The Angry Black Woman Stereotype: What Nicki Minaj and Sandra Bland Have In Common

On Monday, Twitter was abuzz over the release of the police dash cam video of the arrest of Sandra Bland, and a string of tweets by rapper Nicki Minaj in response to her lack of a MTV Video Music Awards nomination for Video of the Year or Best Choreography for her “Anaconda” music video.

The video of Bland’s arrest showed the 28-year-old respond indignantly to Texas Trooper Brian Encinia’s inquiry as to why she was upset, and refuse his request that she put her cigarette out while talking to him. Trooper Encinia – apparently upset by Bland’s defiance, though she had committed no crime – tells Bland she is under arrest and orders her out of her vehicle. When Bland refuses, asserting that she knew her rights and demanding to know what she had done wrong, Encinia opens her car door and attempts to drag her out of the vehicle, eventually forcing her to exit voluntarily by threatening her with his Taser. Bland is subsequently arrested for assaulting an officer, though no such assault occurred. And in a press conference following the revelation of Bland’s hanging death in a jail cell, using language reminiscent of so many other cases of demonization in-death of Black victims of police brutality, Waller County Sherriff said Bland had been “combative” during the exchange and was “not a model person” who officers want to encounter during traffic stops.

Around the same time as the Bland video’s release, Nicki Minaj, upset by what she perceived as body-type and, she suggested, also racial, biases, in the music industry – a topic she, notably, has addressed in the past – said as much in a thread of tweets. She implied that her video for “Anaconda,” which broke online viewing records and sparked social media trends, was not nominated for the VMA awards for Video of the Year or Best Choreography because it celebrated curvy, brown bodies, and not skinny, white ones.

Following several of Minaj’s tweets, Taylor Swift, whose “Bad Blood” video received a Video of the Year nomination and, notably, featured a number of high-profile slim models and actresses, though the women’s bodies was not the focus of the video, responded, accusing Minaj of attacking her and being “divisive” between women. Minaj retorted that she was not talking about Swift – she never said her name, she merely made general observations about the music industry, as she had done in the past. Nor did Minaj say or imply that Swift did not deserve a nomination.

Her point was that she did not receive a nomination because she was thick and Black, not that Swift had only received one because she was skinny and White. Swift, though, read further into Minaj’s tweets than Minaj had intended.

Now, don’t read this as an affirmation of Nicki Minaj’s outrage at the fact that she was snubbed by the VMAs. Frankly, I am disappointed that, in 2015, Black people still care whether or not White people recognize their art and culture. I don’t need White people to tell me that music, movies, or TV shows that reflect me are “good enough.” I know that already, and I’ve written about this before. I am perpetually disappointed in artists like Nicki Minaj and Kanye West who are upset not about White supremacy, but about the fact that they can’t access whiteness and attain the same recognition and rewards as White people when they perform well because of it.

Undoubtedly, there exists within the music industry a bias for women artists who fit a Eurocentric standard of beauty. But in expressing outrage that whiteness did not acknowledge her, Minaj affirms its supremacy – she affirms that White people are the end-all-be-all, and that their opinions are what matter most.

So, while Nicki Minaj’s claim that the music industry is racially biased is accurate, who cares?

I don’t.

I do care, though, about how Black women are treated and characterized when they voice an opinion like Sandra Bland or Nicki Minaj.

After the Minaj-Swift Twitter exchange, articles surfaced online with titles like “Nicki Minaj Picks a Feud with Taylor Swift after Video Music Awards Snub” – some of which were deleted following outrage from #BlackTwitter – with clearly deliberately selected and years-old pictures of in-character Nicki Minaj with bulging eyes or gaping mouth, looking like Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black, juxtaposed against images of a sweet, smiling, unassuming Taylor Swift.

The underlying message: look at this mean, angry Black woman bullying a poor little innocent White girl.

We’ve seen and heard this before; White supremacy is nothing if not consistent. It happens every time Black women on Twitter call out Kylie Jenner or Iggy Azalea or Katy Perry for appropriating Black culture, or challenge some cherished White woman “feminist” who claims that talking about race is “divisive” (sound familiar?) for her lack of intersectionality. And, historically, White femininity has been pedestaled over Black and guarded as something that must be protected at all costs, especially from Blackness, be it from Black male rapists or snappy Black women.

But this particular instance was unique because, at the same time as it played out, we watched first-hand in the Sandra Bland arrest video how dangerous this perception of Black women really is.

Like Minaj, who was lambasted for being the aggressor in a non-existent “feud,” Sandra Bland, too, was targeted for speaking her mind.

Brian Encinia threatened and assaulted Bland because he didn’t like what she said or how she said it. As the Waller County Sherriff noted, to Encinia, Bland was a “combative” non-“model person” whose behavior warranted physical abuse (though, following the video’s release, his office said that Trooper Encinia had not “maintained professionalism” throughout the incident).

Sandra was out of line.

We don’t know what happened in her jail cell, but whether she committed suicide or not, her violent and unconstitutional arrest and imprisonment remain at fault for her death.

Even if she took her own life, the state killed Sandra Bland.

From Sandra Bland, to Nicki Minaj, to outspoken Black girls who are suspended and expelled from, and arrested in, school at rates that far exceed their White counterparts, pushback against the “angry Black woman” impacts Black women and girls indiscriminately. For Minaj, pushback merely took the form of media criticism. For Bland, its manifestation was far worse. But both are examples of the violence – whether physical or psychological – exacted against Black women who dare speak up for themselves.

Evidenced yet again, is that if there is anything White patriarchy hates, it’s a Black woman with an opinion.

Brandon Ellington Patterson is an editorial fellow at Mother Jones magazine in San Francisco, CA. He is a 2015 graduate of Howard University and has had bylines on Politic365 and NBCBLK. Follow him on Twitter at @myblackmindd.

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