About thirty seconds into Cardi B’s first appearance on Love & Hip-Hop: New York, I joined her legion of loyal Instagram followers. She was animated, real and side-splittingly funny. In two and a half years, I watched a former sex worker rocket past the glass ceiling of D-list reality TV (underneath which Latinx/Black women of humble beginnings are often confined) and onto the mainstage of American pop culture.
As a woman of color, her explosive success is more than a pleasant surprise — it’s a delightful shock. I never thought I would see someone so boldly Afro-Latina, so proudly female and so blatantly hood be so widely embraced.
Being a woman of color in the world is like constantly holding your breath. Your existence is inherently too loud, too assertive, too sexual, too coarse; your vivacity is too hostile to whiteness and to patriarchy. You are to be neither seen nor heard, because God forbid you make a white woman uncomfortable or a Latinx/Black man feel emasculated.
Yet, Cardi B refuses to be suffocated. Instead, she sucks all the oxygen out of the room, and, somehow, makes everyone okay with coming up for air.
Unlike most successful women of color before her, she did not have to adapt to respectability politics in order to enter the mainstream. Why? Because Cardi B came up in an era where authenticity is currency. Or, as I like to call it, the “big mood” era.
“Big mood” is a social media slang term used to impart the user’s internal feeling via an avatar who expresses that feeling externally. It’s also a good way to characterize the pattern of behavior that defines our political moment.
People feel like their voices are echoes in a void. They feel completely detached from agency in their own lives. And they are. So, they have activated a collective voice through shared symbols. They say #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter and they march and they protest. And, they seek out avatars in political and pop culture that they feel represent their authentic lived experience; avatars who reflect a “big mood.” Cardi B is one of them.
What I find most compelling about Cardi B is not what she symbolizes, but how unafraid she is to poke holes in hegemonic ideas. She condemns the notion that there should be prerequisites for civic participation and encourages those facing injustice to advocate for themselves. Moreover, she holds nothing back in her critiques of power.
She has lambasted tax revenue allocation as an opaque system that fails to effectively redistribute resources to poor citizens, particularly urban residents and incarcerated, but manages to fund “a wall and a war”. She has ridiculed the proposal to arm teachers, noting the abysmally low wages for public school educators and questioning the racial-economic motivations for the prevalence of metal detectors in inner city schools. She has argued that feminism is for everybody, criticizing classism in gender discourse.
The rapper is not only breaking glass ceilings in music and media; she’s opening doors in the halls of power. She describes the psychological implications of residential segregation, encourages women to uplift one another instead of tearing each other down, and even articulates the importance of social welfare programs so persuasively Bernie Sanders is paying attention. Cardi B is the champion for democracy we’ve always needed.
“Of course the success of people like me scares people, that’s why they belittle us,” she told i-D magazine. “It don’t matter if the government and the Republicans try to make us feel like we’re not [important], cuz we is. I know the truth.”
For people of color — and women of color in particular — it is especially difficult to assert one’s agency. The way forward is by personally and politically adopting the “big mood” Cardi B gave us at Coachella, which was, to paraphrase: I’m here, I am what I am and I’m not going anywhere.
Jade Piñero is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected] Jaded and Confused appears alternate Thursdays.