Hey Tay Tay,
Last week I defended, at least vaguely, your call for women to support other women as a response to both perceived and real slights of your character. However, when you aimed it at Nicki Minaj this week in response to her indignation towards the VMA’s (and society at large’s) historical racial bias, you abused (and perhaps even inverted) the intent of the concept and, as I’m sure you’re now aware, you struck quite a nerve in the process.
We are all imperfect creatures. I don’t doubt you will continue to grow as a person and feminist as you have so fervently done before the public eye in recent years. Mistakes are an inevitable part of that growth and we all make them every day. I don’t think your entire character deserves to be scraped for this one, but society would be foolish to allow this to be swept under the rug when millions of young girls listen to your every word and will defend your position, even if it’s a naive one, to their graves.
I understand your journey because, as a white feminist myself, I’m on the same one. While it’s innately easier to be vigilant about our own oppression as women, if we don’t equally invest in the struggles of others we are failing many of the women we both so deeply seek to support. Race and gender are not separate issues for black women, and trying to separate them is futile and only stands to magnify our ignorance.
We were both born affluent and white and those unearned traits came with a deluge of racial and class-based privilege we can’t dream of fully comprehending.
Just as we ask people to question themselves when they boldly proclaim their feelings “have nothing to do with gender,” so too should we, as white people, heavily pause before ever assuming something “has nothing to do with race.” This was the grave mistake you made when you took Minaj’s criticism of society as a slam against you.
Racism is not your fault, nor is her lack of nomination. But to deny your race has played a part in your success is to deny the struggle so many women and people of color face every day.
In the past years your eyes have been opened to the struggles of women because your music and character were being unfairly attacked. But feminism and equality aren’t just for you and your struggles. Millions of women need it for reasons far beyond your personal purview and experience.
As you’ve grown and changed within the media circus that is fame, you’ve come to be quite poignent in your spreading of positive female messages. It’s time for you to acknowledge your privilege in the same breath. I don’t doubt you have it in you.
What Minaj needed from you in that moment was not a call-out, but a show of support and solidarity, the very thing you asked for her to give you. For the privileged, admitting our own ignorance is often a huge part of progress. A willingness to extend a helping hand to those who don’t enjoy the freedoms earned through mere birthright, a picking of straws, is the mark of a true feminist.
You are not a bad person for not yet fully grasping the issue Minaj was calling out. But you’ll fail yourself and your fans if you aren’t open to second-guessing yourself. Just because something is not your express fault does not mean it’s not your responsibility. This is especially true for public figures.
Your quick apology for misunderstanding, while noble, does not excuse your gut reaction, which wouldn’t have been appropriate even if she had meant to point out you specifically.
A willingness to admit the larger context of your mistake and learn as you go is a more powerful example than you could imagine. You’ve done it before and I urge you to seize the opportunity now.
Still a fan, but only if you keep trying.