Nicki Minaj, Black Women & Sexual Performance As Sport

“Hotter than a middle eastern climate, find it 20 mataran dutty whine it, while it, Nicki on a pit while I sign it, how these niggas so one-track minded but really really I don’t give a F-U-C-K” — NICKI MINAJ, “MONSTER”

On May 19th, 2013, Nicki Minaj performed on stage at the 2013 Billboard awards. This performance included Lil’ Wayne in a duet fashion performing the song “High School”. The overall performance was divided it into three acts: Act one: Nicki Minaj coming out and doing her solo verse, a slightly erotic gyration as she eases from bar to bar verbally and physically hypnotizing her adoring fans; act two: Lil’ Wayne and Nicki Minaj piggy backing bars with Lil’ Wayne introducing his dull cliché of hypermasculine energy that has prevailed for much of hip hop’s history; act three: Which is of course, my second favorite act, Nicki Minaj giving Lil’ Wayne a strip club style lap dance.

Check out the performance below:

Look at all that ass!
Look at all that ass!

My biggest concern with all of this outside of the normal apprehensions that come when one thinks about all the young children that might be watching was Lil’ Wayne’s inability to let Nicki Minaj just have her moment. Now, it needs to be written, Nicki Minaj totally owned Lil’ Wayne on that stage when he was sitting in that chair and she kicks that right leg up, slides with a step to straddle and just goes into her popping. She embraces her physique’s appeal, a strip tease for the audience of fantasizing fans that have fetishized her gluteus maximus with her hands pulling teasingly through her legs. And just when she concludes with her Captain Morgan’s stance on the chair after dismissing Lil’ Wayne, her prop…her stage accoutrement speaks in its mutant language.

The Stats of Destiny’s Child Catering Service

It was an embarrassing power transferal. I would not even call it that. The statement in that moment is better referred to as power dissipation, really. And it did remind me of a similar performance by Kelly, Michelle, and Beyoncé of Destiny Child’s.

Musical group Destiny's Child, Michelle Williams, Kelly Rowland and Beyonce Knowles perform onstage with Magic Johnson, Nelly and Terrence Howard onstage at the BET Awards 05 at the Kodak Theatre on June 28, 2005 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Musical group Destiny’s Child, Michelle Williams, Kelly Rowland and Beyonce Knowles perform onstage with Magic Johnson, Nelly and Terrence Howard onstage at the BET Awards 05 at the Kodak Theatre on June 28, 2005 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

At the 2005 BET Awards Show, the ladies escort Magic Johnson, Nelly, and Terrance Howard out to the main stage area and sit them down in respective chairs. Michelle partnered with Magic; Kelly partnered with Nelly; and Beyoncé with Terrance Howard. It seemed as though poor Michelle needed a footstool to hurdle onto the lap of Magic, and once there she seemed completely out of her league by being on his lap! There is a natural power dynamic attendant to height, and even sexual prowess can be incapable of reducing it. Kelly completely overpowered Nelly. In parts of the tease we can see Kelly having to guide Nelly’s hands, it just looked like poor Nelly had completely been reduced to the proverbial putty in Kelly’s hand. Which makes Beyoncé’s grace look less than polished in that particular performance.

Of course, as the lead singer, Beyoncé immediately commands the attention of the cameraman, all the magnetic seductiveness of the others, but with one difference, Terrance Howard is slowly sapping energy from her magic. And he’s not doing anything but giving in. Unlike Nelly who has just given up, Howard’s creepy puppy dog look is more controlled, and Beyoncé knows it. Towards the end of the dance she is almost falling into his arms — the absolute contrast to what Kelly Rowland has caused Nelly to do!

‘In Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham first coined the term “politics of respectability” to describe the work of the Women’s Convention of the Black Baptist Church during the Progressive Era. She specifically referred to African American’s promotion of temperance, cleanliness of person and property, thrift, polite manners, and sexual purity. The politics of respectability entailed “reform of individual behavior as a goal in itself and as a strategy for reform.” Respectability was part of “uplift politics,” and had two audiences: African Americans, who were encouraged to be respectable and white people, who needed to be shown that African Americans could be respectable.

African American women were particularly likely to use respectability and to be judged by it. Moreover, African American women symbolized, even embodied, this concept. Respectability became an issue at the juncture of public and private. It thus became increasingly important as both black and white women entered public spaces.

…The prevailing interpretation suggests that the politics of respectability undermined the rigidly scientific nature of racial categories, but generally tended to reinforce status distinctions within the African American community. These distinctions were about class, but they were defined primarily in behavioral, not economic, terms. By linking worthiness for respect to sexual propriety, behavioral decorum, and neatness, respectability served a gatekeeping function, establishing a behavioral “entrance fee,” to the right to respect and the right to full citizenship…’ –– Gatekeeping and Remaking: The Politics of Respectability in African American Women’s History and Black Feminism, Paisley Jane Harris

Without delving too deeply into the politics of respectability, I do want to say that there is a difference between what Nicki does and what the Women of Destiny’s Child do. And I do not want this to get bogged down in the class (behavioral) discussion, because I feel Nicki could have done the exact same performance without the guy that used to strike a pose kissing his “daddy” and it would have been extremely powerful. Lil’ Wayne was at best a prop. However, there is a nuance that separates “seductive” from “sexy”, and I do believe Nicki Minaj falls into the later category. Sure, from my hetero masculine eyes, it is easy to fetishize Nicki in the same manner that White men have been fetishizing the Afrikan feminine anatomy throughout their records of history.

And without having to dance around the ring in any polemic bouts, sure, there is an objectifying quality here. But, sexual appreciation is often objectifying. Yet, I fully respect and honor the SHE of Kelly Rowland as she effortlessly causes Nelly to slide into trance level state of consciousness with her body movements and allure. While objectifying her in his head, she’s turned him into not much more than an object! And honestly, so has Minaj. While Little Tunechi is looking for a role to play, he settles for the shallowest pebble in his mind, the obvious look at Nicki Minaj’s derrière and locker room puerility of a 17 year young seaman recruit receiving his first lap dance. Little absorbs the collective psyche of 15 year old White boys in the United States and says what they wish, while Howard does to Beyoncé only what Jay seems to have, or at least I am hoping for Jay’s sake.

“How These Niggas So One-track Minded”

It is the childish expression that Little chooses out of his bag of mental marbles to display that causes me to wish Minaj had not done the performance with him. I can handle the raunchy. It was intentional. Destiny Child is singing a ballad catering to the men, some feminists may be adverse to that, but it was the song. I refuse to attend the outrage of anyone upset that heterosexual women are singing heterosexual songs. Minaj is rapping with Little– although their verses are asymmetrical– about a tryst between a man and woman. Nicki Minaj’s verse discussing how a woman helps a man to see the finer things in life after he has been incarcerated, Little’s concluding verse a batch of controlling banter that happens to be highly sexual. I expect Minaj to pay homage to Choice, Lil Kim, Trina, Salt-N-Pepa, Oaktown 357 and that sort of style of dancing and presentation because that is the genre in which she is in, and her entire career has been in homage to that particular posture developed by those women. I did not feel as though she was distasteful, in fact, I thought it was tantalizing. Her moves need polish, but so did Beyoncé’s moves.

Ultimately, I never want to write anything that would ever be deemed as me reducing any woman’s, or group of women’s power to “ass shaking”. For one, I would never reduce the herstories of Women globally to sex, there is too much pain in an Assata chapter for that. Nor would I ever reduce what Nicki Minaj, Michelle, Kelly, or Bey did as “ass shaking”. From belly dancing to ghost dancing, there is an extensive human art, science, and politic to the kinesiology represented in dance. I would just like it if niggaz let women do their thing, and if there must be power transference, let it be the gracefulness of a stare held too long cascading into the personae unmasking itself on stage in laughter.

Politics Of Sex & Sport

 “An argument might be made that part of what it means to be a male athlete is to remain, emotionally at least, at the developmental level of many adolescent boys.” – “Studs, Tools, And The Family Jewels: Metaphors Men Live By” Peter F. Murphy pg. 80

“When sex becomes a contest, a means for domination and conquest, male-female relationships are reduced to a game in which there are “winners” and “losers.” The question, “Did you score last night, Steve?” represents an extension of male competitiveness in which “females are often perceived as opponents and various strategies or game plans are developed to get them to submit”. Men feel comfortable on the playing field, where they know the rules of the game and can maneuver a victory. This may be part of the reason many men avoid smart women. In addition to having their sense of insecurity about their own intelligence exacerbated, men may also fear losing. A woman who understands the rules of the game may be too much of an opponent, and male identity may be too invested in being the winner.” – ibid, pg. 85

That being typed, I think this comparison is an interesting study in how certain power dynamics operate. Without having to lean too heavily on my patriarchal socialization, there are spaces where sex is sport. And there is a space where the choices of conduct that deem us as quick witted are sport. Sport in the United States, is traditionally a male dominated social area. US professional sports define “equality” by the idea that no woman is physically capable of competing with male athletes. Even trying out for a position on a professional team where men compete is scoffed at (although that as a hiring practice in any other domain would be illegal). This fundamental notion is extended beyond race and class. In the Black community the male intellectual is relegated to the position of patriarch(like the pastor of one’s church, think Cornell West, Michael Eric Dyson), and the woman athlete is relegated to social statures that are familiar as well: the “tomboy, the “stud”(or “want-to-be male”), or a hobbyist at best.

“Since their earliest manifestations in pre-Greek civilization, sports have grown out of a society’s need to be proficient in war. Hunting, wrestling, running, horse racing, and fencing gave warriors a means to improve crucial components of the limited military resources they had at hand. Ideologically, sports have been used domestically to reinforce class differences and to encourage men to become soldiers.” – “Studs, Tools, And The Family Jewels: Metaphors Men Live By” Peter F. Murphy, pg. 60

Hip hop, as many will explain, has as one of its many roots, the battle rap. This is art as sport, music as competition. For Nicki to be privy to the space she holds– a Woman successfully navigating a space of sport in the US– is a feat in and of it Self. Dance also has competitive space, with dance competitive companies. Dance as competition has emerged to the degree of suggestions of pole dancing as an Olympic sport as Pole competitions is a professional sport. So, none of this is far-fetched. The space Michelle, Beyoncé, Kelly, and Nicki Minaj find them Selves in is not new terrain in the psyche of the viewers. Yet, like most things where Women, especially Black Women, have an advantage, the status of the event is tampered with to appease male insecurities.

 “The relationship between sports and war in U.S. history illustrates the role of athletics as an instrument of oppression and animosity. Gorn and Goldstein trace the subtleties of this association, beginning with the American Civil War which “provided a well of memory, a master metaphor for the belief that conflict between individuals, classes and nations lay at the heart of human existence”. As a moral equivalent of war, “athletics offered an opportunity for young men to get their first taste of glory, and for older men to renew the tingle of heroic combat”.” – “Studs, Tools, And The Family Jewels: Metaphors Men Live By” Peter F. Murphy, pg. 61

Nicki Minaj, one of the only Women in professional Hip Hop in 2013 with the degree of her success, can surely be taken to task for certain, um, added physical accessories. But so should Lil’ Kim, Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, and a host of other Black Women with national media coverage throughout history that alter body parts for cosmetic purposes. Sure, is there a pornification of Hip Hop? There has BEEN a pornification of Hip Hop since back when Salt-N-Pepa got on a stage in those black skintight outfits and told the world to “Push It”. I think it is dangerous to immediately run to the old standby of sexual lewdness as deleterious when it is women, or specifically Black Women, that command the power of the sexual act being portrayed.

Hip Hop dance, as well as sexual performance in the art of dance, is a fairly Woman dominated sport. An aside here could easily be that the competitive forms of dance dominated by men such as tap dance, break dance, and Capoeira as dance are more popular and acceptable in mainstream. The portrayal of Little, Magic, Nelly, and Howard as submissive instruments for the extension of Black Women’s exhibition is not a role men, especially Black men of stature, are commonly associated with. Yes, Nelly got the treatment, and showed it, and he was supposed to! Little was worked like the uneven bars in a Gabby Douglas set. Unfortunately, for Nicki, after she was done with her presentation of prowess, the damn balance beam wants to remind the world why it was supposed to be the inanimate object to begin with!

“Historically, as form of resistance to the negative stigmas and caricatures about their morality, African Americans adopted a “politics of respectability.” Claiming respectability through manners and morality furnished an avenue for African Americans to assert the will and agency to redefine themselves outside the prevailing racist discourses. Although many deployed the politics of respectability as a form of resistance, its ideological nature constituted a deliberate concession to mainstream societal values. The self-imposed adherence to respectability that permeated African American women’s lives, as well as African American culture, also later impacted African American activism and the course of scholarship in African American Studies. This strict adherence to what is socially deemed “respectable” has resulted in African American scholars’ confining their scholarship on African Americans to often the most “heroic,” and the most successful attributes in African American culture; it has also resulted in the proliferation of analyses which can be characterized as culturally defensive, patriarchal, and heterosexist.” – “Examining the Politics of Respectability in African American Studies”, Kali N. Gross

So far, US history has shown us that Black Women are going to be lambasted as “whores” and morally deprived for simply being the interests of male concupiscence. If it is Black male concupiscence, there may not be an interruption in the game, but if it is in command of White male concupiscence, then you can almost guarantee a flag on the play. Madonna comes out on stage in a teddy to be received as queen and is not even performing, Beyoncé is attacked as being ‘too racy’ and ‘trampy’for energizing an audience with spectacular use of technology, choreography, and enchantment. As a Black man and a media analyst, I have to toe the line of observer, voyeur, historian and critic. There is a history of competition between Black women and White women that reflects a delicate history where White men could glance, hawk, and rape Black women almost like hunting as Thomas Jefferson does Sally Hemmings, and then returns to the bed to place his White wife trophy on the well sculpted pedestal. The hard-fought battles of women like Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, Fannie Lou Hamer, Mary Bethune-Cookman, Assata Shakur, Elaine Brown, and countless others were not waged alongside White Women in the manner some feminist writers might misleadingly inject. The need for the protection of the “chaste” image of White Women remained a bloody timeline, while Black Women had to navigate a desirability that historically marked them as libidinous, a justification for the centuries of rape by White men, and also one that was anchored in centuries of caste positioning them in a psychological strata below White Women even in the minds of Black men.

That any Black Woman is able to capture the appeal of audiences in a seductive and sexy fashion without it being labeled in some manner as “animalistic” or “less than ladylike” is to confuse one’s Self with the implements of strategy. There is power in the sport of art and that power is economically viable, and psychologically impacting. We are not discussing subjective qualifications alone here, this is practical and utilitarian. Sport is the peacetime version of war, and there are gains to be had by the victors. Those gains will not be silently and calmly transmitted.

“The sports hero embodies this sense of control for the fan who vicariously lives out his fantasy world through the superathlete who has it all: money, fame, and beautiful women. Spectatorship emerged concomitantly with the rise of a consumer society and came replete with myths of the superathlete created by a burgeoning profession of sportswriting for an audience that sought “a sentimental sense of community, not new information or good writing”” – ibid, Murphy, pg. 76

Since sport is the peacetime preparation for war, it also contains elements of power and conquest. As a man, the sport of mating is a dog pit where my emotions and position as patriarch is the booty while I am tasked with getting…well, the booty. Beyoncé and Minaj are not just seen as artist in that sort of dynamic, they are looked at as champions. But there is a social dynamic of White supremacy that even in the most quantifiable of topics will place some quality of White involvement in a more worthy position than any other participant, as well as reduce the role of those non-white participants. It is a part of the game. What we call “shyt talking”, or “bad mouthing” on the court or the field of game is the propaganda of the war monger. As such, those competitors that are not the Beyoncé’s, the Michelle’s, the Kelly’s, the Nicki’s or a host of other celebrated Black Women whose entertainment puts them at the level of champion will be attacked, maligned, and antagonized like Jordan Crawford insulting Carmelo Anthony. Which makes me disdainful of Little and his immature response to what was a powerful play. It is proper to note here that Gabby Douglas, the first US Black Woman, and subsequently the only US athlete, to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics was not celebrated for her status but demeaned for her hair.

Black Men: Ball-hogging and Lack of Team Loyalty

 “Racism finds a counterpoint in the sexism and misogyny of sports. Despite the impressive growth in the number of women participating in athletics, sports continue to evolve as an expression of a male culture that keeps women in their place even while on the playing field.” – “Studs, Tools, And The Family Jewels: Metaphors Men Live By” Peter F. Murphy, pg. 78

In the same vein that I felt insulted that Shawn Carter had to refer to Beyoncé as a “bitch” in his song with Kanye, “that’s my Bitch”, I felt like Wayne fumbled a ball on a fourth down pass right at the in-zone. If a Black man of Carter’s stature can pay homage to the stereotypical older White patriarchs with his suit and ties and tumblers of brown liquor, can he not also extend the image of a team mate to the Woman that got him the Oprah interview? I cannot demand anyone treat their wife without verbally abusing them, wait, that’s not true, but, I am not going to do it now. It would be nice if Black men could show the same degree of loyalty to the team that Black Women collectively have shown throughout our genesis in the US. Nicki Minaj is helping to establish your brand beyond the place she found it. Regardless of what the uninitiated might think or type, proper training in team sports holds that if your teammate is about to score, the least you do is get out of the way and let them, if you can’t block or defend them. The proper show of appreciation in most sport cultures in the US is to grasp hands, nod approvingly, hug, or slap arse. You don’t have to open your mouth to the adoring fans in the stands. Champions walk off the stage of sport with the thunder of applauding fans as the background music of their life without needing to speak or allude to their win. Not because they are arrogant, but because they have been there before.