This afternoon, about 50 people gathered at Rebook's New York flagship store, located in the midtown neighborhood where Times Square tapers into Koreatown, to ask the company to fire Rick Ross as their spokesperson after his guest verse on Rocko's "U.O.E.N.O" included the line, 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. The lyric has been followed by a string of non-apologies. Women's group UltraViolet organized the protest and distributed purple signs after collecting "about 72,000" signatures on an online petition.
When I arrived, there was a thin crowd, comprised predominately of white women under 35. Two speakers—a rep from a New York NOW chapter and Wagatwe Wanjuki, an activist and rape survivor—had already given short speeches. "I came today to speak about my experience with sexual violence," Wanjuki said after her address, "and to talk about [Ross'] apology, him saying he didn't use the word rape. Rape is rape no matter what you call it." A 20-something man in a tie walked by and asked me what was going on. "Who's Rick Ross?" he asked after my explanation.
UltraViolet co-founder Shaunna Thomas said her organization has rallied against Reebok and Ross because the rapper is so well known. She said:
It's true that other people have rapped about this subject before. But it's rare that someone with a following like he has would be so brazen about rapping literally about drugging and raping someone. We saw this as an opportunity to make a comment about rape culture and to give people a way to say, This isn't cool. As a culture, we need to figure out a way to make sure that we're not sending the message to boys and men that it's okay to rape. I think women have had enough.
Thomas also dismissed Ross' renewed effort today to diffuse the criticism (minutes before the demonstration's start, he wrote on Twitter, "I dont condone rape. Apologies for the #lyric interpreted as rape. #BOSS,"). "I saw his tweet today, saying that he's apologized that people interpret the lyric as rape. I think that exposes that he's feeling a lot of pressure, which is great," she said. "I think it also exposes that he doesn't get it. He clearly doesn't understand that what he was rapping about is rape. That speaks to a personal problem that he has and a broader problem in our culture. Look at the Steubenville rape trial. I'd guess that the two boys who were prosecuted and convicted recently were probably shocked that it wasn't okay to have sex with someone who couldn't consent while under the influence of alcohol. We need to have a big conversation about that in this country."
Four cops lingered on the curb, leaning against a squad car. "Our boss sent us down, just in case," one said. As the crowd dispersed, Reebok employees flanked the entrance to the store—I couldn't tell if it was closed or just empty. I asked one guard what the store's staff had done to prepare for the gathering. He said I'd have to ask Reebok's corporate PR, but agreed the afternoon had been "pretty mellow." His deflection was in line with Reebok's silence to the controversy so far. "They haven't engaged us at all," Thomas said, "and that's pretty much been their position since the beginning. They have not responded to us nor any journalist."
I asked the speaker Wanjuki about similarly upsetting lyrics from Tyler, the Creator and Eminem, and she said, "[They] are not different. We need to start calling out every instance that we see. We shouldn't ignore misogyny or hate language that happens now because we let it slide in the past."