Nicki Minaj vs. Whiteness

Posted by Susan Bahaduri & filed under Music, Pop Culture.

Nicki Minaj at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards
Nicki Minaj at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards

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Lately Hollywood has been perfectly exemplary of “white feminism”, that is, feminism that benefits and serves white women in the western world. The “beef”, as the media quickly labelled it, between Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift, and now between Nicki and Miley Cyrus is interesting to consider because while it is new and happening inside our space of pop culture and entertainment, it is also old and familiar, especially to women of colour, and that’s why I think we should talk about it; it needs to be put plainly without all the false embellishments that the entertainment media adds.

I’m sure that the MTV Video Music Awards show that just happened is pretty much old news at this point; Nicki’s now infamous phrase, “Miley, what’s good?!” is already a meme and everything. But calling it a “beef” is not only trivializing but also flat out incorrect. What’s sad is all of this came from Nicki Minaj trying to have a conversation about racism and white beauty standards in Hollywood. To turn the consequential events into a “beef” is to erase the point that Nicki was originally trying to make.

Read the tweets here.

To re-cap, Nicki Minaj commented on her Twitter on the inequalities based on race and body type in the music industry. Taylor Swift felt personally attacked by these tweets, and replied to Nicki in a sort of fashion that women of colour are used to hearing from white feminists: In essence, “don’t blame other women or race, just blame men; we’re sisters.” In perfect white feminist fashion, Taylor made it about herself, and resorted to the “blame men” tactic that lacks nuance and also ignores other issues such as inequalities faced by men of colour. This idea of “sisterhood” that ignores racial differences has been critiqued by many black feminists, including bell hooks and Audre Lorde, for ignoring the realities of black women.

No need to mention that Nicki was very confused by Taylor’s response and then even tried to give Taylor space in the discussion. Not that it actually matters, but Nicki was indeed being very polite and open, further showing that Miley’s comments did come from a disingenuous place.

While this was sorted out between Nicki and Taylor almost immediately online, that did not stop the media from demonizing Nicki as the angry black woman attacking sweet and childlike Taylor Swift (she’s 25), which Nicki also critiqued.

Soon after, Miley Cyrus for some reason commented on Nicki saying, “I don’t respect your statement because of the anger that came with it…If you want to make it about race, there’s a way you could do that…What I read sounded very Nicki Minaj…not too kind.” This tone-policing of black women, specifically in regards to their anger at the injustices they have continuously had to face, is something used by white people and white feminists to derail the conversation and trivialize what people of colour often have to say about their unique, racialized experiences. What Miley is essentially saying, whether she knows it or not, is, “let ME tell you how to talk about your personal racialized experiences.” This places priority on white feelings as opposed to the marginalized person’s reality. Furthermore, it adds to the already rampant vilification of black women who speak out against injustice in the States. It is unfair to expect marginalized people to be “nice” about their oppression or unique experiences.

Here is an awesome article on tone-policing by blogger NinjaCate who explains it in this way:

As a black woman, I am entitled to the full spectrum of human emotion, and that includes anger. My anger is justified when it is in response to oppression and oppressive tactics. By you questioning my anger instead of addressing the issues I’ve raised, you are telling me that I, as the marginalized member in the discussion have a responsibility to make you comfortable as well as try to enact change.

I am not responsible for your feelings. I am responsible for making my life better for me and for the people who are similarly oppressed.

What really proved Miley’s hypocrisy was that while she originally claimed that Nicki made the issue about herself (because apparently Black women are not allowed to do so on their own personal social media profiles when talking about themselves…), but when Nicki called Miley out on stage at the MTV VMA’s, Miley did indeed end up taking a more personal route, backtracking, and making it instead about herself:

I lost this award in 2008 and I was fine with it. Whatever! Because it’s no big deal. It’s just an award and I persevered.
Miley Cyrus at the 2015 MTV VMA’s, after being called out by Nicki Minaj

Miley essentially reduced the issue, yet again, to Nicki being bitter over an award.

Miley, and white feminists like her, do not really care about Nicki’s tone, or whether she’s being “nice” or “angry” or “mean”; Miley’s comment on Nicki’s tweets was a result of her discomfort with having her own privilege challenged, as it relies upon the very system Nicki meant to critique, similar to how Taylor apologized and said she assumed Nicki’s tweets were calling her out. The only way you would feel someone’s very general tweets directed at an industry are calling you out personally is if you personally benefit from that industry and its ideological methods.

Both Taylor and Miley’s comments were irrelevant and derailing. Self-proclaimed feminists can preach as much as they want but praxis is what matters. In this case, that would mean that Miley and Taylor, as white women, should not have spoken over Nicki, who was speaking as a black woman about her experience in an industry riddled with racism. This is similar to when men speak over women in feminist or activist circles. It doesn’t make sense because men and women experience things differently, and men hold institutional power over women; just as white women and black women in America have different experiences, with white women being in the position of privilege.

What boggles my mind is why Nicki’s tweets would be considered “angry” in the first place, and even if they are, so what? Do women of colour, particularly black women in the States, not have every right to be angry? As Nicki and many others continue to prove, women of colour will not be silenced, and will not be nice about our oppression, because it certainly is not nice to us.

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