From Nana Asma’u to Nicki Minaj: The Commodification of the Black Woman!

Warning: some of these lyrics from Nicki Minaj are very vulgar. I did not censor them because I feel that I must quote her words exactly to demonstrate the magnitude of the problem discussed in this article.

This is not a bash Nicki Minaj post.  I do not know Nicki Minaj personally nor what is in her heart. All human-beings are capable of change. Nonetheless, I do vehemently disagree with the materialistic  values that Nicki Minaj promotes in her music and would like to create an alternative to this.

In one of her songs, she sings, “I’m Nicki Minaj. Nicki Lewinsky, Nicki Barbie,” thereby comparing herself to Bill Clinton’s mistress as well as a Barbie doll. This clearly shows that she has internalized the negative messages that capitalism’s commodification of black women’s bodies sends. In turn, she reinforces these messages to the rest of society. In one song, the lyrics include the following:

“Never let a clown nigga try to play you
If he play you, then rule #2:
*uck his best friends.”

In this song, Nicki Minaj promotes the idea that the way a young lady should deal with being “cheated on” while in a relationship is to cheat with her significant other’s best friends. Such a mentality results from the liberalization of sexual affairs, which has encouraged a “do what you want” individualistic attitude in which fulfilling one’s sexual urges is a priority and is not limited to the bounds of marriage.  Outside of the courtship, men and women pursue each other in an insecure,hazardous,  and unhealthy environment.  The normalization of sexual intercourse outside of marriage has led to major family problems, such as single parenthood and children not knowing who their biological parents are. Men now pursue relationships primarily for “game,” as they call it—they prioritize their carnal desires over the duties and responsibilities of marriage such as providing for their spouse financially, protecting their spouse, treating their spouse with honor and respect at all times, and meeting their spouse’s spiritual and emotional needs. No man deserves the pleasure of a female unless he is willing to uphold the responsibilities and duties of marriage. The liberal attitude governing sexual affairs in society is destructive.

As destructive  as the lyrics that  Nicki Minaj states are  lyrics are, I do not mean to attack her directly. The commodification of women is a product of the capitalistic system. It allows men in corporations and record labels to utilize sexuality as a selling point. As a result of these liberal values and freedoms, along with capitalism, women undergo plastic surgery and utilize their sexual appeal to make money. Nicki Minaj’s breasts and buttocks are the result of plastic surgery. She wears promiscuous clothing, and her lyrics largely consist of objectifying herself It is a truly sad scenario and one which must be challenged. But how? Prior to the European slave trade, and prior to the rise of capitalism, there was a woman who was similar in some ways to Nicki Minaj. She was a public figure, she performed spoken word poetry, and she was known throughout Africa and the Middle East.  Jean Boyd wrote of her:

nana“To be aged 21 and at the heart of a revolution must have been exciting. To have been part of the intellectual powerhouse that through a new basis for society …To be able to look back over a long life of debate, writing, and action must have been a cause for at least some satisfaction. Remarkable times produce remarkable people. But it is not Napoleon Bonaparte that I speak, rather a near contemporary of his in a very different part of the world. A woman, a scholar, an intellectual, an organizer, and a linguist, Nana Asma’u was a leading figure in the establishment of what came to be known as the Sokoto Caliphate.”

                Nana Asma’u went around educating women, and she is a perfect example of a woman who was respected and admired for her intellect, rather than her sex appeal. For instance, Nana Asma’u promoted the message:
As for myself, I taught them the religion of God in order
to turn them from error, and instill in them the knowledge of their obligatory
duties… so they would know how to act.
I said they must distance themselves from sins such as
lying, meanness, hatred and envy,
Adultery, theft .. I said they should repent
because these things lead to perdition.

                Nicki Minaj, in contrast, promotes sexually immoral acts and drug use. In one of her songs, she sings,

“If I got weed then I’m lacing it, .. I got my welfare check, smokin on that crack. Hell yeah I’m unemployed, baby daddy down my back.”

In contrast, Nana Asma’u, an Islamic legal scholar, issued a fatwa against drugs such as tobacco, and spoke out against wasting money:

“Scholars are divided about tobacco.sokoto

Some say it is forbidden.

Other says it is allowed.

But the case of he who says tobacco is allowed is weak.

To use tobacco as a medicine is permissible

But addiction to tobacco and its use in order to somehow to be attractive, is forbidden.

Its drawbacks are six in number; it dries one up.

It is a waste of money.

It affects a person’s face features.

It leads to immodesty. It makes a person look undignified.

It not a common sense thing to do.

Anyone who smokes is a fool. It originated in pagan countries

Pay attention to what I have said and do not dispute it.

This work of mine is finished.

Thanks be to God and the grace of the Prophet.”

Sokoto_caliphateReturning to the issue of Nicki Minaj being valued for her sex appeal, while Nana Asma’u was instead valued for her scholarship, one finds that a poem about her by a contemporary reads:

“Greetings to you, o woman of excellence and fine traits!..In every century there appears One who excels.The proof of her merit has become well known, east and west.. She is marked by wisdom and kind deeds; her knowledge is like the wide sea.”

Whereas women in today’s society are objectified and seem to be valued primarily for their sex appeal, those in Sokoto were valued for their virtue and intellect. With communities facing issues such as the spread of STDs, out-of-wedlock children, and single parenthood, we need to investigate Nana Asma’u’s poetry and look for solutions to these problems.N ana Asma’u taught the women in her society to be chaste and upright and to avoid envy and promiscuity – problems which run rampant in our society today. She was successful and crafted a society upon the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. In contrast to this message of piety, Nicki Minaj, who is unfortunately a role model for many misguided sister today, promotes the exact opposite of this message. Female rappers promote excessive sexuality; for instance, Nikki Minaj advocates “twerking,” which is a sexually provocative dance involving a woman shaking her butt on a man’s groin area. This bizarre behavior is promoted by entertainers, who completely ignore the consequences of behaving in an immodest manner, and our daughters and sisters consequently learn to mimic this inappropriate behavior.

Nana Asma’u, on the other hand, promotes virtuous values:

In Islam, it is a religious duty to seek knowledge
Women may leave their homes freely for this.
Repent and behave like respectable married women
You must obey your husbands’ lawful demands.
You must dress modestly and be God-fearing.

It is truly in this society, that black women who are  celebrities, must undergo all sorts of plastic surgeries simply to be valued. We need to begin to challenge the commodifcation of black women and evoking  Nana Asmau  can be crucial in the task.

—-

Boyd, Jean (Editor); Mack, Beverly (Editor). African Historical Sources, Volume 9 : Collected Works of Nana Asma’u : Daughter of Usman Dan Fodiyo, (1793-1864).

East Lansing, MI, USA: Michigan State University Press, 1997. p 266.

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