Inclusive and influential: Aisha Durham

Professor Aisha Durham is addressing the issues of women of color through what she and other scholars call ‘hip-hop feminism.’

By Jesse Stokes, EDITOR IN CHIEF
On February 13, 2019

Aisha Durham’s journey as a hip-hop feminist began at a young age when she began to write stories about herself and other black girls. PHOTO COURTESY OF AISHA DURHAM

*This story is part of an ongoing series that highlights campus leaders during Black Heritage Month.*

 

In the age of movements like #MeToo, one self-described hip-hop feminist and professor of communication and women and gender studies at USF has made it her life’s work to combat the issues of marginalized groups, specifically women of color.

Aisha Durham first entered into the world of hip-hop feminism through a book by one of her idols, Joan Morgan.

“Joan Morgan’s book on hip-hop feminism transformed my life,” Durham said. “From there, I used that as a banner to say ‘this is what I am invested in.’”

But what exactly is hip-hop feminism?

According to Durham, it addresses the causes and concerns of girls and women of color and advances the causes.

“We talk about (hip-hop feminism) not only as a cultural feminist movement but also an intellectual movement and a political movement,” Durham said.

However, after idolizing Morgan, Durham would go on to become an author and editor as well.

By the time Durham finished graduate school, she already co-edited two books. One titled: “Homegirls Make Some Noise”, a book she was inspired to write after attending a hip-hop feminism conference. According to Durham, it remains the only hip-hop feminist anthology to date.

“That was my first academic book, but it has also been one of the books that I have most associated with,” Durham said. “It was not marketed as an academic book. My advisor at the time told me, ‘this is not your dissertation, do not do this book.’ But I do not think that my advisor realized how politically important in that moment that work was for me.”

Durham said as a young black girl who grew up in public housing, the representation and images of black women became an issue she knew she had to address.

“There was such misrepresentation that I wanted, in some way, to right the wrong,” Durham said.

From there, she entered the world of journalism.

“I had different stints in journalism,” Durham said. “One of the things that I came to learn early on was that, as a journalist, I had some power in crafting narrative, but the overall structure of the industry itself, still lended itself to reproducing those stereotypes.”

Durham said some of her favorite artists and those who inspire her include Nikki Giovanni who is a poet and literary scholar.

“That is where I saw myself in written word,” Durham said. “I saw myself in a way that was affirming and invited me to tell stories about myself and girls that I grew up with.”

When it comes to the musical genre of hip-hop, Durham said Akua Naru is one of her favorite alternative artists.

“Akua Naru as an emcee embodies all of the thing in terms of hip-hop feminism and she says all of these things I say but says it eloquently and in terms of a beat,” Durham said.

One artist Durham certainly does not support, however, is R. Kelly.

“When I found out that R. Kelly was coming (to the Yuengling Center in November) and there was no outcry, it said something about how we imagine victims to be and who we imagine victims to be,” Durham said. “I thought it important to me as an educator and also an activist to say something.”

Durham said she is not sure whether society is now paying attention to R. Kelly now because of Harvey Weinstein or in light of Bill Cosby.

“...both have been flashpoints in political and popular culture that have invited us to look back at what black girls and black women were saying,” Durham said. “In some ways, black women have been saying these stories for decades but have not been heard.

“It did take the #MeToo movement to turn our attention to the victimization of black girls and black women.”

Now, as a professor, Durham hopes to address the issue of cultural awareness with her students of all backgrounds.

“In order for us to have an analysis, we have to have a history of representations of black women,” Durham said. “We have to have a multi-faced approach of talking about black womanhood today.

“That is not just relevant for African-American or black students … many of my classes that I teach (about hip-hop feminism or black masculinity) are predominantly white students. The students who come to those classes also have a way to have a cultural awareness and media literacy.”

Durham said that society has undoubtedly made progress when it comes to the representation of women of color but it still has a long way go.

“I still think we have a lot to learn when thinking about the intersections of race, class, sexuality and gender,” Durham said. “But that is why I am here, one rhyme at a time.”

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