- Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture and the Public Sphere
In the wake of the Don Imus controversy and the midst of congressional hearings on misogyny in hip-hop, Gwendolyn D. Pough's book Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip Hop Culture and the Public Sphere, although published in 2004, speaks directly to hot issues in today's media landscape. Pough has written an important and inspiring book. It is important because Pough takes hip-hop seriously and offers a framework for considering its various roles in the lives of those who hear it. It is inspiring because Pough blends the best of both academic and popular writing in a book that not only points out problems but also offers answers and ways of seeing (and hearing) that push past simple denouncements and move toward understanding and depth.
Pough defines hip-hop culture broadly, including rap music, break dance, graffiti art, spoken word performance, literature, film, and activism. She is careful to distinguish between rap as a type of music and hip-hop as a culture and a youth movement. She argues that this distinction allows us to see the potential for social change that exists within hip-hop. Pough is not the only commentator on hip-hop to make this [End Page 100]distinction, nor are all critics in agreement on this. Nonetheless, her point that hip-hop is bigger than rap music is well taken, as is her argument that understanding hip-hop culture is essential to understanding its influence, especially in the lives of black women.
Check It, Pough asserts, "is largely about identifying spaces where meaningful political change is possible so that we might make better use of those spaces as they occur in the future" (8). She is especially concerned about the impact of hip-hop culture on black women's lives. In this book she looks "at the culture and the music to see how Black women have taken a stance and how they continue to do so" and "call[s] attention to the ways in which the culture inhibits their growth, denigrates Black womanhood, and endangers the lives of young Black girls" (11). Ultimately, she hopes that black feminism can work with hip-hop to intervene in the lives of young black women who navigate treacherous terrain and live in danger all too often.
Pough's work is clearly steeped in the tradition of black feminist theory. Pough draws connections between black feminist thinkers of the past and black women participating in hip-hop culture today, noting many shared obstacles and challenges. She includes a chapter in which she traces the history of black feminism and elucidates the ways in which black feminist thinkers have paved the way for black women's expressive cultures. While there are many black feminist theorists whose work Pough does not cite, she draws on the work of important activists such as Ida B. Wells and the tradition of black clubwomen. She also incorporates black feminist concepts into her theoretical approach, which places her book squarely within the black feminist tradition.
Two concepts are central to Pough's analysis of black women and hip-hop culture. The first is the notion of "bringing wreck." As Pough explains, "bringing wreck" means disrupting and challenging commonly held ideas but also involves making oneself visible and claiming a voice. Rappers and other members of hip-hop culture are able to bring wreck through spectacle and representation. She identifies the similarities between the strategies of today's hip-hop heads and those used by earlier groups such as the black clubwomen and the Black Panthers.
The second key concept is a reworking of Jürgen Habermas's notion of the public sphere: a time and space in which people come together and discuss issues of importance to the collective and work toward social change. 1Although compelling, the Habermasian public sphere requires revision in order to be applicable to black Americans. Pough rightly...