Month: February 2012

February 27, 2012 / / black

By Guest Contributor Tami Winfrey Harris, cross-posted from What Tami Said

Media coverage of singer Whitney Houston’s funeral evoked a disappointment I often feel as a black woman in America. It reminded me that many elements of black culture are still viewed as exotic and, in some cases, disdained as such.

Houston’s funeral, but for being broadcast live and attended by celebrities, seemed unremarkable in the context of other black Baptist memorials I have witnessed. There was rousing gospel; truth-telling; passion; equal doses of laughing and crying, clapping and shouting; references to Jesus; moving sermons; a few long-winded eulogizers; some preening preachers on “thrones” in the pulpit; a sense of sorrow, but a greater sense of joy–celebration of life and of a soul “going home” and being released from earthly sorrows. This is not to say that all African Americans grieve the same way or grieve in a Baptist Christian way, but for most black viewers Houston’s service was not completely alien.

Read the Post Whitney’s ‘Homegoing’ And The Spiritual Divide

February 24, 2012 / / culture

By Guest Contributor Colorblue

I’m still trying to work my way through my discomfort and analyze exactly where my discomfort of this Sociological Images post is coming from, so if this critique seems a bit scattered, it’s because my thoughts about it, at the moment, are that way.

First: I agree with where the post is coming from, in that the disenfranchised rarely ever have a voice of their own in mainstream Western culture, are always portrayed as the Other, which is defined as everything that said mainstream Western culture isn’t (at best as something that props it up and provides an aesthetically pleasing contrast, at worst as something that must be exterminated). And this leads to remarkably similar cycles of dehumanization and disenfranchisement. As so many minority thinkers/activists have noted, manufactured binaries between the privileged West and everyone else, even seemingly positive ones, ultimately end up reinforcing destructive hierarchies.

Where I disagree with the poster is the framing, which I feel makes the post, in some ways, as reductive as what it’s critiquing. Because there are different contexts in which the above cycle/process of exotification occurs, and those contexts matter and shouldn’t be handwaved, even (and I would say especially) if you’re taking the pov of the white outsider and attempting to deconstruct it. Social justice discourse loses its meaning when it becomes divorced from one of power relations.

Read the Post A Critique Of Sociological Images’ ‘India As A Magical Negro’

February 24, 2012 / / links
February 23, 2012 / / beauty

by Guest Contributor Keir Bristol

It was not inevitable for everyone that Whitney Houston was going to die. Many of us expected her to make a comeback. For those people, her death came as a shock. Many of the people who were not surprised by Houston’s death used her drug addiction as an excuse. As often as I hear that Houston was talented, I hear that she was a crack-head, or that she was Bobby Brown’s punching bag.

Television shows covering Whitney’s death focused most of their energy on her marriage to Bobby Brown and drug use. There was very little discussion of what her life was like before she was apparently using. Never mind that Whitney, as a Black woman, was a successful pop star while most other Black singers were automatically sifted into the R&B or Soul categories. There was barely any mention of an accident she had as a child that could have very well severely damaged her vocal cords, or any of the political and charitable works she had done, like her Welcome Home Heroes concert for the soldiers who had fought in the Persian War in 1991 or her support of Nelson Mandela.

Houston’s drug addiction and domestic violence issues devalue her as an artist and person to many. To these people, she is not categorized as an artist with a drug addiction, or even a human with a drug problem. She is categorized strictly as a drug addict like many Black female entertainers before her, Dorothy Dandridge and Billie Holiday included.

Why is Whitney given a bad name for being a drug addict, but people still idealize Kurt Cobain, Sid Vicious and John Lennon? Read the Post Whitney: Victim Of The “Strong Black Woman” Stereotype

February 23, 2012 / / black

By Guest Contributor April Gregory, cross-posted from STATIC

“You Could Be the King But Watch the Queen Conquer:”
Nicki Minaj as a Model of Empowerment for Female and/or Queer Y
outh

“In between the beats, booty shaking, and hedonistic abandon, I have to wonder if there isn’t something inherently unfeminist in supporting a music that repeatedly reduces me to tits and ass and encourages pimping on the regular.” Such is the dilemma of hip hop feminist Joan Morgan, author of When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost.  Like Morgan, I consider myself to be a fairly ardent feminist.  I also consider myself to be a fairly ardent hip hop fan.  It’s no secret that these two identities, as Morgan points out, are frequently in conflict with one another.

So imagine my utter bewilderment when, in 2009, I heard a woman spitting lyrics as crude and grimy as those coming out of the mouths of male rappers.  Nicki Minaj had flown into my hip hop radar with her mixtape “Beam Me Up, Scotty.”  Its cover art, which features Nicki and her bountiful curves in a skintight, barely there Wonder Woman outfit, was in itself enough to make the feminist in me have a stroke.  Her rhymes provoked equal alarm.  How could I, as a feminist, respect or support a woman who spit quasi-pornographic lines like “Bitches can’t find their man ‘cause I ride it good” (“Itty Bitty Piggy”) and “Maybe it’s time to put this pussy on your sideburns” (“BedRock”) while prancing around in outrageously stripper-esque garb?

To be blunt, Nicki Minaj frightened me.  Her abrasive, slightly schizophrenic tone and unabashed use of misogynistic diction made me uncomfortable.  I could not accept her brazen female sexuality as anything more than a ploy to obtain male attention and furthermore, I felt a little violated by the ease with which she could talk about her body and her sexual exploits.  As an ally of the queer community, I was likewise bothered by Nicki’s claim to be bisexual, which I perceived to be an exploitation of queer identity for the purpose of appealing to heterosexual male fantasies of lesbian and bisexual women.  And, above all, I was horrified by the fact that young girls were idolizing Nicki, especially the fourteen- and fifteen-year-old girls from East Palo Alto that I mentored through a college access program.

Then, on Aug. 27, 2010, my relationship with Nicki Minaj was changed forever.  Kanye West had released “Monster” featuring Nicki, Rick Ross, and Jay-Z on his Twitter page. After a few listens, I was forced to join those who “unanimously decided she had the best verse” on the track. I was particularly struck by the final lines of Nicki’s verse:

Pink wig, thick ass, give ‘em whiplash
I think big, get cash, make ‘em blink fast
Now look at what you just saw
This is what you live for
[Screams] I’m a muthaf-ckin monster!

She beats the boys at their own game through a verse that goes, to borrow a phrase, hard as a motherfucker. In the process, Nicki also affirms herself, from her unique sense of style to her entrepreneurial aspirations. Her assertion that “This is what you live for” situates Nicki in a position of power, wherein listeners beg for the sustenance her rhymes provide.

It is this same notion of power – as well as empowerment – that catalyzed my reevaluation of Nicki Minaj. I began to question the social constructions of womanhood as well as the hegemony within certain tracks of feminist thought that caused my discomfort with Nicki. What’s more, I realized that I wasn’t cool with Nicki speaking so openly about her body and sexuality not because it constituted a violation of my feminism, but because the norms of our patriarchal society dictate that women ought not to openly express their sexuality – and I had internalized those norms. Why shouldn’t I be okay with Nicki’s language? The way she dresses? The ideologies she espouses? Considering these questions and others has brought me to the conclusion that ultimately, no one is forcing Nicki Minaj to dress and act like a coquettish Barbie. Everything she does is of her own volition, and she is not submissive to patriarchy. Rather, Nicki takes patriarchal notions of femininity and womanhood, reclaims them, and makes them work for her. In doing so, she reverses the paradigm of female inferiority and submissiveness and creates a model of empowerment for those who look up to her.

As is the case with all hip hop artists, Nicki’s core fan base is comprised of youth. While I was once appalled by the idea that young people could be looking up to Nicki as a role model, my newfound respect for her has given me a different perspective. Nicki Minaj’s massive success and popularity presents us with a unique opportunity to rework our definition of a role model toward one that isn’t focused on what adults deem worthy of admiration, but rather is geared toward finding positivity and worth in what youth are drawn to. In other words, we ought to work toward meeting and validating youth where they are instead of sermonizing about where they ought to be.

Here are 6 reasons why Nicki Minaj provides a space for youth, specifically young women and queer youth, to feel represented in the overwhelmingly sexist and homophobic domain of hip hop:

Read the Post Nicki Minaj: The Flyest Feminist

February 23, 2012 / / beauty

by Guest Contributor Sarah Todd, originally published at Girls Like Giants

Since Azealia Banks’ 2011 breakout hit “212″ captured my heart, mind, soul, and dancing feet, I’ve been reading up on the 20-year-old rapper and soon-to-be superstar. Almost every interviewer asks Banks about Nicki Minaj, which gets old fast for her, you, me, and the bourgeoisie. (With the possible addition of our lady Rye-Rye, they are the only two black female rappers currently generating major mainstream buzz. They also went to the same “Fame” high school in NYC. Ergo, endless comparisons.)

But one comment Banks made about Minaj in an interview with GQ UK stuck out to me:

It could just be that we were both inspired by Lil’ Kim. She did her thing with it, but I was kind of going to do a little bit of that same thing, with the characters, the pink and the Barbies. I wrote a song called “Barbie S***”. I was thinking “I’m going be black Barbie, that’s going to be my thing.” Then all of a sudden she [released it]! I was like, “F***! Did she have someone on my MySpace page? Is someone watching my Twitter? This is way too coincidental!”

The characters, the pink, the Barbie: was it really such a coincidence? I’m not so sure. As Banks notes, Lil’ Kim rapped about being “Black Barbie dressed in Bulgari” back in the early double-0s. There’s a French rapper who goes by the name Black Barbie. Atlanta rapper Diamond calls herself “black Barbie,” too. All signs point to the fact that Barbie’s big in the hip-hop world.

This common denominator set my mind whirring. What is it about Barbie–as a name, image, and persona–that appeals to these rappers? And what, exactly, does claiming a black Barbie identity mean in the context of hip-hop culture? For the purposes of this post, I’ll limit myself to talking about how Minaj and Lil’ Kim–who also happen to be two of my favorite rappers–use Barbie to represent and challenge mainstream standards of beauty and femininity. Read the Post Barbie Girls: Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, and Mattel

February 22, 2012 / / LGBTQ

by Guest Contributor Sabia McCoy-Torres

Nicki Minaj got media circuits buzzing after performing alongside Madonna at the Super Bowl 2012 halftime show and then commanding the stage a week later at the Grammy Awards in a Catholic themed extravaganza. As usual, Minaj got people talking about sex(uality). After the halftime show, viewers jokingly wondered why a sensual kiss between Madonna and Minaj never transpired.

Meanwhile, Minaj’s Grammy performance included a mini-film depicting a priest making a house call to exorcise the demon possessing a child named Roman. Roman was referred to many times as “he” but when the child was revealed, rather than a boy we saw a tormented and psychotic Minaj with long blonde hair applying pink lipstick singing “I Feel Pretty.” Does the possessed boy become Nicki Minajwhen dressed in drag? Is Minaj possessed by Roman, a boy who likes pink lipstick and Broadway songs, or is she just trying to be as quirky as possible? Regardless of where Minaj was leading her audience, it was clear she was toying with gender presentation and interpretation, a hallmark of her persona that has an impact on her community of listeners.

I most recently noticed the impact that the openness of artists like Nicki Minaj to sexual ambiguity is having when I returned to my neighborhood in the Bronx after a two year stint living in Costa Rica. In that brief period away I realized much had changed: men in the hood were wearing tight jeans, 80s style had come back in full effect, and there was a growing visibility of what I dubbed “neo-soul Black hipsters.” I also noticed an abundance of pretty teenage girls on the 4, 6, and D trains to the Bronx with their equally handsome boyfriends who on second glance, and sometimes fourth and fifth, I realized were actually two beautiful girls unabashedly holding hands, in the midst of quiet embraces, or giving voyeuristic displays passionate kissing.

A friend recently asked me: “Remember back in the day when there were no gay youth?” And I had to agree that I shared that memory. Of course it wasn’t that there were no gay youth, rather it was that they weren’t as visible, especially in our predominately Black and Latino neighborhoods. It was clear to me that a shift had occurred while I was away. Gay openness was becoming not only a thing of adult men and women in the West Village but also of urban Black and Latina youth in inner-city New York. Read the Post Nicki Ménages Urban Black and Latina Sexual Identities