Nicki Minaj, the phenomenal rapper, remarkable artist, amazing entertainer, and an astute businesswoman was upset when her video “Anaconda” was shut out of a few major categories at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), including Best Video of the Year. Given that the song and video inspired imitations, memes, and even bans—not to mention racking up over 505 million views on YouTube, Minaj’s reaction seemed wholly appropriate.
Refusing to be intimidated, she let them know how she felt:
“If I was a different “kind” of artist, Anaconda would be nominated for best choreo and vid of the year as well “— NICKI MINAJ (@NICKIMINAJ) July 21, 2015
“When the “other” girls drop a video that breaks records and impacts culture they get that nomination”— NICKI MINAJ (@NICKIMINAJ) July 21, 2015
“If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year”— NICKI MINAJ (@NICKIMINAJ) July 21, 2015
She called out the culture vulturing—the unapologetic appropriation of elements of one culture by members of another culture. She called out the narrow aesthetic value system that awards shows like the VMAs and pop culture in general upholds. She put a lot of people on notice.
Too often, artists that are sidelined and marginalized despite their sizeable and influential contributions to culture are supposed to be grateful when they are invited to the party. If black people tell themselves (as they do), “you have to be twice as good,” God forbid they actually want the rewards to be reflective of that effort. But, here we are. Black girls across America sigh, reminded of the burden they carry of having to apologize for not wanting to be invisible. It’s all par for the course.
What Minaj did was necessary and even radical. She was refusing to apologize for wanting to be visible and rewarded like her peers. She was calling bullshit on the audacity of a white woman, who has, in the past, responded to people of color with indifference while she bastardizes their language, hair, dance, and visual aesthetics. Minaj did what a lot of black women want to do: call out people when they try to render you invisible, when they try to render your pain insignificant. So, as a black woman, when I heard Minaj say, “What’s good?” I knew that it wasn’t a greeting at all. It wasn’t even a threat. It was a promise of accountability. It was a promise that today, tomorrow, and from here on out in pop perpetuity that Minaj would be accounted for, visible, and properly remunerated. And for a black woman to say that publicly, and angrily at that, was to be not just unapologetically human (because who wouldn’t feel some type of way) but unapologetically black, which is a radical thing to be these days.
There’s a price and penalty when black people tell white people how they feel about racism, and how they feel about being marginalized, about how they feel about being sourced and exploited for their culture. Once a black woman gets publicly angry, it’s a scarlet letter that she can never shake. Even if the common, tired label―”angry black woman”―is not your cup of Earl Grey, they’ll make you drink it anyway; just ask Shonda Rhimes. So for Minaj to check Cyrus and to demand that she be accountable for her irresponsibility—from those faux blonde locks she wore during Sunday night’s awards to her tone deaf commentary on the Swift and Minaj situation—is to essentially throw a middle finger at white feminism, the particular brand of girl power promoted by Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus, and the defensiveness (it’s not about you!) that often comes when it is criticized. And I’m here for that.
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