Moya Bailey was a 19-year-old Spelman junior when rapper Nelly wanted to come to her college’s campus in 2004.
She and other students protested, upset that his Tip Drill video featured images like him sliding a credit card down the crack of a woman’s butt. She took to the internet to write an open letter to the rapper, who earlier this week went on HuffPo Live and said he felt robbed when the event to raise awareness for bone marrow was cancelled; his sister died in 2005.
Moya’s letter — she now is an African American Studies postdoctoral fellow at Penn State University –– is below:
At the urging of others, I am taking a hesitant trip down memory lane. I was a 19 year old junior and president of the feminist group at Spelman College when you decided to hold a bone marrow registration drive on our campus on behalf of your sister, who needed a transplant. Your now-infamous video “Tip Drill” had started airing on shows like BET’s Uncut. It features, most memorably, a scene where you slide a credit card down the crack of a black woman’s butt. 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. In the time since, whenever asked about the situation, you both mischaracterize what happened and lament not using violence, something you repeated most recently during a Huffpost Live interview earlier this week. 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.
Had you decided to come, to just talk with us, you would have seen fewer than ten “protesters,” all of whom were planning to register to donate bone marrow, despite your refusal to hear us. I say “protesters” because we didn’t actually get to have a conversation. What started as a simple request that you speak with a small group of concerned students about representations of women in your lyrics and videos turned into a national conversation about misogyny, race, and class in hip hop culture. But the dialog our actions started stalled because people remained hung up on the same concerns. 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. Women are instructed in many songs about what to do, wear, drink, how to dance and behave to make themselves appealing to men.
The heterosexist and cissexist nature of these images reinforces the idea that women’s sexuality, our bodies, are not our own and are ultimately in the service of men’s needs. “It must be ya ass cause it ain’t your face,” literally reduces women’s value to the attractiveness of their body parts.
As much as we’d like to rid the world, particularly our safe spaces like Spelman College, of misogyny, we know that censoring music and images is not the solution. We also know that at a private institution devoted to the well-being of women of the African Diaspora we can and should cultivate an environment that doesn’t assault our very humanity. These are two entirely different projects and the later is often confused with the former. We have and had the right to ask questions of you, especially when you are asking something so important of us.
Read the rest of Moya’s letter here.