the surprise around cardi b’s intelligence and awareness is racist

January 24, 2019
18.4K Picks

I remember watching Cardi B on Love and Hip Hop: New York and thinking: Damn. This bitch is smart. Sure, she was loud. Boisterous. Ratchet. Braggadocious. Uncouth. Brash. All “negative” traits society has instructed us, and ingrained in us, to frown upon and subsequently punish. Particularly when they surface in Black women. But she is smart and she has always been smart. And yet, if I had been introduced to her via the insipid “mainstream” (re: white) news coverage that she has received recently and the incredible glaring white gaze that has been lobbed her way via social media, I’d be inclined to assume the opposite.

The reasoning lies in how white people consume the hip hop mega-star. Obviously, the goal is to never be overly concerned with how the #FFFFFF club thinks or feel about us in general, but it has been very, um, interesting, to observe their gawking at and treatment of Cardi B. This is especially the case after she was first thrust into mainstream political airwaves a week ago after her IG video addressing the government shutdown went stupendously viral. Now, I generally steer clear of her nowadays because of documented transphobia, rumors about alleged mistreatment of dark complected makeup artists (and there’s more), but she was inescapable on my timeline after that video. And while I was witnessing her spike in virality, I also witnessed other things that were qWhite interesting: The first part being all the “yasssss”-ing that the very white and fervent part of her fanbase was doing at her post.

This was cringeworthy by itself and mostly harmless, until you notice the additional commentary that usually accompanied it, which is that Cardi was surprisingly “aware” for the star she is and seemed to be able to understand the dire situation clearly and be able to explain it to the masses clearly as well. There was even this weird handwringing on Twitter about the ordeal from politicians and whether it was okay to retweet or repost her video lest it is attributed as their official stances on the video.

Of course, to the uninitiated, the unaware, and the non-Black, saying that Cardi B is knowledgeable about things one wouldn’t expect her to be knowledgeable about seems complimentary, but it is not. In actuality, the assumption that she wouldn’t be interested in such matters is racist in itself, because it assigns her naïveté or worse, asininity that she does not possess and plays on tropes about Black intelligence. And the flip side of this, which is being impressed that she has authoritative and formulated thoughts on these issues is, also, racist and is the spiritual equivalent to every time a person from the caucuses mountains has “complimented” a Black person by telling them that they are “articulate” for basically being smarter than they expected them to be. Cardi B doesn’t neatly fit into the “dumb”, “loud”, “ghetto” woman archetype that white people have set up for her in their imagination, and they show their discomfort with this by their haphazard and awkward gawking at her intelligence, concern, and awareness.

But you know. It doesn’t stop there. Some people really want to prove that they are so NOT racist when it comes to their consumption and commodification of Ms. Becalis Almanzar by letting their “yassssing” and “co-signing” of her take a rather fetishizing turn. White people can’t decide if they want Cardi B to be their weird “ratchet”/“ghetto fabulous” mascot or their sassy and uncouth Black best friend. Watching and reading the reactions to Cardi B’s shutdown video were migraine-inducing enough and honestly, I hadn’t expected the situation to escalate even further, until it did. Particularly with alt-right Barbie Teletubby Lamborghini and Stephanie Hamill.

In her usual bid to remain relevant — probably because Candice Owens won’t return her mean texts and it’s not in vogue to claim Kanye as a right-wing victory anymore — Lombardi attempted to clapback at Cardi’s thoughtful comments and she was quickly swatted down with the now iconic tweet that where Cardi B quickly and effectively responded,  “leave me alone I will dog walk you.” Tomi Lasagna expectedly was incredulous and practically had a tantrum on her timeline.


But the drama didn’t stop there. In the midst of this, City Girls released their new music video for “Twerk” featuring Cardi B to critical and commercial acclaim. And it didn’t take long for a white supremacist feminist like Stephanie to quote the video, attempt to conflate lack of modesty with consent or non-consent, and imply that all of the women in the video (mind you, mostly Black) were asking to be sexually assaulted because they were shaking their half-naked asses, while mocking #MeToo to do it. And as expected, Cardi shut her down with a sound and pithy explanation about consent.

The result from both of these? Well, she was met with widespread cheering and perceived admiration. And soon an intensification of the gawking; the increased proliferation of the “yasssssing” was deafening. An increase in tweets about people “getting their life” through her and the way in which she was dragging white women and white conservatives. A spike in tweets about how they wanted to be “just like her”. And the re-observance and obsession with the way she speaks, her mannerisms, and how she tweets.

Within only three days, I assume searches for the term “dog walk” via Urban Dictionary (sigh) and Google spiked because then I saw the fucking word being thrown around by white women wanting to be edgy. Now infamously, Tony Posnanski, who used it to describe Nancy Pelosi taking Trump to task over the shutdown and then was absolutely incredulous when Black Twitter took full offense to his co-opting and appropriation of the term.

This is to say that even with Cardi’s real concern over these issues that she has taken to social media to address — even at the cost of making herself a target for right-wing demons — white people don’t see her concern as indicative of anything, particularly when it comes to her humanity. Her humanity means nothing to them. And by extension, the humanity of Black women means nothing to them.

They can lob as many yells of yassss! or okuurrs! at her as they wish and claim that it is in support of or in celebration of her, but the reality is that they continue to fetishize and cannibalize her in a way that makes up for their own lack of confidence or, famously, “strength”. And they claim that they like and admire her bravado and crass nature and that it inspires them to be them to be assertive and stick up for themselves. Or that she straight up entertains them. Which is spectacularly ironic, because these are also traits that poor Black women share with Cardi B.

And they hate it when these qualities are tainted in the stench of the poor.

Ann-Derrick Gaillot of The Outline sums it up very well, “…The rise of Cardi B as mimickable empowerment totem has been an unwelcome byproduct of her rise to fame. From the moment ‘Bodak Yellow’ hit the Billboard Hot 100 last summer, Cardi B has been regularly subjected to crass impersonation and tokenization by her ‘mainstream’ fanbase. A legion of white folks have fashioned a mask of a modern day, ‘ghetto fabulous,’ emotionally untouchable women’s icon and called it Cardi B, co-opting the mannerisms they label loud, annoying, or disruptive in black and brown women who aren’t yet rich.” Gaillot articulates my ever-present discomfort with the way in which white people consume Cardi B: She is a symbol. Never human. She is an inspiration. Never person. She is that “sassy” Black friend that speaks her mind and says what is on yours. Never an informed citizen. She is never the multi-dimensional, dynamic and incredibly flawed being that she is.

It’s highly cringeworthy, folx. And a painful reminder that Black women like Cardi B only hold as much value in the eyes of white America as their usefulness — be it by entertaining, teaching, or inspiring — can carry them.


CLARKISHA CLAPS BACK is a weekly column that humorously and honestly claps back at the world around writer Clarkisha Kent, from culture, politics, sexuality, gender and her personal life.