Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rihanna: The Ultimate NiggaBitch... Yes Someone Really Called Her That

I don't even know how to begin this post. I have nothing tongue in cheek to say about this subject it seems I've addressed so many times in so many ways before. Yet here we are again addressing it again. Before we get to the specifics let's just all agree racism is real. Now let's further agree -- or agree to disagree -- there is a difference between what is acceptable in mixed company and what is acceptable in a group of a single race only. And I'm sure we all agree the world should be way past this intentional segregation but we are not. So let's not pretend we are.

Today's "I didn't know this was racist" story comes to us from Dutch magazine Jackie. In it a writer calls Rihanna The Ultimate Niggabitch.

Did you get the joke.

Me neither.

They come to their characterization of the Bajan -- not Jamaican-- pop sensation by her public persona.

In English:

"She has street cred, she has a ghetto ass and she has a golden throat. Rihanna, the good girl gone bad, is the ultimate niggabitch and displays that gladly, and for her that means: what's on can come off. If that means she'll be on stage half naked, then so be it. But Dutch winters aren't like Jamaican ones, so pick a clothing style in which your daughter can resist minus ten. No to the big sunglasses and the pornheels, and yes to the tiger print, pink shizzle and everything that glitters. Now let's hope she won't beat anybody up at daycare."

From what I gather of this translation and the pictures in the magazine that accompany it is that they're trying to sell Rihanna's signature extravagant pantsless style to children who shouldn't rock it. But they do it by insulting the very artist they're trying to get tweens to emulate.

What I don't understand is how does having a ghetto ass -- donkey booty for you Real Housewives of Atlanta fans -- make you the ultimate niggabitch? I don't understand what having a golden throat means. Is that a nod to Kels' golden showers taken a disgustingly gross step forward? Is that a compliment of her singing talent? Is that another way to say Black people are indeed a monolith and can all sing? What exactly do they mean?

I stress over the meaning of the minutia because in the media -- the industry I work in -- you learn early on messaging is everything. Just look at the Democrats failure that should have been Medicare For All. One wrong word -- or two i.e. end of life counseling, better known as death panels -- could change the meaning of a sentence a statement and turn fact into fiction totally erasing any modicum of credibility you once had.

So I wonder, how does Rihanna's penchant for prancing around nearly naked on stage with her ghetto ass while I'm assuming singing with her golden throat make her the ultimate niggabitch?

Beyonce -- pregnant though she may be -- does the same thing. Is she an ultimate niggabitch too? Tamar Braxton is hoping she can get to that level as is Olivia from Vh1's guilty pleasure trainwreck Love & Hip Hop. Are they aspiring ultimate niggabitches?

I don't ask these questions or make these comparisons to be funny, I ask to highlight just how ignorant so many of more white-washed cultures are of the Black experience.

Being a nigga is nothing to ever aspire to. While some women may not mind being called bitch, the B-word preceded by nigga I'm sure is not taken kindly. For a Black woman it's worse than being called an angry Black bitch. A stereotype we've come to accept and allow to roll off our shoulders no matter how trite and hackneyed the trope is.

Let me tell you a story:

My senior year of college I was walking to my car after a late class. Talking on the phone to a friend of mine -- who was trying to make sure I was safe walking Tallahassee hills in the dark -- a pick up truck came roaring down the street. Inside: two white guys hanging outside the window. Me in my long denim skirt, purple shirt, flip-flops, and afro larger than my head was hard to miss even in the elongated shadows of streetlights and a crescent moon. Apparently the white boys in the truck saw me and felt the need to scream out to a strange Black woman. Their words verbatim: "fuck you nigger bitch."

The memory is vivid. I can still hear the tone of their voices. I can still hear their laughter as they drove away. And I can still remember myself standing their looking stupid -- all of my rowdy Southside of Chicago tendencies escaping me fast -- my friend on the phone "KeKe what was that." Me only able to fix my mouth to say an angry and exasperated. "WHAT THE FUCK!"

It was the third time I'd been called a nigger on the campus of the Florida State University. It was the third time I was unable to do anything about it. My offense lives on to this day. Had the white boys said I was the ultimate niggabitch and they wanted me to rock their world with a slow whine of my ghetto ass, I'd be even more offended. At 21 I couldn't understand the cause for men who didn't know me to call me a name they probably knew nothing about. At 25 I still don't understand my own experience and I'm trying hard to wrap my head around this offense toward Rhianna.

I'm offended for her even if she isn't offended for herself.

The reason being: there is no White equivalent to the power held within the six letters of nigger. Remove the "er" and replace it with an "a" it's still the same word. It is not a re-appropriation when it is used in a negative manner. It is not a re-appropriation when White people use it. Not at all. Not ever in perpetuity.

The race of people that gave us the derogatory term in the first place cannot then re-appropriate it for their own purposes, in this case humor, and think the Black population -- so often denigrated by the word -- will be okay with it. Naw Shawty that ain't the way this shit work.

The Editor-in-Chief of Jackie apologized for the article saying "ultimate Niggabitch" was a joke. She went on to say the article in its entirety slipped through the cracks. But what get's me is her scapegoating pop culture's constant use of the word which of course made her think, "I can say it too." If that was your thought process then this article didn't slip through the cracks. You approved it as is because you thought it was okay. Because you thought it was normal. Some things are never normal no matter how much they invade popular lexicon.

Her letter:

Dear readers,

First: thanks for all your responses. We are of course very fed up over this and especially very shocked. However I'm glad that we're engaging in a dialogue on this page - not everybody does that. Thanks for this. Other than that I can be brief about this: this should have never happened. Period. While the author meant no harm - the title of the article was intended as a joke - it was a bad joke, to say the least. And that slipped through my, the editor-in-chief's, fingers. Stupid, painful and sucks for all concerned. The author has been addressed on it, and now I can only ensure that these terms will no longer end up in the magazine. Furthermore I hope that you all believe there was absolutely no racist motive behind the choice of words. It was stupid, it was naive to think that this was an acceptable form of slang - you hear it all the time on tv and radio, then your idea of what is normal apparently shifts - but it was especially misguided: there was no malice behind it. We make our magazine with love, energy and enthusiasm, and it can sometimes happen that someone is out of line. And then you can only do one thing: apologize. And hope that others wish to accept it.

From the bottom of my heart I say it again: we never intended to offend anyone. And I mean that.


Eva Hoeke

This is a bullshit apology.

Even if she is truly sorry some things should never happen. As Editor-in-Chief of a magazine -- with what I'm sure is a two month lead time before publication -- nothing should slip through the cracks. Even if it is a last minute submission. Which we've concluded it was not. But beyond that did she not see The Devil Wears Prada? That's what being on your A-game looks like. Furthermore, if that is Meryl Streep's interpretation of Anna Wintour, I'd hate to meet the Louboutin laced lady in person.

Eve Hoeke is cleary not on her A-Game. She's not on any game because she believes her bullshit apology will make up for the publication of racist propaganda passed off as a joke. That is how slavery began, is it not? That is how Jim Crow lasted so long, is it not? That is why we still see stories to this day about Black people in general targeted and profiled for no other reason but the color of their skin or the fact they're walking in a group larger than a party of one. Our men have it the worst. But it is Black women -- long believed to carry the weight of the race on are ghetto ass backs -- who receive scrutiny for our looks, our bodies, and the blame for what happens to our entire race. We as the women have failed all of our people everywhere.

This time it is not we who have failed.

Rihanna has not failed.

I don't care if she walks around in assless, crotchless chaps with all of her imagination on display for the world to see -- it gives no magazine, no man, or woman the right to look at her and say "oh, that's the ultimate niggabitch right there."

Even with a song called, "That's My Bitch" The Throne as we will call the dynamic rapping duo don't even refer to their own women past or present in such a negative way. Context is everything, and the context of the Jackie article, published for the world to see may be satire in some of the text, but it is most definitely horrifying and unfortunately unabashed racism surreptitiously passed off as a joke.

It's not funny. Not even moderately.

What would White people everywhere say if Essence put in its pages an article featuring Heidi Klum with the headline: "the Ultimate CrackerBitch." Our white-washed hegemonic world wouldn't take too kindly to that. Yet it still doesn't pack the same punch as Rihanna the Ultimate NiggaBitch.

Just as we discussed with Slavery: The Game -- which was really a promotional tool for a documentary about slavery -- there are just some things you don't joke with. Topics that are racially sensitive go to the top of that list.

Yes, this article can be written off as ignorance much like Black people write off Rush Limbaugh, but there is only so much writing off and giving of a pass we can do before we say enough. This is one of those times.

I can't stand to stomach another one of these incidents. I just can't.

I don't want to pretend we're entering the age of post-racialism because we've entered the age of Obama. It hasn't happened and it's not true. I don't want to pretend we're entering the age of post-racialism because some White people are now comfortable enough to embrace stereotypical mainstream Black culture. I don't want to pretend we're entering the age of post-racialism because it continues to be shown that Black people in America as well as elsewhere around the world are not a monolith. I don't want to pretend we're entering the age of post-racialism because we're just not.

It's not happening and it never will unless foolishness like this stops. How can there ever be an honest conversation about race, between the races, if all we know how to do is resort to stereotypes we may or may not know aren't true.

1. What is your reaction to Rihanna being called the utlimate niggabitch?
2. Do you feel the editor's apology is sincere?
3. Do you forsee a future where Blacks and Whites will understand each other in totality thus bringing about the harmony so many longed for with Obama's presidency, known as post-racialism?

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