If not quite in these words, some scholars and activists who have promoted a social movement based on the civil rights movement have implied that their project is undermined by “a whole lot of bitches jumpin' ship,” while few bother to question whether and to what extent that movement provides the best strategy for liberation. Fewer still have solicited insight from populations that—instead of mere cowardice or sheer apathy—might possess a social critique that could provide the basis for a reinvigorated post–civil rights political project. In the spirit of developing the critical stance that might attend to this mission, this essay considers the relationship among oratory, textuality, and gendered authority by discussing how The Covenant with Black America is strategically deployed (though its contents are scarcely discussed) during the 2006 State of the Black Union political performance and exploring the spellbinding power of masculine leadership in Hustle and Flow, where the labor of an entire household is required to produce a male rapper as an icon of fame whose lyrical talent propels him into the spotlight. I consider these two episodes against the political backdrop of 2005–6, defined primarily by the tragic events of Hurricane Katrina, which intensified longing for a black leader who could quell the crisis. Revisiting this event helps me track efforts to recuperate a male leader that conform to popular ideas about how social movements proceed but which ignore the need for different perspectives in any political project that will succeed in undoing persistent inequalities—and that refuse to question whether and to what extent civil rights frontiership provides the default strategy for a political project designed to empower African Americans and other oppressed constituencies.
Michael Ralph; “It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp... with... a Whole Lot of Bitches Jumpin' Ship”: Navigating Black Politics in the Wake of Katrina. Public Culture 1 May 2009; 21 (2): 343–376. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-2008-032
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