Songs That Empower Black Women in the United States

Introduction

Modern-day popular culture contains a number of exciting and provocative works about interpersonal relationships and the inequality that challenges and motivates people at the same time. During this course, the lives of African descent communities become a vital topic for analysis to demonstrate how Black women have to struggle for their rights and freedoms regardless of the already made achievements and legislations. There are many educative books, articles, movies, and images that depict the urgency of such concepts as poor self-identity, violence, and misunderstandings. This research paper focuses on the songs by Black artists who share their visions about the role of a Black woman in a modern world.

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In 2016, Jamila Woods released her empowering track, “Blk Girl Soldier,” to celebrate the strength of Black women and underline the importance of history. In 2019, the world heard another song by Danielle Brooks, “Black Woman,” about the harsh female experience and the necessity of adaptation. As solid womanism supporters, Brooks and Woods raise a variety of serious issues like racial inequality, black sexuality, and womanhood representation in their songs, proving that Black women have not yet achieved their desired justice.

Black Feminism Importance

Black feminism, also known as womanism, is an integral concept in black studies that promotes a better understanding of the position of Black women in modern society. In addition to well-developed oppositional consciousness, womanists and Black feminists take strong positions for self-definition and self-determination. Despite the already achieved rights for both genders and different races, millions of people continue experiencing social, political, and economic inequalities in their communities. Some individuals have enough strength to prove their opportunities and take the necessary responsibilities.

Many people still need additional support and motivation to deal with the existing concerns. They address modern books, real-life stories, songs, and recommendations that experts try to share. According to Nash, Black feminism is not just “an intellectual, political, creative, and erotic tradition,” but also “a way feeling.” One should understand that womanism is a complex item in today’s world as it consists of multiple achievements, changes, and re-assessments. Today, the freedom of women is evident because women can study, work, and vote as well as men do. Unfortunately, many problems like domestic violence, biased judgments, and employment inequality remain invisible but critical for a modern woman.

Considerable shifts began at the end of the 19th century and developed in the 1920s. For example, American journalists and writers like Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Anna Julia Cooper underlined the existence of “double enslavement” of Black women due to their race and gender. Black people could not achieve equal rights and remained an unprivileged part of society with restricted freedoms. After the 15th Amendment at the end of the 19th century, Black citizens got the right to vote, and the 19th Amendment at the beginning of the 20th century allowed women to vote as well. However, these two legislations did not solve all the problems Black women faced at that period, which provoked the progress of Black social feminism in the middle of the 1900s.

Womanism became inevitable with time as it was the only opportunity for women to speak, choose, and live free. In the 1960s, Black women suffered from injustice and developed writings to endorse the liberation of their gender and race. Each century put a new threat and mission for womanists, and the representatives of different communities in the United States demonstrated their professionalism and creativity.

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Popular Culture Impact on Black Feminism

There are many ways for Black feminism to integrate into human relationships and achieve the desired outcome when people observe the improvements in their life quality. Popular culture includes the beliefs, practices, and activities of modern people while sharing their ideas, opinions, and attitudes toward different political, economic, or social requirements. Films, news, articles, posters, TV, video games, and technological advancements are the common types of popular culture today. One of the main benefits of these sources is the promotion of connection between people and their preferences when they have to “select, evaluate, and recommend to others.”

In terms of feminism, brand culture gains appropriate forms of self-help literature and memoirs. American communities organize specific meetings and discussions to demonstrate their interest in solving gender-related problems. They use popular culture means to store their messages and deliver them around the world. Academic facilities use documentary movies and real-life programs to educate students and promote critical thinking. On TV, an international perspective allows to observed recent news from different countries. Womanism is no longer a problem of the United States but a theme that bothers millions of people globally.

Pop songs play a more integral role in discussing the burning issues of social inequality and gender biases as well. Askin and Mauskapf hypothesize that songs manage the required “similarity-differentiation tradeoff” as soon as they invoke specific feelings in a short period regarding the chosen content and context. In other words, it seems easier and more effective to represent a womanist thought with the help of a song. People do not need much time to find the best feminist songs of all time. Someone wants to listen to a song for empowerment, and another person likes to compare the visions of artists.

Popular culture and songs, in particular, make it possible to create stories “without any filters” and introduce their journeys as Black women in America. Sometimes, women cannot choose appropriate words to demonstrate their emotions, feelings, and experiences. They need more space for their thoughts, and using music and songs is a sound solution. Many songs do not have video recordings, so the tone and the content are the only elements to represent work. Modern artists create video clips and strengthen their textual messages with powerful video examples.

Songs That Promote Womanism in Modern World

If a song has authoritative content and a well-determined performer, the year of its release should not matter because it remains in demand for an extended period. Musicians participate in feminist discourses in their specific ways to give voice to their experiences or engage listeners in a discussion. Feminism does not have limits or clear geographical boundaries that may prevent from raising these issues in different countries.

Songs, as well as other means of popular culture, aim to establish a dialogue between the past and the present, consider all kinds of voices, and find a boilerplate solution. The concept of Black feminism goes together with past achievements and a current understanding of a matter. Therefore, to explain the message of womanism in a song is not a problem for an artist, predominantly of African descent. The representation of feminism may vary, depending on personal stories and the conditions of their creation. In this paper, the songs by Danielle Brooks and Jamila Woods show how people viewed Black feminism in the 2010s.

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The Story of Danielle Brooks

No one can tell her story better except a woman who faces gender limitations and judgments in life. Danielle Brooks is a Black-American actress who performed a leading role in the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black.” In addition to her TV career, she demonstrated high-quality performance on Broadway shows. In 2019, together with her friends, Brooks decided to create a song for Black women to help them feel on top of the world.

The artist did not like the idea of the fetishization of Black women and wanted to protest against the existing biases. Fetishization means an act of making a person an object of sexual desire, and Black communities frequently experience such stereotyped attitudes toward their race and ethnicity. This process gains different forms, and sometimes, people cannot cope with the severity of injustice. Without enough support and knowledge, individuals are weak in the face of racism and gender discrimination. Their speeches are meaningless, their demands are poor, and their future is unclear. In her song, Brooks supported women and shared her story to prove that there is always some way out of the most terrible situations.

The Story of Jamila Woods

The example of Jamila Woods proves that it is possible to live in Chicago and get a high education but never forget how Black women underwent oppression and suffered from unequal treatment. Woods chose the theme of Black feminism, identity, and the importance of Black ancestry for her final academic project and used this chance to investigate the topic from different perspectives. When the woman conquered the stage, her songs attracted attention due to her desire to celebrate the power of Black women throughout history and today. Woods does neither lie nor exaggerate about the current status of a Black woman in American society.

The artist relies on true facts, statistics, and historical examples to explain her position. She passionately concentrates on the impact of political decisions, social issues, and personal thoughts. It is not enough for Woods to say that Black girl lives matter but to underline that Black people have to know their past to become stronger in the present. She wants to motivate and inspire her listeners by discussing what represents modern Black women and how people define womanism in regard to their actual needs and dreams.

Black Feminism Themes of Songs

Woods and Brooks introduce two powerful songs about the life of an ordinary Black woman in the United States. Both artists choose this theme relying on their experiences, observations, and knowledge and deliver the message in a politically correct manner. They do not blame men or the government for the lack of support but focus on women and their possibilities. One of the integral aspects of the offered songs is the history of racial inequality in society.

The second critical point is the way of how Black sexuality penetrates human life. Finally, the transition from the state of being a girl to the state of being a woman defines the idea of womanhood in modern popular culture. The liberation of the Black race is not the same as the liberation of Black women, as Black freedom usually equals manhood, not womanhood. Therefore, Woods and Brooks find it necessary to speak for their female heritage, both physiological and social, and investigate the opportunities that American society offers to Black women in particular. Black men and women strived for their freedoms together, but today, they still evidence different attitudes and treatment.

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History of Racial Differences Between the Lines

Women of African American descent serve as the brightest examples of fighters for their rights and freedoms. Their distinctive feature was the necessity to resist the influence of the whites on the one hand and the influence of the men on the other hand. In her work, Woods begins with a clear background about the history of racial struggle in the United States. She mentions the names of Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Assata Shakur, Ella Baker, Audre Lorde, and Sojourner Truth, who became remarkable figures in the Civil Rights Movement. She describes each of them as “a freedom fighter” who “taught us how to fight.” These women lived in different centuries, but they pursued the same purposes to advocate for women’s rights and promote abolition movements.

Although Woods’s song lasts about 3-4 minutes, she could refresh so many crucial names in her work. Some Black women do not find it necessary to participate in movements and say out loud about their problems and rights because they have poor support and inappropriate resources. Woods reminds modern citizens about the conditions under which Black women took their first steps in womanism.

There are many literary elements in Woods’s song, and repetition is the evident one. Woods captures the listener with her “she she she she she don’t give up” echo. It seems that the singer tries not only to enthrall but to underline the scope of the problem as if there were many “SHEs” in American history, and all of them have never given up. At the same time, the phrase “but what they don’t understand” is also common in the song, which proves that many people did not accept the rights of Black women.

In Brooks, the repetition is not as evident as in the previous song. However, the artist constantly reminds who she is – “a black woman” – and who her opponents are – those who want something from her like “my thighs,” “my stride,” and “my hair” all the time. Both songs inform that there is always some connection between Black and White people, but instead of starting a dialogue, people focus on their ambitions and wants. They do not see how they contribute to the promotion of womanism by not hearing the demands of minority groups.

The history of racial and gender inequality deserves recognition in the chosen works of modern-day popular culture. People must know that African descent has a certain impact on women, and Woods endows them with “telepathic” skills and “black girl magic.” Using their natural possibilities, Black women initiate revolutions and rebellions in order to raise social consciousness and share their ideas with the rest of the population. The singer wants to emphasize the scope of feminist power and the necessity to take some action. She mentions the number of Black women who “go missing by the hundreds/Ain’t nobody checkin for us.”

Brooks says that whites or Black men “don’t care for this complexion” and “look at me like I’m unfamiliar.” In both cases, the reasons for race and gender discourse lie in human neglect and disregard for inborn rights and qualities. There is no need for a Black woman to search for evidence and gather additional information about poor treatment but to ask for something and run into silence and bewilderment. Womanism is a necessary movement to protect Black women and give them hope and motivation to change their lives.

Black Sexuality in Popular Songs

Black sexuality in popular songs remains confusing because millions of people highly appreciate this trend that increases the product’s demand and profit. Still, it is important not to cross the line and present enough material to deliver a message but not to confound sexuality with vulgarity. In the video clip on the song “Black Woman,” Brooks is the only actress who wears a gold dress that underlines her remarkable forms and lies in the bath full of water.

All these elements are crucial in the representation of Black sexuality in the most appropriate form. Brooks shows her legs and breasts, and she is confident in her beauty and despite the necessity of “carrying this weight/In a world beneath these braids.” She breaks the standards of thin ladies who worry about extra pounds and melanin. She is “confused” because when she watches TV, she “would never see/A leading lady look like me.” Therefore, she needs to gain enough powers and “take the pain that came” as she is a “black woman/Cornbread fed.” Her forms become her strength and weakness at the same time, causing fascination and fetishization.

In contrast to the image of a Black sexual woman, Brooks also represents another image of a modest lady who cannot deal with her tears that trickle down her cheeks. The line between confidence, temptation, and disappointment is hard to get.

In her look, a number of questions and thoughts emerge as she does not understand why her sexuality may justify her enslavement. According to Asare, a long time ago, European colonizers initiated the dehumanization of Black people and hypersexualized women, which stays a “pervasive trope” today. Again, it is possible to see the connection between the impact of the Whites on the Blacks and the necessity to resist injustice and prejudice. At the end of the song, Brooks wipes away her last tear and looks into the future with a smile and some kind of frustration that she has to survive all those negative emotions.

Woods, on the contrary, uses her experiences and the awareness of Black history to underline her readiness to speak about Black women’s problems and obtain answers. She calls to “look at what they did to my sisters/ Last century, last week.” She does not accept the fact that people “put her body in a jar and forget her” and “treat her like a sin”. Black women have many physiological qualities and skills to demonstrate their sexuality, their desire to change something, and their needs to gain respect and recognition in society. However, they cannot resist the society that does not understand their real beauty and worth.

The stories of Black women never go alone but together with the history of the world. Black identity defines if a person may become “an object of sexual desire.” As a result, black feminism serves as a weapon that ruptures the silences and uses sexuality as a feminist practice, not a natural richness. Considering all these examples, one should admit that Black sexuality is an ambiguous concept in popular culture as people do not know how to treat it respectfully.

Representation of Womanhood in Woods’s and Brooks’s Stories

Even with the years of black and gender studies, people do not comprehend some concepts properly. To obtain a competitive advantage, many popular cultural products need to differentiate themselves to avoid crowding but not to lose what makes them recognizable. In case of Black women’s songs, the two main shortages include the possibility of exaggeration and the use of complex metaphoric messages. When people listen to a song, they expect to find out the meaning and contribute to their self-development.

The representation of women has different purposes and ways of expression. One of the most evident visions of a woman in modern society is a mother of a child and a wife in a family. “They want us in the kitchen,” says Woods in her song. People expect a woman to forgo her career and education for early marriage and childbearing. As a result, many songs and other works recognize women as those who spend their time at home. In both videos, Woods and Brooks are mostly at their homes, with no connection to an outside world. However, one should admit that not all people support this biased position.

The authors of many songs aim at celebrating the process of womanhood in society. Brooks demonstrates her achievements as a woman in the video clip and in several properly chosen phrases. She describes a woman as a “Nubian Queen with the skin that glistens” who “sweat tea sippin’.”

She lies in a bath and touches herself as an adult who is proud of having such a body. She uses water as a means to clean herself from biases, unnecessary rumors, past relationships, racism, and inequality that make her become a feminist. The singer struggles with a lack of representation of Black women in the media and wants to find a way and leave something behind for a future generation. Her purpose is to support Black women who suffer from misunderstanding and poor judgments. She needs to empower feminists in their intention to change this world and underline female worth.

Woods, in her turn, contributes to the representation of womanhood by presenting Black females of different ages in her video clip. In the background, there are two young girls who listen and support the singer in her story about well-known feminists (whose photos are on the wall) and their struggle for equal rights and freedoms. Black girls, as well as adults, understand that they have no right to give up not to lose the heritage that Tubman, Parks, and others built for modern African American girls. At this moment, the purpose of Woods is to affirm the truth of gender and racial inequality and declare that Black girl life should matter. Although not many sources share a true image of a modern Black female, the attempts of Woods and Brooks help to understand what bothers America.

Feminist Lessons People Learn from Popular Songs

Listening to a song is usually a pleasant activity that provokes a number of feelings and emotions. When an artist chooses informative content, the song gains another meaning and becomes a significant artifact for a community or even a nation. Brooks and Woods are African American singers whose works attract the attention of people around the globe. Although they are not as famous as the celebrities like Whitney Huston, Beyoncé, or Jennifer Lopez, their works deserve recognition.

They teach how to survive in a world where racism and sexism affect the life of an ordinary Black woman. They motivate and inspire other women not to doubt and take new steps that improve their lives. They investigate the past and share their present with people regardless of their differences and possibilities. Black feminism is not a new phenomenon for the United States, and Brooks, as well as Woods, have already made a contribution to a safer future for Black girls. Their songs are never rude or offensive but true and sincere.

Conclusion

Today, the life of every citizen undergoes considerable changes because of various factors. Poor people deal with their financial difficulties, minority groups try to protect their rights, and immigrants want to find a new place for happy living. In this paper, a serious topic of Black feminism shows how gender inequality may change human life. In addition to all those political, social, and economic problems, Black women have to strive for their freedoms all the time.

Some nations continue seeing a woman as a housewife with a number of domestic responsibilities. Many Americans have already forgotten about great feminist leaders who made female voices recognizable. The songs by Woods and Brooks help to remember the power of womanism and the importance of Black female representation. These singers help never give up and find enough power to say their word. Modern-day popular culture has a significant impact on people, and the chosen songs prove that women can struggle, love, and cherish their past, present, and future.

Bibliography

Asare, Janice Gassam. “What Is Fetishization and How Does It Contribute to Racism?Forbes, 2021. Web.

Askin, Noah, and Michael Mauskapf. “What Makes Popular Culture Popular? Product Features and Optimal Differentiation in Music.” American Sociological Review 82, no. 5 (2017): 910–944.

Brewer, Rose M. “Black Feminism and Womanism.” In Companion to Feminist Studies, edited by Nancy A. Naples, 91-104. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2021.

Brooks, Danielle. “Danielle Brooks – Black Woman (Music Video).” YouTube video, 4:10. Posted by Danielle Brooks. 2019. Web.

Kanai, Akane. “Between the Perfect and the Problematic: Everyday Femininities, Popular Feminism, and the Negotiation of Intersectionality.” Cultural Studies. Web.

Nash, Jennifer C. Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality. Durham: Duke University Press, 2019.

Riley, Ricky. “Danielle Brooks Seeks to Inspire Black Women Everywhere with her First Single.” Blavity: News, 2019. Web.

Singh, Bhim. “The History of Black Feminism Movement.” Asian Journal of Multidimensional Research 6, no. 12 (2017): 37-41.

Watson, Elijah C. “Jamila Woods Honors Black Women In “Blk Girl Soldier” Video.Okayplayer. Web.

“When Feminism Meets Music: Grate Songs That Sample Radical Speech.” Pirchfork, 2017. Web.

Woods, Jamila. “Blk Girl Soldier – Jamila Woods.” YouTube video, 3:44. Posted by Jamila Woods. 2016. Web.

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