Cardi B is a woman of many facets: a fashionista, a hitmaker, and a burgeoning political commentator. Like most fans across the world, we’ve become acquainted with these facets through social media, a space that Cardi has walked a hell of a tightrope on for the last couple of years. She has struck a balance between being herself and being socially savvy; she is exactly who she needs to be when she needs to be it, and her foray into politics isn’t only informed by this fact but it’s also strengthened by it.
The word “political” is tricky. There shouldn’t really be anything novel or political about being invested in self-advocacy, and advocacy on behalf of your own community — and adjacent communities — who share similar values to yours, and who want in on the so-called “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” that this country scammed everyone into believing. But of course, this demand turns out to be offensive in the eyes of a white supremacist system that has never regarded Black or Latinx people as fully human. Hence — “political.” Regardless, racist semantics aren’t enough to stop the effervescent Cardi B and her political development and evolution.
The intersection of rapper and political pundit is often seen more among male rap figures than women ones, with the likes of Diddy, Ice Cube, and Killer Mike having spoken on behalf of Black voters throughout this year. Cardi’s approach in engaging in social commentary is much different — and refreshing — from her peers, primarily because of her authenticity and her background. Once a poor sex worker — with a criminal record — the Bronx rapper has been on both sides of the so-called justice system, and has been forthcoming about the things she did to survive. The inequity she experienced has thrust her ahead of the pack in terms of political awareness and social consciousness, culminating in a handful of moments where Cardi has addressed different political topics in a way that seems to really resonate with not just her fans but Democratic political figures, too.
The irony of this is that the same qualities that make Cardi a relatable political pundit is what her critics dismiss her for. She doesn’t look or sound the part of how political pundits tend to present themselves (even with the fact that poor people are experiencing radical politics in real-time while others only theorize on them), with conservative and liberal outlets alike viewing her engagement with American politics with bemusement. This is especially the case with conservative figures, with the likes of Ben Shapiro, Candace Owens, and Tomi Lahren belittling her interest and investment in politics and law as something that isn’t as serious. But her conviction about these topics comes from a place of verifiable experience, and even when she reflects out loud there’s no trace of guilt or regret in how she presents herself. She refuses to make apologies for her background and for her lack of credentials that people expect her to have in order to speak on political issues, instead incorporating that version of herself into who she is now.
This seemingly simple quality of hers is a gargantuan middle finger to everything that classism and respectability politics have taught us is possible for poor Black and Latinx women, with Cardi demonstrating her right to discuss these things as an American despite people’s preconceived notions about why she has no business doing so. Case in point, shortly after the release of her debut album, Invasion of Privacy, Cardi revealed her extensive knowledge on U.S. history and policy in a GQ profile. This was highlighted in her admiration for 32nd president Franklin D. Roosevelt and his approach to putting public policy ahead of himself during World War II — all while dealing with polio.
“First of all, he helped us get over the Depression, all while he was in a wheelchair,” Cardi said. “Like, this man was suffering from polio at the time of his presidency, and yet all he was worried about was trying to make America great — make America great again for real. He’s the real ‘Make America Great Again,’ because if it wasn’t for him, old people wouldn’t even get Social Security.”
Her love for FDR makes complete sense, considering his long-fought battle to develop a social safety net for this country and its poor, with the artist also noting that Roosevelt had enacted the New Deal, which was meant to provide relief, reform, and recovery for the United States following the Great Depression. This came after FDR’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover, who was hyper fixated on the phenomenon of “rugged [American] individualism.” This is the belief that people can succeed on their own and that government should play a minimal role in helping (which one could argue is why this country, as a whole, is struggling in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.) This love also shows why she was also deeply invested in the presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, whose politics have frequently been compared to the New Deal policies of Roosevelt. Sanders’ own commitment — however “race-blind” — to rebuilding a safety net akin to FDR’s has led to him being credited with setting the tone for the future of the Democratic Party.
Despite this, Cardi still had to endure what could be interpreted as a patronizing pop quiz question from the interviewer about 15th president James Buchanan, as if to truly test her knowledge (something the interviewer faced criticism for.) The interview is indicative of the failure to see Cardi as more than a character, which plays into the condescending way people engage with her, especially as it pertains to her knowledge of politics. Another example of this came about in January 2019, when she posted a fifty-second clip about the government shutdown on Instagram that came about because Trump refused to approve any budget without a special provision for the border wall. She summed up our collective frustration about the shutdown and Trump’s reason for it when she stated: “This shit is crazy. Like, our country is a hellhole right now, all for a fucking wall. And we really need to take this serious.”
Upon the clip going viral, it was unnerving to see how Democratic political figures like Senators Brian Schatz and Chris Murphy, as well as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, were engaging with it. Tweeting at each other about whether to share Cardi’s video or not, the very public hand-wringing of it all felt unnecessary, the three seeking each other’s approval and making a coordinated pact to retweet her video instead of simply just sharing it.
In moments like these — and even others like Stephen Colbert calling for Cardi to deliver the 2019 State of the Union — one can’t help but question the sincerity of how liberal-leaning figures engage with Cardi. They’re instances that perpetuate the character of Cardi, treating what she says as spectacle instead of what it is: a concerned citizen exercising her civic duty.
Conservatives also play a part in this too — they just do it with their chest. Conservative pundits like Lahren, Owens, Shapiro, and Stephanie Hamill have frequently undermined and invalidated her political views, and have used her explicit lyrical content against her to do so (even if it comes at the cost of basically publicly declaring you prefer S.A.P. — sandpaper-ass-pussy — over W.A.P. — looking at you, Shapiro).
Both Hamill and Shapiro have dismissed songs like “Twerk” and “W.A.P.,” respectively, as detriments against feminism and women empowerment, while Owens called Cardi an “illiterate rapper” during a recent interview with Shapiro.
“It is demeaning. It is pandering. It is ridiculous,” Owens said during the interview, referring to both Sanders and Biden’s own interviews with Cardi. “She had no idea what she was doing, yet both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden made the time to speak with her because they believe Black people are stupid.”
“There are way more intellectual Black Democrats you could’ve sat down with, yet you chose an illiterate rapper because that’s what she is — she’s illiterate,” she continued.
Calling Cardi illiterate to justify why Biden or Sanders shouldn’t be engaging with her not only reeks of antiquated ideas of intelligence and respectability, but dismisses her genuine concern and curiosity for politics and her willingness to speak on them. This is someone who has a long history of sharing her political views; who has used her platform to bring awareness to everything from the United Nations’ failures in Libya and Trump’s inaction on Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico to calling for stricter gun laws in the United States and advocating for politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. To not acknowledge this as a part of the reason why politicians like Sanders wanted to speak with Cardi, takes away the fact that she has — and continues to be — politically outspoken, and there’s no denying that people resonate with the conversational approach she takes in speaking on political topics.
“Me, I’m always watching the news,” Cardi said on her interest on world events in her GQ interview. “I’m always looking at it on my phone. I hate when you talk about something that’s going on in the community, people think, because you’re famous, you doing it for clout. But you concerned about it because you are a citizen of America; you are a citizen of the world.”
Whether Cardi actually ends up becoming a full-fledged politician, like she has vocalized before, is yet to be determined. But it’s safe to say that she’ll continue to offer her thoughts on politics and possibly even extend them into her work as a rapper, speaking on them in a way only she can.
Clarkisha Kent is a Nigerian-American writer, culture critic, former columnist, and up and coming author. As a University of Chicago graduate with a B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and English, she brings with her over seven years of pop culture analysis, four years of film theory training, and a healthy appetite for change.
Her writing has been featured in outlets like Entertainment Weekly, Essence, The Root, BET, PAPER, HuffPost, MTV News, and more. She is also the creator of #TheKentTest, a media litmus test designed to evaluate the quality of representation that exists for women of color in film and other media.
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