Power is an interesting beast; although it’s something everyone craves, we often find ourselves struggling the hardest to hold on to or exert our power when we’re in positions where we hold more of it. Situations where you find yourself in charge of others or running things are often situations where you are also the most vulnerable, and this especially holds true for women, people of color, and queer people, who often find themselves fighting to have a voice at all, much less one that leads.
Ru Johnson is an example of a woman who takes her position of power and completely rules. A self-made artist, Johnson is the brains behind the local hip-hop consulting group Roux Black, an organization that helps artists with their image and profile, and helps them books shows. In her spare time, which she has little of, she still actively works as a journalist — wordsmithing was her first love — penning stories about music for the Denver Post’s Reverb.
Johnson’s rise to power was certainly not without detractors. As a woman in a male-dominated world, she has often faced sexist people and dealt with those who can’t separate her personal life from her work persona.
“Well, people take me seriously as far as executing the work goes; it’s more that people often think it’s easy to exist in this world as a supposed public figure but also as a person who exists with autonomy outside of who I am as a ‘work’ figure,” she explains. “When it comes to maintaining positive relationships, that’s what I do in my life and work in general.
“It’s not my job to be ‘nice;’ it’s my job to be efficient. And that also means calling out sexist assholes or others who come solely from the ‘know-nothing’ wing of the industry spectrum.”
Not only that, Johnson has experienced actual physical threats from those who don’t appreciate what she has to offer the community. She has to face mansplaining and patronizing attitudes as well as situations where men come across as hostile or angry.
“Sometimes when men disagree with me, or they feel like I don’t work within their parameters of power, they threaten me, or have in the past tried to demean me,” she tells OUT FRONT. “There’s a particular person who exists in the community who literally threatens to kill me every three months or so. His biggest issue is that I am an uncontrolled character and I’ll never bend to the will of any schmuck who wants to control my right to exist in this world — hip-hop or otherwise.”
This kind of power struggle is not unique to Johnson’s situation, or something that only occurs because of her work within the hip-hop community. Women often face this kind of prejudice. I have heard stories about men telling women they can’t deal with females being in positions of power, and power struggles within organizations like bands and social-justice collectives are often subject to frightening amounts of rape, violence, and threats, despite the politically correct message these organizations might preach.
Despite this, however, Johnson uses the vehicle of hip-hop to spread a positive message and heal some of the wounds caused by racism and bigotry.
“Hip-hop has always been a genre that’s spoken to and against the ills of society and black and brown communities,” she says. “We’ve seen hip-hop artists make incredible statements against the murders of unarmed civilians at the hands of police, like TI’s latest video, but truthfully, there shouldn’t have to be a movement for displays of simple humanity.
“Sure, I have a voice and I can say Black Lives Matter, and I can speak out against the racism heaped upon blacks by police, and I do. It’s important for me to do the work, and the art. And for me, that means continuing to open doors where conversations within hip-hop can exist to both tell these stories and heal us from the atrocities.”
Power struggles will not cease for minorities of any kind any time soon. But that is what makes power in the hands of those outside the status quo even more thrilling and exciting. Those who had to struggle for the power they have will truly be the ones to make change, as they will be the ones who don’t shy away from the many trials and tribulations that come with it.