So, let’s talk about Cardi B

Cardi B by Amy Lombard for the New York Times

“Oh boy,” you’re probably thinking. “Another think piece.” You’ll live.

The highly acclaimed single Bodak Yellow — the anthem of the summer , and rightfully so — was re-released as a remix in Spanglish featuring fellow Dominican and New York-city based rapper Messiah, who, like Cardi, has trap music in Latin america in a vice grip.

I’ve looked up to Cardi prior to her days on Love and Hip-Hop. As a Dominican femme from the Bronx, her success story has been somewhat of a mark of pride for me.

Belkalis Almanzar (Cardi’s government name) started out as an exotic performer known for her posts on Instagram and Vine, which attributed to her early successes in 2013. Her debut on VH1’s Love and Hip Hop in 2015 really thrust her into the spotlight, and choice to leave the show in 2016 to pursue her career as a musician full time was the only come up.

Like, this random chick from Highbridge, hustling her whole life to make ends meet (gangbanging, high school at Renaissance, working at the Amish market, getting fired, stripping, being funny as hell on the internet, having your videos blow up, dancing gigs getting bigger and bigger, stackin’ cash and then) ends up with a dream gig while doing whatever the fuck she wants without compromising who she is — and all her hard work pays off as she looks at the world from the top 10 slot of the Billboard charts, all at the age of 24? Bruh. It’s hard not to be proud of her.

In her unabashed pursuit to be completely herself — whether it’s Cardi B or Belkalis — she tends to alienate folks who are fans. For instance, she got dragged for referring to dark-skinned women as roaches.

I also have opinions on white and/or white passing people attempting to “drag” people of color, especially black women like Cardi B, as their contribution to the sloppy world of internet activism. Or, our own need to have celebrities we admire become social justice icons. But that could be its own separate post. I digress.

Cardi’s constant violation against trans* people has been inexcusable, especially in light of the multitude of trans* people dying at the hands of family members, partners, random strangers, or the state. She has apologized for this specific blunder, but she continues to make the same mistakes — and deletes her tweets after, washing her hands of any chance at accountability.

For the numerous women that have died this year, how many more excuses can we take from her, or any other celebrity, on the subject of transphobia? And how could we prevent another Eva, Tee Tee or Chyna * from happening again? We need to address how the normalization of transphobic sentiments leads to the permissible and forgettable deaths of trans* people.

Oh, and literally today, Refinery29 writer Amani Al-Khatahtbeh prefaces her piece criticizing orientalism in Cardi’s hit single as well as in the music industry with, “Let me start out by saying that it actually PAINS me to write this.” Me too, sis.

Asleigh Shackelford writes, “Although Cardi B. has some work to do on her queer and trans politics, she has galvanized a black feminist hoeism politic that allows for black women and femmes to feel empowered in whichever way they perform, present and navigate outside of the gaze of respectability.”

And out of the gaze of respectability is how Cardi operates. As a self-identified hood feminist, I am here for Cardi B’s complete dismantling of respectability politics by simply… existing. Her thick accent, her hand gestures, the iconic line “I’m just a regular degular schmegular girl from the Bronx,” (which has graced the Twitter bios of all us Bronx girls at least once) are all examples of how she navigates spaces that demand her to shrink herself.

It comforts me to know that some Snapchat-filters-are-for-hoes head ass cringes every time they see Cardi livin’ it up and flourishing in her career. Besides, there is no such thing as a homogeneous group of feminists, or one type of feminism. Cardi has spoken on that before, too.

Not one of us thinks alike or shares the same experiences. But, hood feminism, urban feminism, or however you’d like to decorate it, allows us to uplift ourselves, our loved ones, and our people, radically. In Cardi’s case, she’s literally made a career out of being radical in her own way. After all, the whole concept of hood feminism allows us to build community within our communities without sacrificing our authentic sense of self. It allows us to make mistakes, to call each other out, to have moments where we can reflect and grow from our fuck ups.

Understanding the importance of navigating ourselves in predominantly cis gendered heterosexual capitalistic patriarchal spaces where our very own bodies, our testimonies, everything about us is always questioned, nitpicked at, belittled. And, in understanding the ways that hood feminism intersects with Cardi B’s personal politics, we also see where she falls short.

To be frank, I think we’ve all gotten caught up in call out culture on social media. There’s a difference between accountability and disposability, and we’ve definitely made a habit out of disposing of folks we deem as “problematic,” while completely forgetting that not all of us are at the same juncture of consciousness yet.

Now, I’m not saying I have not done this. Spoiler alert: I used to revel in it. I am also not saying we should avoid calling out toxic and abusive behavior. But if someone says something that could easily be corrected with a suggestion, and an apology is issued by the other person along with a commitment to do better, then that’s something constructive.

Ngoc Loan Tran says it best in their idea of what the concept of “calling in” looks like: “It means extending to ourselves the reality that we will and do f**k up; we stray and there will always be a chance for us to return. Calling in as a practice of loving each other enough to allow each other to make mistakes, a practice of loving ourselves to know that what we’re trying to do here is a radical unlearning of everything we have been configured to believe is normal.”

The practice of calling someone out can look like performative allyship. Calling someone in, as Tran suggests, requires a level of humanization and trust, as well as acknowledging the possibility of trauma the person in question carries with them. And we all have traumas.

So, tying this back to the subject at hand — I shared Cardi B’s remix to Bodak Yellow this morning, and three artists that I respect and admire, Audry Funk, DJ Dame Luz (of Holy Trinity: Bey x RIRI x Nicki fame), and Eileen Vidal had some light to share on the song itself and the levels of rooting for her while at the same time, holding her accountable.

((Might I add that it was a unique conversation as Audry relocated from Mexico to the Bronx, Eileen and Dame Luz, like me, were born and raised in the Bronx, and Cardi, of course, is from the Bronx. See where I’m going with this?))

I’ll paraphrase some of the exchange, as it was all had in Spanish:

Audy Funk: “In my personal opinion, I think Cardi B is a perfect example of how to satisfy the patriarchal world of music, and the world in general.”

Eileen Vidal: “I understand what you’re saying, based on how she dresses, speaks and expresses herself. BUT, one consistent theme in her music and her attitude is that she doesn’t need a man; she can take care of herself because she works hard, and doesn’t need any help to get the things that she wants.”

AF: “And many (artists) do, and I don’t think that treating others like, “Bitch, you’re not my friend if you’re broke,” is fair — in fact I think it’s sad and in poor taste… for me, it’s an attitude that in the place of empowering us, it makes us confront one another. Nah, I don’t think it’s cool. The rap that I do, what I fight for in my music does not share that message. In Latin america, women fight so we won’t get killed, so we can be respected… rap can change with resistance and to me, she seems like an oppressive ally.”

DL: “I want to mention that she is still young and has a lot to learn. Remember that radical politics and social consciousness is a privilege, a privilege of which not everyone has access to. We should ask her to do better, but we have to be patient. Classism and transphobia are taught to us.”

Would Cardi B have signed to Atlantic Records or any major company without upholding some levels of misogyny and heteropatriarchy despite her years of hard work? Probably not.

As Dominique Dabs posed this question in her op-ed, I’ll iterate and ask, will Cardi B’s success be stalled by her tweets? I’m sure I echo a lot of folks’ sentiments on that when I say I hope that doesn’t happen.

And could we, as fans or as critics, use the practice of calling in to address the obviously damaging things Cardi has said about black women and the LGBTQ+ community? I think so, if she’ll have us. And if she doesn’t, then…

Asi que Belkalis, por favor, te lo suplico — deja el show y ponte en linea.

*2017 has been a deadly year for trans women and I wanted to pay tribute by uplifting their names:

Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, Jojo Striker, Tiara Lashaytheboss Richmond, Jacquarius Holland, Chyna Doll Dupree, Ciara McElveen, Alphonza Watson, Chayviss Reed, Brenda Bostick, Sherell Faulkner, Kenne McFadden, Josie Berrios, Ava Le’ray Barrin, Ebony Morgan, Troy “Tee Tee” Dangerfield, and recently, Gwynevere River Song. #ProtectTransWomen

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