Nicki Minaj’s butt and the politics of black women’s sexuality

Nicki_Minaj_Anaconda 2Over at Ebony.com, Jamilah Lemieux has a good summary of why Chuck Creekmur’s open letter to Nicki Minaj raises a number of red flags.

Creekmur, owner of AllHipHop.com, penned the letter in response to Minaj’s cover artwork for her next single, “Anaconda.” She’s sporting a thong and a pair of Air Jordan sneakers and… not much else aside from her tattoos. Her ass is on full display. Creekmur was disturbed. Not that he thought Minaj was being exploited or that she felt this highly sexualized image was distracting from her talent. He was concerned for his daughter. He wrote:

“I’m trying to raise a young girl that will eventually grow into someone greater than the both of us. I know that this requires great parenting, great education, great luck and an assortment of great influences. I’m sure you know the influence you wield, but now, if you told the “Barbs” to scratch my eyes out, some would attack without thinking about it. I’m sure some will also replicate the “Anaconda” image without thinking about it too. Your original image already has 256,817 (and counting) likes under the original Instagram picture you posted, so I venture that your average girl could strive to get a couple hundred likes from her friends. Is this the path you want to lead impressionable kids down?”

Ah, yes. The children. A concern we all should have. It’s something Lemieux herself talks about her response piece, noting that “certain things are cool for adults…who are mature enough to enjoy them” but with children whose ideas of sex and sexuality are barely formed, who’s to say. But she continues:

“As a still somewhat-new mother of a daughter, I didn’t share Creekmur’s fear that Minaj’s bare bottom is what forces young men to “sexualize girls at a young age.” Instead, I was annoyed that once again, a man has suggested that the onus of behaving ‘respectably’ should be placed on the shoulders of a woman, while men and boys pretty much get a free pass to do whatever we ‘let’ them do. Because surely, they require our permission to “sexualize” us, right?”

It’s an old problem. It would be disastrous if the only images of women available to us were ones in which they are presented as sexual objects. We are fighting an uphill battle to bring some sense of balance. But I also notice the reaction to Minaj as a particular problem among black women performers. It happens whenever Beyonce performs or Rihanna steps outside. Its happened when Betty Davis wore hotpants and Left Eye wore condoms as eye patches. Whenever black women own their sense of sexuality and it appears to not be controlled by the hetero-male gaze, the whole world gets into a tizzy.

Creekmur didn’t write his letter after seeing the hundreds and thousands of women who have been featured in hip-hop music videos over the years, wearing about the same amount of clothing (or less) than Minaj. He didn’t write it after all the anthems centered around hetero-male pleasure that disregard the fact that, hey, maybe the woman you’re with would like to enjoy sex, too. He didn’t write a letter to Miley Cyrus about her exploitation of stereotypical images of black women’s bodies. Creekmur’s letter came when Minaj, seemingly independent of any man’s input, decided to embrace her own body and sexual image. It isn’t meant for him or for his daughter. It’s hers.

That’s a scary thought in a world where black women’s bodies are meant for our consumption but only on the terms which everyone who isn’t a black women gets to dictate. When that isn’t the case, when a black woman decides to take back her body and still hold her sexuality dear and flaunts it but not for us, that flies in the face of all of our established norms. The Creekmurs of the world reach for the souls of Maya Angelou and Ruby Dee to shame these women for not being as respectable as our fallen heroes. But, ya know, so long as someone else is in control that isn’t a black woman, let the asses fly.

I don’t know if Minaj’s cover artwork is appropriate for kids to be exposed to. Certainly it depends on age, level of maturity, familiarity with sex and concepts of autonomy, so on and so forth. What I will say is that she isn’t responsible for having those conversations with every one of the children in the world who may see that image. If it’s truly of that much concern to Creekmur and other dads who may feel compelled to write a letter, they should maybe start talking to their children about sex, sexuality, body image, and the like, instead of trying to police away every sexual image on earth.

But, that’s exactly my issue. Creekmur isn’t trying to do away with all sexual images. This has only come up when a black woman has presented herself independently of the hetero-male gaze (something he was sure to note when saying “As a man, I can appreciate the virtues of your perfect posterior” because, you know, it’s really important what he thinks about her body). If black women aren’t allowed to own their sexuality, then who does it belong to?

MychalMychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, as well as columnist for Feministing.com and Salon. As a freelance writer, social commentator, and mental health advocate his work has been seen online in outlets such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, Salon, Al Jazeera English, Gawker, The Guardian, Ebony.com, Huffington Post, The Root, and The Grio.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, as well as columnist for Feministing.com and Salon.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/lewstherin/ Orion Wilkes

    I find it genuinely astonishing that anyone could assert that this image “appears not be controlled by the hetero-male gaze.”

    In consequence it seems quite a leap to move from the fact that this particular image was criticised, rather than others, that the reason is because this is a case of black women “owning” their sexuality, rather than simply because Minaj is relatively prominent- as a performer- compared to other women in hip hop.