Cardi B found herself back in the spotlight this week when an Instagram video, where she appears to admit to drugging and robbing men who desired sex with her resurfaced.
In the video, a defensive Cardi responds to accusations that she hadn’t worked hard enough for her success. As she recounts the numerous ways she’s paid her dues, a visibly upset Cardi shares that she had to strip and hustle men in order to survive.
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This isn’t a flex; Cardi is not bragging. Instead, you see a young woman sad that she had to resort to such lengths to make it, only to have her flourishing negated by judgmental trolls.
The backlash was swift and immediate.
Through social media, the Grammy Award-winning rapper issued a statement, acknowledging the three-year-old video and her actions as the result of “very limited options”. While she readily accepted responsibility for her actions and her continued resolve to become a better person, the now mother of one also noted the double standard. She’s in an industry dominated by men who “glorify” murder, robbery and drug dealing and yet she’s the only rapper being called to pay for her past.
As Black women discussed this amongst ourselves and across social media, perspectives were varied. Many empathized with Cardi, recognizing her actions as part of a larger societal concern: the necessity of sex work for survival. Women have long turned to the world’s oldest profession as a means to provide for themselves and their families. But even as these women are free to make this choice, they are still left vulnerable to men who see them as prey. Consequently, many view Cardi’s actions as turning the tables on the very men who were using her. Essentially, she played the players and beat them at their own game.
Others disagreed. While they conceded the difficult decisions many women have to make for survival, these sisters held the line that Cardi made a choice to take advantage of men who consented only to have sex with her. Sex work is one thing; drugging and robbing someone is an entirely different matter — a criminal one. And these sisters rightfully noted that if a video emerged where a man admitted to the same behavior, there would be numerous calls for accountability. Sisters who are adamant that we name Cardi’s actions as wrong challenge us to acknowledge how women can be, both, victims and predators.
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Yet, while opinions on Cardi’s actions differ among Black women, sisters agree that the overall backlash she is facing is deeply sexist. As #SurvivingCardiB trended, and there were calls for #MeToo leaders to speak out against her, it became clear that the outrage was less about care for alleged victims and more about finally using a woman to expose perceived hypocrisy within a movement calling for justice and accountability.
Cardi, who could have only been in her late teens or early twenties at the time of these alleged events, was wrong. But is she more wrong than the scores of Black male rappers and Hip-Hop artists who have made careers discussing their criminal pasts and its necessity for their survival? What about the rappers who told us they’ve drugged women and taken advantage of them? How do we have an entire genre of music from men who are confessed criminals, many of whom have never been arrested for any of it, but the weight of responsibility is solely the woman’s burden?
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If we can understand how structural inequality pushes some men of color into criminal activity, then there must be room to recognize how those same inequities restrict conditions for Black and Brown women.
No one is “surviving” Cardi B. The fact that she would even compared to the likes of R. Kelly is beyond comprehension and, quite frankly, disgusting. That 2016 video showed a young woman who made some choices that led to shame and deep regret. The 2019 statement revealed a woman, evolving and refusing to be held captive by her past or sexist critique.
Cardi’s former life is not one many willingly choose. And even though the route she and others took isn’t journeyed by all of us, what should always remain clear is that the problem isn’t them. The issue lies squarely with a society that creates oppressive conditions and leaves poor Black and Brown women with few to no options.
Whether one defends Cardi or not, we live in a world where men are celebrated and women are vilified for the same behaviors. Sadly, reckoning with that ugly truth is what all of us spend each day trying to survive.