Javon Johnson @NewBlackMan: “Right Thru Me”: Authenticity, Performance, and the Nicki Minaj Hate



“Right Thru Me”: Authenticity, Performance, and the Nicki Minaj Hate

by Javon Johnson | special to NewBlackMan

I began teaching at the University of Southern California in fall 2010 as the Visions and Voices Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow. Among others, one of my duties as Postdoc is to teach African American Popular Culture. One of the biggest difficulties with teaching a course such as this is the seemingly impossible task of trying to get my students to move beyond simply labeling aspects of Black pop culture as good or bad – that is, getting them to unearth and critically discuss the political, social, economic, and historical stakes in Black film, music, theater, dance, literature and other forms of Black popular culture.

I struggled mightily with getting them to see how a Black artist or sports figure could simultaneously be good and bad and how those labels, even when collapsed, do little to explain how violent rap lyrics are used as justification for unfair policing practices in Black communities, how literature and music is often used as a means for many Black people to enter into a political arena that historically denied us access, or even how Black popular culture illustrates that the U.S., since pre-Civil War chattel slavery, has had, and will continue to have, a perverse preoccupation with Black bodies.

My class is not the only group of people who have trouble moving beyond the ever-limiting dualities of good and bad. Like my students who could not wait to tell me all of the reasons they feel Nicki Minaj is a bad artist, icon, and even person, many Black people that I speak with are quick to throw the Harajuku Barbie under the bus on account that, as one of my students put it, “She makes [Black women] look bad, like all we are good for is ass, hips, and partying.” Fellow rappers such as Lil Mama and Pepa have commented on Nicki’s over-the-top dress up and character voices, with Kid Sister asking, “do people take her seriously?” What is most troubling about comments such as these is how reductive they are, how readily they dismiss Black women’s identity possibilities, in that anyone who dresses and talks like Nicki must be selling out and doing a disservice to real hip-hop, real Black people, and real women.

The politics of selling out aside, I am deeply troubled with how we read Lady Gaga as a brilliant postmodern pop artist and Nicki as little more than a fake who plays dress up for cash. What does that say about our understandings of Black women as related to the politics of respectability? Nicki disserves applause for carving out a space in an overly male dominated rap world, and, as she did in a recent Vibe.com interview, she often uses that space to tell women and girls they “are beautiful…sexy…[and powerful because] they need to be told that.”

Mixing the zaniness of ODB and Busta Rhymes with lyrical prowess of Lil Wayne and the creativity of Lil Kim and Andre 3000, all wrapped in a Strangé Grace Jones bow, the fact that Nicki can tell all the men in rap, or perhaps the world for that matter, “you can be the king or watch the queen conquer,” that is – join me or be destroyed by me, highlights the strength and boldness she possesses.

More than her ability to dominate a male driven hip-hop community or the lines promoting women’s empowerment throughout her work, it is her playfulness, coupled with her perceived sexuality and gender identity that causes the most panic. It is our inability to define and pin down Nicki’s identities that scare us most. Her voices and dress up lead many to question not only if Nicki is “real,” that indefinable quality that permeates every fiber of hip-hop, but also for some to question her sexuality. In a hip-hop world where the most valuable currency is authenticity, the anxiety, or hate for that matter, Nicki causes stem mostly from the fact that she puts front stage all the things most rappers hide behind the curtains. Her entire persona, which relies on a healthy amount of theatricality, exposes how the real is as constructed as the reel, which makes her performance shattering because too many of us invest a lot in the idea that hip-hop is undeniable and unapologetic truth.

In this way, it is my larger contention that we are reading Nicki Minaj all wrong. Rather than figuring her characters, voices, and costumes as faking, I propose that we read it as making, as a performance of multiple reals that exist on the same body. And, it is quite precisely her Barbie like plasticity, her ability to mold herself into the woman she needs to be at any given moment, which is most amazing. Nicki’s malleability, her ability to be such a monster and such a lady in the same verse, complicates our understanding of identity performances to account for the ways in which people can be dynamic, complex, contradictory, and fractured beings all at once.

via NewBlackMan: “Right Thru Me”: Authenticity, Performance, and the Nicki Minaj Hate.

Theresa Runstedtler @NewBlackMan: “It Doesn’t Get Any More Real Than Perry”?: The Right’s Stake in Real Americaness

“It Doesn’t Get Any More Real Than Perry”?: The Right’s Stake in Real Americaness

“It Doesn’t Get Any More Real Than Perry”?:

The Right’s Stake in Real Americaness

by Theresa Runstedtler | special to NewBlackMan

“People of all persuasions are sick, sick, SICK of mollycoddling, pandering and Edwardian (as in John Edwards) phoniness . . . . It doesn’t get any more real than Perry. The elite may call it ‘swagger’; I call it a real man with real convictions and the courage to stand up for them, which happen to comport with the majority of Americans. Or as they say in Texas, he is had and cattle. And the coupe de gras, he is a spiritually anchored and philosophically happy warrior.”

– Republican strategist Mary Matalin on presidential candidate Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas)

Since when did the Right (and more specifically white Republican men from Texas) become the arbiters of what it means to be a “real American man”?

As a Canadian transplant, I’ve always found the theatrics of the U.S. political scene fascinating, where big money campaigns seem interminable and public spectacle usually trumps any in-depth discussion of policy. American politics is a virtual blood-sport with all its sound bite and bombastic fury. Texas Governor Rick Perry is just the latest Republican to enter the pissing contest that is the 2012 presidential campaign, ready to show the “real America” that he has the balls to lead the nation.

Of course, Perry is simply following in the well-worn footsteps of his predecessor George W. Bush, with his self-righteous swagger, Texas drawl, and rugged, frontier persona. He prefers cowboy boots to dress shoes and proudly recounts shooting a coyote with his .380 Ruger (it had a laser sight). He wears his Christianity on his sleeve, most recently playing the patriarchal prophet at his Houston prayer rally. Even though Bush’s people reportedly disdain Perry, he seems to have taken many of his moves right out of their campaign playbook.

While Bush had to manufacture a frontier persona to cover up his elite, northeastern roots (much like President Theodore Roosevelt back in the early 1900s), Perry actually has a real connection to rural Texas. As his campaign website triumphantly claims, “A fifth generation Texan, Governor Rick Perry has taken an extraordinary Texas journey, from a tenant farm in the rolling West Texas plains to the governor’s office of our nation’s second largest state.” Perry and his people would clearly like us to think that he made it to his current political station by pure, hard-scrabble individualism (with a little help from the Man upstairs), but even a cursory look at his record suggests otherwise.

As his website extols, “Rick Perry has led a life of public service, starting in the United States Air Force and continuing over two decades in elected office.” Thanks to a clever, rhetorical twist, his work for one of the largest wings of the federal government – the military – can be touted as admirable public service, in contrast to the other government services he so desperately wants to cut. As the wife of a former Marine, I also know that serving in the military makes one eligible for government-backed housing loans and educational funding, but Perry would argue that unlike other handouts these are appropriate entitlements for deserving people. Perhaps most ironic of all, he boasts two decades as an elected official, even as he calls for the shrinking of government. (I’m pretty sure that he won’t be handing back his tax-payer-provided pension or healthcare.)

Perry claims credit for “creating a Texas of unlimited opportunity and prosperity by improving education, securing the border and increasing economic development through classic conservative values.” However, his real record and the real-life conditions in his state tell a different story. Despite his vociferous condemnation of the federal stimulus bill, Perry has a long history of fighting for federal money to help fund state projects. Even members of his own party have decried his blatant “corporate cronyism.” He has used handouts from the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) to pad the pockets of his friends in big business, who in turn have helped to fill his campaign coffers. The free market’s hand is not so invisible in the Lone Star state.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: “It Doesn’t Get Any More Real Than Perry”?: The Right’s Stake in Real Americaness.