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The Psychology of Exploitation: Black Women In Entertainment

By Ebony S. Muhammad -Guest Columnist- | Last updated: Apr 6, 2011 - 11:20:18 AM

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On March 19th, I received an email from Houston Style Magazine with the following headline, “Nicki Minaj Pulls Out A Sextoy On Stage” (Friday night). Although there wasn't an article describing what took place, the photo of Nicki Minaj and the sextoy was more than enough. This immediately stirred up thoughts regarding the recent controversy with singer Rihanna and the tweet messages she sent regarding the Saviours' Day keynote address by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and his analysis of the behavior and activity near to that of a swine as it related to her performance during the 2011 Grammy Awards:

“I saw my beautiful sister the other night at the Grammy awards. Rihanna. My poor sister, she's dressed almost like-with a pair of draws. And she got her legs wide open and just grinding away.

“‘Oh! Look at Rihanna! Go on girl!'

“See if that didn't revolt you, you're beginning to be a swine. When you can sit down and listen to somebody and every 3rd word is you ‘m-f' this. And they start talking about the act that is done in private and they bring it out in the public and make (it) so low down and filthy. And you're sitting there laughing at a filthy damn joke and then the next day you go to church and sing in the choir, you're a swine.. Swine love filth. How about you?”

It is quite evident that Minister Farrakhan's words ring loud and clear when other performers, including but not limited to Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, build their entire following based on provocative images/lyrics and display such behavior before the entire world. This image depicts exploitation on levels never seen before, because now the act is imposed and approved by the one being exploited. Exploitation or to exploit is defined as to make unethical use of for one's own profit, according to Webster.

In early 1994 esteemed MC Queen Latifah released her single “U.N.I.T.Y.” to speak out against the disrespect of women in society, both from without and within. Other women in the industry such as Lauryn Hill, fought against sexual exploitation as female entertainers among a male dominated industry. In many aspects they accomplished their goal. However, the turn of the decade would bring about a new era of female rappers and singers that would ultimately undo the progress of women in entertainment.

Here's a breakdown and comparison of album copies sold by Queen Latifah and Lauryn Hill whose message conveyed moral and social consciousness against that of Rihanna and Nicki Minaj who conveys the message of selling sex:

Queen Latifah: 1989 All Hail the Queen and 1993 Black Reign together sold 1.5 million copies featuring the singles “Ladies First” and “U.N.I.T.Y.” which brought her Grammy award.

Lauryn Hill: 1998 Miseducation of Lauryn Hill earned five Grammy awards Album of the Year and Best New Artist. This particular album sold 422,624 copies in its first week, which broke a record for first week sales by a female artist at the time of its release.

Rihanna: 2006 A Girl Like Me sold 115,000 copies the first week featuring the single “Pon de Replay”.

2010 Loud sold 207,000 copies the first week featuring single “S&M” (sadism and masochism).

Nicki Minaj: 2010 Pink Friday sold 375,000 copies the first week and 1,214,000 in approximately a month after its release featuring single Did it On'em.

Lauryn Hill outsold Nicki Minaj with nearly 50,000 more copies sold in her first week.

During an interview with Interview, Minaj commented on her sexual image stating, “I made a conscious decision to try to tone down the sexiness, I want people—especially young girls—to know that in life, nothing is going to be based on sex appeal. You've got to have something else to go with that.”

One may ask how exactly did she tone down the “sexiness” with performances such as the one with the sextoy. There seems to be a serious case of mixed messages from what she states above and from her performances with sex toys and vulgar lyrics. How much more damaging is it for one to make themselves a willing participant in their own exploitation? “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul”? (Matt. 16:26)

(Ebony Safiyyah Muhammad is a Certified Thanatologist specializing in Grief and loss. She is a Depression and Stress Management Specialist, and is a Candidate for her license as a Massage Therapist. To learn more visit www.hurt2healing.org.)

Related news:

America’s sex-mad culture (FCN, 05-28-2008)

Media images of Black women: From soft porn to the invisible soldier (FCN, 10-04-2003)