It was a few weeks ago in the car on my way home after work that I first heard “Bodak Yellow,” and I didn’t immediately know it was Cardi B. You see, I’m an 80s baby and I think most of mainstream hip hop nowadays, with a few exceptions, is complete trash. It’s like a row of dumpster fires and I can’t tell which one smells worse because the stink of them gets intermingled and is indistinguishable. But I suppose that’s what happens when you get to your 30s, with bills, wavering depression, and your family’s woes about whether or not you will ever settle down constantly looming over your head. You just wake up one day and start talking about “back in my day...” Anyway, the beat hit and it was undeniably catchy, carefree, and confidently contagious. Sometimes you just need a song that reminds you of the fact that you’re a bad one and Bodak Yellow hit the spot.
Cardi B., who describes herself as a “regular, degular, shmegular girl from the Bronx”, has been the poster girl for the come up for a minute now. She’s been open about her past as a New York stripper, unabashed in her basic hood chick persona, ruthless and royal on her Instagram, and quick to drop pearls of Black girl wisdom on “Love & Hip Hop”. The world rightfully fell in love with Cardi B and in just 2 short years she went from disrobing to wearing the crown and dethroning Taylor Swift for the number one spot on the Billboard 100. She took secured her place in history by shattering a 19 year old record once held by Lauryn Hill as the first solo female rap act to top the charts. There is something about watching my sisters rise that I simply love and take pride in. But what I wonder now is, what about those hood girls we all know: our “too loud,” “too ghetto” cousins, our friends we hesitate to invite to upscale places ― will we love them just the same?
Let me be the first to admit that I am guilty of falling into the trap of respectability politics. We all are. I have looked down on other Black folks for doing nothing more than existing and taking up too much space, not realizing that this, however unaware, was a brazen act of rebellion. Not understanding that while I was adhering to the white gaze and perpetuating the confines of what it meant to be a respectable negro, they were free. I shook my head at the neck snapping, gum chewing Black women with bright, ascending weaves and long bejeweled nails. I’ve disassociated myself from family members who didn’t speak “proper English” and donned gold teeth. I’ve dismissed the lives and experiences of Black men with pants that sagged who dared to listen to their music loudly, without headphones, on the bus. It was easy to exalt myself, in all my light-skinned privilege, above those who I saw as somehow inferior. This was not simply because I thought I was better, but because I had, without cognitively realizing it, internalized the shame of being Black. By distancing myself from these “bad Blacks,” I was attempting to earn my humanity and right to be alive. But if there is one thing that years of existing as a Black woman in the world has taught me is that no matter how we dress, speak, or act, our lives are still not valued in this system. We could still be eaten alive by racism. And Black Lives Matter... always.
...let us not forget that it is also magical to be black and carefree in a society that would insist on your oppression."
One such instance that exemplifies this is the treatment of Rachel Jeantel, which is outlined here. The 19-year old Black woman was in the unfortunate position of having been the last person to speak with Trayvon Martin before he was murdered by George Zimmerman. When this young lady bravely took the stand to testify in court it was as if she, and all of Black womanhood, were on trial. She was mocked and ridiculed endlessly by POCs for her demeanor, her lack of eloquence, her appearance, and her weight. She was publicly policed by both the prosecutor, but more dangerously, by black people who shamed her for simply not being that exceptional negro while on a national platform. Her humanity, much like that of Trayvon’s, was not only in question, but in those hours, nullified.
With all this heaping praise piled upon Cardi B., I only pray our attitudes towards Black and Latinx women and men who look, dress, and sound like her (but without her status and wealth) will receive the same love. Because while I am 10,000 percent here for #BlackGirlMagic, too often that magic is only ascribed to those among us who are college educated, successful, fit, and climbing the ladder. This is in no way meant to say they are undeserving, but let us not forget that it is also magical to be black and carefree in a society that would insist on your oppression. There is something revolutionary about speaking loud, smoking loud, and existing loud when the world would rather silence you. There is so much magic in these “regular, degular, shmegular” girls you see on the block.
Let us remember that being a carefree black girl is not just the image of flowers placed in the hair of natural haired beauties. It is also that group of little black girls taking a trip to the neighborhood store house (the original black owned business) for 25-cent bags of chips, hot sausages, and Now and Laters. It is walking around with only a diaper on, and doing what needs to done to pay the bills. It is taking up so much space at the restaurant with your curves and full bodied laughter that it makes white people uncomfortable to be near your joy. It is raising the children, even after the men who promised to stay have left, and knowing what the church folks will say about you whether you come on Sunday or not. It is making your own language and ways of communicating with your people, even when it is frowned upon. It is naming your offspring things like LaDarius, Shaquonda, and whatever the hell you want, because it’s your child and whoever said that names like Kyle and Kirsty are more respectable anyway? It is being extra-extra-extra when the world tells you that you are not enough.
It is my hope that our beloved Cardi B. becomes the patron saint of all those women we know who have often served as cautionary tales, nothing to aspire to, while lowkey being the ones who have held us down. Ya’ll are every bit as magical as your bougie counterparts and deserve to be recognized as such.