The Racism of Respectability: Nicki Minaj’s Disturbing Reaction to the Cardi B Fashion Week Fight
‘Her indication that “we” made “ourselves look” a certain way speaks to age-old ideas about black folks, representation, and white spaces,’ writes Stereo Williams.
The incident was on the heels of months of hostilities and chatter from fans about whether the upstart Cardi had usurped Nicki as rap’s top female artist. Could the two coexist in rap’s most commercial sphere? Was there serious bad blood? Several social media posts and passive-aggressive song lyrics later, Cardi was hurling a shoe at Minaj and being escorted out of the Plaza Hotel with a torn dress and a very visible knot on her forehead.
“When you mention my child, you choose to like comments about me as a mother, make comments about my abilities to take care of my daughter is when all bets are fuckin off!!” Cardi B wrote later on Instagram. “I’ve worked to hard and come too far to let anyone fuck with my success!!!!”
Immediately following the melee, Minaj avoided directly commenting on what had happened. Nicki wouldn’t break her silence on the incident until a few days later, during an appearance on her Beats 1 radio show, Queen Radio.
“You’re angry and you’re sad. This is not funny,” Minaj said of Cardi B. “Get this woman some fucking help. This woman’s at the highest point in her career and she’s throwing shoes?”
Nicki shared that she was deeply embarrassed by the fight.
“The other night I was a part of something so mortifying and so humiliating to go through in front of bunch of upper echelon—and it’s not about white or black—it’s about upper echelon people who are you know people who have their lives together, the way they pass by looking at this disgusting commotion I will never forget. I was mortified. I was in [an] Alexandre Vauthier gown, okay, off the motherfucking runway, okay, and I could not believe how humiliating it all felt because we—and I use ‘we’ loosely and I’m going to clarify ‘we’—how we made ourselves look and I’m going to get back but before I go I want to say I would never discuss someone’s child and it’s so sad for someone to pin that on me because I’m the bad guy and they know people would believe that.”
A public brawl in front of countless media that you had no idea was coming is more than a justifiable reason to feel embarrassed. When you’re a star with a brand, these episodes could suddenly take money out of your pocket and opportunities out of your reach. But there was also an added shame that Nicki referenced in her comments.
“You just had the biggest blessing of your life with a child and in two weeks, you have attacked three women, one at fashion week?!” Nicki also said, referring to Cardi’s new motherhood and the fact that B has gone after women suspected of dalliances with her fiancé, Offset. “And left looking the way you left looking so that people could point their fingers at our culture and our community and laugh at us some more?”
Nicki’s words and some of the reactions also speak to something beyond personal shame from being a part of a disruptive moment. Her indication that “we” made “ourselves look” a certain way speaks to age-old ideas about black folks, representation, and white spaces. Nicki was ashamed because she knew that white people would look at what happened and decide: “That’s black folks for you.”
After Nicki’s Queen Radio commentary, Myleeza Kardash tweeted: “Nicki right. Y’all think that photo of Cardi leaving NYFW is so raw, but that shit is EMBARRASSING. Y’all know how long it took for hip hop culture to be respected in fashion?”
The reality of racism means that non-white people are subject to slants and stereotypes based on any perceived misdeed by “representatives” of their race or ethnic group, and those non-white people can be completely marginalized because of that stereotyping. But the way we shift that reality is not by wringing our hands at how bad behavior “made us look” to anyone. The racist will think what they will—but hip-hop, in general, and black folks, in particular, can’t let every misstep become a study in how “we made ourselves look.”
It’s no revelation that hip-hop is often seen as the “new kid” in popular culture, and most pointedly, there’s a sense that this barely-respectable genre of “ghetto” music is “lucky” whenever it is allowed to grace the same spaces and stages as more supposedly established examples of gaudy celebrity culture, such as NYFW. But the idea that rappers have to tread lightly because they happen to be in these allegedly refined environs doesn’t recognize that the presence of these black stars in these spaces adds to the event’s cache inasmuch as it boosts the rapper’s profile. They need your black cool at least as much as you think you need their white platform.
Hip-hop doesn’t need to fight for acceptance in spaces like NYFW any more than it requires the Ivy League co-signs that have become so fashionable over the last 20 years or so of elite academia. Despite the allure, the culture was never dependent on validation from any of the supposedly more “established” platforms, and it’s one of the more damnable offenses of contemporary pop culture that we’ve convinced a generation that hip-hop only matters when it’s been stamped by outside approval. Hip-hop culture doesn’t need anyone’s endorsement—no matter what the rap industry leads you to believe.
And yes, it’s frustrating to watch one of the biggest in the game defer to that attitude. Three years ago, Minaj felt slighted by Miley Cyrus’ comments in a New York Times interview. “If you do things with an open heart and you come at things with love, you would be heard and I would respect your statement,” Miley said in regards to Minaj’s valid criticism of racial biases in MTV Video Music Awards voting. “But I don’t respect your statement because of the anger that came with it.” Miley also asserted that Nicki is “not very polite”: “What I read sounded very Nicki Minaj, which, if you know Nicki Minaj—is not too kind.”
Minaj challenged the pop star via an infamous proclamation from the award-show podium in front of a television audience of millions during the 2015 MTV VMAs.
“Back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley—what’s good?”
The implication was confrontation and Minaj was unapologetic in her cocky awards show moment. Of course, the VMAs have a reputation for a certain brand of anarchy, so the Miley/Nicki beef was par for the course. But that defiance from Nicki then became “how this made us look” because New York Fashion Week was the wrong place for such behavior. That can be recognized, but what should also be acknowledged is that the white gaze reshapes a lot of how those upon whom it is fixed see themselves.
Nicki Minaj and Cardi B got into a fight. It’s regrettable. But what trendy white folks will think after witnessing “ghetto” behavior is the least of why anyone should care. They will judge you however they see fit—racism is never valid and never deserved, so don’t allow it to feed any sense of shame. If anything, recognize that sometimes crazy stuff happens, move on as needed, and dare anyone to try and use an odd outlier of an incident to justify stereotyping. That racist culture can’t be challenged if black folks are constantly acquiescing to it. Even when something immature happens, you can’t let the racism of respectability make you believe “they” get to determine who you are. Don’t be embarrassed for black people or hip-hop at fashion week. And know that black people will still look just fine the next day.