It wasn’t enough that party promoters thought using Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s likeness wearing gold chains to advertise a party was cool or that Russell Simmons thought making fun of Harriet Tubman was funny or that Li’l Wayne thought that comparing rough sex to Emmit Till’s death was okay. Now rapstress Nicki Minaj has gone and released a new single “Looking Ass N#$*a,” already controversial for its show of guns in the video, and used Malcolm X’s picture for the cover. You can see and hear the NSFW single here. (Warning: EXPLICIT LYRICS).
Not only is this ignorant and sad, this particular image speaks volumes about Malcolm’s legacy and the duress he was under for speaking his truth about race relations in this country. It’s the famous pic where he’s looking out the window, machine gun in hand, prepared to defend himself and his family against the many people who had threatened their lives.
Did we mention that it’s still Black History Month?
Should we blame Nikki for this or blame ourselves for creating an atmosphere where not only are we OK with the visual imaging that has helped her become a platinum-selling superstar (despite lacking any real talent except for marketing and imitating various voices) with an allegedly surgically enhanced butt and a blonde wig? We’ve been OK with one of our daughters working out some obvious self-esteem issues while turning a profit by encouraging other insecure young girls to want the same plastic parts instead of celebrating their own unique beauty. Are we now OK with the shameless use of one of our icons’ images for commercial purposes when his famous autobiography, penned by Alex Haley, is not just a classic, but one that a lot of young Black males reference as changing their thinking about themselves and their potential?
Because if we are OK with our young artists disrespecting our history and neither feel that we can correct or re-educate them, then it’s us, as parents, aunties, uncles, teachers and grands that have collectively failed. If it’s not up to us to remember and testify, then who will? If we don’t share and protect our history, then who will we have that can continue to fight for the equality and justice that is our right? If we are not sharing this knowledge, we are sending young people out into the world unarmed with the information and knowledge that they need.
Without it, how can they stand strong when they meet with institutional racism and the persistent mindset that African-Americans are second-class citizens who can be shot in cold blood because their very presence offends or frightens others? We need to snatch up our young people and let them know that others came before them who lived and died to get us where we are today and that they were more than Black and white images, they were living breathing people who sacrificed family, friends, and often their lives for the greater good.
They were not just holidays and names to quote in a hip-hop song. They were patriots who wanted justice for our people and the chance to let freedom ring in a country that paid lip service to that ideal but denied it to too many of its citizens. If we haven’t taught Nicki anything, then we haven’t done nothing, as another great Black man said.
It’s Black History Month. Teach somebody something, buy someone a book, or mentor a young person. Do it not just this month, but all year. Because if you support this mess, by saying it doesn’t matter or that you bear no responsibility in it, then, well, you’re just part of the problem.
Note: Minaj has responded to complaints via her Instagram and taken the offending image down from hersocial media sites.