The Soapbox: Nicki Minaj’s Point About European Beauty Standards And Misogynoir Is Not “Redundant”

Before I even begin to dissect the complex conversation that begins at the intersection of racism and sexism, where many will fail to be able to meet me, it is important that the biggest question concerning the Taylor Swift vs. Nicki Minaj debacle is put forth: Who chooses the MTV Video Music Award nominees in the first place and what precisely are the criteria?

For those who have not been keeping up, Minaj recently took to Twitter to express disappointment that “Anaconda” was not nominated for Video of the Year or Best Choreography. As Megan pointed out a few days ago, Nicki’s video broke Vevo’s streaming record with 16.9 million views on its first day and now has nearly 500 million views. Comparably, two of the videos which were nominated — Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” (870 million views) and Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” (626 million views) — have been viewed more times than Minaj’s. Yet three of the other nominees –Taylor’s “Bad Blood” (366 million views), Beyonce’s “7/11″ (241 million views), Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” (10 million views) — have not been as popular online as Nick Minaj’s video for “Anaconda.” For an award show that claims viewers and fans have control over the winners, it seems quite strange that the videos that are nominated don’t necessarily have the most views, and that videos with a lot of view have been snubbed.

So, there’s that.

Of course, the reason why Nicki Minaj’s video was not nominated for the award can never be wholly concluded, since we really have no idea what the criteria for nomination even is. It most certainly is not popularity or impact. Nevertheless, we can absolutely still lend Minaj an ear as she tries to put forth a plausible reason for why her video was not considered. Here’s a quick recap of what she said:

Taylor Swift took the commentary as a personal attack and shot back with this:

Let’s go back to the intersection of racism and sexism — i.e. where Nicki Minaj tried to begin the discussion before it was derailed by Taylor Swift jumping in with an all too typical “stop being divisive” and “stop pitting groups against one another” defense. This tactic is frequently employed by whites who attempt to circumvent discussions about racism and/or, in this case misogynoir (check the comments section of almost any of my work to see this tactic employed by White folk). Taylor, people of color have the right to voice our opinions or concerns, and us doing so is NOT a personal attack on your existence. (Earlier today, Taylor tweeted the following late-arriving, but sincere-seeming apology: “I thought I was being called out. I missed the point, I misunderstood, then misspoke. I’m sorry, Nicki.” Minaj quickly and graciously accepted.)

This will not be the first or the last time we are reminded that Black and White female bodies are treated very differently. Let’s please not try to pretend that a prestigious White newspaper did not just run a very blatantly racist and sexist piece comparing Serena Williams’ “masculine” body to her whiter female tennis-playing counterparts. Or that Black women have not long been complaining about European standards of beauty being used as the measure of femininity and attractiveness which permeates every aspect of our culture and the industries which reproduce it. And then there are all of the fashion magazine covers — including Vogue, InStyle and Vanity Fair (to name a few) — featuring POC with obviously lightened skin. This is rampant.

This brings us to Ed Sheeran, who defended Taylor by sadly derailing the conversation once more:

“I think everyone knows that Taylor has done nothing wrong in that situation. She didn’t nominate herself for the awards. It’s not her fault, she just made some good videos and people think they’re good. And I think the Minaj point is a bit redundant, her point is that you have to be skinny and white to get a video of the year nomination but Beyonce’s ‘7/11′ is in there and that is celebrating the female figure in every form.”

Now just wait here one moment, Ed Sheeran. Are you pointing to a Black woman — Beyonce — who has conformed to European beauty standards in almost every way — with blonde, straight hair, a relatively petite body and light brown skin — to somehow prove that European standards of beauty are somehow not a factor? Even Black women can conform to and be deemed measurably beautiful by European standards. Matter of fact, both Rihanna (who has lighter skin, green eyes and a petite body) and Beyonce are Black women who most certainly are readily deemed beautiful by White European standards. A Black woman being labeled attractive by a White rubric does not negate the reality that such standards exists.

This is where we have to dive deeper into the subject matter, actually begin to navigate our way across the intersection where we find ourselves at colorism. For those unfamiliar, colorism is a set of beauty standards that have their roots in colonialism and slavery, where people of varying ethnicities are deemed more beautiful because of their skin’s proximity to whiteness (i.e. its lightness). Examples of this can be found in America’s historical “paper bag test,” where skin lighter than a brown paper bag warranted inclusion and gave an individual perks, but skin darker in color meant exclusion and relegation to second class citizenry. Other examples can be found in modern day India, where the remnants of colonialization left behind a system where individuals with lighter skin are deemed more beautiful and given access to greater social and economic resources in that society. Of course, the examples are plenty, so Google colorism to read more.

In the “Black” world, where colorism and European standards of beauty are easily understood, no one would fail to see the obvious difference between the celebration of Beyonce or Rihanna’s beauty and White America’s failure to celebrate Nicki Minaj — who has darker brown skin and voluptuous curves — in the same way. That would require a certain degree of White ignorance. Ed Sheeran’s obvious display of such ignorance proves that he should sincerely sit down and shut up. No malice intended. Just kind advice.

So, now that we have shoveled through all of the public and shameless displays of White celebrity ignorance, hopefully we can actually begin having a discussion about what Nicki Minaj was trying to highlight in her tweet: White European standards that are excruciatingly evident in the music/entertainment industry, and how they are used to snub Black female artists. Yesterday, Minaj posted to Instagram:

Nothing to do with any of the women, but everything to do with a system that doesn’t credit black women for their contributions to pop culture as freely/quickly as they reward others. We are huge trendsetters, not second class citizens that get thrown crumbs. This isn’t anger. This is #information.

 

Whether or not Minaj’s snub at the VMAs is demonstrative of this societal issue or not, we should not deny that it exists. We must also give Black women a platform to voice their concerns and opinions without white ignorance completely derailing the conversation and taking it on another tangent.

White women and men: Take a seat and let a Black woman speak, please!