THE CASE OF CARDI B: BELCARIS VS. THE WORLD OF RESPECTABILITY POLITICS

There are a few things I need to say as a precursor before I proceed: I am an intersectional Latinx feminist (if you’re into labels) with academic degrees, a 9-5 job and a privileged ability to coat switch, to speak colloquial language with my community at home but present myself as a “model minority” with mainstream America. Although I never watched Love and Hip Hop, I first cherished Cardi B as the Vine legend who coined “a hoe never gets cold”, a catch phrase that began my love affair with Cardi B. As a music editor, I really do enjoy her music, and despite the copious amounts of criticism I get for being a “smart” girl who stans “an uneducated, loud-mouthed, unconventional feminist and ex-stripper”, I am VERY pro-Cardi B.

With the release of her new album Invasion of Privacy, we reenter the conversation critiquing Cardi B: is Invasion of Privacy really worthy of all of its praise? Is Cardi B, as a person, really worth all of her praise?

Belcaris Almanzar is, in a very over-simplified nutshell, an Afro-Latinx, Bronx-born, hood baby gang-banging stripper-turned-reality-star rapper with no filter and no fucks, who in the last year has taken over the music industry by not only existing in her truth but demanding everyone take notice.

Her musical achievements in the last year from single “Bodak Yellow” include becoming the first female rapper (without association) in nearly two decades to hit #1 on the Billboard Charts, which placed her in the top 5 female rappers to lead the Hot 100 and allowed her to kick off Taylor Swift on the charts (an accomplishment that we can all be thankful for). Cardi has not only been in the game but is also clearly dominating it — and she obviously has the numbers to back up her musical artistry. So why, in 2018, are we are STILL having the conversation about her musical worth to quantify her value as a person? Why is a womyn of color’s virtue, unapologetic existence and artistry a conversation that we feel the depends on our approval?

To question Carbi B’s identity, her music and her life choices is to play a very dangerous respectability politics game. For those who have never encountered the term, ‘respectability politics’ is generally defined as the process by which marginalized groups are catalyzed to learn that in order to receive better treatment from a group in power they must behave better.

Respectability politics are very root of the great Cardi B debate. Cardi B is problematic because she is disrupting the narrative of what the trajectory of success should look like. She is problematic for the music industry because she has been able to enter and dominate an industry not designed for her without compromising her authenticity. She is problematic because she is a reminder of how the world is continuously attempting to rid the power found within an unapologetic, marginalized identity regardless of how it chooses to exist and navigate within the system.

Like most womyn of color, although we may reach a point in our lives where we consciously “choose” to become political, our existence & bodies are politicized for us the moment we enter spaces and gazes not meant for us. Cardi B isn’t asking to be your feminist hero, but rather she is doing what she feels like, saying what she wants and living how she chooses all on her own. This action manifests Cardi B as a feminist icon should be. If that isn’t one of the most empowering messages one can take from her career and her overall existence, Cardi B is still sitting on the top of the charts and living her best life, not giving one damn what you think.

Whether as Belcaris the Bronx Stripper or as Cardi B the top charting rapper, Cardi B is a symbolic reflection that a womyns’ profession does not define her worth. Cardi B models that even if ones’ trajectory towards success is alternative to what is prescribed, it does not make her any less worthy of acknowledgement or praise. To contain Cardi or any other WOC’s narrative to a strict standard of behaved and groomed performative standards is to place a harmful mentality on what it means to justify respect. To tell someone that they need academic language, professional demeanor or saintlike sexual behaviors in exchange for deserving basic humanity results in severe consequences, especially for so many who, like young Belcaris, have the world and all odds stacked against them.

Imagine if the media narrative focused on the political stances that Cardi has taken on through her platform, ranging from her non-shy approach to topics like Afro-Latina identity, pro-sex work, an openness to plastic surgery, and Black, Latinx, feminist politics. Alternatively, imagine if the media praised her capability to financially survive and escape domestic violence instead of demeaning her stripper past. Imagine if the media focused on her emphasis on transparency and empowerment for women seeking fair treatment, safety and compensation in the sex work profession instead of questioning if a hoe deserves love. Imagine if they focused on on her support for Kaepernicks’ display of protest or her support of Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles in the face of anti-blackness critique instead of her lack of academic training. Imagine if, instead of criticizing her inability to speak at collegiate levels, the media focused on Cardi B’s ability to relate to the masses who rely on colloquial and social media mechanisms for communication and her ability to utilize such tools to empower her audiences to live their most authentic lives.

Cardi B has swam upstream against the currents of the music industry. A self-proclaimed “roach that turned into a butterfly.”, Cardi B an engine fueled as much by her supporters as by her strongest doubters. She is the ultimate fuck you to a white, male dominated industry and white dominated world. Cardi B is not asking for your approval or respect — she’s demanding it simply by existing in her truth. She’s taking up a space not meant for womyn like her both in the music industry and society alike. What is more revolutionary than that?

Cardi B never asked for your opinion, never needed it and – trust me – never will. If your elitist feminism is not intersectional enough for you to understand how both Belcaris and Cardi’s identities have carved out a space in mainstream media for female empowerment in an entirely new way then then I want no part of it. Her hoetic justice has brought life to a new wave of womyn and femmes of color by empowering them to present themselves freely as they navigate outside the rigid constraints of outdated respectability. Cardi B is a symbol of aspiration for young, Black, Afro-Latinx, Femmes, Queer and marginalized womyn. In a world continuously stacking the odds against marginalized womym in an attempt to shut to shut them out of their dreams, Cardi B promises that success can happen on your own time and terms and it can be achieved. If that isn’t enough aspiration and inspiration to drop the debate of uncertainty around Cardi B then a process of serious unlearning and introspection needs to take place.

It’s time to stop dictating if women are worthy of love and happiness and start encouraging them to celebrate their authenticity in all its light. Cardi B teaches us to celebrate women’s success in all its forms and stop pigeonholing what its trajectory needs to look like. A womyn’s worth should never be defined by her profession, sexuality or conformity. It should be defined by the barriers she breaks, the empowerment she exudes and the dreams she dares to achieve.

The music industry is a manufactured space that so rarely allows for pure authenticity to bloom and now we have Cardi B, the rose that grew from the Bronx concrete.

Cardi B is worthy of all her praise and the successes coming her way in the same way that a sex worker, a college student, a young mother and even you are ultimately worthy of yours. Give this moment to the unapologetic Black and Brown girls, to the pro-hoe girls, to the sexually comfortable and empowered girls. Give this moment to Cardi B. Even if you don’t, she’s still going to have it all anyways. Cardi has top singles, a new album taking over the charts, a fiancé, baby bump, and family on the way. She’s Cardi B and she’s more than proven you really couldn’t fuck with her, even if you wanted to.

Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy now available for streaming across all platforms.
Words by Jeanette.

FEATURED PHOTO BY SAMANTHA CASOLARI

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