Like many of you I awoke to the latest life-giving pop cultural product after its midnight release on July 1st, and feverishly verified my age for YouTube so that I could devour Ri’s much hyped vision for her hit single #BBHMM. What followed was a wide-eyed, whooping, giant stupid grin, with a few “Oh, shit!”s thrown in (you’ll know where).
I must have watched it a dozen times after that, each more glorious than the last. Truly RiRi spared no expense, and pulled out all the stops for this shevenge masterpiece. I was giddy. I texted, called, tweeted, retweeted, shared on Facebook walls, and made my partner watch it on repeat with me. As a horror fan, and a devout Rihanna fan, I was on cloud nine.
Then the holier-than-thou-shit-storm of white feminists, who seriously ruin everything, descended.
The Black Girl Dangerous editors set the record straight in their piece, "This Is What Rihanna’s BBHMM Video Says About Black Women, White Women and Feminism":
Let me tell you what I see when I watch this video: I see a black woman putting her own well-being above the well-being of a white woman. Let’s be clear: white women put their own needs and well-being above those of black women every day and call it “feminism.” Here, Rihanna flips the script: if a white woman has to suffer some so that she, a black woman, can survive, so be it. After all, white women have been surviving on our suffering for hundreds of years.
Too fucking right. I happen to be lumped into the category “white” and this shit is very real. I have seen it in organizations, friend groups, classrooms, and workplaces. White supremacy does not like it when Black women, girls, and femmes take up power, aggression, dominance, and success. It makes folks nervous about their own positions of power, acceptability, respectability etc. White folks, including white women who identify with the mainstream strain of bourgeois liberal feminism, don’t like the threat of being un-seated from the assumed authority to speak for all women.
It’s cloaked in language like “this could hurt the movement,” “she’s not helping our cause,” “she’s only using the same violence men use against us,” “she shouldn’t use sexist, derogatory language.”
...to quote Ri, “like blah, brapp, brapp.”
When these “critiques” are trotted out, time and again against Black woman artists, all I hear are the following:
- “She’s not acting like a good Black role model.” (read as she should be submissive, passive, accomodating)
- “We’re afraid we won’t be able to use Black women anymore for our fundraising/organizing efforts.”
- “We are scared of Black rage and power.”
- “Only we get to decide what language is acceptable.”
- “We are giant opportunistic racists.”
...among a host of other statements with more flagrant language which I’m sure goes on in white libfem’s collective head.
Folks will perhaps remember Taylor Swift’s recent shevenge video "Bad Blood" (allegedly targeting Katy Perry, and admittedly, a total guilty pleasure video of mine as well) throughout which rampant violence, weapons training, and explosions occur. WHERE WAS THE BACKLASH? She was specifically seeking revenge against another woman, was being trained by violent super assassins, all this resulting in a giant fiery face-off. This leads me to the conclusion that creative white ‘cat fights’ regarding superficial spats are acceptable, whereas artful, powerful Black and legitimate grievances are not. That’s what this unequal pop-cultural survey tells me.
Another piece by NerdyGirlsSwag, with the poignant title "Bitch Better Have My Intersectional Feminism or STFU About My Video," brilliantly sums up the aesthetic debate:
Rihanna is a Black Caribbean woman who, in an industry that loves Black culture but hates it on Black women, has taken what was supposed to be a one-hit career and made 7 surprisingly successful albums and record-breaking single sales out if it. The video is a power fantasy filled with the violence and nudity in bold color that most attribute to Quentin Tarantino but actually goes back to early Black and femme exploitation films. Normally, when made by white men, these power fantasies (fantasy being used loosely here because we see whose power in the world is real and whose is fantasy, and white men’s is real and dangerous) are considered artistic, gritty and an expression of the angst that is worthy of praise and awards. Rihanna has taken the film style and applied it to her video as only Rihanna could, taking her race, her gender and her personality and putting in a space that’s normally reserved for cis white men. And in the truest Rihanna fashion, she did so without giving a single fuck what y’all think.
I am beyond disinterested in hearing things like “this video is too violent,” from hosts of people who have little-to-nothing to say about how violent this world is to Black folks- especially Black women and femmes and their bodies. I am tired of seeing the same racist complaints regarding Black art and culture from people who consume and appropriate, colonize and degrade that same art and culture.