When Consciousness Ain’t Common: Calling Out Karl Rove’s Contradiction and Ours Too

Copyright 2011 by Ewuare X. Osayande

After an appearance at a recent poetry event at the White House, the rap artist known as Common was called out by Republican strategist Karl Rove as a misogynist and thug. This was a broad and mean-spirited swipe against a Black president and the Black community in general. Republicans have been doing everything in their power to link Obama with the Black community to isolate him from “middle America.” This is but the latest attack.

A misogynist is someone who hates women. Common, a popular commercial rap artist, is considered one of rap music’s most conscious and gifted lyricists, which really isn’t saying much when you consider the current crop of so-called emcees repping the mic these days.

Most of the reactions I have heard and read on this have been an all-out defense of Common as rap music’s true conscious artist. He’s been honored by just about every respectable Negro in the country. Even Oprah (who on more than one occasion has spoken of her disdain for rap’s treatment of women) has even showered him with compliments when he appeared on her show in 2007. Now if that was the Common Rove had in mind when he criticized the White House for inviting him to perform, then maybe it would be an open and shut case of a white conservative seeking to unjustly malign or mischaracterize another brother holding it down. But if one were to be honest and look at Common’s more recent work, one would have to pause and reconsider their defense or we’ll have to come up with a new definition of conscious.

Not only has Common had many of his songs produced by fellow artists whose work is awash in misogyny, he, himself, has been known to take a swig or two of the pimp juice. Consider his appearance on Kid Cudi’s 2009 track “Make Her Say.” Cudi, Kanye West and Common toyingly appropriate Lady Gaga’s voice singing “Pokerface. In the track it comes off as though she is saying Poke Her Face. The song is a troubling phallic tribute that revels in the triumph of male domination. Common covers a lot of ideological ground in a few short lines when he says, “She blamed it on the al-a-a-al-a-alcohol/she had her hair did, it was bound to fall/ down down for the damn, Cudi already said it/her poker facebook, I’d already read it/but man her head was gooder than the music/electro body known to blow fuses/a stripper from the south/ looking for a payday/said bitch you should do it for the love like Ray J/but they say you be on the conscious tip/get your head right and get up on this conscious dick/I embody everything from the godly to the party/it’s the way I was raised on the Southside safari/so.” Common’s verse is particularly troubling in that he takes a verbal swing at those who have held him up as the bastion of conscious rap. His verse not only affirms the hatred of women that has come to be the mainstay of hip hop, he also disses those who claim him to be conscious. His posturing at the conclusion of his verse with “so” is a direct challenge to any who would take issue with him as if to say “I don’t give a f*ck what ya’ll say or think about me.” So much for conscious rap.

For those that would rise up and recite all the so-called conscious lyrics Common has ever wrote in his defense, I will reply with just one stanza from his song “I Used to Love H.E.R.” “I failed to mention that the chick was creative/But once the man got to her, he altered the native/Told her if she got an image and a gimmick/That she could make money/And she did it, like a dummy/Now I see her in commercials, she’s universal.” Forget that his personification of hip hop as “she” is problematic given that hip hop has always been a male dominant reality, who is the “she” he is referring to now but himself?

Those that would continue to try and claim Common as conscious even after he has distanced himself from the term and the accountability that comes with it are just as much a contradiction as he is. Rather than fight over whether this rapper or that rapper is more sexist than the next, we should be fighting to wrest control of our culture from the clutches of corporate America that truly dictates the levels of male domination these rap artists promote in their music. To do so would effectively liberate the Commons of the rap world to be able to offer up a true consciousness; one that is rooted in an acknowledgement of Black women’s equality in word and deed. To not do so continues to render us culturally vulnerable as a community. Our moral defenses have been compromised which has left us open wide to attack from those that have a vested interest in our people’s oppression.

The reality is that the whole of hip hop is controlled by a recording industry that manufactures misogyny as a means to profit. To attack the rap artist alone, then, is to strike out at what is the most visible party operating on the lowest stratum of a system that reaches the upper echelons of international media conglomerates and commercial syndicates. It is akin to when conservatives get tough on the dealers on the corner rather go after the drug kingpins.

In the rap world, the kingpins are not the new jack rappers calling themselves “King” or “Pin” but the CEOs who control what gets seen and heard, whose signatures set the tone and tenor for a culture that no longer belongs to the people who believe it is an authentic representation of who they are. For Karl Rove to call out these CEOs would mean he’d be calling out many of his homeboys. His failure to do so is a calculated power move. In one statement, he was able to attack the first Black president and Black people in general, reinforce the stereotype of the Black man as a violent sexual predator and, in the process, protect the most powerful perpetrators of misogyny in this country.

This year alone, we have witnessed and are witnessing an all-out right-wing assault on the rights of women by political thugs and senatorial sexists. These laws will have a devastating impact on the lived reality of women in this country, especially poor women of color. These laws are not made by miseducated young Black men from the inner city, but by multi-degreed wealthy white men whose deep pockets have been lined by corporate billionaires.

Karl Rove has the dubious distinction of being known as “Bush’s Brain,” a title that leaves much to the imagination given that some might argue that we are still without scientific evidence that the man actually has one. As “Bush’s Brain,” Rove was central in helping to plan and execute then President Bush’s unprecedented assault on the rights of women. It was during the Bush administration that the current fight over abortion began again in the country. Bush was responsible for stacking the Supreme Court deck with justices that would oppose women on every legislative front. In fact, Bush would replace the nation’s first female Supreme Court justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, with a man whose track record on women’s rights can only be described as misogynistic. Samuel Alito has been at the forefront of a concerted right-wing assault on the civil and human rights of women in the United States.

While still a judge on the Third Circuit, Alito, in the majority opinion, ruled that Congress did not have to require states to comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act. When this case reached a Supreme Court on which O’Connor still presided, the court overturned the Third Circuit. Imagine what might have happened had Alito been on the bench in O’Connor’s stead then. In 1991, while an attorney with the Justice Department, Alito scribed a memo that laid out his agenda for reversing Roe v. Wade. In the Civil Rights Act of 1991, Alito opposed a woman’s right to a jury trial in cases of discrimination and sexual harassment. In 1994, Alito defended an unwarranted police strip search of a 10-year old girl and her mother in Doe v. Groody. In 1992, Alito opined in his dissent that a woman should first gain the consent of her husband before obtaining a legal abortion. He dismissed evidence that such a requirement could lead to domestic abuse and violence. Such a position ran in the face of then Justice O’Connors’ leading Supreme Court opinion when she wrote that, “A State may not give to man the kind of dominion over his wife that parents exercise over their children.” In case after case, Alito has proven himself time and time again to be a woman-hater. Legislatively speaking, Alito can be best described a serial rapist given his unrelenting drive to violate the constitutional rights of women in our society. A misogynist rap artist would get all the material he’d ever need by just reading Alito’s opinions.

In comparison to the lyrics of Common or any rapper for that matter, Justice Alito’s words are certainly more thuggish to women. Yes, Common may wield some public influence as a pop star, but Alito actually dictates public policy and directly impacts what women can and cannot do in this country. For Rove to attack Common in light of his support of someone like an Alito is beyond contradictory, it is downright sexist itself.

If Common can’t enter the White House because he’s a “misogynist thug,” then every Republican in office since the Bush regime should be banned from the White House gates and that would include Karl Rove too.

Ewuare X. Osayande (www.osayande.org) is a political activist and author of several books including Misogyny & the Emcee: Sex, Race & Hip Hop. Follow his work at Facebook.