From Nicki Minaj To Sandra Bland: The Angry Black Woman Trope Is A Dangerously Common Media Narrative
A series of tweets published by rapper Nicki Minaj that exposed MTV for upholding a certain standard of beauty were interpreted as an “attack” by American sweetheart Taylor Swift, launching mainstream media into a frenzy that perpetuated the racist trope that is the “angry Black woman.”
On Tuesday evening, Nicki took to Twitter to call out MTV’s Video Music Awards for rewarding artists with nominations who celebrate “women with very slim bodies.” Nicki’s critique isn’t unique or unprecedented; for years, artists – especially Black female artists who have long stood at the helm of a movement to restructure standards of beauty – have pointed out the unrealistic expectations media and Hollywood reinforce.
The media, as expected, pounced on the opportunity to paint Nicki into the stereotype that so often puts Black women at a disadvantage.
While violence against Nicki was being played out on the national stage of the media, a disturbing dash cam video of the arrest of Illinois native Sandra Bland by a Texas trooper was released to the public. Bland’s contentious interaction with the officer appeared to stem from her vocalness about her rights and refusal to put out a cigarette; the latter of which prompted the officer to arrest Bland and label her as “irritated.” But is it possible that the omnipresent trope of an angry Black woman fueled the officer’s actions? Is it a reach to examine media’s demonization of Nicki Minaj and consider that a harsher penalty would be enacted against a Black woman who does not have the same privileges or platform as Nicki?
Both were speaking out against institutions of oppression. Both were reprimanded for explaining how their existence to the world is pockmarked with discrimination and erasure. And both were immediately labeled as angry Black women.
Bland’s story ended in handcuffs and eventually, in a Texas jail cell.
In Nicki’s case, her critique was lost on Swift, who took the unspecific observation as a personal attack. Swift was nominated for Video of the Year for the star-studded “Bad Blood.” Nicki, who gathered nominations for Best Hip-Hop Video and Best Female Video, was not nominated in the same category for her pop culture phenomenon “Anaconda” — a video that also celebrated womanhood and sex positivity.
Swift’s unsolicited response set social media ablaze, sending fans and mere observers to Nicki’s aid to let the pop star know the tweet was not about her, but a system that for so long has erased women of color and women who do not traditionally fit into society’s damaging beauty archetype.
Nicki also responded, clearing up the misunderstanding and inviting Swift to join in on a conversation that would more than likely support all women.
Sadly, many media outlets took the tweets and set the narrative of Nicki as an angry Black woman taking a swipe at Swift. The headlines were reinforced with imagery that supported the racist trope that is so damaging.
Entertainment Weekly, who tweeted a photograph of a docile Swift and an animated Nicki, quickly deleted their post after observers complained about the grossly inaccurate imagery. And a story written by Us Magazine began with the line “look what you started!,” casting Nicki as the aggressor in an incident framed by media as yet another empathizing victimhood portrayal of Swift.
Nicki, who continued to foster a conversation about the historic discrimination she was experiencing, also noticed the media spin, calling out famous host Ryan Seacrest for a misleading headline that painted her as a villain.
This is a common and dangerous story. In fact, it isn’t the first time this week that the media has perpetuated the angry Black woman narrative to weave sensational headlines. Days ago, headlines pointed towards 16-year-old actress Amandla Stenberg as the angry Black woman who attacked a “child,” 17-year-old Kylie Jenner, when she critiqued the irresponsible cultural appropriation in which the Kardashian clan often participates.
Stenberg, who received threats and mean-spirited criticism for her view of a practice that supports the erasure of Black women while celebrating those who engage in the same culture, tweeted this in response.
The disheartening practice seems to be ingrained in our society. Too often women of color are painted as aggressive, an action that leads to the disenfranchisement and abuse of Black women, sanctioned by the false idea that they are angry, strong-willed, and never in need of support or protection.
It’s this same trope that no doubt fuels the high number of Black girls that are suspended in school — Black girls are suspended six times more often than White girls — or targeted by police as we witnessed in McKinney, Texas, when a young Black teenage girl was roughly handled by an officer. And though the derailed message Nicki was trying to spread and the misunderstanding between her and Swift seems worlds away from the abuse that’s happening every day in Black communities, the two are unequivocally connected.
It’s a coincidence we can’t ignore.
The narrative is often a dangerous one that both Swift and the media decided to support. It’s a narrative that’s not lost on Nicki and many Black women who are working every day to change it. But when your very existence, your very voice is used to justify the violence against you, what do you do?
Just keep pushing.
SOURCE: Twitter | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty