“Good girls do what they’re told.”
Cardi B sings on the SZA assisted “I Do.” And I have to say that I may have felt a little personally attacked on that line.
For most of my life I’ve been the good girl. Straight As, always striving to be the best and to get things right the first time as not to be corrected. And it’s part of the reason that someone like Cardi intrigues me so much.
Just like much of the country this weekend, I’ve been obsessed with every clip, article, and tweet from the Bronx native since releasing her debut project “Invasion of Privacy” on Apr. 6. But I remember when I was first introduced to Cardi from my husband.
He saw a trailer showing that she would be on VH1’s Love and Hip Hop New York in 2015 and was like “oh really?” I was completely lost and he held up his phone showing the Instagram of the then internet sensation and I was initially completely turned off. He told me that she was popular online and I just shook my head thinking about how easy it is for people to gain notoriety on social media these days. In all transparency, I may have even said, “ the hoes keep winning.” I know. I know.
In either case, I don’t think anyone would have expected how things took off for her. I’m pretty sure I watched that season and she was hilarious. Who could deny it? This unapologetic, loud, and outwardly fearless girl captured the hearts of many. And sure, there was mention of a rap career, but I don’t think any of us had faith in that. If you’re an avid LHH watcher, you probably haven’t felt moved by much of the music released from any of the cast members. I guess there was “Spose to Be” from Omarion, but I digress.
But “Bodak Yellow” came around and shattered everyone’s expectations. Sure, I know she put some mixtapes out before then, but I honestly wasn’t checking for them. But this song thumped in the club and even without a formal hook was super catchy and we watched her meteoric rise to the top. We watched America fall in love with the stripper from the Bronx who got a bag and fixed her teeth.
At 31, I am still learning so much about who I really am. So this idea of respectability politics was something I hadn’t given much thought to. But in explaining my like for Cardi B to my mother, I realized that’s what I had been playing into for many years of my life.
It’s this idea that we as marginalized groups have to play into this mainstream narrative of who we should be. And I played the game so well for most of my life. Saying the right thing, getting the right grades, doing the “right” things. And if I am honest, sometimes I have felt extremely annoyed at the folks who rage against that and do whatever they want. Why? Because often it seems like they get farther than those of us who play the game anyway.
And so my initial thoughts about Cardi B were ensnared in this ideology.
Now, I do generally think we owe it to the world to be our best selves. Yes. But I don’t necessarily think that just because this girl is popular that she owes us anything either. The whole “I’m not a role model” thing I kind of agree with. I just know that with whatever platform I am given, I would like to represent a certain thing. But in her authenticity she is still impacting this world positively.
I don’t want to be Cardi B. I’ll probably never refer to myself as a bad bitch. But her willingness to stand in the face of everything that’s telling her to be something else and say, “Owwwwwwwww … no I’m not,” is an important part of what I need at this point in my journey.
Sure, sometimes I am the nice girl. But sometimes I’m also the girl that refers to women she doesn’t know as “hoes that are winning.” And I have to be able to give myself that grace. Yeah, darnit, in that moment I was annoyed at my 3K followers to her gazillion by getting on videos and making lude jokes in the camera.
But now, now I can’t get enough of her. Now every time I see something with her in it, it makes me smile. Now every time she exceeds our low expectations of her, I give a small cheer because she represents something in all of us. Especially, as women of color who no one is expecting amazing things from although we keep proving that stupid narrative wrong as well.
It was the clip from SNL when Cardi B says, “I’m finally free” in reference to her pregnancy announcement that I truly felt the most moved. It felt like her freedom to come out of hiding with her blessing of a new baby, was my freedom to be the complexity of the woman that I am.
The woman that loves Jesus and Trap. The woman that is rooting for you but also a little jealous at times when her own life isn’t where she wants it to be. The woman that is sometimes a little moody and will cuss you out if you catch her hungry. The one that is so unsure about where this path is actually leading her but is deciding to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Cardi B doesn’t have to be a saint to inspire. She represents everything that people would never think would amount to as much as she has right now and she gets to stare those people down and say, “Look at me now!”
She also shows the very dangerous side to the fame that so many of us chase. This idea that your life is not your own and that you are responsible for so many other people. It’s like I want to protect her too. I want to make sure that she can maintain her authenticity and that becoming a darling doesn’t compromise the carefree attitude that we’ve come to know and love.
You don’t have to love her music. You don’t have to agree with her approach or her unfiltered delivery. You don’t have to like her at all. But I thought I’d shine a little light on why she’s relatable to so many women, including “do-right” girls like myself. She represents something we may never be but in some ways long for.
We all want to prove somebody wrong, show that we can do it, say F-off to the pressures of society that tell us we have to be one thing.
The last few years of my life have revealed to me the limitations that I’ve put on myself. I’ve seen where I let “people” influence what I think and what I do.
But I no longer want to acquiesce to the things that I’m told at this point in my life. I’m ready to do what I want, respectfully because did I mention that I love Jesus? Like a lot. Ha!
In all seriousness, I want to be light. I want to positively impact people and spread love because the world needs more of that. I want to tell stories and relate to folks across the world through my writing. But I realize that’s not shrouded in this ridiculous idea of perfection. I can be imperfect. I can make mistakes and God can still exalt me to high places.
All we’ve been asking for as women of color is a full picture of what it means to be women of color. That means the skrippers and the Harvard grads. The block girls and the doctors. We can all co-exist. We can all respect and learn from one another. And most importantly, we can cheer for each other no matter how different our paths may be.