Nicki Minaj, Lil’ Kim and the Curse of the Alter Ego

Why must black female performers adopt dual identities in order to express their sexual power?

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Daunted by the seemingly inevitable fact that they’ll be pegged as either oversexed jezebels or asexual mammies, many young black women struggle to express their own sexuality without the benefits of the second skin afforded by performance art. In the era of Sasha Fierce and the Harajuku Barbie, black girls dress, speak and act in ways that imitate these pop projections of black sexual power created by grown women playing dress-up. Our community must shatter the good girl-bad girl moral dichotomy that so firmly binds expressions of black female sexuality — otherwise the agency of young black girls and women is put at risk through the shaming of their sexual maturation.

A public example of this type of shaming is the now-infamous “wardrobe malfunction” incident of the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show, during which Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed, igniting a witch hunt driven by censors, sponsors and the American public. Although Jackson did apologize, the FCC, media and public responses to the incident all raise questions about the subjugation of black female sexuality — particularly since the co-performer who removed her top, Justin Timberlake, was largely left out of the fray. Jackson has never formed an alter ego as a part of her own sexual evolution as an artist; in fact, she has been open about it, wearing her sexuality unapologetically and brazenly. But in the wake of the fallout, Jackson, who is known for her erotic performances on tour, has been far more subdued in public.

American society, irrespective of race or gender, has a difficult time unpacking the notion that black women’s sexuality is not a product, not a gimmick, but something real, complex and authentic — and only a tiny part of who any one of them might be.

In order to unpack the baggage that limits black sexuality, it’s time for black women to have the courage to stop thinking outside of themselves.


Maya Francis is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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