It’s the morning of Christmas and after hours of sulking in bed, I drag myself to the kitchen to help my mother with dinner.
“I’m sad,” I sigh over a sink of dirty dishes, “Offset cheated on Cardi.”
My mother, always up on the latest celebrity gossip, responds with her repertoire of questions and theories that ultimately ends with a neat solution: “She should just leave him, she can do better.” Not in my mother’s direct line of sight, I roll my eyes and give a cute “mhmm” at this weak consolation. The only thing I can see at the moment is my steaming anger, my solution being: she has to kill him.
Just a few days prior, I was talking to friends about our love and excitement for the 25 year-old Bronx rapper whose winning streak seemed endless — landing covers of top magazines like Fader and Rolling Stone, big endorsement deals with companies like Steve Madden, chart-topping songs on US and Latin Billboard charts, a Grammy nomination, and a marriage proposal in front of thousands. Everyone knew 2017 was Cardi’s year, yet still I could sense the angst many of us were feeling about her quick rise to fame. Something was going to tarnish the sparkle of Cardi B’s reign. As she herself prophesied, something bad always comes after so much good.
The news of Offset’s infidelity broke only two days after she dropped her second single, “Bartier Cardi.” The fairy tale life we had dreamed up for Cardi B was cast from our grips and I began to loathe Offset–the one to block her shine. The man who she openly loved and bragged about in her lyrics, was now responsible for the media circus that cast a dark cloud over her song release.
Later that night, at Christmas dinner, I make my obligatory men are trash comments and plan to take my apple pie to go. I didn’t want to stick around for the “not all men” retorts, but one could imagine my face when my mother for the first time ever defends my feminist sentiments and chimes in with “she’s right!” Shocked, I remain seated listening to my grandmother struggle to list men in our family that might not be assigned to the dumpster pile, while my mother and aunt sat at the edge of their seats ready to counter with the trashcan behaviors of any man she named. At this point, I am flabbergasted. How has my mother found her way to the winning team?! Writing this helped me discover the answer: Belcalis Almanzar.
My mother’s love for Cardi B is unmatched to the point that she has taken to referring to the young superstar as her daughter. Never has my mother embraced a celebrity in this way but seeing this shift helped me to understand my own embrace of Cardi and other Black woman stars alike.
My sister and I are our mother’s princesses, literally and figuratively. Still to this day, my mother greets me with “Hi, Mommy’s Princess!” In the figurative sense, she sees us as the perfectly good, innocent, beautiful young women who will grow up to live the picturesque life — get married, have a career, bear children and live happily ever after. Now that Cardi is no longer living the hustler life, she fits perfectly into that mold. Her star-studded career, tall dark fiancé, and unrelenting desire to settle down and have some babies made her the quintessential princess adoptee in the eyes of my mother. Perhaps, then, my mother and I found solidarity in our disdain of men because we were loving the same woman in a similar vein — we revered Cardi and only wanted the best for her. Any person that threatened her happiness, threatened our happiness.
But I, unlike my mother, held many Black women in this light. So when I listened to Jay-Z confirm the cheating rumors and go into detail about Beyoncé’s miscarriages, I could feel myself reeling out of my shoes as I stomped down Greenwich Street. I felt a similar kind of rage-filled hurt when the photos of Rihanna’s battered face were disgustingly released by TMZ, when I heard Evelyn Braxton talk about the violence she witnessed Tamar experience at the hands of Vince Herbert, and when I learned of my mother’s experience with abuse at the hands of my father. When I learn that any woman I love is being harmed by a person they trust, love, have children with, defend even, the sadness sits in, the hurt feels like my own, I wear it. To witness the women I hail be harmed, be violated, be betrayed, the first thing I want to do is to get them out of harm’s way, and the second, is attack. I want to maim the offender out of love for the person I hold dear, but also in fierce protection, like a mother shields their child, or like a kingdom safeguards their princess.
But Cardi is not a princess, and has explicitly rejected that narrative, despite it being layered on her by so many, including radio hosts, fellow celebrities, and everyday fans. Nor is she the first Black woman celeb to deliberately renounce her crown. We might read Whitney Houston’s decision to date and later marry Bobby Brown as a rejection of being dubbed America’s Sweetheart, or Rihanna’s nude instagram posts smoking marijuana as her rejection of the label, “Pop Princess.” The same could be said for Beyoncé’s entire self-titled album and Janet Jackson’s Control. I, myself, have struggled with with this labeling by not just my mother but by teachers, peers, and lovers.
Any sign of opposition to the pure, ladylike image of a princess by young Black girls was and is still met by an intense policing of our language, physical appearance and the company we keep. If you were caught using profanity, if you wore booty shorts, if you dyed or shaved your hair, if you had lip piercings, if you decided to not to go straight to college, if you acted in a way that seemed “loose” or “ghetto,” and/or were close with anyone seen as such, someone was going to tell you about yourself.
As I get older and less attached to pleasing my mother, I see all the ways that Princesshood is coded with heterosexism, classism, and a misogynoir that renders young Black women infantile. No matter their age, Black women are seen as impressionable and mindless, their decisions read as lacking in sound judgment. Through the lens of Princesshood, my desire to then sneak out of the house was because of my “hoodrat” friends, my queerness now is a phase, and my growing collection of piercings and tattoos is bodily experimentation and a refusal to grow up rather than an exercise of personal and bodily autonomy.
If Black women celebrities are consistently read as the princess, then we, the audience start to act as the monarch. We begin to impose our beliefs and ideas of a proper heiress on these women and we do so with the paternalistic understanding that it is in their best interest, and that only we, so empowered by the internet, know what those best interests are. Therefore, to dismantle our own attachment to princesshood, we must ask ourselves: 1) What informs our ideas of how we believe Cardi should behave? and 2) Why do we think we know what is best for this woman?
In the rags to riches Cinderella story, the rags are eventually discarded and replaced with a more glamorous image. As Cardi rose to fame, we were quick to praise her outspokenness, her wit, her feminist takedowns of men like Peter Gunz. Now we seem even quicker to make sure she hides any remnants of her rags as she takes claim of her throne. “She’s at the Grammy’s, why she still addressing the haters?” So many of us are quick to police and ridicule Cardi for not letting up on her responses to trolls (something even Oprah does), hoppin’ in some beef, and her fierce commitment to Offset and her outward love and affection for him.
Her ratchetness is profitable, entertaining, and appealing until it ain’t. Cardi can rap about her haters like our Queen Beyonce in “***Flawless”, but she can’t actually be willing to curse out a hater in her comments. These critiques of Cardi don’t just reek of misogynoir, they are riddled with contempt for the poor, for the working-class, for the hood. In the age of social media, where celebrities’ interpersonal decisions are blasted on our timelines for the sake of commentary warfare, it is easy for folks to disguise their paternalism as advice and a genuine desire to see Cardi grow. Put comments like “She is too famous to be popping out like this” in the context of Princesshood and these comments read as a public scolding that fits into a respectability understanding of maturity prescribed as the ability for one to essentially ascend hood behavior.
“I felt like my life was mine. Now I feel like I don’t even own my life. I feel like the world owns me. It’s crazy because I never been the type of person to ever really care about anything. I never had to censor myself. Now I feel like everybody is so sensitive, and it’s sad. Some people have written me off or tried to make me feel like I’m something I’m not or wanted to tell me how to manage my relationship.”
— CARDI B, CR FASHION BOOK, FEBRUARY 2018
A few days after Christmas, my mother drives me to the bus back to New York City. During the ride, she tries to insinuate that my father has lost his daughter to the city I now call home. Her insinuation that some part of me has died, annoyed and hurt me; my response being: “You really need to pack whatever fantasies, whatever ideas you have of me up in a box and mourn them.” It was time to put her princess dreams to rest. And I think it is time we as fans, as lovers of these Black woman artists, do the same for our oppressive dreams of Cardi.
Cardi B is not — and refuses to be — the container for our greatest strivings and desires. It makes us uncomfortable to read why she has decided to stay with Offset despite his infidelity because of its rawness. The insecurities that Cardi wears on her sleeve is of her very essence. Seeing Cardi live so unabashedly, so openly, makes us squeamish, because she doesn’t hide what still lingers even when you get the success you reach for. What if we see the threat to our loved one’s happiness as the very person themselves?
I have now come to trust that Cardi B is with Offset because it is the best decision for her, I trust her to make that decision as a young woman, and I trust that she will leave Offset if and when she goddamn pleases. My anger with that man is all my own and it is not Cardi who asked me to carry it. When we seek to fight the battles of our loved ones, especially without permission, we strip them of their agency. Cardi doesn’t need saving from Offset, from her haters, or herself. She got this far by listening to her own voice, and it is that self- awareness that will protect her.
Rather than a princess, Cardi B is the mirror, reflecting back to us our own frailties. In response to our vain pondering, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, who’s the finest of them all?” Cardi laughs tongue out and says in her Bronx accent: go find out your fuckin’ self. She’s not going to do the labor of living out our antiquated fantasies of glamour and success. Still, in the persistency of her gangsta girl refusal, Cardi opens up a new world of infinite possibilities of success that are inclusive of Black women and/or femmes who the princess mold was never meant to encompass in the first place. That is the magic of these photos from Cardi’s February i-D magazine feature taken by Oliver Hadlee Pearch. In the words of parenting coach, Dr. Shefali Tsabary, the young Black bodies we see in these photos are flying, “danc[ing] to a song that revels in freedom.” If you’ve ever been in a room when Cardi comes on, you have witnessed this reveling. It is those enchanting, liberating moments that compel me to only celebrate the woman who gave me the music, to honor all the unpolished ways that she lives out loud and inspires all who encounter her light to do the same.