Jun 14, 2018

Stretch Before You Reach: That Photo from Nicki Minaj’s Elle Shoot Ain’t That Deep, Thinking Otherwise Degrades the Black Woman

written by Jamara

I regret to inform you that not every member of Young Money has had a photo put out of them in the past month with the intention of showing their mockery of people with darker complexions.

On June 13, 2018, Elle revealed the cover story for their July 2018 magazine. “The Queen Reclaims Her Throne” the cover reads besides a gazing Nicki Minaj whose face stands out among her hair and body which are covered up in an $20,000 Versace multi-color dress. Photos from the shoot were all shot by fashion icon, Karl Lagerfeld. Minaj is seen flaunting her beauty in Chanel, Fendi, and other high-end looks in Lagerfeld’s very own Studio 7L in Paris. As expected from the superstar, her fans took to social media to express their love for the cover story as they reposted their favorite images and paragraphs of quoutables that touch on Minaj returning from her hiatus, her sex appeal, Meek Mill and more.

As photos from the Elle shoot circulate and admiration is spread, cue the critics.

Following the wrath of the Barbz, a particular tweet from music journalist, Myles E. Johnson, picked up traction. His tweet, posted 12:57 pm EST, reads, “this is a ridiculously and deeply irresponsible image,” with the attached photo:

Under the tweet is a thread explaining his stance. He describes the photo as disturbing media in a time where sexual and gender issues are coming to the forefront in pop culture, calling it a “white supremacist image,” and questioning if such image would be created if pop culture wasn’t changing into a space that profits off black aesthetics.

But, what if I told you… wait for it… it’s not that deep? Perception is everything, but when indulging in the art of a certain genre, shouldn’t you know your shit?

When you saw the cover art for Ice Cube’s Death Certificate, did you think Cube was portraying himself as someone who killed his Uncle named Sam, or did you know the rage that black people felt in the late 80s and early 90s when it came to racial profiling, drug dealing, violence, and other political and racially charged issues that the rapper would discuss in his music? When you saw the image on Ice-T’s Power album cover, did you think the woman standing in a swimsuit, was another example of men in hip-hop exposing women for their looks, or did you know that was Darlene Ortiz, Ice-T’s girlfriend at the time, who just wanted a photo-op that would help her man’s career while representing the album title? Now, when you saw this photo from Nicki Minaj’s July 2018 Elle shoot, did you think she was portraying an agenda that promoted her superiority as a light skin woman over a dark skin woman, in a subservient manner, or did you know that the woman doing her hair is celebrity stylist, Kim Kimble, doing her job?

On the other end of the spectrum, at 1:31 pm EST, Minaj heads to Instagram and tells a short story about the photo. Her caption reads, “My hair stylist @kimblehaircare was told by Karl HIMSELF to stay in the shot. We contained ourselves in front of him then walked to the back & started screaming & spazzing out😩 She was thrilled! @elleusa ♥” Those reading the caption and know who Kim Kimble is, appeared to be filled with joy reading about this moment. For those that don’t know, Kim Kimble is a multi-millionaire celebrity hairstylist that has worked with the likes of Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, Faith Evans, Gabrielle Union, Brandy, and many more. Kimble runs her own haircare line & salon and even had a reality TV show on WE tv called L.A. Hair. People who work behind the scenes with some of the world’s biggest celebrities get recognition and this was a moment for a successful black woman to be recognized in the world’s best-selling fashion magazine. Nothing more, nothing less.

According to her likes, Minaj saw the Tweet made by Johnson and showed love to those replies that debunked, questioned, and dismissed his comments, including a comment I made regarding the situation.

While some portray that the image in Elle’s latest cover shoot was purposely photographed to portray a racially demeaning image of someone of a darker complexion acting as the servant to someone of a lighter complexion, the spread of these comments attacks a deeper issue. Statements such as these only contribute to and perpetuate remarks that tear down black women. It seems that Nicki Minaj will continue to receive the amount of hate she does just because she’s a successful black woman.

Now, why do I, a black woman, just so happen to think these claims attack other black women and aren’t just ill-informed reaches? Well, back in 2010, there wasn’t the same controversy surrounding a similar photo. A shot taken during the shoot for Minaj’s debut album, Pink Friday, shows the animated artist getting her hair touched up by former hairstylist, Terrence Davidson, (behind a grinning Sean Combs) who is too of a darker complexion. What’s the difference between the Elle shoot and the Pink Friday shoot? One stylist is a male and one stylist is a female. So, y’all just so happen to spread these comments when two women are involved?

For starters, spreading the word that the image from Minaj’s recent shoot with Elle is racially degrading is a way to bring down the black woman because it creates the image that the talent at hand, a black woman, has malicious intent. Some may think the image is the rapper’s way of showing her ‘queen’ persona as a woman who is successful and has hit the highest pinnacles among other woman in the history of rap, while others may think Minaj is using the photo as a way to create controversy for her upcoming album, Queen, set to release this August, in a space where this has been common for artists like Tekashi69 and XXXTENTACION to gain sales off problematic actions. Either way, neither are genuine, and neither are accurate. It is known that throughout her career, Nicki Minaj is a feminist in her own right. Growing up in an abusive household, Minaj always had the idea of empowering other women as she wanted her mother to be stronger through their toughest times. Throughout her career she has empowered women by speaking out and setting the example as one who is comfortable in her sexuality, speaks up for what she believes in, is multifaceted, emotionally, mentally, and, artistically, earns the top dollar in her field, is the woman who paved the way for other women as she conquered a male-dominated industry & changed the music industry altogether, and much more. Minaj is also one of the celebrities with a fanbase that is known. The Barbz support Minaj in a major way as their presence on social media shows every time she drops something new as its likely to be a top trend. Their support doesn’t just exist online. Each of Minaj’s albums RIAA certified Platinum at least 2x, selling over 105,000,000 records worldwide and the first female rapper to do so, she’s the woman with the most Hot 100 entries (89 and counting), has had 3 sold out tours with another on the way, and much more. Strategically publishing an image meant to degrade another woman would not align with her beliefs & experiences and Minaj doesn’t need negative publicity to sell records or anything for that matter.

Another reason why the idea that the image of Kimble doing Minaj’s hair is tasteless contributes to putting down the black woman is that it subscribes to placing the representation of the woman with the darker complexion at the background. A logical reason why one may have this stance about the photo is because they’ve let the racial stereotypes of the 20th century, that they’re so busy trying to call out for recreation, actually brainwashed them into seeing any woman of darker complex working on a woman of lighter complex to be the mammy archetype of the two.

The servant Mammy character in the 1939 film, Gone With The Wind, was popular in a time where there was a lack of representation of black women in media and today the lack thereof still exists and the range of female blackness has yet to be extended. According to a study done by San Diego State University, black women made up 16% of the top 100 films of 2017, while 68% were white women. You’d be lucky to get a major role as a black woman, let alone one with a darker complexion. The issue of colorism also affects women differently than it does men. The perception of a male with darker skin is boosted for his masculinity while a woman with darker skin complexion is demeaned for her appearance. As younger people are more impressionable, the representation matters most for them. When it comes to their crowd, the success of Yara Shahidi, Zendaya, and Amandla Stenberg have been prominent. Although there has been an increase in shared confidence as women with dark skin, stories of those who have turned their lemons to lemonade, and Lupita Nyong’o in more major roles, we still have a long way to go. Even throughout her success, Viola Davis has spoken out on her struggles as a woman with darker skin tones. Society still has an automatic perception of darker skinned women that is negative. In the era of fake-woke, y’all might as well take things at face value because it’s equally counterproductive.

It should be clear that when you decide to take a deeper dive into something you have such strong opinions for, especially as someone with journalistic credibility, it removes so much ignorance that lingers in the black community. It doesn’t just remove it but prevents the ignorance that leads to self-doubt, low-self-esteem, and mental illness among black women who are torn down on a daily.  You not flexible boo. Stretch before you reach.



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