ANOTHER TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE: STUDENTS AT SPELMAN COLLEGE PROTEST NELLY’S VIDEO, “TIP DRILL”

By Moya Z. Bailey,

Comparative Women’s Studies/Pre-Med

Major, Spelman Class of 2005

Reprinted from WireTap. O ver Christmas break I was up

late one night on the phone. As

I passed the den I glanced at the TV and

what I saw made me stop. Nelly and the St.

Lunatics were throwing money at nearly

naked women. Women were simulating sex

with other women as Nelly and company

looked on. Then I saw Murphy Lee sliding

a credit card between a woman’s butt

cheeks. I was too disgusted to even speak

and got off the phone quickly.

When I came back to school,

along with the usual “How was break?” and

“What’d you do?” came the soon equally

familiar, “Have you seen ‘Tip Drill?'” My

Spelman sisters and Morehouse brothers

alike were shocked by this recent low in

depictions of African-American women on

the small screen. Our critique of the video

was not isolated. Fellow Historically Black

College/University (HBCU) students at

Howard had protested in front of Viacom to

show their outrage towards the video in

mid-December. It became apparent to me,

as Spelman’s Feminist Majority Leadership

Alliance (FMLA) President that this was

something that we, too, needed to address.

The FMLA had its first showing

and discussion of the “Tip Drill” video at

the beginning of February. A significant

number of students came, including men

from Morehouse. Many differing viewpoints

were brought up. One student

asked if women could ever be in these

videos and be sexual without being

viewed in a negative manner. The comment

was eloquently addressed by FMLA

member Bettina Judd, who replied that

the kind of sexuality they were displaying

was not about pleasure; it was about

women performing for a male audience. I

mean what kind of pleasure is received

when a credit card is swiped through your

backside? It is impossible to display

healthy sexuality when you are being

degraded. The men in the audience noticed

that watching the video in a room

full of women made them feel differently

about the video. It helped them see the

misogyny they had overlooked before.

A week later I saw Asha Jennings,

the Spelman Student Government Association

(SGA) President, carrying a big box.

She called me over for what I assumed

would be help carrying the load, but ended

up being help in what has been titled, “The

Nelly Controversy.” Asha explained that in

the box were flyers for the Jes Us 4 Jackie

bone marrow drive that was set to take

place on April 2. Spelman SGA had been

working with Nelly’s foundation to bring a

bone marrow registration drive to campus.

The problem was readily apparent.

How could Spelman, a historically

black women’s institution, have

Nelly on campus after his heinous depiction

of black women in his lyrics and videos?

Asha had been previously unaware

of the video and had just seen it. She now

stood at the crossroads of what to do.

Should she cancel the drive, knowing that

the issue of minority bone marrow registration

would go unaddressed? Should she

uninvite Nelly from campus and allow the

foundation to come? Should students remain

silent altogether and not bring up the

issue of ” Tip Drill?”

Asha presented her dilemma to

our Feminist Theory class, citing that her

other classes were in favor of participating

in the drive, and then writing Nelly a

letter which would uninvite him from the

campus.

Our professor, Dr. Guy-Sheftall, was the

voice of reason and pointed out that writing

a letter does not carry the same

weight that protesting or canceling a

drive might have. If we were upset about

his portrayal of African-American

women in the video, our actions had to be

equally powerful. Additionally, sending a

letter does not ensure that Nelly will read

it. He has people who read his mail for

him and he might never know our concern.

Finally, you cannot separate the

man from his foundation. It belongs to

him and should he decide to come on

campus, he could do so with his foundation.

It was then that debate broke down

into the point-counterpoint formula that is

all too familiar in heated discussion. We

discussed and discussed until Asha broke

down in tears. Dr. Guy-Sheftall told her she

needed to stop beating herself up over this

and make a decision to cancel the drive or

to allow students to protest it. The class

voted and the protest won out.

The FMLA took on the task of organizing

and planning the action. We decided that

the next week’s FMLA meeting would be

the strategizing session for the protest. We

were excited and eager to begin our work.

In the days that followed, we did

research. We made signs with Nelly’s lyrics

on them and invited people to the

meeting on Tuesday. We also found the

definitions of a tip drill (which included a

woman who has a nice figure but an ugly

face, a woman who may have an STD and

therefore only the tip of the penis can be

used to have sex with her, or a stripper

who prompts men to keep throwing money

at her).

 

[I have to admit that I, too, did not know what a tip drill was, either. I thought it was some type of college/university band dance step, involving tipping and swaying the body  while carrying and playing band instruments.  Shows what I knew.  Ann]

 

These were added to the flyer inviting

people to come to the FMLA meeting.

Those planning to protest also planned

to join the bone marrow registry,

ensuring that the goal of the drive was

accomplished and that bone marrow recipients

did not suffer.

Fliers were up all over campus

and the Nelly “Tip Drill” controversy was

heating up. However, it was not until the

Tuesday night FMLA meeting that everything

came to a head. Asha informed the

group that the foundation had pulled out

of the drive. Apparently, the foundation

had been to campus earlier that week and

seen the signs that the FMLA put up all

over campus. They scheduled an emergency

meeting with SGA and requested

that no protestors be at the drive. SGA

could not meet the ridiculous demand of

assuring their request.

The foundation left the room so

that SGA could vote on whether or not the

drive could continue if, at the foundation’s

request, Nelly agreed to participate in a

forum to address student concerns. Despite

a unanimous vote to continue with

the drive under the new stipulations, when

the foundation came back they had already

decided to cancel the drive.

The foundation was apparently

so upset about this issue that they went to

the press, saying that Spelman canceled

the drive because of the video “Tip Drill.”

Unfortunately for them, their plan backfired

and the media coverage blew up and

ended up depicting them negatively.

MTV broke the story, erroneously

reporting that Spelman was responsible for

the drive not happening because we had

planned a huge protest against one video.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s piece,

however, included interviews with Asha

and myself and set the record straight, explaining

that the foundation had canceled

the drive and that our issues were much

bigger than Nelly and “Tip Drill.” Fortunately,

it was sent out on the AP wire.

We cropped up in the Dayton

Daily News, an editorial in USA Today,

a segment of Essence Magazine, and

various websites, blogs and discussion

boards. We appeared on five local Atlanta

radio stations and I did an interview

with the new liberal radio station Air

America. All of this press was largely

affirming, letting us state our case and

explain once again that we were in support

of the drive the whole time — we

just didn’t want to support sexist images

in the media. The foundation attempted

to save face by trying to reschedule the

drive, but once again, was unwilling to

have Nell y address student concerns.

As the media ran with the story,

so many things surprised me. First of all,

with all the activism that goes on at Spelman,

of all the problems we see in the

Bush administration and in the world, a

handful of students willing to stand up

against problematic depictions of black

women in the media got national attention.

The public outpouring of both

support and opposition has also been surprising.

The old guard of the black feminist

movement has said they are reenergized

by our efforts. Spelman alumna

Pearl Cleage said that it was a welcome

sight to see young black women giving

voice to the issue of misogyny in the media.

Jill Nelson, author of Straight, NoChaser was equally impressed with what

we have done, saying that our action gave

her hope for the future.

But not all people have seen the

situation in a positive light. Some thought

we were angry emasculators who were too

concerned with images and not at all concerned

with bone marrow. It is so easy to

portray us as angry black women unwilling

to stand behind a black man, even though

he is doing something good. Our questions

for Nelly were recast as vociferous attacks

and have allowed people to feel sorry for

Nelly, a supposedly helpless bystander

caught in the misdirected rage of young

black women.

One of our most valid criticisms

came from a former civil rights leader

who spoke to the classism that seems to

be lurking in this issue. As middle class,

college educated black women, we can

very easily speak to the issue of video

images, but the issue of the financial barriers

that lock women into being in these

videos is not something that we seemed to

address.

I understand how it looks that

way; that those of us with privilege are

judging those less fortunate than us for the

economically driven decisions they make

to participate in this medium. But in every

interview we’ve had we stated that this is

systemic, a part of the larger racist, capitalist,

patriarchal society we call America.

But once you start talking about interlocking

systems of oppression, the press stops

recording.

I also do not wish to demonize the

women who participate in the videos and

who feel the tug of the capitalist puppet

strings and see this as an easy way to make

money. Our criticism was directed toward

Nelly, not the women in his videos, but I

do hope to help them see that while they

may feel autonomous in the choices they

make, the implications of their decisions

are global, impacting how African-

American women are viewed world-wide.

This whole Nelly controversy

sapped a significant amount of energy

from me and other obligations I had to

school, to other organizations, and projects.

Sometimes the situation seemed to

have a life of its own, especially when the

media picked up the story and ran with it.

At times I felt like I was along for the ride.

Although the Nelly controversy

was completely unexpected and caught me

off guard, I will not shrink from the challenge

of sustaining a movement around

images of black women in the media. I

want to make it clear that this is so much

bigger than Nelly, that he is not the scapegoat

but the spark that ignited the need for

a public critique of how we as women are

being portrayed. I see “Tip Drill” in the

broader context of a racist, capitalist, patriarchal

system that has a vested interest in

feeding stereotypes of both black men and

women as hypersexual in the quest for the

almighty dollar.

It is because I love hip hop that I

critique it and as part of the hip hop generation,

who better than I to bring the music

back to what I loved about it in the first

place? For me, that sentiment can be

summed up by one of the signs we had at

the demonstration. “We love hip hop, but

does hip hop love us?”

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “ANOTHER TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE: STUDENTS AT SPELMAN COLLEGE PROTEST NELLY’S VIDEO, “TIP DRILL”

  1. anonymous

    Love how many will defend the rappers rights to defame and posture but want to silence protest. got to love hypocrites

  2. Pingback: qzchoices » Blog Archiv » ANOTHER TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE: STUDENTS AT SPELMAN COLLEGE PROTEST …

  3. mckinley

    yo look i kno this is an old thing but i cant get over how they say that rap videos depict black females. well if the ladies aint want to do the video then they shouldnt had went to the video shoot. they knew wut they was getting into way before they went to the shoot. most of the girls in the video are strippers. so wat is the difference between being a stripper and a rap video girl? nothing. just because he swip a card between her dnt degrade black women. at strip clubs they throw money at them. they give lap dances. some even leave the club wit people. so if you are going to get on nelly about his video then get on the people that own the strip clubs. if she had a problem with it then she would of said something. he could of told her that he was going to do that we dnt know that. so you cant just jump dwn his throat. sincerly 412 403 4358 is my number if you want to contact me about this

  4. mckinley

    yo look i kno this is an old thing but i cant get over how they say that rap videos depict black females. well if the ladies aint want to do the video then they shouldnt had went to the video shoot. they knew wut they was getting into way before they went to the shoot. most of the girls in the video are strippers. so wat is the difference between being a stripper and a rap video girl? nothing. just because he swip a card between her dnt degrade black women. at strip clubs they throw money at them. they give lap dances. some even leave the club wit people. so if you are going to get on nelly about his video then get on the people that own the strip clubs. if she had a problem with it then she would of said something. he could of told her that he was going to do that we dnt know that. so you cant just jump dwn his throat. sincerly mckinley pace

  5. swedish student

    hi,
    i’m writing my undergraduate thesis around this incident, would you be available for an e-mail interview?

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