As the MTV Music Awards nominations were announced yesterday, rapper Nicki Minaj took to Twitter to express her discontent that her most popular videos this year, “Anaconda” and “Feeling Myself,” were snubbed from top categories, including Video of the Year. She rightfully cited racism, sexism and white beauty standards as to why she was overlooked, tweeting, “If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year.”
And then out of nowhere, country-turned-pop singer Taylor Swift made this entirely about her and tweeted Minaj, accusing her of bringing down other women by tweeting, “I've done nothing but love & support you. It's unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot….”
And then the back and forth began, with the media doing what they do best: Backing up whiteness and invalidating Blackness. In Amandla Stenberg fashion, Minaj’s similar courage was unfairly called “ranting” and her behavior was characterized as being a typical “angry Black woman” bullying an “innocent” white girl. This dynamic could also be seen in split images of the two women used in articles about this fake feud. While Swift’s images showed her smiling, Minaj’s pictures showed her looking deranged, upset and scary.
And before we write this off as a trivial moment that lacks any larger cultural significance, please understand that this is much deeper than that.
This incident illuminates who in our society is valued and who isn’t. Who is allowed to stand up for herself with very little consequence and who isn’t. Whose body is cherished and whose is fetishized and punished. Who is considered respectable and who’s considered ratchet. Whose culture gets jacked and who takes the credit for that culture’s legacy. Whose life matters and whose doesn’t.
But most importantly, this incident highlights the persistent racism and sexism (and in some cases, homophobia and transphobia) that Black women face every day due to our intersecting identities. And like Minaj, all Black women have the right to be angry and vocal when it comes to the bias and double standards we experience, especially when they are barriers to our success and mobility.
Most times that means calling out racism and sexism perpetuated by men, i.e. the music industry. But sometimes it also means calling out the white privilege that white women like Swift benefit from and how that privilege plays a huge role in their success, despite the fact that they too experience sexism. (And also inflict racially motivated pain on people of color at the same time.)
But for too many self-absorbed white feminists like Swift, this is all too difficult to acknowledge and process. For Swift, sisterhood means being down for her causes and her politics but never really extending her hand to women of color, unless that hand is to guide Minaj up on stage to celebrate her win.
Yeah, Swift really did offer that up to make amends.
Yet, this refusal to acknowledge the struggles that Black women face is not new or rare or relegated to pop culture divas. It’s been around for ages in many aspects our lives. In a previous commentary, I wrote the following:
“There has been a history of racism and classism, especially during the second wave of feminism in the '70s. Many feminists of color — such as Barbara Smith, Demita Frazier and Michele Wallace — strongly argued that white, upper-class feminist leaders disregarded their concerns. Swept to the side were issues such as forced sterilizations, prison rights, economic instability and how oppressions other than gender impacted women's lives.”
Sadly, while it's gotten a little better, this mentality still exists.
Ask yourselves: Where have the mainstream white feminists been when HIV became a top killer among women of color or when the Black players from the Rutgers women’s basketball team were called “nappy-headed h**s?” Better yet, where were they when news broke of the suspicious deaths of Sandra Bland and Kindra Darnell Chapman?
Granted, Minaj and other Black women like me don’t need the Swifts of the world to validate or support us in order to be complete or whole. However, we do need you to stop undermining our truth with your tears and knee-jerk reactions when we speak out. Perhaps if you sat back quietly and actually listened, you could finally see that despite what the world tells you, not everything is about you.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photos from left: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for BET, Shirlaine Forrest/Getty Images for TAS)
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