A new video has emerged of Victoria’s Secret models rapping the lyrics to Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” backstage during the recent VS show in Shangai—including her usage of the “n-word.”
The Victoria’s Secret angels singing Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” backstage. pic.twitter.com/gGFbNBnQLI
— Pop Crave (@PopCrave) November 29, 2017
The video first appeared on Karlie Koss’s blog, showing several models dressed in pink robes backstage, gleefully reciting the lyric “I don’t wanna choose / And I’m quick, cut a n—a off, so don’t get comfortable.” According to Jezebel, the line in which they actually use the n-word appeared in the Kloss’s original YouTube behind-the-scenes video, but appears to have since been edited out after comments called to attention the usage of the word by white women. The video compelled some fans to denounce their actions, while others inquired what the issue even was.
Legit question here for my African American friends, are non black folk really not allowed to say the “n word” in the context of song lyrics? Not with hard R obviously, example being this video going around of the Victoria secret models singing cardi b bodak yellow.
— JOSEPH FROST (@josephtodd_) November 30, 2017
This isn’t the first time a conversation about the n-word has emerged. In an interview with Canadian artist Sean Leon, NOW magazine’s Sumiko Wilson recently examined whether or not white and non-Black rap fans should be saying the term at rap shows—a phenomenon that has made several Black people uncomfortable attending shows altogether. In the same week, Ta-Nehisi Coates had to explain to an Illinois high school student how she, or her friends, should address other white people who decide to use the word. “I think for white people, the experience of being a hip-hop fan and not being able to use the word n–ga is actually very insightful,” says Coates. “It will give you just a little peek into world of what it means to be Black. Because to be Black is to walk through the world and watch people doing things that you cannot do.” His response went viral. And yet, there are still those like Piers Morgan who, after seeing a group of sorority girls singing to Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” assert that Black artists and the rap industry are to blame for the use of the n-word, rather than their white fans.
Now, events from the Victoria’s Secret show are calling attention to the tiresome debate about the n-word—a discussion, I believe, that needs to transcend from a question of why can’t we to an inquiry of why we do we feel we need to?
The n-word is a colloquial term regularly used by Black communities, often seen and heard in Black culture, specifically, rap music. Like many terms that have a history rooted in systemic oppression, the word, arguably, has been reclaimed and reimagined by Black people as a term of endearment when used amongst one another. Black people have taken the word back.
The power (and context) of language is completely dependent on what bodies use them. It becomes about historical context. When white people use the word, it triggers a history of systemic oppression that has shaped anti-Blackness in the present. It’s a reminder why Black lives don’t—and never have—mattered to the state. When non-Black people continuously insist on using the n-word, it isn’t a conversation about being free to access and utilize a language of culture, but a real belief that everyone has the right to Black code, culture and identity.
It becomes about articulating an ownership of Blackness.
In her article Wilson details how the usage of the n-word by non-Black people at rap shows has prevented her from attending them altogether. The usage of the word has direct impact on the safety and comfort of Black people who are present, including artists themselves. When I wrote for Canada’s hip-hop magazine, Pound, several years ago, I made it a point to stop attending rap shows for this very reason: I was tired of entering spaces where I was over-exposed to non-Black bodies continuously reciting the n-word without hesitation. It became overwhelmingly difficult. If you are non-Black and intrigued about using the n-word you should begin to ask yourself why you are so adamant about its usage. You should question: why do you need to? What difficulty is there in skipping it over? Do we have this similar urge to claim ownership of other oppressive language? And, more importantly, how are you making people feel when you do this?
“‘Nigga’ is such a powerful word,” said Leon to NOW. “In a perfect world, the [white] fans would be respectful enough to not say it.”
Language ignites history—a history that completely shapes and dictates the lives of Black people today. Language has impact and it has meaning. Conversations do, too. When we continuously ignite a conversation about whether the usage of the n-word is simply about culture—or, imitating the Black artists who so often use it—we are prioritizing the right to use language over the safety of Black people who are continuously triggered by the history of the word when it is put to use.
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