Azealia Banks, Cardi B and Why Respectability Politics Need to be Retired

Cardi B is from the Bronx

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Frank Schwichtenberg

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Frank Schwichtenberg

Cardi B is from the Bronx. She’s half Afro-Dominican and half Trinidadian and she’s always been proud to be both black and from the hood, which is why it was especially upsetting when Azealia Banks tried to put her down during an appearance on the popular radio program “The Breakfast Club”—and even went as far as referring to Cardi as a “caricature of a black woman.” 

Banks started off talking about her music career and even Kanye West—next thing you know she’s going in on fellow rapper Cardi B and said some pretty effed up things. Not only did she refer to her as an “illiterate untalented rat” but she also criticized Cardi’s identity.

I feel like the conversation surrounding black women’s culture maybe two years ago was reaching an all-time high. We were really discussing our power amongst ourselves. Beyoncé came out with Lemonade and there was just this really intelligent conversation going on nationally. And then there was just like Cardi B. I’m just talking about this caricature of black women, that black women themselves would never be able to get away with. Like if if my spelling and grammar were that bad… I’d be cancelled. If Nicki Minaj spelled like that, we’d be ragging on her all day.”

There are a lot of problematic things about this. For starters, Cardi B is a black Latina and because of it, some folks seem to have an issue understanding her racial identity and the validity of her blackness.

When my father taught me about Caribbean countries, he told me that these Europeans took over our lands. That’s why we all speak different languages,” Cardi said in an interview for CR Fashion Book earlier this year. “I expect people to understand that just because we’re not African Americans, we are still Black. It’s still in our culture.”

The second problem with Banks’ comments are its issue of respectability politics. Banks knows that Cardi B is from the hood and the fact that she’s putting her down because of that says a lot not just of her as a person, but also regarding her feminist politics.

There’s been a lot of conversation surrounding Cardi B’s Bronx upbringing and her speech pretty much since she got famous. The way she verbally expresses herself irked a lot of folks—including people of color. But the truth of the matter is, judging Cardi for her speech, socio-economic upbringing, and her lack of education is incredibly problematic and in many ways classiest. It speaks a lot to intersectional feminism and the way we sometimes as women of color judge other WOC who lack the education or privileges we’ve received. The fact that she was able to rise to fame despite her lack of education and on her own terms, is something to respect. Cardi has never tried to be or portray someone she’s not and she reconfirmed that in her response to Banks’ cruel comments.

In her now deleted Instagram statement, Cardi writes:

I’m from the hood. I speak how I speak I am how I am. I did not choose to be famous people choose me! People followed me on Instagram and the people gave me a platform to introduce my talent. I never asked to be a example or a role model I don’t want to change my ways because I’m famous that’s why I just mind my business. This is coming from a woman that bleached her skin but want to advocate. GOODBYE. I’m not apologizing or kill myself because of who I am.”

She also went in on Banks’ comments regarding her being “illiterate.”

Banks comments clearly impacted Cardi because she has since deleted her Instagram account.

This whole situation has me thinking maybe it’s time we start having a bigger dialogue around class divides within communities of color. If we can’t as POC at least respect Cardi as an artist—as a human being—because of her socio-economic upbringing than we have a problem. Her speech and lack of education shouldn’t give anyone—including Banks—the right to cruelly criticize and bully her. As women of color we shouldn’t be using our privilege to look down on other women of color. We should be using our privilege to lift them up.

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