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9 Lessons I Learned From Azealia Banks

Coral Rucker |
April 2, 2015 | 12:25 p.m. PDT

Contributor

Azealia Banks is a force to be reckoned with. She has amazing musical talent, she’s a progressive thinker and she's released the most innovative rap album of 2014. Throughout the years, she’s faced obstacles to express herself and release quality music: publicly calling people out, while simultaneously changing the rap game. This musician is nothing short of a hard worker. I’ve been following Banks for the past few years now and I’ve learned a lot from doing so.  Here are a few of the many things I've learned from Azealia Banks:


Photographer - Nikko La Mere (AzealiaBanksWeb/Tumblr)
Photographer - Nikko La Mere (AzealiaBanksWeb/Tumblr)
Misogynoir 

Listen, it’s been a long time since a black woman can really sit here and say whatever the fuck she feels like without getting shot at or sprayed by a hose” 

Misogynoir refers to anti-black misogyny, where race and gender intersect in the hatred and poor treatment of black women. The concept is grounded in the theory of intersectionality, which analyzes how various social identities such as race, gender, class and sexual orientation interrelate in systems of oppression. So a black woman experiences oppression on the basis of both her race and her gender. Her experience of oppression differs from both the experiences of a white woman or a black man.

Banks’ relationship with the media is definitely a prime example of misogynoir in our society. I have seen that misogynoir leads people to be more critical of her compared to other celebrities who have done problematic things in the past. Many celebrities have gotten praise for their problematic behavior, from Eminem’s use of misogynistic and gay slurs in his music to Kanye West slut shaming Amber Rose. Yet, when Banks called Perez Hilton the f-word after dealing with him constantly trolling her, she was quickly written off as the “crazy homophobic black b-word on twitter.”

Recently, white South African rap group Die Antwoord called Drake a "massive f-word" and there has been little outrage about it. The group did not apologize for their actions. Many media outlets who covered this story dismissed it instead of taking as serious offense as they do with Azealia Banks. Why does Banks receive more backlash for her use of the same word?

Being a fan of Azealia Banks has opened my eyes to the different kind of treatment and mockery that happens to black women on a daily basis, especially famous black women. Negative feedback toward practically everything Nicki Minaj has done for her career, from her rap lyrics to her single artwork. Criticism of Zendaya’s reaction to Giuliana Rancic’s offensive statements about her hair. Black female celebrities who suffered the nude leaks of 2014 not taken as seriously as the white female celebrities. These are just a few of the many examples of misogynoir in pop culture.

Do Whatever You Want With The English Language

You can sun if you want to/Fun if you want to/Stay in the shade all day if you kunt to

I love Azealia Banks for switching up the English language to her own liking. When I heard her using English words in different ways, I thought it was just for rapping but she’s actually doing it out of creativity. At first I didn't like it but one day I thought, "If Shakespeare can make up words to express himself why can’t Banks?" For so long I was told to use English in such a specific way that I never thought about being creative with the language. I forgot that English is already such a bastardized language that we can do what we want with it. As a writer, knowing this really gives me the courage to be more creative in how I express myself. Instead of writing as if I'm about to send in an essay I don't care about, I feel free to write however I want. Changing words up, giving old, unimportant words new meaning and even messing with sentence fragments - because I can. 

Photographer - Dan Burn-Forti (AzealiaBanksWeb/Tumblr)
Photographer - Dan Burn-Forti (AzealiaBanksWeb/Tumblr)
Dark-Skinned Girls Are Human Too

Mira como baila, la nena morena/Mira como baila, sin llanto, ni Pena

Along with Issa Rae and Kelly Rowland, Azealia Banks was one of the few that showed me that dark-skinned women are just like everyone else. Banks has shown me that dark skinned girls can be emotional in every facet. She’s shown me that as a dark-skinned woman, she can be sexually fluid. She’s shown me that dark-skinned women can be young and desirable. They are individuals and they can be anything and everything they want to be.

SEE ALSO: You're Pretty, For A Black Girl

This is the opposite to what I typically saw in the media when I was younger, where dark-skinned girls were portrayed either as wise old grandmothers or angry and unruly fighters. Even within the Black community, there is a colorism in the culture toward women, a phenomenon discussed n the Oprah Winfrey sponsored documentary, "Dark Girls" (available on Netflix). Light-skinned black women are seen as more desirable than dark-skinned black women. Unfortunately, colorism is still very much alive today.

Before "Scandal" and "How To Get Away With Murder," Azealia Banks was the woman who gave me the most unique portrayal of a dark-skinned black woman by just being herself.

Azealia Banks for Voss Magazine (AzealiaBanksWeb/Tumblr)
Azealia Banks for Voss Magazine (AzealiaBanksWeb/Tumblr)
Gay Men Can Still Be Misogynistic/Racist 

"There is a myth that any one deviation from the “cishet [straight and masculine] white male” is an absolution of access to white supremacy. Not true."

On February 1st, Azealia Banks had a conversation with her fans about the difference between white gay society and black gay society. Her fans brought up the fact that misogyny and racism are huge issues within the gay community. They also talked about how black gays are not as respected or loved in the community as white gays are. White gays are generally seen as the focal point of the community. White gays are treated as the only voice, the only culture and the main desire of the gay community.

SEE ALSO: Gay Rights Groups Should Support Black Lives Matter

Banks and her fans who contributed to the conversation were greatly criticized. One white gay man even wrote an article on how Azealia Banks was being homophobic to him.

Seeing all this unfold made me realize that gay men can still be misogynistic and/or racist even if it’s just within their community. Hopefully, the gay community will one day be able to resolve the issues which affect gay people of color, issues like: who can use which derogatory slur, better media representation and inclusion of queer people of color, lack of diversity in the gay porn industry, etc. If the conversation on white gay racism and misogyny doesn't start soon, I feel like the disconcerting feelings queer people of color have toward white gay men will just keep growing and growing.

Photographer - Dan Burn-Forti (StellaMagazine/Twitter)
Photographer - Dan Burn-Forti (StellaMagazine/Twitter)
Keeping It 100

"People are seriously intimidated by my talent and honesty"

Growing up in the Midwest, I was always taught to not speak my mind. My mother taught me that I should be myself, but that I should also keep my thoughts to myself. It’s that age old, “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” In the land of nice, passive-aggression is seen as the only acceptable way to express your true feelings. The frustration of biting my tongue caused me to slip up sometimes, but I would always be reminded not to speak up. Even at times when it was needed. 

Since following Azealia Banks, I have admired her honesty. Pure, unadulterated, fresh-out-the-mind opinions and feelings about anything from social issues to her favorite types of animals. She always has that courage to speak her mind and call out anyone despite the media backlash. She has lost fans because of her pro-black, pro-woman opinions, but at the end of the day she cares about making music and connecting with people. Since being a fan, I’ve become a bit more vocal about my opinions as well. I’m not completely honest with my feelings but I am starting to feel more comfortable about speaking up instead of just biting my tongue. 

Weaves Can Be Beautiful

I be stylin with my bitches/Pretty eyes and long extensions

Outside of India.Arie’s music video, "I Am Not My Hair," I haven't seen many black women loving their weaves quite like Azealia Banks. I remember back then, black women wouldn’t dare admit to wearing a weave. Like an unwritten rule, it was not socially acceptable to talk about them. Whenever I saw women with a weave, it was on TV or online and was typically a negative depiction of them. There were countless scenes of black women losing their weaves in fights. Health concerns with weaves was big news. Generally, famous black men talked about weaves in a negative or comedic way. Natural hair was the way to go, but it was not encouraged to have if you wanted to be approachable or have a job. Society was saying that weaves were gross, but on the other hand you needed one to succeed and be happy. It was, and still is, a very confusing time.

SEE ALSO: 'Broke With Expensive Taste' By Azealia Banks: Album Review

Azealia Banks was the first black female celebrity I was exposed to that wasn't ashamed of weaves. She expressed her love for weaves instead of shaming them. I learned from her that weaves are not a shameful thing. Just like natural hair, they are beautiful and they can be used to express yourself. Now thanks to the countless black women online that have spoken up freely about weaves, extentions and relaxers in the past decade, many women are styling their hair any way they want.

Money Over Fools

Fuck is up with they grammar/They never talking money/I can never understand em

I always get distracted thinking about the littlest things like past mistakes, people that don’t matter, or The Dress and why people cared about it so much. Azealia Banks frequently mentions in her songs that getting money, loving yourself and becoming successful should be the three main concerns in your life. Thanks to her advice, I've got my eyes on the prize. Money, success and being myself.

White Mediocrity | Black Excellence 

In this country, whenever it comes to our things like black issues or black politics or black music or whatever, there’s always this undercurrent of kinda like a ‘Fuck You’ there’s always like a ‘fuck y’all niggas y’all don’t really own shit. Y’all don’t have shit’.

I subconsciously knew about the praise of white mediocrity compared to black excellence way before the infamous HOT 97 interview. But watching Azealia Banks put it in words awakened my thoughts on it all. After watching that interview, I thought about all the times white mediocrity was praised over black excellence, specifically in entertainment. I even thought about when I was in school watching white people give sub-par performances in singing, acting, dancing and band, and they received immediate praise for just doing it. 

White mediocrity does not apply to every single white person but it does apply to the fact that mediocre content is accepted and praised more if it is produced by white people. 

It’s worse seeing white mediocrity being praised when it is for things that have been done for years in non-white cultures. This is called columbusing, which is when white people discover something that’s not a part of their culture and claim they discovered a new thing. An example of this is Miley Cyrus and twerking. Many people have cited her as the creator of the dance even though black people in America have been twerking since the 1990s. The unfortunate downside of this is that black people who were twerking before Miley Cyrus’made it famous are getting smudged out or looked down upon for doing it. 

Here are some examples of White Mediocrity over Black Excellence. 

  • #OscarsSoWhite
  • Eminem constantly labelled as the Greatest Rapper of All Time while many other rappers are overlooked or underrated every year. Rolling Stone Magazine is famously known for doing with the Beatles. Labelling them as the Greatest Musicians of All Time while ignoring or underrating musicians that came after like Michael Jackson, Prince, the Dixie Chicks, Queen and even Beyonce.
  • Beck’s album Morning Phase winning Album of the Year over Beyonce’s self-titled album.
  • Media labelled and praised Emma Watson as the Feminist of 2014 for giving a speech while feminists of color were ignored. Already trying to smudge out the many women of color who contributed so much to the movement in 2014. urning feminism into a competition when it's truly a calling.
  • Nash Grier being declared as the King of Vine when many don't know why he is famous or which vine got him famous.

There are so many more examples of this because it happens almost daily in our society.

Azealia Banks for Self-Titled Magazine (AzealiaBanksWeb/Tumblr)
Azealia Banks for Self-Titled Magazine (AzealiaBanksWeb/Tumblr)
Own Your Sexuality

Fuck em like you do want to cum.

When Azealia Banks expresses her sexuality, she expresses her sexuality for herself. She likes to be naked, she likes to be sexy. It is something that she feels comfortable doing. She has done multiple photo shoots of herself scantily-clad and music videos being naturally flirtatious, and she talks openly about being attracted to men and women. Watching her own her sexuality made me feel comfortable to know that people can be sexual purely for themselves. It doesn’t always have to be for the sake of a hook-up, money or making a political statement. Your sexuality is for you.

Recently, many people have severely criticized Azealia Banks for her Playboy cover shoot but the rapper has stayed strong with her freedom to be herself, no matter the judgment.

Before I was introduced to Azealia Banks, I was very reserved. I was judgmental, I laughed at jokes that demeaned black women and had a dating preference for white girls. Now I’m taking risks. I'm more socially aware and less judgmental. I no longer find jokes against black women funny. I'm so much more open to dating any woman and I feel more confident in myself.

Azealia Banks taught me that I can say and do what I want without worry of others' approval.

She taught me how to be free. 

Contact Contributor Coral Rucker here; or follow him on Twitter



 

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