It’s time for us all to admit that our beloved Cardi B is a national treasure and will save a nation. But it’s also time to reckon with the fact that our rightful adoration for Cardi B reveals a troubling truth: We dismiss, denigrate and force white-appeasing standards on black and Latinx women like her every day, then pretend to love them when they achieve fame.
To be clear, my love for Cardi B knows no bounds. Last month I went to the club for a night of drinks, dancing and hookah-smoking with a few close friends. This wasn’t an unusual weekly tradition, but we always made an experience out of it: pregame and a night out in our best outfits, followed by a night of the greasiest food known to humankind. As luck would have it, the moment we stepped out of the car and into the club, Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” was glaring from the speakers. It was as if God herself were blessing us from the high heavens.
But then something happened that made me pause: The entire club—filled with hundreds of people—rapped along to the song, too. It was as if I had entered another universe full of Cardi B fans who couldn’t get enough of our nonbloodied bloody shoes. I was shook. It was in this moment that I realized Cardi B was ours—not in a way of ownership, but in a way of understanding that the former star of VH1’s Love & Hip Hop was here to stay. That night is when I knew that Cardi B had unintentionally crossed over into the mainstream and, therefore, white media outlets.
In case it wasn’t clear, I love Cardi B. She’s Afro-Latina, hood, speaks her mind and will rightfully pop off with minimal talking. Many didn’t believe in her craft; her recent song started near the bottom of Billboard’s Hot 100 but is now the No. 3 song in the country just seven weeks after its release. Cardi B can also claim to have the No. 1 rap song in the country.
As we’re going all the way up for Cardi B, it doesn’t escape me that we see people like her often—they are on the block, in school, on the Metro, in our families and maybe in our close circles. But we stay away. Many of us usually reject these same black and Latinx women and girls because they have yet to experience fame. We call them “ghetto,” suck our teeth at their mannerisms, tell them to quiet down and force respectability politics down their throats. Fortunately, they learn to reject those notions because they plan to be themselves no matter what many of us say.
So, it’s time to ask ourselves: If we can appreciate Cardi B, why can’t we do the same for someone like her who isn’t famous? Why can’t we do it for someone on the street who is figuring out how to survive?
I live in Washington, D.C., and witness my fair share of respectability politics on a daily basis. Any day, I can walk down the street of this increasingly gentrifying and transient city (because, to be clear, it’s different for native Washingtonians) and witness the notion of respectability rear its ugly head. This is especially visible on the Metro when young black and Latinx girls come onto the train, being expressive and full of life, listening to music loudly (often without headsets). Far too many of us see them, disrespectfully engage and tell them to silence themselves (usually for the appeasement of white onlookers), but then we give love to people who act like these young women when they are famous.
I’m guilty of this, and so are you.
What would happen if we stopped ignoring and dismissing our cousins who act like those famous people we love?
This is why it’s important to protect black and Latinx women—those who continually fight for us, those who are attempting to share their experiences the best way they know how, those whom people tell to quiet down. And this is why it’s necessary to stop treating people like caricatures and start investing in the totality of their experiences.
I love Cardi B because she is like so many people I know and helped raise me. It doesn’t mean she (or anyone) is perfect—as was clear with her past tweets that referred to some dark-skinned women as “roaches”—but perfection isn’t a requirement for lending support. She isn’t disposable, and neither are the black and Latinx people we see every day.
Supporting people who look like us doesn’t only matter when we see someone experiencing fame. It’s supporting women and queer, transgender and other marginalized people who express themselves a little differently despite what society may say.
We deserve Cardi B as much as we deserve the people we ignore every day. But we must honestly grapple with our aversion and accept those who are around us right now.