I didn’t mean to black out on my 13-year-old this past weekend. It’s just that when we drove past Club Onyx, the infamous Atlanta strip club that, according to practically every rap song ever made in the history of rap songs, is the star attraction of big booty, p-popping guhls of the South, my darling daughter made my head Exorcist spin when she shared this golden nugget: “I heard it’s nice in there.”
I ‘clare fo’ Sweet Baby Jesus In the Manger, I heard needles scratch-dancing across vinyl 33s and cars crashing and airplanes dropping out of the sky. The hubs got mad quiet. I’m sure the steam seeping from my brain and out of my ears singed the girlpie’s baby hairs. Within seconds, the wrath commenced: “It’s nice in there? Nice? In the strip club?” I demanded. “For who?”
Baby girl knew she’d stepped on a landmine. My hatred of strip clubs and their glorification in Hip Hop and R&B music and reality shows like Love & Hip Hop Atlanta and The Real Housewives Of Atlanta is well documented in my house; any time a rapper brags on tossing “racks on racks on racks” at naked girls or RHOA’s Phaedra starts extolling the virtues of strippers “shaved up pretty,” I either roll my eyes, have a conniption or turn the radio/TV all the way off, with a few choice curse words under my breath to boot, for their glorification sans context. Clearly, though, I’ve fallen down on my job if my 13-year-old is of the mindset that any establishment where women get naked for the chump change and amusement of strangers is “nice.”
“Don’t let 2 Chainz, Trinidad James and Rihanna’s Instagram page get you all twisted, okay, lil’ girl?” I hissed, before going on a jumbled, high-pitched, 15-minute tirade about strip cubs, female exploitation, sex trafficking, black radio and dumb ass rappers. I’m 99.9 percent positive baby girl didn’t hear a word I said.
Honestly, I can’t say I blame her.
The truth is, when it comes to helping my daughter—an avid Hip Hop and reality show fan—digest and understand the sordid history and complicated glorification of strip clubs, I’ve totally fallen down on the job. I mean, we talk about lyrics often—have deep conversations about the Shakespearean writings of Stevie Wonder, the lyrical wonders of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, the brawn and might of a Public Enemy song and how today’s profanity-laced celebration of drugs, alcohol and misogyny in rap music just can’t hold a candle to any of that. And the reality show viewing sessions with my daughters and me are legendary, replete with me laying on the pause button to put context to all the questionable, champagne-tossing, weave-pulling, man-stealing ratchet behavior that rules those programs.
Still, clearly, my conversations, especially with my 13-year-old, need to evolve—to dig deeper into the messages streaming through her iPod headphones and her television. It’s not enough for me to roll my eyes and change the station when Rihanna sings about pouring it up with strippers—definitely not enough to proclaim loudly that Jocelyn, the stripper-turned-singer/side-piece on Love & Hip Hop Atlanta is a home-wrecking hustler who needs medication, Jesus and a modicum of modesty over a record deal. Girlpie, now a blossoming teenager with unfiltered access to friends, Hip Hop, reality TV, internet gossip and, most importantly, her own immature ideas on love, relationships and yes, sex, needs more than a clipped conversation and a “don’t do it” from her mother. She needs context.
And so I gave it to her, straight no chaser, over dinner, when it was impossible for her to escape. She sensed something was amiss the moment the word “stripper” floated past my lips. I’d barely gotten out more than that before she said, “Why do we have to talk about this now? I know strip clubs are bad. I don’t know why I said Onyx is nice.”
She didn’t need to tell me why; I’m pretty sure that the consistent glorification of strippers and strip clubs has made her completely immune to the underbelly of the industry. But last night, I began to set it right: I started by making her aware of the fact that she lives smack dab in the center of the city that has the distinction of being the epicenter of the American sex trafficking industry, with girls as young as 12 being dragged into prostitution here in Atlanta. Some of them, I explained, become sex slaves, passed from man to man, car to car, house to house—and, yes, strip club to strip club. While some of the women in strip clubs proclaim their love of the fast money, sexual “freedom” and hustle that comes from dancing for dollars, the clubs also are filled with women (and yes, young girls who look like women) who strip because they live on the economic fringe and have no other way to make money to feed themselves and their babies and women with low self-esteem seeking a twisted kind of approval from strangers and, indeed, women who are being forced to strip and perform sexual acts against their will. Chances are, I added, that some of those women work at Onyx, which just as recently as last year, was forced to pay a $1.55 million settlement to 73 strippers who claimed they were charged various fees and fines to work there, taken out of the tips tossed at their bodies while they showed off all their lady parts and orifices. Paychecks and steady wages—not even minimum wage—for what could be 14-hour days were non-existent.
There can’t be much empowering about popping your vagina in men’s faces for a few dollars you have to hand over to the deejay, bartender, waitress, bouncer and club owner, leaving not even enough to cop a clean thong.
I stopped short of telling her about the patrons and bosses who call the women names, say nasty shit to them and try to stick their fingers in the dancers’ lady holes and anuses. Or what, exactly, tends to happen in the Champagne room, whether a dancer wants it to go down or not. Or what happens in “massage parlors” and “Jack Shacks” and “men’s lounges” all around our city—in some places probably not even a 15 minute walk from our home. The kid was eating.
But I will tell her. Because, really, there is nothing nice about strip clubs, no matter how many times Trinidad James, Rihanna and them say it in a song. I need my daughter to know this. Surely, she will.
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3. Hands Off This Girl: One Woman’s Fight To Help End the Sex Trafficking of Children
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Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.