How Nicki Minaj Photoshopped Malcolm X’s Legacy

Her cover art takes Malcolm’s picture and robs him of his history.

Malcolm X's image appears on the cover of Nicki Minaj's latest release.
Malcolm X's image appears on the cover of Nicki Minaj's latest release. YOUNG MONEY ENTERTAINMENT/UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP

The manipulation of Malcolm X’s image, in particular, also has a broader context. In 1999 the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in his honor, but the image was cropped from a photo of Malcolm in Cairo in 1964, calling on African heads of state to charge the U.S. government with human rights violations in the United Nations.

If Minaj’s appropriation of Malcolm’s image for  “Lookin Ass Nigga” was egregious, certainly the Postal Service’s revision of Malcolm X’s radical politics was just as glaring, if not more so, no matter how respectable the outcome in the form of a stamp.

These acts of disembodiment sever Malcolm from his radical tradition of protest against injustice, from his radical love of black people and from his humanity. They are all acts of cropping that rob us of the richness of our history.

Read more of The Root’s coverage in “Nicki Minaj Apologizes for Malcolm X Cover Art.

Zaheer Ali is a Ph.D. student in history at Columbia University and a lecturer in black studies at the City College of New York, where he teaches a course on Malcolm X. He served as a project manager of Columbia University’s Malcolm X Project and was a lead researcher for the late Manning Marable’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Malcolm X: A Life of ReinventionFollow him on Twitter.