Let’s Talk about Sex, Anna Mae and What Emmett Till Has to Do With It

Do you remember that line from Lil Wayne’s guest verse on Future’s Karate Chop remix?: “I beat the pussy up like Emmett Till.”

Folks were mad. Jesse Jackson was mad. Al Sharpton was mad. Stevie Wonder was mad. For many – including the Till family – this was the desecration of black history. Historical vandalism at its worst. Invoking the name of Till to talk about (taboo) sex was nothing short of sacrilege.

Not quite a year later, Anna Mae Bullock, turned superstar-legend Tina Turner is referenced by Jay-Z in Beyoncé’s Drunk in Love. Ya’ll know the line: “Eat the Cake, Anna Mae.”

Where you at Rev Al and co.?

In her essay Beyond Superwoman: Justice For Black Women Too, Nikol G. Alexander-Floyd asks why black activists do not give crimes against black women the same attention they have to cases involving black male victims?  I wonder if this reality speaks to some of the apathy towards Jay-Z’s Drunk in Love rap lyrics.

Emmett Till, the 1955 victim of kidnap, torture and murder at the hands of white racists perhaps should not have been used as a metaphor for a sex act.  But should Tina Turner? Or is that different.  After all, Tina Turner is just a woman – not a martyr – and surviving physical assaults and rapes by her partner just isn’t, you know, civil rights worthy.  So is it time for everyone to just sit down cause it’s not like this was a “Misappropriation of Black History”.  As Ernest Owens so passionately argued at the time of the Lil Wayne controversy:

Black history deserves to be regarded highly as well as we would anything else sacred in our society…let’s please start treating it as such.

I’m not arguing that the Eat the Cake lyric promotes intimate partner violence.  Indeed, nobody thought that Lil Wayne’s lyric promoted racist murder.  What I’m drawing attention to is that there appeared to be a general consensus (eventually backed up by economic power – Lil Wayne kissed goodbye to that Mountain Dew contract) that some kind of line had been crossed.  So I’m simply asking why Tina Turner’s history doesn’t even raise a side-eye from the pulpit of black activists.

I think artistic expressions of sex, particularly taboo sex (the kind of sex you’re tempted to blame on being “drunk”) is important.  Just a few tracks down from Drunk in Love, Beyoncé sensually sings in Rocket:

You ain’t right for doing it to me like that daddy/ Even though I’ve been a bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad girl/ Tell me what you’re gonna do about that/ Punish me/ Please/ Punish me please.

Rocket has an R&B tempo and she’s sweet and coy-like, but Beyoncé is talking about the same kind of sex that is articulated in Drunk in Love – rough, dirty, nasty, can-i-still-be-a-feminist-and-like-this-so-much type of sex.  And that’s okay with me.  In fact, I think it’s courageous to go there given the inevitable questioning about whether this means you are a good mother, Christian, role model, feminist, black woman etc.

As a society, we still find it really difficult to talk honestly about sex, and perhaps it’s pretty revealing that our conversations about certain types of sex – enjoyed by both men and women – are so reliant on violent paradigms of conquest and domination. Perhaps our language needs to evolve, and maybe this debate and its problematic contradictions will push artists like Lil Wayne, Beyoncé and Jay-Z to go creatively deeper.


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