Fom Goddess to Gangstress:
The Devaluation of the Diva
My friend, Jae told me about an incident that she recently had on her way home from work. These two teenagers were having a loud public/ private discussion in the back of the bus, tellin' the interested and uninterested, alike, about everything from the graphic details of their sexual escapades to the best way to roll a blunt. What really concerned Jae was that these were not guys but teenage girls who turned her ,otherwise, quiet and uneventful ride home into a combination of the Jerry Springer Show and Def Comedy Jam. She could only sink down in her seat and think about how her generation had failed these two girls and wonder what will happen to these black women of the future.
I used to be clear about the definition of a diva. In the 60's, it was all about Diana Ross and the Supremes with the big wigs and expensive gowns. During the 70's the epitome of diva-ness was Patti Labelle or the Three Degrees. During the 80's and 90's you had Kylmaxx, En Vogue and Whitney Houston (before Bobby Brown).
But according to Beyonce's alter ago "Sasha Fierce" the 21st century definition of a diva is "a female version of a hustler."
Forget Jennifer Hudson, the new Dream Girl is a sista that will stick you for your jewelry and slit your throat while you sleep. Yeah, that's what I call a lady.
It is a case of historical romanticism to suggest that all black women have always carried themselves as perfect ladies. Uncle Jack can tell you stories about how "Mustang Sally" could out drink, out smoke and out gamble even the toughest Stagger Lee-type dude. But for the most part, black women have always carried themselves in a respectful manner; divas in every sense of the word. However, over the last 20 years, the value of "the diva" has been on a steady decline; rapidly accelerating, downhill, over the last decade.
At first unlady -like behavior by sistas was condemned by male rappers. I remember Run DMC chastising a "Dumb Girl" back in '86. And who can forget Brand Nubian's "Slow Down" when they dissed some sistas by saying " a 40 and a blunt, that's all they really want."
At the beginning of the 90's we saw the emergence of the female versions of NWA (Nigga's With Attitude), the now forgotten HWA (Hoez With Attitude) followed by BWP (Bytches With Problems.) Also, during this period, the behavior that was once condemned by the male rappers began to be glorified by artists such as Apache who proudly pleaded for a "Gangsta Bitch."
This period was followed by gangstress successors like Da Brat and Boss, whose "street cred" was busted when it was discovered by the Wall Street Journal that her tales of gangta-ism took great liberties with the truth.
Next came the age of the "Ride or Die" chicks, sistas who would do what ever it took to hold their men down whether legal or illegal. The movement was headed by rappers such as Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, rappers who built upon the "Bonnie and Clyde" theme that was established by Ice Cube's female protege, Yo Yo, a few years earlier.
While this "ride or die" theme may have been glorified on CD, the real life results of following this path resulted in dire consequences. One just has to look at the life of Kemba Smith, the former Hampton University student who ,beginning in 1994, served a six year prison sentence because of her involvement with a crack dealing boyfriend.
The legacy of the "gangstress" has been carried on courtesy of rappers such as Khia, Trina and Jacki O, who often compete for the crown of the "Baddest Bitch" in Hip Hop.
To blame the negative image of black women on today's entertainers may be unfair since one could argue that Millie Jackson and Vanity 6, women whom Slick Rick James would have called "the super freaks that you don't take home to mother," set the standard for female vulgarity, during the 70's and early 80's. However, regardless of the past, in real time, you now have teenage black girls in every mall in America with baggy jeans and bandannas tied around their heads, cussin' louder than the boys. Not to mention the fact that some of the once teenage fans of Lil Kim are now grown women with nothing more on their minds then gettin' their hair and nails "did" and hittin' the club on the weekend to find a "balla."
Maybe, we have spent too much time discussing the plight of black boys instead of paying attention to what was going on with our black girls. Perhaps their emulation of gangstas is a disparate cry for attention.
Suppose instead of just reading street novels, black women, of all ages, would start reading books like "Black Women in Antiquity," a collection of essays by Dr. Ivan Van Sertima that discusses the great black women of history. Maybe reading about the great queens of ancient Egypt and Ethiopia, whose beauty and intelligence were legends of mythical proportions will improve the self esteem of black women, young and old.
Some believe that it is too late to do anything to save this younger generation of black women. Some men believe that even older black women of today have been so influenced by pop culture that if you greet them with "Peace, Queen" they will only roll their eyes and suck their teeth. But if you yell, "Yo, Shawty," you might get a response.
However, there are still a lot of examples of real black women, sisters who carry themselves like beautiful black queens, true divas. And I'm not just talking about the soon to be first black first lady, Michelle Obama. I'm talking about that intelligent sister at work who has her stuff together. Or that caring wife and loving mother who has dedicated her life to raising a strong black family. How about that honor roll college student who is working her way through college by doing something other than working at a strip club ?
When I think of them, I realize that there is hope after all.
Even for the girls in the back of the bus.
TRUTH Minista Paul Scott writes for No Warning Shots Fired.com. To bring TRUTH Minista Paul Scott and the Black Culture Bail Out Tour to your city contact (919) 451-8283 or