Rolling Out

A talk with Dr. Eddie Glaude about black imagery, Nicki Minaj and Malcolm X


Nicki Minaj and Malcolm X

Rolling out spoke with famed black scholar and intellectual Dr. Eddie Glaude, chair of the department of African American studies at Princeton University, regarding the role of black imagery in America. Dr. Glaude is well-respected having appeared in numerous events as a panelist on black issues with Cornel West, Tavis Smiley, Louis Farrakhan and other intellectual heavyweights.

In the last few days a video was released by Nicki Minaj titled, “Lookin A– N-word.” The artwork used was a picture of Malcolm X with a rifle protecting his family. Lil Wayne talked about having sex until a woman’s genitals looked beaten up like Emmett Till.

I’m familiar with both incidents.

Where do you believe this level of disrespect is coming from? Is it just plain ignorance, lack of education or willingness to profit off of our pain by the rap industry?

I think it’s complicated. On one level it can be attributed to ignorance. But on another level we have to think about the way our story and struggle as a people has been translated and how it has been transmitted to the next generation.

Please explain why it’s so complicated.

We live in a moment where market sensibilities have become dominant. This speaks to the point that the profit motive can override all other concerns.  So much so, that somone once considered sacred can be subject to a profit-driven deployment. Malcolm can be used to make money.

And what about the artists involved?

The problem with Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne is the way they have been socialized into understanding themselves as black people, as beneficiaries of a tradition of sacrifice and struggle. And for Nicki Minaj to render Malcolm X in that way is a teachable moment.

Teachable in what way?

This is the first time I have seen Malcolm reduced to this. Spike Lee did it with his movie Malcolm X. But his politics appeared to be different.  Now we’ve seen Dr. King used in this way for posters and flyers for a twerking party all blinged out on the King holiday, but to use Malcolm X the way Minaj has done has never been seen. Malcolm X has always been somewhat sacred in our community for a variety of reasons. For Minaj to render him in this way is rather bizarre.

What about the Minaj song itself?

The track has a nice beat and hook but its content is strange, for her to overlay this with a Malcolm X image suggests a disconnect with the content of Malcolm’s life.

Why is there a disconnect?

Profit motive. I think what drives it all is how profit and self-interests often determine how young folk, how old folk, and how all of us, in some way, lend ourselves to our market driven approach to our story … and that’s the sad thing. I don’t want to attribute it solely to ignorance, and I don’t want to attribute it to the fact these young folk don’t understand their history. I think it is the way in which our story is being told and how freedom is being conceived.  Freedom is just getting paid.

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