Mary Bowman, a 22-year-old spoken word poet and HIV/AIDS activist, responds to the pop cultural praise being directed toward Lil Wayne's new "How to Love" video.
Rapper Lil Wayne’s new music video “How to Love” has received a lot of attention these past few weeks. On August 23rd the video debuted as the “Jam of the Week” on MTV Jams, and Lil Wayne performed the song at the 2011 MTV Music Awards on August 28th. Much of the video’s recent attention comes from the fact that “How to Love” is very different from Wayne’s other works. For those of you unfamiliar with Lil Wayne’s repertoire, he is usually known for his slanderous lyrics disrespecting women (e.g., see here and here). The messages portrayed in “How to Love,” however, are largely being perceived as an important and welcome departure from Lil Wayne’s previous songs and music videos (e.g., see here and here).
Joining the voices of approval, on August 24th radio personality Big Tigger posted a comment on Twitter congratulating Lil Wayne (a.k.a. @lilTunechi) for tackling important issues, including HIV, in his music video “How to Love.”
@BigTiggerShow Big Tigger
#KUDOS out to @lilTunechi for tackling so many #RealLifeIssues including #HIV in his new video #HowToLove! Know ya status - Get TESTED!! RT
I agree that the video is a very emotionally charged description of situations some women find themselves in everyday. But I disagree with Big Tigger; I don’t believe that Lil Wayne “tackled” the issues at all. If anything, I believe he promoted the stigma that young women raised in a certain environment grow up to be nothing more than a stripper with children who eventually contract HIV by having unprotected sex for money.
Due to the damage already done to cultural images of women, especially African American women, by rapper Lil Wayne, I don’t believe that the song “How To Love” is sincere. I actually like the song, and I will go as far to say that I enjoy Lil Wayne's music though I may not agree with everything he says. So this is not a blog piece bashing Lil Wayne, but I am expressing my disappointment that Big Tigger, a public figure who does a considerable amount of service in the community for HIV/AIDS, would go so far as to say that Lil Wayne "tackled" this issue.
I am a HIV positive female who is working to remove the stigma that this video reinforces. I have four serious problems with Big Tigger’s statement:
1. Big Tigger is a man. So is Lil Wayne. Men will never be able to tell a woman’s story, whether the story is negative or positive. They will never understand what it means to be a woman in today’s society, so I feel they have no right to impose their opinion on such a young and influential generation of hip hop listeners.
2. Lil Wayne talks about women negatively all the time and now all of a sudden he cares about their issues with self-esteem, drug use, and sexual behavior? For example, the woman portrayed in the "How to Love" video is a stripper. I have heard Lil Wayne talk degradingly about his own experiences with strippers. This video does not provide adequate evidence showing his sympathy, support, and concern for women in this particular profession, especially given that this song is featured on an album, Tha Carter IV, where he continues his blatant disrespect toward women.
3. One of Big Tigger’s causes that he fights for publicly is HIV/AIDS. He couldn’t possibly have thought that the video “tackled” the issue. To me that is a slap in the face to all the work that has been done to remove the stigma surrounding this epidemic. The video basically says that because the young lady’s mother made certain choices, she was forced to grow up with low self-esteem and become a stripper who has sex for money and happens to contract HIV. The video implies that if you live a certain lifestyle deemed to be socially deviant or “negative,” then there are dire consequences to your actions, namely, becoming HIV positive.
4. The video does nothing more than verbalize the acronym “HIV.” It doesn’t promote safe sex. It doesn’t say what you can do if you test positive for HIV. It doesn’t say that it is not the end of the world if you test positive for HIV.
It does, however, add insult to injury by having the woman run away from the issue. People need to know that the last thing they should do is run away from HIV/AIDS, whether they are positive or negative. It’s not the end of the world. There are individuals who are living normal lives with HIV. I am proud to be one of them, born with HIV and 22-years-old, yes I struggled with acceptance but I had help. In turn, I use my story and my life to help others affected by and infected with HIV/AIDS. I challenge Big Tigger and Lil Wayne to do the same. They may not be HIV positive, but they are individuals who have a bigger following than me; they can use their fame to advocate safe sex, the importance of getting tested, and promote the idea that if you are HIV positive, there is help and support.
At the end of the day, we can’t control the unfavorable things artists and radio personalities say and do in our communities. However, as fans, followers, and listeners, it is our responsibility to stand up for what we believe in and say, “Hey, I don’t agree with what you said or did.” We can’t just sit back and accept what they give us. We have to fight. If not, we make it okay for artists and other public figures to continue promoting negative images of our communities. I will continue to fight until the stigma is completely diminished and I hope that even after I am long gone the fight will continue.
ENDNOTE #1: Click on the links below to learn about some of the ways Mary Bowman fights the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Dandelions (performance poem)
I Know What HIV Looks (performance poem)
Support AIDS Walk DC
ENDNOTE #2: If you or people you love have been affected/infected by HIV/AIDS, visit these resources for more information:
Metro Teen AIDS
AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families
Food & Friends