Cardi B, the Regular Degular Shmegular Girl from the Bronx
“I’m startin’ to lose my patience, weak bitches hatin’. Bitches throwing subs like I won’t kick your face in. I been to give it up grimey, I’m the Bronx bitch, I’m feisty. “Cardi, why you feisty?” Shut up, bitch, fight me.”
— Cardi B – Pop Off
Last week, Cardi B reminded us that she indeed lives the life she raps about. Exhausted from ongoing bullying via intimidation and blackballing, Cardi chose to confront fellow rapper Nicki Minaj at a Harper Bazaar event for NYFW. The triggering issue seems to be Minaj liking a Tweet criticizing Cardi B as a parent for her support of rapper Kodak Black. It’s not the first time Minaj has put her mouth on someone’s child (remember her meltdown about coming in second to Travis Scott? She accused Scott and Jenner for making a baby to detract attention from her album release. No. Really.) After a flamboyant exit from the party complete with a knotted head, Cardi took to Instagram to explain her actions.
The interesting bit is that this is Cardi through and through. Fame and wealth acquisition have not changed the core of her character. Cardi’s existence remains a glaring fuck you in the face of respectability politics. The self-acclaimed stripper hoe has ascended the ranks to become a trendsetting A-lister because [not in spite] of her authenticity. She has achieved merit and financial success doing everything that the formulaic approach to navigating whiteness in Black bodies told us not to do [success that has been attained in ways that not even colorism would ordinarily mitigate]. For some, this alone triggers their own insecurities to project on Cardi B. For the rest of us, we love her “realness” until it shows up full and complete in a horrifying way. It’s not the first time I’ve been driven to write in defense of Cardi B’s authenticity. Unfortunately, it probably won’t be the last.
Roots of Criticism
To criticize Cardi B’s decision to fight, regardless of her motivations, reveals more truths about us than about her. Far too many of us are engaged in a fight for liberation that looks more like approval of Black culture by white gaze than true communal self-reliance. We’ve seen it play out with responses to Serena Williams’ emotional US Open outburst and both in Remy Ma’s and Lil Kim’s responses to Nicki Minaj.
Our responses to their decisions are a stark exposure of our own hypocrisies. We love to claim hood culture but are the quickest to dismiss majority Black spaces occupied by the working class. We love trap brunch, yoga, and karaoke but refuse to buy homes in the areas that birthed the heart of real trap music (but will later complain about gentrification and whitewashed historically Black neighborhoods). We wear those “I’m not my ancestors, you can catch these hands” shirts but suddenly question the maturity and moral compass of those who choose to throw hands. We claim to be ‘bout that life until “a time and place” arrives within earshot of white society’s judgment.
As long as our goodness, self-respect, and civility is measured and defined by white supremacist gaze, we’re always going to come up short. If your fight for liberation ends with the approval and temperamental respect of white social constructs, you’ve already lost. Maintenance of those social constructs (and capitalism in general) *requires* the existence of oppression and marginalization. It’s not in the system’s best interest to validate our genius, fiscal worth, or humanity.
With this Black Pride, Terms & Conditions Apply.
Black Pride should mean that we also hold space for the embodiment of Black experience that doesn’t please white social expectations. When people like Cardi B tell you consistently who they are, believe them. She shows up as her full self, complete with agency independent of the approval-seeking of whiteness that we “educated hood people” perpetually chase. Of course, some of us will say we merely want to hold Cardi accountable for her behavior, calling her decision to fight impulsive and indicative of lacking self-control. Yet, as Cardi has said and we have witnessed, Minaj has continued to antagonize and bully Cardi which she’s quietly responded to up to this point.
To support the full humanity of Blackness means to unpack what our criticisms are rooted in. To say that Cardi should have been more concerned about the [white] attendants than to resolve an issue that affected her emotionally and financially is rooted in, well, classism. To rationalize Cardi’s behavior as acceptable only in the case of self-defense is also rooted in [you guessed it] respectability. The litmus for which acceptable violence is measured is deeply entrenched in white respectability. Invading countries and murdering its citizens for the protection of your nation’s freedoms is acceptable violence by that measure. But defending your individual honor as a Black body in the name of violent protest against a violent system is not. It’s uncivilized and dishonorable to physically fight another person, but it’s acceptable if done for entertainment and the acquisition of wealth (Boxing, UFC).
It’s a painful struggle to realize that you’re protecting classism when you really don’t want to be. To decry her actions for its potential impact on her financial access (“she could lose endorsements and fuck up her bag”) says that access to money buys access to higher class life (access to white endorsement) and that people who jeopardize that access are doomed to unsuccessful lives. It dismisses the viability of success in the absence of white approval and that fame created by Black communal elevation is somehow less than fame sustained by dominant cultural approval. We claim to fight for our liberation but we’ve decided that our freedom is found only in contorting ourselves to uphold systems that survive off our continued oppression. It doesn’t take rocket science to see that shit doesn’t work, but yet here we are. Fighting to uphold and maintain what keeps us bound. We do this within Black church culture too as was evidenced by last week’s polarizing response to Jasper Williams’ eulogy of icon Aretha Franklin. But that’s an unlearning conversation for another day.
Who Are We, The Community & Me?
Through our responses and challenges to Cardi, we’re forced to reckon with how our fight for justice is not the same. The unfortunate reality is that we often respond to conflict with the potential reactions of white gaze at the forefront of our minds — rather than the pursuit of freedom from intimidation, abuse, and dehumanization. We cannot claim to fight for agency if our pursuit of freedom is limited by the potential to hurt/offend social constructs that were never created with our full humanity in mind. And to be clear: full humanity also looks like the right to express joy and anger against what oppresses us, not just access to the acquisition of wealth and material trappings.
Reclamation of your full Black humanity doesn’t begin and end with mastering professional snark in emails sent from your cubicle when your colleagues and/or superiors doubt your knowledge and skills for the fifth time in one week. It also looks like running down on a bitch twice and reminding her that if we got beef, we gon beef forever.