When the video for Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda" dropped in August of last year, she set the Internet ablaze with her ode to curvaceous black women, racking up 19.6 million views on YouTube in its first 24 hours, smashing the record at the time. Reactions to the video were mixed, to be sure, but what Nicki accomplished was undeniably big, bold and uncompromisingly black.
Nearly a year later, MTVs Video Music Awards snubbed the video in its nominations for Video of the Year, with Beyonce representing the only woman of color in the category for her "7/11" video. Following the snub, Minaj set off an Internet firestorm once again with a simple series of tweets:
\u201cIf I was a different "kind" of artist, Anaconda would be nominated for best choreo and vid of the year as well. \ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\u201d
\u201cWhen the "other" girls drop a video that breaks records and impacts culture they get that nomination. \ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\u201d
\u201cIf your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year \ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\ud83d\ude0a\u201d
The controversy entered full swing after Taylor Swift, who was nominated in the category for her "Bad Blood" video, took Minaj's critique of the music industry personally and responded directly to Nicki, starting what many publications happily splashed across their headlines as the latest celebrity feud:
Many words have been written about how Minaj's critique of the music industry is a valid one and how Swift and many others missed the point of Minaj's argument against structural racism and sexism, but little has been said about where queer men fit into the conversation.
\u201cI'm not always confident. Just tired. Black women influence pop culture so much but are rarely rewarded for it. https://t.co/2xOvJzBXJX\u201d
A month before Nicki's "Anaconda" video dropped, Sierra Mannie took "white gays" to task for "pillaging...extracurricular black activities" in an essay for Time, giving examples of "our music, our dances, our slang, our clothing, our hairstyles. All of these things are rounded up, whitewashed and repackaged for your consumption." The response from many queer men was overwhelmingly defensive, with even some queer black men criticizing Mannie for not acknowledging how black women also take from black queer culture.
The line between appropriation and appreciation may be murky, and cultural exchanges can and do happen without being oppressive, but the fact remains that whether black women are simply contributing to culture or being appropriated, they are rarely rewarded by either black men, white women, and white and nonwhite queer people alike. As Mannie states: "A culture of racism is bad enough, but pairing it with patriarchal structures that intend to undermine women's advancement is like double-fisting bleach and acid rain."
Black women deal with both sexism and racism in a unique way described by the activist Moya Bailey using the term "misogynoir," and if they are queer or trans, homophobia and transphobia layered atop it. This intersection of race and gender often goes unacknowledged by queer, straight, black, and white men, leading to black women of every orientation being left out of movements, pushed aside and violated, even while they are being relied upon for support and entertainment.
Nicki Minaj, in her own place of privilege, made salient observations about awards and a position of celebrity that most of us will never have access to, but the point remains the same: Black women contribute much to society and often get little to nothing in return.
Late last year, Azealia Banks came under fire for her use of the word "faggot" to describe the gay blogger Perez Hilton. A few months later, in an interview with QutQ's Xorje Olivares on Sirius XM, Banks stated, "I definitely think a lot of the time with the 'white gay media' - especially with female artists - in order for you to seem successful or seem feminine you have to desire their approval. I feel like a lot of times gay men can be way more misogynistic than even straight men. Even how they come to you picking at your hair, telling you you're fat, telling you all this other shit. Telling you how to be a woman. What the fuck do you know about being a woman?"
The point, shrouded in Banks' own inability to recognize how her language, too, can be oppressive, was that black women are often seen by us queer men simply as objects designed for our entertainment, and once they assert their humanity, we often lose our interest in them.
All my videos deserve VMas and my album deserves a Grammy but I'll never get one because America doesn't like opinionated black women.
Banks' use and defense of homophobic language was wrong. Our commodification of black women's bodies is just as wrong, if not worse. Despite our own marginalization, queer men have the responsibility to interrogate how we enact sexism, especially against black women. Too often we get wrapped up in how homophobia affects us to the detriment of a sincere analysis of how our actions affect others.
It's no secret that many black female celebrities have huge gay male followings, but when black women aren't slaying on the stage or television and they need us, where are we? The lives of black women deserve at least the same level of ferocious support as their entertaining antics.
Ten days ago, a black woman named Sandra Bland died in a jail cell in Wallace County, Texas. Police claim her death was a suicide, but the circumstances of her death are unclear, at best, and suspicious, at worst. Black activists, especially black women, have almost singlehandedly forced the hand of law enforcement to start providing honest answers by unyieldingly demanding to know #WhatHappenedToSandraBland.