August 31, 2012
It’s easy for black women to like Beyonce. She’s a single female entity of commercial success, unapologetic sass, and Girl Power anthems.
But it’s harder to see that the success of her persona relies on its ability to balance the dynamics of female power. The tightrope that gives any woman permission to be independent, sexual, and bold; so long as she is not too tough, not too slutty, not too “bitchy”, so long as she doesn’t pose a real threat to male power.
The same idea plays out in her music. 2001 brought the release of Destiny’s Childs’ Independent Woman, a so-called salute of financial empowerment that urged you to “throw your hands up” if you bought the car you were driving and the “rock” you were “rockin”. But in 2004, came Cater 2 U, a nod to the 1950s housewife era of man-pleasing that called for running his bathwater or rubbing his feet. Getting his “dinner, slippers, dessert, and so much more.”
In 2008 it was Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It), a relationship revenge song about “doing your own thing”, but only if your man wouldn’t marry you first. And in 2011, we got Girls Run the World a declaration of female domination that claimed women were “smart enough to make the millions/strong enough to bear the children.”
Her songs, though with explicit “empowerment” content, have retroactive connotations about relationships, sexuality and gender roles; a woman of modern means who still wants to preserve old fashioned morals. The lyrical nudge that reminds you to “let the man be the man”, be strong but foremost feminine, that after all, you’re still a woman first.
And what Beyonce doesn’t say about female power, she shows with her body. In every music video centered around salacious curves and how well she can shake and grind in the scraps of fabric that all but cover them.
Female sexuality in and of itself has the capacity to be subversive and freeing; but when it is only ever seen in simplistic tits-and-ass sort of ways–in the very same context of female “empowerment”–it eventually sends the subliminal message that pussy and power are inextricably linked. That the body determines your final value, and you are ultimately the sum of its parts.
Enter Nicki Minaj. The eccentric, Queens-bred spitfire who managed to climb the echelons of male-dominated hip-hop and land somewhere on the top. And in many ways, she’s more progressive than Beyonce: She exudes a more complex, subtle version of sexuality, refers to her fans in unisex terms of “Barbz” (and Ken Barbz for gay men) and speaks poignantly about the challenges of being a female MC:
When I am assertive, I’m a bitch. When a man is assertive, he’s abossed up! No negative connotation behind ‘bossed up’. But lots of negative connotation behind being a bitch… You have to be–you have to be dope at what you do, but you have to be super sweet and you have to be sexy and you have to be this and you have to be that and you have to be nice and you have to… It’s like, I can’t be all those things at once. I’m a human being…
But as much as Minaj tries to break through the chains of a mans’ world, she’s still complacent in the very system that confines her. Instead of denouncing the unrealistic beauty standards for women, she fully embraces them. She fires off lyrics like “pretty bitches only can get in my posse” (Stupid Hoe) and her image of choice, the Barbie, is the most extreme hetero-normative icon of beauty in existence. Instead of rebelling against the double-standard of female sexuality by discussing her own in the same braggadocious manner of male rappers, she boasts about her so-called respectability, in one interview saying: “if every nigga can say that he had you, you’re not exclusive, you’re not a bad bitch.” And instead of forming alliance with the scant of female hip-hop artists, she pits herself against them in girl-on-girl beefs; hurling childish insults and degrading remarks.
It was at the end of Stupid Hoe that Minaj referred to herself as the “female Weezy”; a sentiment that perfectly describes the way in which she sees herself. Not as her own separate female identity but as an extension of a mans; like Eve coming to life after taking Adam’s rib. And in many ways, that’s true. She’s taken the most negative aspects of mainstream hip-hop—misogyny, materialism, violence, competitiveness—put a dress on it, and called it her own.
What’s ironic is that Beyonce and Nicki Minaj are perpetually cited as “feminists” or “female role models”. But even when they’re being “feminist” they only tip-toe around the status quo, operating safety within the parameters of patriarchy. They seek to sell a shiny package of Girl Power that is just edgy enough to make us feel empowered, but not radical enough to encourage any real political change.
The personas of Beyonce and Nicki Minaj embody the exact same masculine/feminine dichotomy of many black women in America who have bought into the myth of the Strong Black Woman. A woman who is either like Beyonce—the herculean superhero seamlessly juggling her independence with femininity —or like Nicki,–the take-no-shit tough girl who thinks playing by a mans’ rules will make him forget she’s a woman.
But within the Strong Black woman myth lies the reality of the black female experience. The hardcore persona really only manifests itself in cattiness and competitiveness toward other women, but in relation to men, the armor cracks open to reveal a submissive vulnerability that looks more like weakness. It’s a persona that, even while being masculinized, tries to remain extremely feminine; curvaceous and soft-bodied, possessive of European features—light skin, long hair— a baby doll face, a masterful cook and housekeeper, an exuberant sex appeal, and passive demeanor.
It’s the oxymoronic dance the two personas engage in; two steps forward and three steps back, awkwardly trying to find a way to fit together but only cancel each other out.
Society likes to perpetuate the idea that black women hold their partners accountable, that unlike the White Girls, Black Girls don’t “put up” with no mans’ shit. But in truth, loyalty runs deep within the black female culture; the Ride or Die mentality, the allegiance to Your Man that means placing his needs above anything and everything else. It’s the reason black women suffer rates of domestic abuse that is 35% higher than white women (22 times higher than women of other races) and make up 1/3 of intimate partner homicides in the country. Or the reason black women account for 30% of the total HIV/AIDs infections among blacks (a rate 15 times higher than that of white women).
The Strong Black Woman persona also claims to be in control of her decisions at all times. Yet, millions of black women poured over Steve Harvey’s relationship advice books; the ones that would instruct them on how to walk, talk, dress, and act in order to get and keep a man.
Many “Independent women” are also deeply religious. They value autonomy but also adhere to the patriarchal structure of the church that insists that a woman be “obedient” to men, that she “know her place.”
The way these two contradictory images play out also inform black womens’ ideas about gendered politics. The actual pursuit of social, economic, or personal equality is seen as unnecessary and obsolete. Because in many ways I think the Strong Black Woman myth almost feels feminist enough, feels menacing and potent enough to mistake for real power.
The problem with Beyonce or Nicki Minaj isn’t so much the persona, but what happens when we buy into it: We get so distracted by the empty rhetoric of “girl power” and “Independent woman” that we forget just how much political progress we have yet to make. We get seduced, over and over, with the same images of the Strong Black Woman and its false implications of gender equality. We fall in love with the allusion of power, and walk away broken-hearted every single time.
can’t wait to start school and think about cultural theory all of the time
"The police can go to downtown Harlem and pick up a kid with a joint in the streets. But they can’t go into the elegant apartments and get a stockbroker who’s sniffing cocaine."
I’ve seen more drugs behind the brick walls of my private college than I have ever even heard of back home in my hood.
German Photographer Matthias Heiderich latest series captures Architecture, places, and scenes photographed in the cities of Copenhagen, Malmö, Oslo, and Tromsø.
"If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power."
— Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture)
Breaking News: A(nother) white guy won’t admit when he’s being racist. If that’s not a shock to you, then you are probably like the rest of us — still wondering how many more times this has to happen before we can have an open, frank conversation about white supremacy without getting derailed into the “but not all” pit of tears. As difficult as it might be for many white Americans to digest, contemporary racism has morphed far beyond what it was fifty or a hundred years ago. Today it is often invisible, embedded deep within the structures and language governing our society, so when an opportunity presents itself to open a dialogue on just how far the depth of its camouflage has become, we have to take it.
Philip DeFranco, internet celebrity and creator of the YouTube channel Philly D, has often done just that, making a career of reporting/commenting on news and current events. So when he made one of his weekly videos on the racist comments of Donald Sterling a couple months back, no surprise. DeFranco was “doing what he does.” He even went so far as to call Sterling out after watching a follow-up interview where the uber-rich Clipper owner debased former NBA superstar Magic Johnson for having HIV, posting these gifs to his Tumblr page with the following caption: “SURPRISE! Donald Sterling is still (of course) SUPER FUCKING RACIST.”
The trouble with making a career of calling other people out is if and when you happen to BE the problem, having enough self-reflexivity to admit it, allow discussions about it, and correct it comes at great discomfort… Or you could just be a total dipshit like Donald Sterling was and deny any wrongdoing whatsoever.
When Mr. YouTube Sensation himself got called out for making racialized comments about Beyonce’s sister Solange (calling her “ratchet mcsloppy ass,” never mind effectively calling her a b*tch by saying “[F]or the first time ever Jay Z now has one hundred problems”), instead of taking the advice he so enthusiastically gave Sterling of admitting mistakes and moving forward, he seems to instead have taken public relations lessons from the billionaire racist.
Specifically, after a fellow Tumblr user (a woman of color) told DeFranco, “Ratchet is a racialized term. So is ghetto. So is thug. So is welfare queen. Someone does not have to EXPLICITLY say the word “black” in order for something to be racist against black people. Speaking in flagrantly racist terms is one of the least sophisticated manifestations of racism today,” he responded:
“Apparently I’m racist! Sorry every group other than white people. We can’t be friends now. Tumblr says I’m a bad person because at one point I said the word ratchet. Also who says, “Welfare Queen”?
My disdain for most people knows no color, gender, or creed. That said, congrats about complaining about something on Tumblr, playing victim, and getting lots of reblogs. YOU’RE CHANGING THE WORLD Y’ALL!!!
Love yo faces :) Except white people. Fuck those honkies… AMIRITE?!”
One of the most sinister things about normalized racism (and misogyny for that matter) is you don’t have to have bad intentions to be racist; you just have to remain ignorant. With his faux-apology, Philip DeFranco is doing that in strides. Instead of taking some well-placed criticism as a learning opportunity, he decided to go the route of total dipshit, denying all wrongdoing whatsoever.
His response is an attempt to minimize his mistake, to create a straw-man so he does not have to take responsibility for having used racialized language, and at all times never having to look inward at himself at his own racism. It is the socialization of his backwardness —“My disdain for most people knows no color, gender, or creed” — as if equally being a bigot resolves being a bigot at all.
The really unfortunate part is his show Philly D is a small window into a larger phenomenon in our culture, a sort of profiteering off the struggles of real people, with real issues like the perception of black and brown folk in a white supremacist world. But this is, after all, the central problem with white guys with a little social capital: They can say whatever the fuck they want and be loved and paid for it.
In a real sense Philly D is the cheaper, YouTube rendition of white men like Stephen Colbert and John Stewart profiting off the everyday-struggles of black and brown lives. His videos on Sterling and Solange got over a million views, accumulatively. On Tumblr and Facebook people signal boost him by the thousands. His endorsements through YouTube, the merchandise he sells, etc., have aggregated him an estimated net worth of three million.
Yet, with all the upward mobility his skin has helped afford him, with all the fame and visibility, DeFranco is still just another white guy refusing to see his privilege. From his own blog he seems to utterly fail at understanding what institutional racism is, stating, “I have been informed by several people that white people cannot be the victims of racism. THIS. IS. AN. AMAZING. DAY.”
Clearly it falls on deaf ears that to get past the basic Webster’s dictionary definition of racism, he might be required to see the perspective of those oppressed peoples whom face racism every day — you know, those actually shouldering the weight of it. In an epic moment of facepalming it does not register to him that claiming to be a victim of racism while living independent of the ramifications of white supremacy — police brutality, the prison industrial complex, educational, medical, and social discrimination, and fetishization of black and brown bodies — smacks of “reverse racism.”
The last part of his response — “YOU’RE CHANGING THE WORLD Y’ALL!!!” — is the cherry on the cake. Here he insults those of us calling him out by assuming we are doing nothing by educating others (at times through social media, the very mechanism that made him millions) in our private lives, but he again, being a dismissive dipshit, assumes we are not also the foot-soldiers making-by-living the change of creating a better world.
All I can say is fuck that guy. It would be hard to find a more obvious example of a less self-inflated white man getting called out for being ignorant and having an overly inaccurate, generous view of himself, and then effectively telling everybody else we must be stupid not to see his awesomeness.
Who knows though, maybe he will actually apologize. Maybe he’ll do a feature with himself as the butt of his own joke, where he calls himself out as a privileged white dude making a buck off crappy journalism and half-baked commentary. Maybe he’ll even post a couple gifs to Tumblr saying it with the caption “SURPRISE! I’m still (of course) A PRIVILEGED DIPSHIT.”
I won’t hold my breath, just remember: Not all racism comes clothed in white sheets.
Because Anon is so hurt over this, I’m plastering it over my page again.
"deconstructing" racism and misogyny are totally the trendiest new designer handbags for white boy mascots to own
This is my aesthetic
how i feel about my style upon returning to new york.
new york makes me feel like i am always wearing pajamas with stains all over them