Due to centuries of anti-Black propaganda, and the need to fight for justice and empowerment, I work daily to decolonize the minds of my beloved Black people, especially our youth. It is a job that some trivialize and others fear. Yet some of us have to do it. It may not be glamorous, earn prestigious awards, or bring luxurious homes and great material wealth, but it is invaluable nonetheless.
Regardless of their wealth, fame and god-like status, entertainers are people too. And like any other people, they are capable of misjudgment and inappropriate actions. When this occurs, we must be critical of them. Some of our entertainers have proven quite involved in human rights and social justice issues and have used their enormous platforms to highlight important issues. However, others allow themselves to be pimped and to confuse the importance of our history while doing so. Case in point: Hip Hop artist Nikki Minaj recently released a new single and video entitled, “Looking Ass Nigga.” She has chosen to promote the single with the famous image of Malcolm X holding a gun while peering out of a window. People are STILL struggling to understand Malcolm’s significance, and here she goes blurring it again. You can view the video below:
I am compelled to address this given Niki’s immense popularity with young people, a fan base that is often impressionable and sometimes not particularly critical. As poet Jasmine Mans suggests in the performance below, Minaj might just be letting the music industry ‘rape the Assata out of her’ once again.
As I see it, there are three reasons why her choice to use Malcolm’s image in this way are unacceptable and insulting.
1. First and foremost, Malcolm X unfortunately cannot “look” at anything. Thanks to the U.S. government and some deeply misled Black men, Malcolm was assassinated in 1965, a full 17 years before Minaj was born. This represents therefore, gross disrespect of a distinguished elder who worked tirelessly to advance the interests of Black people including those in Trinidad & Tobago, from whence Minaj hails.
2. Malcolm spent years raising consciousness among Black people, urging us to stop referring to ourselves in degrading ways. He certainly did not promote the use of the word “nigger” in any of its forms. He didn’t even agree with the softer word “negro,” and he was constantly challenging us to identify ourselves as Black or Afro-American. He didn’t refer to himself in degrading ways, and taught us not to think nor act in ways that embodied this ugly and reprehensible word created for us by slavemasters and white supremacists. To equate or associate him with this word is simply irresponsible, contradictory, and insulting to his legacy.Listen to brother Malcolm teach about the importance of Black identity and how we developed such harmful ways of identifying ourselves.
3. She uses an image of Malcolm to promote her new single in a sensational way using a Black leader whose image is already thoroughly misrepresented. And, she chooses to do this during Black History Month! Thus, she misuses Malcolm to brand a corporate commodity (her music and message) that he was completely against! This is clearly insulting given that Malcolm himself grew increasingly critical of capitalism and media manipulation during the last year of his life. Malcolm was an uncompromising revolutionary who challenged imperialism, racism and Black self-hatred. He also did not support any of the themes Minaj talks about in the song, nor the way she exploits her body while doing it. Using his image in his death to sell a narcissistic, fratricidal (in the video she literally shoots a gun at a Black man) and vain musical message is unacceptable. In essence, she has misused and mischaracterized Malcolm just like the white media and Uncle Toms he often spoke out against.
Is it permissible to have NIkki Minaj or anyone else believe they can defecate on the image and legacy of Brother Malcolm or our history? Hell no! I am convinced that she should remove that insulting image. I am further convinced that her label mates at Young Money Records need a thorough education in their own history. You may remember Lil Wayne’s insulting reference to Emmit Till.Till’s relatives as you can see below, were outraged and rightly so. Has she forgotten that Malcolm has living relatives as well who might be offended by her foolishness?
I truly hope people flood her Twitter account with outrage concerning this ill-advised use of Malcolm’s image. Enough is enough people. You can also sign a petition calling on Minaj to remove the image. Until that is done, she shouldn’t make a dime off of that single.
In the meantime, marinate on the words of Malcolm concerning the need for independent thinking…..
And I end with a dedication to NIkki Minaj from KRS One:
Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Last year, Agyei wrote, “The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook,” to teach leadership principles to Black Student Unions. Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak to your organization, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.