Big Freedia screams out, “I wanna know who mothaf-in’ representin’ in here tonight,” and everyone in the car gets turnt! Drake’s Nice for What was an amazing summer anthem this year. And it wasn’t just incredible because of its subtle bass lines and tribute to New Orleans bounce music. Drake poses a question many women especially black women often have to consider… when should we be nice and who deserves our niceness?
Recently at the US Open, Tennis star and athletic glamazon Serena Williams inherently felt some level of distress upon confronting chair umpire, Carlos Ramos. Who accused Serena of cheating during the U.S Open. According to various AP news outlets, Serena’s requests an apology from Ramos. The situation escalates once he refuses. Later, Serena calls him a thief for stealing a point from her in a championship match and talks about gender discrimination. She states the previous instances of men behaving similarly without punitive damages. Ramos issues another violation, citing verbal abuse against himself, costing Williams the game. This left many pondering did Williams deserve an apology? Moreover, did she have a right to even request one?
Cardi B and Nicki Minaj are two of the hottest rapstars in the game right now. And apparently their most recent “rap beef” manifested into an altercation during New York Fashion Week. Video circulating on social media shows Cardi B lunging toward someone and being held back at Harper’s Bazaar Icons party. Many folks are wondering how “nice” it was that the two stars’ behavior reminds us “we all got some ratchet in us.” Some folks question if Cardi B and Nicki have a responsibility to act a certain way in public? Did their actions further stereotype other black women as well? Moreover, listening to the comments about the two women is fascinating. It seems like everyone has a right to discuss what our Black bodies can and cannot do.
Truthfully, this isn’t the first time in history these questions arise. It’s not unusual for folks to question, critique, examine, negate, interrogate, and lament Black womanhood. Rather we are discussing Lil Kim’s and Janet’s Superbowl performances or chattel slavery, black women and their bodies are both privately and publicly policed. Our bodies serve as both a metaphoric and literal lynching posts. Throughout slavery Black women cannot defend themselves against any form of attack. Any slaves attempt to protect herself (or her family) is subject to a range of cruel (and usual) punishments inciting terror not only for herself but other slaves as well. This terrorism against Black women isn’t just tied to her own agency either. Historian, Gloria Browne-Marshall states, “Powerless against a lustful husband and blind to the harsh realities of chattel slavery, the enraged wife often vented her jealous rage upon the one person whom she could control, the black woman.” This control of the black female isn’t limited to slave-owners either. Slave partners exercised control over women in distinct ways. One may argue that black women have to pay a price when acting in ways others may deem unnecessary, superfluous, or impolite. Is it safe to say Black women are demanded to “play nice” no matter what the circumstances are?
Despite economic, personal, sexual, and/or individual hopelessness does society always expect us to always maintain a sense of submission?
Our upcoming series, “Hey Sis” is all about this question: Nice for What? We want to talk with others about topics like respectability, civility and a “Woman’s Place” in society. We as black women are often privately and publicly encouraged to position ourselves to fade into the background around us. Simultaneously, we are often misunderstood as “angry,” “belligerent,” “reckless,” and “ghetto.” These in/formal requests for our submission are not without cause or impact. That’s why hearing Drake rapping, “That’s a real one, in your reflection. Without a follow, without a mention. You rarely pipin’ up on these n-‘s. You gotta be nice for what to these n-’s” is such an affirmation. His lyrics confirm the limitations shaping our everyday lives. Hey Sis is the space we need to have an opportunity as Black women to center these given experiences and speak our individual truth(s).