About a week ago, black Latina rapper and hood feminist Cardi B performed her most popular songs at MoMa PS1. The crowd was impatient because it was packed and hot as hell. Cardi’s presence reverberated all the way to the back where I was tip-toeing, trying to get a glimpse of her head-to-toe red fit that hugged her small, yet curvy frame. We hung on every word she said between each song, because Cardi’s humor is effortless and genuine to who she is. After all, it is her candid comedy that catapulted her into stardom.
It was obvious from the crowd that hot afternoon the majority of the people belting the lyrics to “Bodak Yellow” (which is climbing closer and closer to the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100) were relatively new fans due to the song’s popularity.
As she paced back and forth shouting out all the boroughs as New York rappers tend to do, she told the crowd earlier that day she looked like a roach, but she got her s**t together. Something about her calling herself a roach in that setting seemed deliberate, considering that a couple days before this show she was being “cancelled” by a now-infamous thread that went viral on Twitter detailing her colorism, orientalism and transphobia.
I called MY OWN self a reach before so stop it !its a word I use ALOt Bronx bitches use a lot stop trying to make it into some racist shit pic.twitter.com/IqUbCTwCRJ
— iamcardib (@iamcardib) August 10, 2017
In the last couple of weeks Cardi has been getting dragged left and right for past transgressions and also for how she handled the criticisms directed at her. (She didn’t.) She said she has apologized and proceeded to delete everything. This particular social media frenzy began with Cardi thanking everyone for being there for her as she went from being a “roach to a butterfly.” Shortly thereafter, scathing critiques about how Cardi B’s music video is orientalist and fetishizing “Middle Eastern” culture surfaced in droves. This was just another episode of Who Will Get Dragged Next on Twitter and Cardi B was the culprit.
To keep it frank, I can’t help but side-eye those who are making these observations. Between the think pieces, the hodgepodge of hot takes on social media, the threads that went into full investigative mode to cancel Cardi and the fights happening in her Instagram comments, I was troubled by what the purpose of these critiques were. Cardi B isn’t the face of any movement and she shouldn’t be treated as such, but this doesn’t mean that she is apolitical.
In the “Bodak Yellow” music video, Cardi is in Dubai, surrounded by hookahs, strolling on a camel in a green kaftan with a face beat for the gawds. Sometime between when the video dropped and when “Bodak Yellow” went viral, conversations about appropriation sprung up, and those arguments are faulty at best. Dr. Suad, an associate professor at Purdue University told Splinter News: “The person who appropriates is usually a more powerful person, and they can take it and remake it into something else. Is Cardi B powerful? Maybe as an American, but she’s also a black woman, and in the Arab community here and elsewhere she’s disempowered.”
Cardi B is an Afro-Caribbean woman. She is of Dominican and Trinidadian heritage, and she wears that with pride. There is no doubt that this video has orientalist imagery and even then, non-black Arabs don’t have a monopoly on wearing kaftans, camels or deserts, and these discussions on her appropriation also dismiss how Dominican people may want to connect to their Andalusian roots.
Margari Aziza, the co-founder of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative said it best in her tweet: “I need some folks to address their own culture’s depiction of Africa and exploitation of Africans before writing thought pieces on hip-hop.” The greatest irony in all of this is that parts of North and East Africa are considered a part of “the orient” making the majority of these analyses superficial at best. Not to mention, the writers that wrote about Cardi’s “orientalism” problem never spoke up about how a plethora of non-black artists appropriate black culture, and if they have, they mentioned it in passing in these think pieces about Cardi to acknowledge that it is in fact a problem in their community.
What they didn’t do was write full-fledged think pieces (I checked) about how French Montana hasn’t decided what race he is, or the problem with him dancing with black children in his “Unforgettable” video. Instead, what we witnessed was a lot of people using the same language they learned from black women to dissect how Cardi B is problematic.
Critiques about Cardi’s transphobia and colorism are warranted, even when she is apologetic. Part of the reason why celebrities like her are politicized to this degree is due to how celebrity culture functions in larger society: it reflects what society normalizes and that is inherently political. Her sex and body positive feminism needs to extend beyond her selfie-monologues. Even though Cardi has left open a line of communication between her and her fans, and she tends to be apologetic when she is wrong, none of her fans should shoulder that kind of intellectual labor for her to understand that she should treat dark-skinned women and trans people with basic decency. The bar is very low if we expect less from her as avid listeners and buyers of her music. When it comes to my faves having unoppressive views and making music I enjoy listening to, as Cardi said, “I don’t wanna choose.”
Cardi B identifies as a feminist and she has spoken up on a lot issues, even asking people to “PUT YO TIMBS ON” in light of news that white nationalists were coming to New York. The efforts to infantilize her due to her lack of formal education on feminist theory are patronizing. Cardi is well aware of how society engages with her: she was a dancer, a reality television star and she’s arguably the Lauren Conrad of Love & Hip Hop due to her success outside of reality TV.
In her Instagram video where she rants about how people don’t really understand what feminism is she states: “I don’t understand how you b***hes feel like being a feminist is being a woman that has an education, that have a degree. That is not being a feminist.” Cardi rejects elitism and respectability politics, she doesn’t care about the infallibility attached with taking identifying as feminist, and why wouldn’t she?
Her selfie-monologues empower women to leave their bummy boyfriends, get their bread up and take a stand. She empowers her audience, and her audience empowers her and is pushing her to unlearn some of her own oppressive views. Cardi has navigated public gaze in her own way on camera, both on Instagram and Love & Hip Hop, she simply wouldn’t be where she is today if she didn’t understand how people perceive her. She doesn’t give a f**k about how you feel about her lifestyle, how she sucks d**k and she never asked to be put on pedestal.
It’s not surprising that people are trying to distance her from feminism, because black women were never given the space to take on such a label (ehem, Beyoncé). Her feminism is imperfect, just like her, and it is only a matter of time before the next wave of drags pour in on something else she has said. You don’t have to like her for her politics. “Bodak Yellow” isn’t a womanist power anthem, it’s a club banger. Cardi’s imperfect feminism isn’t subversive, but it is real to her. —Najma Sharif