Hip Hop in Climbing: Part V

This article also available as a podcast here.

Part V: Snousha

   No Man’s Land Film Festival offers $2,500 to two winners who submit: “project title (or working title), applicant’s name, text of LOI [Letter of Interest].”34 Hip Hop Gone Wild was granted money to make a film in 2017, possibly without having made it yet. And Devin Dabney was contacted in January of 2018. This is a reflection of how Black Hip Hop artists may not be uplifted like white Hip Hop artists.

   “…I don’t think any white person doing Hip Hop is appropriation but how their perceived or treated by mainstream America can be or marketed is a form of appropriation. That’s not so much the artist: that’s a lot of the consumer and record labels doing that.” said Ryan Edwards.35

   Ryan’s take on appropriation speaks to a larger problem in US society: mainstream white society loving white, white passing, and light skinned people emulating things they see in Black culture, even if they are not a part of the culture. 

   While Black artists have put hard work into music, another layer of intersectionality illustrates the complicated relationship Black women can have with Hip Hop and climbing. The female artist and climber who agreed to an interview is the one and only Snousha.

   “My name is Snousha. My handles are @apaupersguide.health and @werkovheart. My work is featured here. I am a freestyle artist in addition to penning poetry

   …In response to No Man’s Land, I appreciate that they are using their platform to be truly inclusive by setting boundaries on what is permissible entertainment. As a black female climber, climbing is one of my escapes. I’d hate to have my safe space violated with racist imagery. Hip Hop is a black African American artform. The same way that Salsa is Spanish and Odori is Japanese. Of course there is room for growth. 

   I question the sincerity and integrity of the Hip Hop Gone Wild video, not because white people lack authenticity. But because it sounds like a limerick set to a beat and the choreography lacks discipline and creativity. I cringed listening because it’s not good. Hip Hop is not just rhyming words. There’s rhythm, cadence, and history. When the discipline is ignored it’s obvious. If you are not a Hip Hop artist why make a Hip Hop video? Why not Irish step dance, bachata, reggaeton? It’s the common theme of suburban white kids usurping other cultures tackily. The absence of black people shows that black people are an afterthought…

 …I believe that the onus is not on black people to single handedly interrogate and dismantle oppressive systems. It is great when allies bring awareness to emotionally exhaustive situations that are racially harmful. Hip Hop was invented by Black American people. This is a known fact. Ignoring this fact is like saying sushi was created by Texans. It’s a form of racial erasure.”36

   Erasure also comes in other forms like being a woman. “…for me I feel like all these agencies, a lot of them are predominantly white male in my experience, and even if they didn’t have an issue with me having a Hip Hop video online, how would that reflect in terms of how they would respond to me? How is that going to affect my career? Versus a violin (which is really cool, I’m not hatin’ on violins). I don’t even feel comfortable putting my own work out as someone who actually does those things because I recognize that’s not how structures work in a male dominated organization. And that’s just; it is what it is. And that partition is important in that regard.” Snousha expressed.37

   This is a familiar story: females being heavily judged by their actions, looks, mannerisms, even Blackness. And in this case of doing Hip Hop, possibly being perceived as ‘too black’, which has its own negative stereotypes. Even Hip Hop has historically been a boy’s club. Hip Hop artists who were female almost always downplayed their femininity by dressing in men’s clothing and acting more masculine so they would draw attention to their craft rather than being female.38 This is not to say all of them did this, but it was an obvious trend.

   In the modern day, what is Snousha’s experience being supported as an artist? “There isn’t the support for female artists that are performing (in general; there’s like a competition). It shouldn’t exist you know, but there is a competition. And so simple things like just having someone record me is a huge deal. I’m always willing to do that for someone else because I know it’s that important, especially as a beginner. While I am thankful I have photos and evidence of the work that I’ve done, it’s kind of frustrating in that regard….one of the questions [provided to me by the author] was have I ever climbed and did a video: I’ve always wanted to do this but how are you supposed to film yourself?”

   Now imagine being a Black woman in a white climbing world. Now imagine being a Black woman in a white climbing world rapping at the crag. “You’re already drawing attention to yourself by existing as a person of color doing something when nobody else is, and so it’s just like everybody’s gonna be like oh look at this…I think it really takes courage to not think about what others are thinking about in terms of when you’re doing recreation, especially.” Snousha said.

   Historical documents boast of cis white men scaling mountains and outdoor company ads perpetuate this. “Research by Carolyn Finney—author of Black Faces, white Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors—found that in issues of Outside magazine published between 1991 and 2001, only 103 (or roughly two percent) of the magazine’s 4,602 pictures of people contained African Americans.”39 African Americans. Not African American women in particular. And this is something that has to be considered: often when people look to uplift Black people, they do not take into consideration the double feature of being Black AND a woman. This often translates to poor support and being ignored. 

   Also an item of contention in the climbing community: being a woman in a community that is not sure how to treat women, so they are often ignored or worse. A few items found by a survey conducted by Flash Foxy (an all women’s climbing festival) included: “uncomfortable, insulted, or dismissed” feelings at 2.5 times the rate of men in climbing gyms.40 One of the reasons was being uncomfortable due to unwanted staring. According to their survey, 39% of women experienced unwanted staring. Climbing and rapping are very physical activities: both require one’s full attention on the other person’s body and staring could be intended negatively or taken negatively. And recording someone while doing this activity could also be seen equivalently as staring. Sexism does exist in the climbing community because the community is made up of the larger demographics of society, except when it comes to diversity where the numbers lag behind. Where sexism gets more complex is when intersectionality plays a part. Quite often in climbing gyms or at the crag, it is possible to be the only African American female in the entire space. And when people stare, it is often unclear if they are staring because of gender, queerness, skin color, body shape, visible disability, markers of religion like a hijab, or all the above.

   Often events deemed as space for ‘cis-women, trans-women, and/or non-binary’ lack in Black representation, as shown in NMLFF. The film Hip Hop Gone Wild amazingly made it through an entire panel of judges: most likely a panel made up of white or white assimilated women with underlying or blatant white feminist ideals.

   With white men and white women making up the majority of spaces that Black women must or choose to enter into, it can be difficult imagining oneself in that particular space. Snousha advises: “You have to really listen to a voice and say ‘you know, I don’t know anyone that does this but for some reason, if I don’t do it I’m gonna wonder why I’m not doing this.”41 Please check out her work at heysnousha.com, buy her book of poetry, and support any other Black female artists you may come across.

17 Dec 2020

Author: Crystal Rose H.

Cited Sources:

34.   “FILMMAKER GRANT” No Man’s Land Film Festival, http://nomanslandfilmfestival.org/pitchfest 3 Nov 2020.

35. Edwards, Ryan. Personal interview. 27 June 2020.

36.  Excerpts from an emailed response by Snousha

37. Snousha. Personal Interview. 13 July 2020.

38.  The Remix. Directed by Farah X and Lisa Cortes, 2019.

39. Machado, Amanda. “Closing the adventure gap: Women of color are reshaping the outdoors travel industry” Roadtrippers Magazine, 7 Mar 2019, https://roadtrippers.com/magazine/women-color-reshaping-outdoors-travel/, 6 Nov 2020.

40. Jun, Shelma. “How Gender Affects Your Experience at the Climbing Gym” Outside Magazine, 13 Sept 2016, https://www.outsideonline.com/2099921/how-gender-affects-your-experience-climbing-gym 6 Nov 2020.

41.  Snousha. In person interview. 13 July 2020.

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