Dr. Antonia Randolph, a feminist scholar and professor of sociology at the University of Delaware, lectured to a full auditorium in the Caputo building last Tuesday afternoon. Her lecture was the last in a series presented by the Sexuality and Gender Institute.
Randolph’s lecture was called “That’s My Heart: Queering Intimacy in Hip-Hop Culture.” In her work, she examines close relationships between men in hip-hop, asking why these relationships are so intense and how these relationships might feed into the way the culture often reinforces double standards between genders and male domination.
“Just being a hip-hop fan, listening to rap over the years, got me thinking about the content,” said Randolph.
Randolph wants to “queer” close friendships between men in hip-hop culture by defining them as non-heteronormative. When something is non-heteronormative, it is outside the bounds of what is considered legitimate or acceptable romantic or sexual behavior in mainstream society. An example of what is ‘normal’ in the dominant culture could be a middle- or upper class white heterosexual couple with children.
By this definition, many different behaviors become queer, the professor explained. Female promiscuity, polyamory and choosing not to have children are behaviors that one might not immediately associate with the word ‘queer,’ but they are.
Randolph presented some stereotypes not normally seen as ‘queer,’ but are because they are not ‘normal,’ meaning they are not endorsed by the mainstream culture’s expectations of romantic and sexual behavior.
Since the ‘welfare queen’ stereotype violates the expectation that women get married if they have children and live a middle-class lifestyle, it is transgressive and therefore queer. Since male punks are seen as feminine, they violate society’s expectations of men, which makes them transgressive and therefore queer.
These types of queerness aren’t by choice, and neither is the queerness of male hip-hop artists and people involved in hip-hop culture.
Randolph talked about the material conditions that shape male relationships in hip-hop culture.
Because of the lack of jobs and opportunities in the legal economy for many black and Latino men, some are forced to rely on the illegal economy – selling drugs, etc. – to survive. When their families aren’t there for them, these men rely on each other for emotional and financial support.
Randolph used the terms “thug life” (street-oriented, sex-segregated life) and “thug love” (tenderness between male comrades) to describe this situation, which is conducive to intense bonding between males. Hip-hop fans hear what Randolph called the “centrality” of male friendships in songs.
“‘I’m relying on you for my ability to eat tomorrow’ encourages a sort of explicit ‘you are my heart’ tenderness,” said Randolph.
“All of the emotional heat, the intensity, is not between men and women in romantic rel. The intimacy is between men. And when these couples break up, we hear about it in songs.”
But, she said, these strong alliances often exist to the exclusion or putting-down of women. “Is there a way to express male tenderness without relying on misogyny to express it?” Randolph asked.
Because it is shaped and presented by the most powerful in our society, a narrow definition of normal and acceptable is a form of oppression. Through her studies, Randolph seeks to create a “diverse, open, and accountable sexual culture.”
By showing that male friendships in hip-hop culture, in which the men openly show affection physically and with words, are outside what is considered acceptable (though these behaviors are accepted within hip-hop culture), Randolph demonstrates how narrow our society’s definition of ‘normal’ really is. Defining relationships between male hip-hop artists as queer makes the conversation broader and more inclusive.