Nicki Minaj Criticized for Angola Performance, But Is It Fair?.

“I ndependent women only!” Dropping it low in a sheer,
bejeweled bodysuit, flanked by
female dancers in black leotards
and yellow tights, Nicki Minaj changed the lyrics to her single “Only” to
give a shout-out to independent Angolan
sisters when she performed Saturday at a holiday concert sponsored by phone
company Unitel. Unitel is controlled by
Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angolan
president Jose dos Santos and Africa’s
richest woman and youngest billionaire. Minaj performed despite protests from the
Human Rights Foundation, which wrote
a letter demanding she refuse to perform for a government “involved in gross human
rights violations.” Citing the dos Santos
regime for economic corruption and
suppression of free speech, HRF also
lambasted Isabel as “the largest beneficiary
of the country’s deadly trade in blood diamonds.” When Minaj nonetheless accepted the
invitation to perform in Luanda, she joined
Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado,
Erykah Badu and Kanye West in a list of
artists reprimanded by HRF for performing
for African and Eastern European “tyrants” in exchange for seven-figure paychecks. It’s nearly impossible to argue with the
foundation’s statement titled “Nicki Minaj
Shouldn’t Be Performing for Dictators.” But
in touting this self-evident platform, the
foundation and other human rights
watchdogs leave several important questions unasked: When we talk about politics in Africa, why
do we move so quickly into inflammatory
terms? The Human Rights Foundation calls dos
Santos “brutal,” “a cunning tyrant” and
“ruthless,” among other terms. Please be
clear: I make no apologies for dos Santos’
regime, which includes the rise of deadly
income disparities, arrests of nonviolent protesters, and a spike in child mortality
rates. But brutal, cunning, ruthless—rather than detailing Angola’s political situation—
perform an ad hominem attack that echoes
imperialist rhetoric about Africans’ savagery.
The idea that Africans are too “brutal” and
“ruthless” to govern themselves has been the
irrational underpinning for numerous imperialist interventions into Angola and
other African states, including the U.S.’s
backing of Angolan guerilla group UNITA,
funded by Western governments opposed to
the then Marxist-Leninist state. Why don’t we apply the same lens to
ourselves? This isn’t the language usually employed to
talk about North American and European
rulers, but why not? In the United States,
nonviolent Black Lives Matter protesters were
arrested in Boston and Minneapolis, while Sandra Bland’s death under dubious circumstances in a Texas jail in July remains
obscured. Our infant mortality rate is the developed world’s highest and the rate
for Black infants double that of Whites. Why doesn’t HRF protest artists who perform at
national events, or at state events in
Massachusetts, Minnesota, or Texas? And
let’s not forget, dos Santos’ regime
continues because, since Angola has
become a capitalist state and Africa’s second-largest oil producer, the U.S. and Western Europe support his dictatorship
to retain access to the country’s oil. If we let go of the idea that African countries
are more savage than ours, can we ask: When we talk about politics in Africa, how
seriously do we take Black women’s voices? Long before she asked “What’s good,
Miley?” Minaj rose to the status of Black
feminist icon. When Vogue asked her
relationship to feminism, she replied: “I think
of myself as a woman who wants other
women to be bosses, and to be strong and to be go-getters. I’ve always said that, since I
came in the game.” She framed her meeting
with Isabel dos Santos in those terms, too.
Her Instagram picture with Isabel reads: “She’s just the 8th richest woman in the
world. (At least that’s what I was told by
someone b4 we took this photo) Lol.
Yikes!!!!! GIRL POWER!!!!!” You can agree with Minaj’s version of
feminism or not. But a high-profile chance
for a Black Trinidadian woman who lives in
the United States to be in conversation with
Angolan women about what empowerment
means to Black women in diaspora: That’s a valuable moment. Does anybody think it’s coincidence she
surrounded herself with Black women on
stage, or that she chose to amp-up her girl
power lyrics? Muhammed Ali fought
the “Rumble in the Jungle” in repressive Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo)
partly to connect with Africans about Black
empowerment. Why don’t we think Minaj’s
conversations about Black woman-power are
as important?

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