The internet has delivered another opportunity for performative outrage. Its latest victim: Cardi B. Over the past five days, social media feeds have steadily filled with a new hashtag #SurvivingCardiB, indicating there may be new allegations that Cardi B has a past not very dissimilar from R. Kelly.
Growing up in poverty. Check. A massive cultural appeal that makes it hard for us to avert our eyes and ears. Check. Hit record after hit record. Check. A problematic network of associates and enemies. Check. Serial rapist of minors? A sex-fueled network of hostages? Use of power and privilege to inflict continued traumatic sexual abuse?
While the latter charges don’t fit the description of Cardi, many social media critics have been up in arms over a reportedly years old Instagram Live video from the artist that recently resurfaced.
In an emotional tirade, Cardi can be seen sitting at home in her nighttime bonnet prepared to push back on haters who seemingly asserted that she hasn’t actually worked for everything that she has today. Part of her clap back, though, included an emotionally charged example of how she earned the money to get to where she is today — by drugging men and robbing them.
“[People] must’ve forgot [sic]… the [expletive] that I did … to [expletive] survive,” she shouts before dissolving into tears. “I had to go strip… had to go ‘oh yeah, you want to [have sex with] me?’ And then I drugged [expletive] up and I robbed them…Nothing was [expletive] handed to me,” she’s heard saying.
She later responded to critics who attacked her for the video.
The initial emotionally charged video was fraught with the energy of a successful woman of color who, like so many of us, has to explain that she did not get where she is today because of any sort of handout or privilege. Also, like many women of color who have prospered in male-dominated industries, she expresses clear exasperation with having to have leveraged the impulses of men to escape from their abuses. Through the lens of those who have been there, at worst, she escaped a precarious lifestyle by any means necessary. At best, she taught the Master a lesson: that his vices might become his downfall.
It’s a story we have heard before, many times over. From Cyntoia Brown to Chrystul Kizer, young women of color — particularly sex workers and strippers who took such jobs to escape poverty, abuse, and other devastating circumstances — have been telling us for years about the disturbing crimes they resolved to commit for survival.
As we know, their stories are not only routinely and intentionally ignored — but as the culture is now trying to do to Cardi — they are punished. It is an age-old response that ensures young women of color living in desperate conditions remember one thing: “No one cares about your pain. No one cares about curing the condition of our society that made your struggle possible. We only care about upholding the systems that make it impossible for you to escape unharmed. If the circumstances don’t kill you, the punishment for escaping will make life harder.”
Cardi B is more to our society than a heartwarming Cinderella story or a culture donor — she is our shining beacon of everything that is wrong with America’s treatment of women of color.
As quickly as Calabasas-dwelling white women can roll their necks, practice their “okurrrr” in the mirror, and attach 3-inch acrylics to their fingers, some media will turn their backs on the creators of that very culture. While white designers will dress her to twerk, middle-school girls in the suburbs will copy her body roll and booty pop, high fashion magazines will recreate her street style, and high society will invite her to every exclusive party. But no one will tell her story — let alone hold space for it.
For every one of her millions of followers in mainstream society, very few have taken the time to understand what it means to be a Black Latina who has survived poverty, the Bronx, the strip club, abusive relationships, sex work, stripping, the community aspects of gang culture, body modification to fit beauty standards, or being a first-generation anything in your family… but they understand how to rhyme “money moves” and “bloody shoes” #fortheculture.
That means the shame of Cardi’s story is not that she is a rapist (which she certainly isn’t), an indefensible thief, ruthless offender, nasty hoe, or anything else the Internet may call her. The shame of her story is that it is born of a nation that will rob a talented woman of color for all that she is — her scars, her journey, her identity, and the parts of herself (beyond her ass) that she may not even realize are commodifiable money makers for white people. Then throw her away before she ever gets a chance to tell us, the buyers, about the history behind those valuable pieces of her that we just stole. Is it not America that’s drugged Cardi up with fame and money while robbing her blind of her humanity?
Cardi also touched on the double standard regarding the hip hop industry.
“There are rappers that glorify murder violence drugs an robbing, Crimes they feel they had to do to survive,” she tweeted. I never glorified the things I brought up in that live I never even put those things in my music because I’m not proud of it and feel a responsibility not to glorify it. I made the choices that I did at the time because I had very limited options I was blessed to have been able to rise from that but so many women have not. Whether or not they were poor choices at the time, I did what I had to do to survive.”
All I can do now is be a better me for myself my family and my future. pic.twitter.com/VlPJW20thN
— iamcardib (@iamcardib) March 26, 2019
Why is that everyone seems to think that Cardi doesn’t deserve to be where she is today because of her past and yet so many male rappers are glorified and praised for their criminal pasts?
No one has been interested in Cardi’s story and yet everyone now thinks they have the right to not only tell it but judge her. Cardi isn’t interested in anyone telling her story though. In fact, she recently admitted that she’s currently working on a memoir about her life and how she survived being brought up on the streets to set the record straight
“Y’all don’t gotta tell my story… because I’m gonna write a book about my life,” she shared.
When she does take back her power and offer unknowing White America a glimpse into the life behind the culture, she should call it #SurvivingAmerica.