When Nicki Minaj accepted her MTV Video Music Award for Best Hip-Hop video last night, she thanked her pastor and told women not to depend on "these snotty-nosed boys" before turning her attention back to host Miley Cyrus.
"And now," she said, "back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley, what's good?"
Sweet Jesus. The reportedly unscripted jab was in response to Cyrus’ recent comments to The New York Times about Minaj and Taylor Swift’s July Twitter exchange, in which Minaj addressed "Anaconda" being snubbed for Video of the Year. Cyrus said:
I didn’t follow it. You know what I always say? Not that this is jealousy, but jealousy does the opposite of what you want it to -- that’s a yoga mantra. People forget that the choices that they make and how they treat people in life affect you in a really big way. 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. But I don’t respect your statement because of the anger that came with it. And it’s not anger like, “Guys, I’m frustrated about some things that are a bigger issue.” You made it about you. Not to sound like a bitch, but that’s like, “Eh, I didn’t get my V.M.A."
Cyrus used a lot of words, but what the interview essentially boiled down to was a white female artist labeling a black female artist an “angry black woman.”
"It’s not very polite," Cyrus said of Minaj's comments. "I think there’s a way you speak to people with openness and love." Instead of addressing Minaj's message, which highlighted the barriers black female artists face in the music industry, Cyrus focused on how it was said. By doing so, Cyrus dismissed the long and storied history of black women being told to bury righteous anger, to calm down and express our fury at systemic inequities we face on a daily basis "politely."
Spare us. Let's remember what Minaj's initial tweets were actually about. In July, Minaj tweeted her feelings on the VMA’s snubbing of “Anaconda” for video of the year, simultaneously calling out misogynoir and body-shaming.
And, just like in July, Minaj has been heavily demonized for calling Cyrus out. (Salon even called her comments “savage” on Monday in a since-deleted tweet). It’s disgusting that we exist in a culture that will vilify a black woman for pointing out a white woman’s racial illiteracy.
What Minaj did at the VMAs was command the power and respect she deserves as a deeply influential artist. She shouldn’t be bashed for demanding it, or told to express those demands in a way that makes white people feel more comfortable.
Last night, Minaj refused to be polite, mince her words or hide her anger. As Jessica Goldstein from Think Progress wrote:
White women do get celebrated (or, at the very least, forgiven) for things that women of color get punished for. What Minaj knows -- what she has been saying, on social media and on stage, for months -- is that our culture imposes different standards of dress and behavior on different kinds of bodies. That is the disappointing, screwed-up reality. It would be fair -- it would be great, actually -- for someone like Cyrus to acknowledge that this is depressing and screwed-up. It is unfair, and just inaccurate, to claim this is not the reality.
Historically, black women have been portrayed as innately erotic, promiscuous Jezebels, and had our voluptuous figures used against us. White women, on the other hand, are upheld as pillars of modesty, self-respect and self-control. This double standard is what allows Madonna, Lady Gaga and Cyrus to be seen as sex-positive feminist icons, while Beyoncé, Rihanna and Minaj are criticized for "objectifying themselves."
A black woman who claims ownership over her sexuality is often viewed as vulgar. As actress Amandla Stenberg, another black girl labeled "angry" for speaking out, wrote on Instagram in July:
Black features are beautiful, black women are not. White women are paragons of virtue and desire, black women are objects of fetishism and brutality. This, at least, seems to be the mentality surrounding black femininity and beauty in a society built upon eurocentric beauty standards.
“If anger is what Stenberg feels, anger is what she should be allowed to express,” HuffPost’s Lilly Workneh wrote of Stenberg. “Her anger should not be invalidated or treated as if it's an emotion only expressed by black women. Black women are constantly dehumanized and exploited which, you're damn right, triggers anger.”
The same applies to Minaj. Black women are constantly written off as "angry" or "irrational" or "defensive" when we speak out about racist double-standards. When a black woman boldly expresses her opinion, she’s often automatically deemed the aggressor -- usually toward a presumably fragile, meek, white counterpart.
Enough is enough. Instead of brushing off Minaj's anger, people need to listen to what she has to say. As a black girl with a big butt, I understand her frustration. I understand what it’s like to be shamed for your curves while also fetishized. Minaj has every right to be upset. This is infuriating stuff.
To all the people demonizing Minaj, try reckoning with her message instead and answer the question she posed last night: What’s good?
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