Overlapping Identities and Critique on “Ms. Amerikkka”

*A link to the song can be found here.

To truly understand life as lived in America today, it is desirable to consider the issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and nationality and how they intersect in the lives of its citizens. Recognizing that how each individual identifies themselves and how that creates and changes their physical realties and relationship with other people and the social structures around them not only creates and shapes their reality but also changes ours is an important aspect of true empathy and understanding towards those around us. Understanding these issues and how they affect the lives of ourselves and others also gives us the ability to create positive and lasting change for ourselves and our communities. Successful feminist activists in this country attempt to understand intersecting identities and use their understanding and creative abilities to help develop social awareness of inequality, discrimination, racism and other undesirable social practices. One such artist is Edwin Hayes, Jr, better known by his stage name Aceyalone. Mr. Hayes is a rapper from California who has released a few albums as well as his work for other musical organizations. This paper will discuss and critique the lyrics of his song “Miss Amerikkka”, his critique and anthropomorphizing / caricature of the United States of America.

The song starts by giving us an image of a man flying home on a plane to Los Angeles sitting next to a woman who tells him what America looks like from her vantage point. His words go on to give us an image of a large woman, uninhibited and mentally ill, on the quick road to ruin and death unable to see how her behavior is reckless or dangerous to all who depend on her and live with her. The imagery is graphic; a woman eating, digesting and defecating her children… a neglecting mother who abuses and neglects her children as they weep and starve…. her minions locking up or shooting those who disagree or criticize her. It is four minutes of thoughtful but angry commentary on the author’s view of America today.

One aspect of these lyrics is that they adequately express the ways that class, race and privilege intersect in the lives of people in this country. The recognition that minorities and people of color are more likely to struggle with class issues as well as discrimination and fewer opportunities to advance is vital because this helps express how complex our society and its flaws are. If someone faces discrimination due to their skin color or sexuality… or both, they are more likely to have fewer opportunities, less physical and financial stability, and fewer support systems or safety nets when difficulties arise. Without these positive and stabilizing resources, individuals are held down in the vortex of issues that society and culture have created that limit access to privilege and power to the few individuals who do not find it necessary to deal with the consequences of the race, class, gender or sexuality. These lyrics discuss many of the ways that these issues intersect in people’s lives and ask important questions to ask each of us to think and recognize where we fit into the equation that is America. One example reads: “How can people still be hungry, when there’s a surplus?” If we look at that question, really focus and look at the statistics of people who are food insecure in this country, we may not be surprised to see how high the statistics rise if numbers are separated by race or sexual identity. I have asked myself many times how the richest country in the world has so many poor and downtrodden people and I cannot discover a reasonable explanation… at least not one that is healthy for our country or any of its citizens.

Unfortunately this song is also an example of how a lack of understanding of how race, privilege, culture and gender can actually help hold up the same institutions that you are trying to change. In most media outlets in this country, the United States is portrayed as “Uncle Sam” an older white male or father figure. This portrayal makes perfect sense when we look at the political ideas that our culture spreads in its own lands and abroad: America is the nurturing father figure, the world’ super-cop, the patriarchal leader of the ‘Free’ world. However, the imagery in this song gives all the negative characteristics discussed about America to the basic negative stereotypes of women. By keeping the emphasis on negative stereotypes of women and their traditional gender roles- bad mother, no shame, lack of innocence, bad girl, mirror of reflection, disgraced, etc.… it helps keep the questioning and criticism focused away from the individuals who are in power and could more effectively create great social change… the powerful, rich, white men in positions of great strength. Traditionally and effectively, women of any race have very little direct influence in the large power structures in this control and therefore, it is much easier to criticize the status quo if the criticism is put on the ‘backs’ of those who have no power to change it. Even the name of this great lady (Ms. Amerikkka) suggests the author’s intended focus on built in, institutionalized racism in our culture and also suggests a small dig at feminism… for she is a Ms.… the stereotypical feminist without a male to control her… and the lyrics let us know the negative consequences of that choice.

During a lecture titled “Cultural Criticism and Transformation”, bell hooks states, “How can there be an interplay between all of those different forces? Popular culture is one of the places where there can be an interplay.” We are able to watch, listen and understand many forms of creative expression in our society between painting, writing, movies, sculpting, and music. For those with more power and privilege in our society, they can actively create, market and push the images and music that we are bombarded in during our daily lives… from the instrumentals played in elevators and ‘hold’ music… to the music played in stores and available to find and purchase. For those individuals who try to create and market outside the system, the road can be very challenging and untenable. Some artists are successful –Anne DiFranco being an example -but the sheer amount of work and motivation can be impossible for the majority. Aceyalone has created a haunting piece of imagery that in less than four minutes compels us to look at racism and class in our society. He also provides us with the ability to understand how the overlapping of different cultural constructs can both help and hinder us in our attempts for change, financial security and stability. A provoking song, indeed.

pictures found at: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/15-love-hate/, https://aceyalone.bandcamp.com/track/ms-amerikkka-bonus-track, http://genius.com/Bell-hooks-beyonce-is-a-terrorist-annotated

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