Excusing Cardi B’s behavior is colorism

Letting lighter-skinned people get away with more is a demonstration of prejudice.

NICOLE HWANG / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Cardi B admitted to drugging and robbing men during her exotic dancing days in a recent video. 

Social media users were divided. While some people were ready to write the artist off, others refused to let people compare her to Bill Cosby, comedian and former Temple University trustee who is facing three to 10 years for sexual assault-related charges. They defended her by saying she needed to rob men to survive. 

And if that weren’t enough to get people talking, a few days ago Cardi B was nominated for 21 Billboard Music Awards.

I’m not surprised at Cardi B’s privilege, being that she is lighter-skinned, it all boils down to colorism — a concept I wrote about for The Temple News in February. 

Colorism is prejudice and favoritism based on skin color. Normally, lighter-skinned people are favored over darker-skinned people due to their proximity to European standards.

Timothy Welbeck, an attorney and Africology and African American Studies instructor, said colorism is an extension of slavery. 

“Slavery ostensibly ends, but the racialized oppression that came with it never ended,” Welbeck said. “It just took on different forms and different names, such as colorism. So we applaud ourselves…as one evil system appears to end.”

Because society fails to accept racially ambiguous people into white spaces, it will reward them in Black spaces. They gain privilege and superiority in these Black spaces because of their lighter skin and looser hair textures, as those attributes are closer to whiteness. 

We, the Black community, always say Blackness comes in many different shades, but at what cost? The dismissal of fully toned, dark-skinned Black people? And why can’t whiteness come in many different shades as well? 

We often like to believe we have left behind the remnants of slavery and Jim Crow. But it feels like the One-Drop Rule, which states anyone with the tiniest bit of African ancestry is Black, will never go away. 

It would be easier to move away from colorism if mainstream media and the entertainment industry were not the biggest perpetrators of colorism.

Khadijah Yadullah, a freshman Africology and African American Studies major, said it’s all about marketability.

“Record labels want to be able to say that they have a Black person on the label,” Yadullah said. “They want to see who will give…more money, and unfortunately, it is the lighter-skinned artists.” 

A record label has to relate to a broader audience that includes white people. They have to cater and market to white people. White adolescent males are one of the biggest consumers of hip-hop and rap.

White consumers are where the money is. It is not that fans of color won’t support artists; it’s that white fans have more money and means of doing so.

It’s very frustrating racially ambiguous people like Cardi B will only use Blackness to their advantage. Cardi B now considers her race Black. But when she was first becoming famous, she’d tiptoe around her identity.

When people want to rightfully admonish her for using racial slurs, being Latinx suddenly means she is Black and it’s all OK.

“In terms of the whole never embracing her Blackness, I think that is a part of a larger, more complicated history that goes across the Caribbean, where many Latinx people don’t fully embrace their Blackness due to the legacy of slavery and colonialism,” Welbeck said.

And people will continue to let Cardi B’s behavior slide because of her lighter skin tone. This gives people with lighter skin tones even more entitlement within Black music and culture.

“People, especially the consumers of hip-hop, which is the white youth, have a sense of entitlement to the music and culture,”  said Lauren Smith, the president of the Black Student Union and a senior Africology and African American studies and geography and urban studies major. “They want to emulate it, but they cannot, so they choose to do so through the people they essentially make famous.”

Drake, a biracial Canadian, and Cardi B, a Dominican-Trinidadian from New York, are two of the most popular rappers in the mainstream market. 

Even if people do not want to admit to their colorism, we can look to Black artists like the City Girls and CupcakKe; they’re not as popular because people associate them with being ghetto, inarticulate and vulgar. The way they act is the same way Cardi B acts. The difference is that Cardi B is lighter-skinned.

Shortly after Cardi B admitted to drugging and robbing men during sexual encounters, she received award nominations. But if it were one of the City Girls, they would most likely never be heard on the radio again.

Cardi B will probably have to be replaced by a similar-looking, lighter-skinned female for people to officially write her off. 

It happened to Lil’ Kim with Nicki Minaj, and now it’s happening to Nicki Minaj with Cardi B.

It’s important to pay attention to how colorism works because of how Black children and Black people internalize it. Many of us find our role models by whom we see in the media.

If these are the “Black artists” Black youth are supposed to look up to, they’ll internalize that they cannot be famous or important enough unless they are lighter.

For many, it’s not in our genetic makeup. Some people try to change their complexion with skin-lightening products, or they marry someone of a lighter skin tone so their children will have better opportunities.

“If they really want change…uplift and love dark-skinned people,” Yadalluh said.

We need to recognize colorism in our everyday lives and stop giving free passes to people because they are lighter.

1 Comment

  1. While I agree with many of the points in this article, comparing rape with robbery is absolutely not acceptable. While colorism is definitely a thing, to suggest it is the definitive reason in each of the examples demonstrated in this article is really reaching.

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