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For A Hip Hop Womanist That Stayed Too Long Cause She Hoped Nas Was Enough: On Storytelling & Blk Women's Body Ownership

After watching Kelis' interview, where she goes into detail about violence, drugs, and narcissism in her relationship with her ex-husband, Nasir Jones (aka Nas), I genuinely found myself weary. We have been dealing, all week, with the revelation that Kanye West isn't actually "spiraling since his mother transitioned several years ago" - this is just who he is - so the revelation that hip-hop legend and proBlack anthologist, Nas, use to get black-out drunk and fight with Kelis until she got to the point where she regularly feared for her safety - just made me feel... sad.

"There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you." - Zora Neale Hurston

Scholars such as Johnetta B. Cole and Beverly Guy-Sheftall suggest that the stories women tell bring us into the deep structure of the culture and the texture and quality of daily life. Bettina Aptheker's explanation of the central role of storytelling in every woman's life is that "women use stories in their everyday lives... as a way to do emotional work." This "emotional work" is what we saw Kelis' doing as she told a story we've never heard before. We saw her wince at certain parts. We saw her in pain at certain parts. We saw her cry at certain parts. We saw her using her words to grab hold of herself, as if telling the truth about him was actually physically causing her pain. Kelis wasn't just giving an interview. Kelis was doing the "emotional work" of telling her story.

I was always under the impression that Kelis and Nas got divorced because he had cheated on her. After watching her interview, I went back and did a search of all the interviews where Nas mentioned Kelis' name, spoke about their break up, even recalling how he put the green slip from her wedding dress on the cover of the album he released right after their divorce and I realized that Nas has been creating a narrative for years while the only mentions of Nas from Kelis in past interviews was when someone else brought him up. But her communication about him was always gracious, at the very least - so this story, though it seems to be from out of nowhere, I believe. You know why I believe this story? Because this is my story and the story of so many of my girlfriends. I recognize gaslighting and narcissism when I see it.

When my last relationship ended, my ex strung a bunch of words together about what happened and commenced to tell that story over and over again until he made everyone we knew, including himself, believe his version of our breakup story. Meanwhile, every time someone would ask me about him - about us - I would never give any details because I was so busy trying to remain gracious and protect the image that he was beholden to that I never wanted to publicly say, "That nigga basically just decided to lean into his trashness and stay there." I wanted to protect him, for some reason. I knew if I were to ever tell the truth about everything, he wouldn't recover. It was years later before I was able to finally, publicly articulate that his actions really hurt me - and my silence for all those years wasn't an admission of guilt it was what many women do... we protect someone that would throw us under the bus and put that thing in neutral, then in park, then in drive, if it meant saving their image.

This is a lesson in telling the truth. No... scratch that. This is a lesson in FINALLY telling the truth. In this case - this isn't even necessarily about Nas and Kelis or about EbonyJanice and Ole Boy. This is about cis-hetero patriarchy and stories women have stammered through, avoided, and ignored because we had hope for the sons that came from our bodies. This is about hip hop and the stories black women have stammered through, avoided, and ignored because we had hope for this culture we helped create with our bodies.

So much of our work as black feminists and womanists, particularly that of a hip hop womanist, is about black love. This belief that our lives as black people are dependent on our ability to really care for one another - and particularly for "our men" to love and protect us the way we love and protect them. Joan Morgan says, "Rap music is essential to the (black love) story because it takes us straight to the battlefield." But how you gonna be in a battlefield with a whole bunch of broken boys believing they're going to be able to manifest in whole, healthy ways? "In the interest of our emotional health and overall sanity, black women have got to learn to love brothers realistically, and that means differentiating between who they are and who we'd like them to be." - Joan Morgan

As a hip hop womanist, when I listen to rap music, despite my intense love for this culture - at times I'm frightened. I wonder, "Do these men hate women?" And then I think about the history of black women's bodies in America as property, production, reproduction, and the unique spaces of sexual violence we have endured, and I realize the implications of a group of people, who since their introduction to this soil, have never belonged to themselves - and despite my not wanting this to be the case... I really get it.

Nas can stand to be this duplicitous - hell, hip hop can stand to be this duplicitous because, despite our critical contribution to this cultural and intellectual construction - black women are not people, black women are products. Kelis was not a people. Kelis was a product. I was not a people. I was a product. If humanity, in a white supremacist society is equal to European Maleness then (and I have said this so many times before) a black woman hasn't a chance for maleness to give her any space of power over, and no chance at all for whiteness to give her any chance for power over.

In Enfleshing Freedom, M. Shawn Copeland, asks "what might it look like for black women to grapple with themselves as human subjects doing the work of liberation?" I simply wonder if that liberative work of humanizing black women might make us walk away, sooner? Love from a distance, sooner? Tell the whole story, sooner? 

O my body, make of me one who always questions. - Franz Fanon

The work of liberation was done on Kelis' behalf today when the ancestors gave her the strength to push through her fear of telling the truth. Her fear of bringing down a black man - a man that she loved dearly for too long to quantify. Her fear of being a tool of oppression. All the fears that keep us beholden to relationships that don't heal us, lift us, celebrate us, cover us, or mean us well. I know what it's like to hold on to a story for too long. I know what it's like to endure abusive behavior because you love this song too much to really listen to the words. 

"There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you."  - Zora Neale Hurston

Hip Hop. And it don't stop... But until y'all niggas get some therapy - maybe it should!

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