UltraViolet Protests Rick Ross and Rape Culture Outside Reebok Store
1:00 pm, April 5th | by Colette McIntyre
The tourists seemed torn: while they had promised to buy their younger cousins a pair of American sneakers, preferably white, preferably the type that a real hip hopper would wear, they weren’t certain that the horde of women clogging the sidewalk was the type of “New York moment” that their guidebooks told them to look out for.
The women gathered in front of Reebok’s New York flagship store were members of anti-sexism outfit UltraViolet and NOW NYC. Armed with signs reading “Hey Reebok: Want my business? Stop promoting rape. Drop Rick Ross.” and “Talk to me about revolution and a world without rape,” the activists were protesting Reebok spokesperson and rapper Rick Ross whose song “U.O.E.N.O.” has drawn the ire of women and their allies everywhere. The offending lyric: “Put Molly all in her champagne/ She ain’t even know it./ I took her home and I enjoyed that/ she ain’t even know it” (“Molly” colloquially refers to pure MDMA, the stimulant found in ecstasy).
In response to the lyric and Ross’ non-apology to people who had “misinterpreted the song,” an outraged public demanded that Reebok drop the rapper from its roster of endorsers. Over 100 protestors besieged the company’s Fit Hub on Fifth avenue, planning to deliver 72,000 consumer signatures in support of Ross’ termination.
“UltraViolet is calling for Reebok, since [Ross] hasn’t apologized or acknowledged what he said was wrong, to stop paying him and supporting him because every day that they keep him on they’re condoning rape,” said Wagatwe Wanjuki, a long-time member of the women’s group. Brielle Malente, a NOW employee, agreed: “If you support someone like that, who puts out messages like that, you are, in essence, not taking rape seriously.”
“Rape is a serious epidemic in our culture,” Malente continued. “If you just write it off — like, Rick Ross’ apology was ‘I don’t think that about women, women are God’s gift to men’ — if you think like that, you’re not acknowledging this problem and you’re just part of a culture that perpetuates it.”
Ross’ response to the controversy has left something to be desired; the rapper vacillates between claiming that his lyrics have been misinterpreted and reminding the world that he loves women. He really loves women. Take, for example, how Ross addressed the situation during an interview with New Orleans’ Q93.3:
There was a misunderstanding with a lyric, a misinterpretation. I would never use the term ‘rape’ in my records and as far as my camp. Hip-hop don’t condone that, the streets don’t condone that, nobody condones that. So I just wanted to reach out to all my queens that’s on my timeline, all the sexy ladies, the beautiful ladies that have been reaching out to me with the misunderstanding: We don’t condone rape, and I’m not with that.
Reebok has responded with a steely silence. “We have reached out to Reebok CEO Uli Becker and haven’t heard anything back,” said Malente. “We’ve done this sort of thing before, you know, reaching out to big companies, and we’ve definitely had dialogues before. The fact that there isn’t a return email or anything is unfortunate.”
“They should at least open the door to have a dialogue about the implications of rape,” Wanjuki proposed. “So many women are Reebok consumers. We love fitness and part of fitness and health is safety. We need to know that Reebok supports a world without rape, where women are safe and not violated.”
“One of the worst problems about rape and sexual violence is the silence that surrounds it,” she continued. “So by Reebok being silent, they are perpetuating the silence that surrounds sexual violence and allows it to continue. They are condoning it; they’re not standing up against it. Their silence speaks volumes.”
While Ross certainly isn’t the first male artist to include allusions to sexual violence and assault in his music, particularly in the hip hop community, protesters felt that because the rapper “was attached to a big company, there was an opportunity to make more of a statement,” as Malente said.
Wanjuki, who is also an UltraViolet speaker, felt that the protest was representative of something more: “I really do think it’s a part of a culture change. People are now identifying rape as rape and they’re identifying violence as violence…we’re recognizing that media does influence our culture; what it does is serious because it impacts our brains, the way that we behave, what we think. So I think this is amazing. I get kind of — not sick of it — but it can be exhausting to hear about rape all the time and it’s invigorating to know that people are also standing up about it every single day. You know, ten years ago, this might not have happened.”