Yesterday, Cardi B made news when it was discovered that the artist has been charged with assault over a violent incident that occurred in a strip club in Queens and involved members of her entourage and two women who have allegedly had illicit affairs with Cardi B’s husband, Offset. According to a New York Times article about the matter, Cardi B supposedly “showed up at the Angels Strip Club on Aug.15 and confronted the sisters” when “her bodyguards and other members of her entourage attacked the bartenders with bottles and chairs, causing serious injury.”
Some qualifications and disclaimers are certainly due. As a white man, I recognize the limitations inherent in the true scope and relevance of any public, non-peer-reviewed discourse I might offer on the lives of black, female hip-hop artists. Nevertheless, as a student of musicology and cultural studies, these are topics that interest me, and I feel as though engaging in the attempt at discourse brings me closer to some sense of empathy towards the way other people experience the world. So, I turn to Cardi B.
In Cardi B’s defense, it is important to note that the details of this altercation at the strip club in August are merely alleged; none of us were there, of course, and so we don’t really know what went down. Furthermore, as needless as it is to say, hip-hop artists — and particularly black, female hip-hop artists — often have little control over how the media and mainstream discourse choose to read and sensationalize the various happenings of their lives. Moreover, in googling and doing a bit of research on the incident, I noticed articles from a few outlets, including People Magazine, that highlighted Cardi B’s choice to go out shopping in a bathrobe on the day after the charges were discovered. The media is definitely interested in generating buzz out of such non-information from the lives of many celebrities (think of our obsession with Kanye West’s sandals), but in a society that shifts unrelenting standards and fixation on the physical attributes of women, the focus on Cardi B’s outfit and its tenuous connection it to the incident is unfair.
But, didn’t Cardi B do a bad thing? Didn’t she break the law and have people seriously injured in the process? Let’s assume that the details are accurate and the charges are not unfounded. In this case, Cardi B’s behavior lends us a teachable moment about the failure of many celebrities — particularly those involved with hip-hop culture — to fully realize the significance of their wealth and stature. In a Huffington Post article from a few years ago, Prof. Oneka LaBennett, Africana studies, responded to Beyoncé and Jay Z’s performance of “Drunk in Love” at the 2014 Grammys, a song and act that, at least implicitly, condones domestic violence and the hyper-sexualization and objectification of female bodies. In the article, Professor LaBennett points out that so many celebrities, especially the immensely wealthy Beyoncé and Jay Z, do not realize when their wealth unjustly grants them the ability to make certain choices without consequences. Their Grammy performance, of course, signifies an ignorance of the complex intersection of race, class and gendered violence.
A similar case might be made against Cardi B. This is an artist who might not realize the extent to which wealth disconnects someone from the real world — a few weeks ago, Cardi B tweeted about loving Century 21, Marshalls and T.J. Maxx a few hours after sharing a tweet about her Lamborghini. This juxtaposition seems ironically ignorant of any economic inequality in a neoliberal society. The recent incident, if true, highlights an utter acceptance with the parameters of heteronormative courtship as it performs the trope of “unfaithful husband, crazy wife.” Perhaps this is all illustrated by the continuous use of the phrase “turned herself in,” from the New York Times article referenced above to the Snapchat “news” (the triteness of which is deserving of its own column on the downfall of journalism) story from which I first learned of the incident. Turning oneself in is a privilege typically reserved for only the richest members of any social hierarchy, a poignant contrast to the brutal treatment by police that less affluent African Americans have experienced for a long time.
One might argue that all of this is merely a sexual reclamation on Cardi B’s part, but I would adopt a more bell-hooksian approach to the matter. When these exaggerated images of women’s sexuality are the dominant ones in existence, at what point is “reclamation” more of a collusion in the overproduction of these monolithic, restrictive roles? Cardi B has made it and is an immensely successful and talented artist. But the hyper-sexual symbolism, acceptance of heteronormative courtship and ironic playfulness with neoliberal humanity’s rampant class inequality are no longer needed.
Nick Swan is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Swan’s Song runs alternate Thursdays this semester.