Over the years, many men in popular music have had some advice/feedback for what you can do to/for/with hos. Especially black hos.
As a black femme who is both disabled and a sex worker, I and my sisters/kin get held up as either something to accept, out of the goodness and charity of a man's heart–save a ho–or to reject, because he's smart–fuck a ho. This happens to us at the hands of men of all races.
However: the dichotomy of who is a good girl and who is a bad ho isn't the invention of men of color–it is a product of white male supremacy and patriarchy.
In the process of watching music videos and combing through lyrics as research for this article, I watched the video for Rae Sremmurd's “Come Get Her” and Ty Dolla $ign's “Saved”. Damn, are the images rich.
In “Saved”, we are subjected to actual heaven-sent imagery. We are meant to understand that Ty, all in white, sitting in a gold throne in the clouds, while black women and the occasional white girl are swimming around in the cumulus and cirrus drifting at this feet, is God, or at least a God, who has the ability to save or not save hos. He knows, of course, which ones to save and which ones are just trashy gross gold diggers not worthy of eternal life.
I don't what it is that bothers me the most about this video: that it's boring or that Ty Dolla $ign isn't a believable God.
The “Come Get Her” video's premise is an artist booking mix-up at a white honky tonk dance party. All the proud white cowboys are super pissed when two young black men take the stage; all the skinny white low-rise jean rocking ladies are super stoked. And they all proceed to dance like strippers–but not very well.
The message of the song is mixed; “Somebody come get her, she's dancing like a stripper,” is swapped for “Somebody come tip her, she's dancing like a stripper.”
To say someone is “dancing like a stripper” is supposed to be a backhanded compliment, albeit a little bit rapey; it suggests strippers are people who don't have agency, don't deserve respect, and don't require consent to engage with. If you're woman or a femme, and you do something well enough, men will insist you owe it to them–if you say yes, they treat you like an accessory, and if you say no, they call you trashy, gross, deserving of punishment.
If I'm going to be shaking my ass for anybody's entertainment other than my lover's or my own, you better be letting money rain down on me. I'm not insulted by the suggestion that somebody should be getting some tips. And not just Washingtons.
The Rae Sremmurd video could have been mostly funny to me, despite the spectacle of misogyny, had the sting of who is deemed desirable in it not been driven home by a cut to two older, less skinny black women (the only black women you see in the whole video), not dancing, but sitting looking pissed at the bar. Shit, I'd have been pissed too; that town seems awful and racist and everybody dancing looks like assholes.
Since I was little, I can remember internalizing the idea that I was not “girlfriend material”. The image of a girlfriend was a gentle, soft-spoken, neatly dressed, skinny, white, able bodied girl. In my hometown, white, black, and brown boys were prouder to be with white girls than black or brown girls. Or, at least girls who were more able bodied, better at performing black femaleness than me, more dignified, had better bodies, etc.
As I got older, I realized white girls who acted out, acted against society's expectations, let people know that they had mental health issues, did drugs, had sex, made complicated choices, were punished less extremely (and very differently) than black and brown girls were.
Who got saved? White girls in the suburbs who got hooked on hard drugs. They were beautiful fairies, angels. I knew them, I loved them; they would get a different kind of support than people who were expected to fuck their lives up.
I don't mean to trivialize any experience by saying this. In fact, I take all experiences of drug abuse and mental health and disability extremely seriously, but race complicates and alters things in myriad ways.
I used to think that if I could make myself more pitiable, more empathizable, then some white (not necessarily racially) knight would come swooping in and save me from my circumstance and potentially even from my body. And no matter how much I starved myself, did my makeup just right, distanced myself from myself, or threatened to disappear from the planet, nobody came to save me.
The music popular amongst the angst ridden teens of my school was emo, screamo, post-hardcore, and pop punk. Dudes sung for hours about sad girls doing sad things who needed saving and were so so beautiful.
I once ran a slam poetry competition with my friends who loved dead things and feminism and hated everyone else, especially men–except for their boyfriends. Emo fans leaked in, appropriating the cadence of rap gods, with their talk of girls they loved who cut and suffered, who they gazed at in morning light. There is always one or two or five of these boys at every poetry slam.
I won slam after slam, but I was never saved. I came to understand, however, that some white people believe that girls like me can save them. Diverging from the white quirky fragile fairy girl popularized by films from Breakfast at Tiffany's to The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the untamed brown priestess is here to exalt your body and expand your mind so that you can be ready for the white wife who is on her way.
As a teenager in New Jersey, I once had sex with, on a semi-regular basis, a white man who would go on formalized dates with white able bodied girls at the same time, and then report back to me that they were out of his league–they were too smart or too rich or too pretty. He also once told me what a good, understanding person I was, and that I was helping him grow. He lived with his mom and he never let her feed me dinner, even when she tried.
A white girl I was making out with in Boston once told me that she had dreamt of me, that I was coming to help her–only in the dream, I had face tattoos and dreadlocks and I could walk. (I have face tattoos now, so maybe she was clairvoyant).
A man with a rib broken from when someone stole his gold watch sexually harassed me in the backseat of a rideshare we were sharing from Detroit to Chicago–then asked me to lay my hands on him because he was convinced that brown women had innate healing powers.
Countless others over the years reinforced for me, through their words and deeds, that I need to be saved from my weird body and sad life.
“If you were with me, you wouldn't have to do that anymore. You wouldn't have to degrade yourself. Because I'd take care of you.”
Interesting: it's degrading for a femme or a woman to be self-employed and making informed choices surrounding her sexual agency, presentation, and labor, but it's not degrading for us to adhere to your rules and roles in order to be a respectable wife.
In the video for Project Pat's “Don't Save Her", a white man laments to his black friend that his black girlfriend seems to have run away from him. His friend says, “You can't turn a freak into a wife.”
“Don't save her, she don't wanna be saved.”
Who is supposed to be saving who gets mixed up several times. While Project Pat and his homies are singing on firm sand, the white dude swims out into the ocean in search of his potentially drowning lover. But she, or at least a bunch of other black girls, are just having a good-ass time playing chicken in the waves with some black dudes. The white dude gets saved himself, by multiple lifeguard ladies and concerned citizens, but he doesn't learn his lesson. Eventually, he tries to save a girl from a shark, but she's like, “Ew, get off me dude” and swims away safe, and the shark, it is implied as the video ends, gets a great white meal.
Although it wasn't originally on my list for review, the more that I think about it, Drake's “Hotline Bling”, feels like a similar complaint about, not so much the dichotomy between good girl and bad ho, but the terrible transformation from good girl to bad ho when such a good influence, deep pockets, and great dick as Drake isn't around to tell you which countries you are allowed to travel to, which girls you can hang out with, and even, when you may leave the house. After having sex with him of course.
I wish the video had been more narrative and less dad dancing, personally.
As funny as I am trying to be, this all breaks my heart. These songs are catchy as fuck, and are performed by pretty fun black songwriters and rappers with smooth voices and great ears. I wish popular black male artists didn't absorb the idea that they have to assert their power and worth and discernment by laying out the desirable and undesirable categories of black women. White people already do that for us. And they have, over time, taught us how to do that to each other, all while judging us, abusing us, and laying claim to our artistic innovation, then turning around and asking us to help them, to be empathetic to their plight, to heal their wounds.
“At a moment when many of us are attempting to deconstruct and dismantle systems that dehumanize Black people globally, employing divisive ideologies that mimic the logic of the oppressor does not serve that mission. But I understand why it’s challenging. Sometimes it feels like a catch 22. Over time, we have accepted and adopted a lot of the ideas projected onto our communities by oppressors. How can we encourage change in our behavior and resistance to those ideas without reinforcing some of those same narratives?”
I don't want to be saved, nor am I here to save you.
Stop dividing sisters, queens and hos. Stop dividing ladies and strippers. Stop dividing hos and strippers. Women and femmes were not the inventors of these designations and lines of separation, yet we have adopted them to compete with one another, to see who is most deserving of male respect.
The thing is: we are all hot respectable queens, not in a ruling class sense, but in an “all black femmes and or women are queens should they so self-identify” type of way.
Some of us are not queens too: we are princes, mermaids, unicorns, phoenixes, wizards, storytellers, and yes, hos. And I am down with the men who can get down with that.