Why Criticism of Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” Visual Hurts Black Feminism
Tell me what you want, what you really, really want.
OK so that’s a Spice Girls song, not a Kendrick Lamar song, but it’s a real question I have for black feminists, and maybe feminists in general.
If you’re not hip to the drama, women are lambasting Lamar for the lyrics “I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop/Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor/Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks/Still will take you down right on your mama’s couch in Polo socks.”
The extremely dope visual shows a woman all made up step from one side of the screen to the other, like a before/after of herself, and on the other side of the screen, she has on way less makeup and her hair is in its natural state. Another shot shows Kendrick rapping next to a woman’s backside that has stretch marks and cellulite.
Now as a woman who is a feminist, has stretch marks (more like tiger stripes), wears her hair natural sometimes, inherited cellulite as a result of being slim thick (with my cute azz) and almost never feels like wearing makeup, I got hype hearing those lines. But my hypeness was soon deflated by the Interwebs.
Apparently, there are women out there who also claim to be feminists who are not so happy about those lyrics. They are claiming that K. Dot is a misogynist, and that men just need to stop telling women what to do with their bodies. Then there are other women who are upset that he chose a lighter-skinned woman to exemplify those lyrics. Some are even going as far to call Kendrick “fake” because his fiancee of over ten years happens to be even more light-skinned than the model in the video and has hair down to her butt.
Now look, I am a feminist. I don’t think men should tell women what to do with their bodies and how to do it, either. But here’s the deal – he wasn’t. Kendrick never said, “All of y’all getting surgery and wearing makeup – STOP IT!” Unless I just listened wrong, the man is saying what he likes and what will get you a quick ride on the Kendrick Express (or maybe a long ride, I don’t know him like that). If you have a weave, a boob job, butt injections, or anything else you didn’t come to this Earth with, he’s not talking to you. Move along.
The next argument was especially heinous to me because it directly criticized the model and played on historical discrimination – the age old conversation about who is “black enough” to represent black folks. As a dark-skinned black woman, I have experienced both the derision and jokes that come with my level of melanin from black people and ignorant white people, and also the petting and fetishism that come with having my skin tone from weird men of color and white people. Neither one feels good, but neither has made me bitter. I can appreciate all shades. Similarly, I am aware that hair comes in all different textures. That model’s hair is most likely in its natural state, which just so happens to be a 3C. It would be so nice if black people could stop doing to each other what racist people have done to them for years. I guess the indoctrination worked, because to some black people, you’re too black to be beautiful or too light to be black. Which brings me to my next point…
To the women who are claiming that Kendrick is not practicing what he preaches by dating a light-skinned woman – umm, whet??? Are we forgetting this is the same man who saw the light-skinned model on the set of his video for “Poetic Justice” and sent her home because he wanted to feature a dark-skinned model? Are we forgetting how much Kendrick loves his dark-skinned mother?
Did you know that you can date someone with lighter skin and still know that representation matters?
See, this is why we can’t have nice things.
The suckiest part of all of this is that it furthers the idea of the “bitter black women” and adds to the misconception that feminists don’t know what we want. We are quick to be upset because men are obsessed with these Barbie-shaped, completely unrealistic ideals of the female body, and when a man says he prefers natural women – flaws and all – we still find a reason to be upset (while we twerk to Migos or Future songs, but that’s another thinkpiece). Would you take a person like that seriously? No, you wouldn’t, and men don’t, either.
I would urge you, if you have a problem with these lyrics, to reevaluate your level of actual feminism. The definition of “feminism” is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” Das it. You don’t have to be attractive to every male. That doesn’t come in the feminist starter kit. And just because a male says what he prefers doesn’t make him a misogynist. He’s allowed. You just probably won’t be dating him, and at the risk of sounding anti-feminist, complaining about it makes you sound bitter. Especially when you introduce Lamar’s fiancee into the conversation. If anything, a better argument would be that the model in the video doesn’t go with the lyrics because her hair isn’t a tiny little Richard Pryor afro. Other than that, no dice.
Feminists are pro-women. Hating on women for their hair, skin color, or anything else, or finding a reason to deride a man because he prefers natural women sounds pretty anti-feminist and like unequal rights for men. If we can speak, so can they.
And if you think feminism gives you a right to complain about any and everything that men say, sit down. Be humble.