By Andre G
The media’s misrepresentation of Azealia Banks represents yet another example of outspoken Blackness being purposely misinterpreted by white supremacist propaganda. From Tupac Shakur to Kanye West, so many wildly talented Black artists have garnered an inordinate amount of negative attention for speaking their truths. More troubling is the juxtaposition of their media coverage beside white artists who represent Eurocentric anti-establishment archetypes.
Rockers such as Billy Idol, Ozzy Osbourne, David Lee Roth and more are largely revered for cavorting the world saying and doing what they please. Modern Rock doesn’t have the same scope today as it did 20 years ago, but the next big rock star will surely be from their lineage. They are pop culture’s “Bad Boys,” idolized for embodying an ethos that goes against the grain of life’s mundane. They are who so many “normal people” want to be under the grips of a mind-numbing western culture, and they do it with an admirable amount of “fuck you.”
Individuality is a foreign concept in a world where thousands of people wait overnight to buy the same shoe, so any outliers are bound to get attention. The aforementioned “bad boys” are revered, but the perceptions of so many outspoken Black artists reveal a problematic contrast. When Black artists speak up on anything, their message is disregarded and they are compartmentalized into a neatly formed stereotype of Blackness.
So often the same “fuck you” vibe a white artist gives off is an example of a Black artist being an “angry Black.” The merit of a message then drowns in a sea of deflective rhetoric by a media that doesn’t want to address it’s viability. Rarely do we get to speak on relevant issues in our community because we’re too busy justifying our right to even speak.
Azealia Banks railed against systemic oppression and cultural appropriation in a recent Hot 97 interview. She spoke passionately about a system that steals her people’s essence but doesn’t reward them. She mentioned Iggy Azalea, the polarizing Australian rapper who is the current face of cultural appropriation. Azealia Banks spoke on the undue acclaim given to a white artist who is–at best–an exiguous imitation of a Black stereotype, and–at worst–an embarrassing, parodic racist seemingly oblivious to her evils.
Speaking on Iggy, Azealia noted through tears that “when they give these Grammys out, all it says to white kids is: ‘Oh yeah, you’re great, you’re amazing, you can do whatever you put your mind to.’ And it says to Black kids: ‘You don’t have shit. You don’t own shit, not even the shit you created for yourself,’ and it makes me upset.”
The comments set a firestorm across social media, but the lack of attention given to her actual comments was troubling. The debate on cultural appropriation quickly became a referendum on Azealia Banks. People either championed Banks for speaking her mind or condemned her as the “crazy Black bitch” she acknowledged being depicted as. The anti-Banks sentiment was typified by Iggy Azalea railing against Azalea Banks for being a “miserable, angry human being” with a lack of self control. Iggy’s series of tweets read like a laundry list of Black stereotypes, with patented “it’s not about race” sentiment strewn in.
The ease in which Iggy Azalea was able to sidestep Azealia Banks’ legitimate comments and define her passion about her people as being “angry” was emblematic of race “relations” in this country. We are in the clutches of a system that is not flawed as we believe, but working perfectly. It works completely for white supremacy. Their mainstream media muffles or manipulates the image of anything threatening that status quo.
In Ferguson, home of the most important Black movement of the 21st century, the media talking points are focused on looters instead of the concerns of the protesters. Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s recent actions threaten to mar the entire movement. Despite the posthumous reverence for Tupac Shakur, during his lifetime he was vilified and portrayed as an angry Black man in part because of his Black Panther lineage. Kanye West’s substantive outspokenness led to media coverage that paints him on the last legs of his psyche, and his rants and music indicate a man cracking under the pressure of misrepresentation.
In the media’s coverage of this Azalea-Azealia “beef,” some outlets have taken to using candid images of Azealia Banks making angry faces. Some of the pictures are not within the first half-dozen pages of an “Azealia Banks” google image search. Are they trying to report a story or subliminally engineer it?
These depictions of being an “angry Black” or “crazy” are a deliberate media tactic to sidetrack people from rhetoric based in truth. They create an environment where people exhibit a basic unwillingness to consider comments if one is perceived to be “upset” delivering them. The marriage of anger and “craziness” allows one to question the sanity and sensibility of the impassioned, even if they are railing against real issues like systemic oppression, police brutality, and cultural appropriation. So many artists are deemed “crazy” because viewing the world in it’s bare reality affects their sensitive consciousness in myriad manners.
Artists like Kanye West and Ice Cube, who told cold truths and embodied “by any means necessary” are archetypes of “angry Black men.” Women like Nicki Minaj and Banks, who confidently assert their presence in a patriarchal industry, often have to stand up for themselves amidst intersectionality. For this they are deemed “angry Black women”. Conversely, white entertainers who curse at people and spit on themselves onstage are looked at as “one of a kind” counter culture icons, perhaps because there is no rhyme or reason to their inebriated anger.
The fact that the motivations of Azealia Banks vs. a Miley Cyrus are diametrically opposed, yet they receive the opposite treatment of what they may deserve is emblematic of a Black person’s place in the fabric of this country. When Blacks speak truth we are portrayed as angry and crazy, only because they can’t portray us as wrong.