produce and their potential impact on our communities.
Often Black feminists are represented as advocates for censorship. People often portray us as sex-hating, stick-in-the-mud conservatives concerned with respectability. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, we like sex so much (NSFW) we dare to think that women should enjoy it and not be subjugated to images that define our sexuality in limited ways. Music videos and lyrics, including yours, often portray women as silent partners and objects of male attention. This silence, Nelly, is not unlike the silence you expected from us regarding your visit.
On Nelly blaming Spelman’s feminist group for his sister’s death
You continue to not so subtly blame us for the transition of your sister even though Spelman still had a bone marrow registration drive–one that actually had more attendees than were initially signed up for your event. All of the “protesters” made the decision to register to ensure that the goals of the drive were honored. A few of us were already on the registry. If after all this we are still to blame for your sister’s passing, can we blame you then for the misogynoir that we face daily?
What she did agree with…
I will say that I did find something compelling in your interview. You are right: We should protest strip clubs, but not for the reasons you think. Any strip club or business that doesn’t provide benefits, unions, safe working conditions, paid sick leave, child care, etc., deserves our collective outrage.
I’m still a little fuzzy about a few things.
What is the distinction between strippers in the club and strippers in the video?
Is the degradation lessened, or does it even exist, if the women sign up and sign on?
And when exactly these women host their own bone marrow drive?
But all that being said, I do agree, like I mentioned yesterday, Nelly’s lyrics and the treatment for the video are demeaning. And whether the women agreed to be a part of this or not, we have to ask why Nelly himself thought this was ok. And not so much why he thought it was ok, because we know patriarchy is real, but why he was so hesitant to admit that he’d made a mistake.
Generally, Bailey’s letter explains her version of what happened during that time and I’m inclined to believe her. Her arguments illustrate that Nelly essentially just didn’t feel like answering questions about the video when he was attempting to do something noble for his sister. And because the women of Spelman’s feminist group were not willing to adhere to his terms, he decided not to show up. Which is certainly his right. But then he should stop presenting the story as if these women were the ones who prevented him from saving his sister’s life. If there is any blame to be placed for his sister’s life, and I don’t believe there is, it’s not unreasonable to assume Nelly’s pride and unwillingness to have a discussion may have been more to blame– if these women could have potentially saved her in the first place. After reading her letter, I certainly stand corrected.
You can read the full letter on the next page.