nickiminaj

I’m no Beyonce fan. I don’t try to hide it. I ain’t scared of Beyhive, Bey-lievers, Bey-bies, or whatever they wanna call themselves. I like her voice, she’s incredibly talented, and I admire her business acumen, but I don’t appreciate a large portion of her lyrical content or her image. Neither am I a fan of Ms Minaj.I could add Katy Perry and Lady Gaga to this list, and everything I say applies to them too, but I’m more interested in Beyonce and Nicki Minaj because of how their images relate to black women specifically. Also, if I talk about Katy Perry I’d get myself into a fit of annoyance about cultural appropriation and how her and Miley Cyrus use black women’s bodies as conduits for their success without having any respect for those bodies, or their experiences – and that’s a really, really long post. (And please don’t get me started on folks trying to claim that Beyonce is not black because her Mum is a light skinned Creole woman, because #ijustcant. Could she have been a legitimate extra in 12 years a Slave? End of discussion).

Anywho, Ms Minaj has released a song entitled Anaconda, with accompanying video, and both song and video are pretty much about sex – more specifically about the magical sex appeal of Nicki’s rear end and its ability to obtain cars, shoes etc from men. I quote:

“Oh my gosh, look at her butt
Oh my gosh, look at her butt
Oh my gosh, look at her butt”.

That was legitimately the most innocuous line I could find in the whole song.  Oh, and perhaps “This dude named Michael used to ride motorcycles..”.
As usual, this has precipitated lots of conversations over the internet about feminism, female sexuality, media portrayal and all that good stuff.

There is an argument that goes a little bit like this:

1) Women have historically not been ‘allowed’ to be overtly sexual or sexually demanding in a similar way to men. (Due to patriarchy often practiced by religion and wider society in general).

2)Nicki Minaj and Beyonce are being subversive by being overtly sexual in a way that was previously denied women.

3) Therefore, Nicki Minaj and Beyonce are asserting their right to defy standards imposed on them by male supremacy and are acting progressively. They are feminists.

4)Also, they’re both curvy so they’re pushing back against mainstream standards of beauty.

Erm. Nah.

I don’t deny that there are elements of both artists approach that are progressive for women in some respect. I suppose the fact that they are both so successful in their field arguably automatically makes them progressive. It does beg the question of whether bad representation is better than no representation at all though?

Additionally, I’m not buying the idea that for black women specifically, the idea of us being overtly sexual is anything new. There’s a reason why the majority of the Caribbean and African Americans have stray white ancestry. It’s not because of some 19th century style Kim + Kanye interracial love fest. Black women have consistently been characterised in recent history (past 400 years or so), as passionate, overtly sexual and as a means of sexual pleasure for white men. Both white and black women have been oppressed historically by white men, but the coupling of racism and sexism meant that black women until recent years (post segregation in America, and probably slightly earlier in most the Caribbean) couldn’t even have the protection of their husbands to prevent the abuse of their bodies sexually. As in, if a white man wanted his way with a black woman, the fact that she was married made no difference – in fact one of the ways of emasculating black men during slavery would be to rape black women. It was a not so subtle reminder to black men that they weren’t really men, because they couldn’t even protect their women.

One of the ways this behaviour was justified was by promoting the idea that black women were ‘hot’ that and they ‘wanted it’, and that therefore, sleeping with them wasn’t really rape. So Nicki Minaj rapping “oh my gosh, look at her butt”, in reference to herself doesn’t strike me as radical. It’s just more of the same old stuff. Society has been looking at our butts for quite a while and at the same time denying us our personhood.(By the way, celebrating curviness is nothing new in black culture – we’ve never largely ascribed to the mainstream idea of skinny = beautiful, so nothing revolutionary there either – it’s just that white folk have begun to notice our celebration of it).

Even if we remove race from the equation, we still live in a misogynistic society where sexism is very much rampant so I’m not sure that any woman in popular media who is overtly sexual can claim that it’s entirely her own choosing. If we live in an environment where women’s bodies are still seen as commodities, where sex sells, where the majority of big business is owned and managed by men, where the directors in the porn industry are largely men, where media images are controlled by rich white men, do you honestly think you can rise to the top economically purely on your own terms? I just don’t believe that’s possible.

I’ll have a bet that a lot of the people watching the Anaconda video are teenage boys. I’ll also have a bet that although most of Beyonce’s fan base are women, part of the reason so many women emulate her is because her sexuality is ‘male approved’. I’ve heard it said that we overestimate the effect Beyonce has on young teenage girls, but I actually think we underestimate it. We underestimate how powerful images are in conditioning the minds of young people. We underestimate how many boys will listen to Anaconda who won’t decipher the video and realise the fact that it IS a group of women in a jungle, alone, outside of the ‘male gaze’, and so perhaps Minaj is trying to make a statement about women ‘owning’ their sexuality. What they’ll see is half naked women twerking. What they’ll internalise is women being available for their sexual pleasure.  What teenage girls will see when Beyonce is writhing on stage scantily clad as Jay Z poses next to her, calm and collected spitting “eat the cake Anna Mae” (a reference to Ike’s abuse of Tina Turner), is that men appreciate that. They won’t necessarily read female empowerment into it.

Why should we sift through all the negativity and rubbish to try and cling to the straws of goodness? Can’t we just admit that two light skinned black women with straight blonde hair being sexual objects is the same old, same old? Can’t we just admit that in 2014, a half naked woman sells more records than a fully clothed one and that really, the most subversive act would be singing about sex in a hijab, not a thong?

What do you think guys?

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So I’ve already hinted in previous posts that I find the way that non-whites are often objectified, even in relationships where their partner should see them as equal, scary. The idea of Asian women being fetishised by white men is nothing new (the stereotype of the submissive Asian woman lives on), and some Black women are also wary of being an exotic thrill for a White man who wants to journey into a moving, breathing African jungle, but we don’t seem to like to talk about the objectification of black men by white women. It’s awkward, isn’t it? Because the majority of interracial couplings we see are black male- white female pairings, and you’re supposed to not speak about it unless your commentary is wholly positive, otherwise you are labelled as a black racist, a bitter, manless, hating black women, an enemy of societal progress. But if we are going to move in any way towards some type of real progressive healing of the wounds of racism, we have to do better than these superficial conversations where we ignore widespread discrimination, structural racism, and deep seated stereotyping and objectification because “la la la people are having mixed race babies so obviously they are not racist”. (See Donald Sterling and the Clippers fiasco as a textbook example of why romantic and sexual relations with a black person tell me absolutely nothing about your level of racism).

Anyway. 

It’s always interesting to me look at the way black men as a group are often perceived by general society, and the impact it has on romantic and other personal relationships. There are a few major themes when we look at how society perceives black men. The first and most obvious theme is that of the violent, aggressive and angry black man. That’s the media’s favourite. It’s why Mark Duggan’s picture was cropped so that you didn’t see him holding a heart with an inscription about his dead daughter, but instead were only shown an apparently menacing and angry face glowering at you. Closely linked to that is the theme of the hyper physical black man – all running, all dancing, all boxing, leaping over walls and gates as he runs from detectives – natural physical prowess seems to exude from his very pores. Also closely connected to physical prowess is the idea of the hyper sexual black man. The mystical large penis, and the ability to please sexually in a way white men can’t. Black men are perceived by some with a mixture of fear and curiosity.

Now I know we all want to believe that everyone lives in a bubble where their romantic and sexual inclinations are uninfluenced by media branding and historical stereotyping…well tell a lie, we’re happy to admit that people are influenced by these things, except for when it comes to race. Any suggestion that someone of another race is interested in someone of another race for reasons other than love, is frowned upon. It’s a taboo topic.

Unfortunately, from conversations I’ve heard and from experiences relayed to me by others, it’s quite obvious that for some white women, a part of their desire to be in a relationship with a black man is based on an level of intrigue which is rooted in the stereotypes I noted above. Black men are somewhat of an illicit thrill, the man that at 17 your parents would be be a bit unhappy about, the resident new ‘cool kid’, the epitome of a bad boy – complete with this mythical sexual prowess. For some women, sleeping or having a relationship with a black man is something to tick off their bucket list. 

But you already knew that. You think it’s a small but unfortunate minority of women who think like this, and they’re easily avoided by asking a few simple questions.

I’m arguing that it’s not so much a minority, but a level of sub-concious thinking that a lot of us, black, white or other have absorbed. In fact, some of the major proponents of the black male hypersexualisation theme have been black men themselves. There are quite a few black men who enjoy the idea of having larger members, being physically stronger, and having more finesse than white men and use it to their advantage on a night out on the pull. There are a few who don’t really mind being objectified or treated as a fetish by white women as long as it means they get some sexual favours. They will happily sit there as women wax lyrical about their ‘chocolate skin’ or sexual ability. In fact, more frightening to me is the fact that the stereotype of the hyper sexualised black male is being pushed via some elements of black media and promoted by some black men. A historical stereotype is somewhat out of your control, but your promotion and embodiment of it is up to you, and if you are content for someone to objectify you, then don’t be surprised when in a  moment of anger that objectification morphs into overt racism.

One very mistaken idea that has managed to seep into our thinking is that if someone objectifies or fetishises you, they will never marry you or date you long term. Therefore, people who are looking for a quickie or a short term relationship are the ones to look out for, but if someone loves you and enters into a long term relationship with you, then by virtue of that fact, they see you as equal, they are not stereotyping and will not stereotype you, and they’ve completely deconstructed any underlying racial prejudices they might have. With all due respect, that is utter rubbish. In the same way that it is very possible for a man who loves a woman to be sexist, to objectify her, and to stereotype her, it is very possible for a white woman who loves a black man to be racist, to objectify him, and to stereotype him. Anyone who suggests the contrary is just being disingenuous.

So what I am I suggesting? That every white woman who dates a black man is using him as an object for her fetish of a physically adept, sexually skilled ebony Adonis? No, of course not. 

 I am suggesting though that the media, historical and cultural stereotypes mean that there will be an element of that as the driving force as to why black men are being increasingly seen as so universally attractive (I mean, I think they’re great, but the hype is intense right now…). Black men in particular need to be aware of that, and instead of encouraging these negative and animalistic stereotypes, be more discerning with who they allow into their emotional and sexual spaces.

Thoughts?