I ran across a BET headline that read: Why is Cardi B. the Only Girl Who Gets to Be Unapologetically Black?
This question left me with a furrowed brow that any mother would be proud of. While the article itself had several valid points, the headline was problematic for me.
Though it may seem innocent enough, in reality, it's troubling because it presents the idea that all black women are, or only desire to be, what Cardi B is.
It implies that being unapologetically black is highlighted by loudness, twerking, and ratchetry.
It also implies that one mainstream pop icon is the spokesperson for all people of color. Allowing either of these implications to go unchecked is especially harmful when considering how black culture is constantly under the world's microscope and often stereotyped based on the media's misrepresentation. Despite the sensationalism of our culture through the use of monolithic labels, Cardi B is not a full depiction of all black women.
We unapologetic black women are defined by much more than any one representation could ever portray or bare to the world. We are soft, we are hard, we are love, we are success, we are innovation.
We are magically multifaceted creatures.
We are defined by so much more and it sells us short to ask the world to see us all as one woman. And ladies, we are selling ourselves short by continuously perpetuating this ideal that we are all one dimensional and thus subject to being stereotyped and preserving existing stereotypes. When in reality, we are far too complex and layered, as both individuals and a culture to be boxed into one public perception of what it means to be a woman of color.
For clarity, I'm not mad or embarrassed by Cardi B. In fact, she's to blame for the overly-confident thought that my Target boots turn into "bloody shoes" whenever "Bodak Yellow" comes on. However, by labeling Cardi B "the only girl who gets to be unapologetically black," we give way to the idea that black women are monolithic.
In the same way that we know how to turn on our "white voice" and embody the Karens of the world when speaking to our bosses, bill collectors, and anyone in the majority, we are able to switch on the many different facets of our personality. Furthermore, we have the autonomy to do so, and should frankly begin to exercise said autonomy and stop asking for permission to only have ourselves reflected through one identity as if being wholly us takes up too much space in the world.
Otherwise, we risk existing in a world that only knows a fraction or none of what and who we are.
But this rigid ideology that blackness has an archetype is dangerous in that it depletes others of their own experiences as black women and sometimes perpetuates stereotypes. In fact, I'm pretty sure this way of thinking is exactly why I was incessantly teased growing up for not knowing how to dance because allegedly all black women must know how to twerk in order to be down with the culture. But, that wasn't me and probably never will be.
Cardi B can never be the archetype because there never was and never will be one.
Amongst the Cardi Bs of the world, who are unapologetically black in their own right, are also women such as: Michelle Obama, Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad, Gabby Douglas, Beyonce, and an infinite list of others. There is diversity in our blackness and it's time that we acknowledge this while strongly encouraging the rest of the world to do the same.
I say all of this to say, you don't need permission to be unapologetically black because truly being so is a subjective art form. It's imperative that you know that unapologetic blackness cannot be defined by what any one woman is, and it's offensive to imply otherwise. Just like other cultures around the world, we are made up of an assortment of women. You know? Like a box chocolates?
For me, being unapologetically black does not look like Cardi, Tiffany Haddish, Issa Rae or any of the names floating around guised as epitomized blackness. God bless them, but, they are their own people … And not at all me.
I exist in a space where I can be shy, quiet, and unsuspectingly witty, while saving my innermost Cardi B moments for friends. And it's not because I care what the world will or won't allow. It's because that's my black experience defined on my own terms.
No permission necessary.
Who or what do you think of when you hear the phrase "unapologetically black"?
xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at email@example.com