Research News

Vanderbilt professor testifies before Congress; Tracy Sharpley-Whiting speaks out about woman and popular culture

A professor from Vanderbilt University told Congress on Tuesday that she found American culture “deeply gratifying and simultaneously disturbing” during a Washington hearing about stereotypes and degrading images in popular culture.

“Despite our strides in every area of American life – nearly 2 million college-educated black women out-earning their white and Latina counterparts; one in four of us occupies managerial positions – the profits to be had at our expense are far greater than the costs of caricaturing our personhood,” Tracy Sharpley-Whiting told the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Sharpley-Whiting testified at the hearing “From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degrading Images” alongside other scholars on the same day as entertainment executives Edgar Bronfman, Jr., chairman and CEO of Warner Music Group; Doug Morris, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, and rapper Master P.

“Today, demeaning, degrading and objectifying black women are undeniably profitable pastimes,” Sharpley-Whiting said, citing Eddie Murphy’s “cross-dressing male Mammy” in Norbit and references to hos by radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Don Imus.

“A culture of disrespect, with black women at the receiving end, packaged as entertainment permeates American popular culture,” she said.

Sharpley-Whiting pointed out that even the resiliency of black women in the wake of these constant assaults is often turned against them. “Our strengths are flung back at us and condensed into clichés such as the late New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s ‘emasculating superwomen,’ or better still – that ‘b-word,'” she said.

Sharpley-Whiting is director of the Program in African American and Diaspora Studies, director of the William T. Bandy Center for Baudelaire and Modern French Studies, professor of African American and Diaspora Studies and professor of French, all at Vanderbilt. She is the author of Pimps Up, Ho’s Down: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women, published by NYU Press.

Media Contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS