Whenever I hear someone say so and so “happens to be” black or “happens to be” Jewish, I brace myself.
You never hear “happens to be” when something good is coming. Say, “The brain surgeon who saved my life happens to be Latino.”
That phrase only rolls out when there’s a crisis—most recently, when Nicki Minaj apologized for the Nazi imagery in the music video for “Only.” Following a firestorm of criticism, she apologized via Twitter. “Both the producer, & person in charge of over seeing the lyric video (one of my best friends & videographer: A. Loucas), happen to be Jewish.”
Happen to be. Like there’s some lottery guy somewhere assigning race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation purely by chance. Luck of the draw, you get to be a gay, disabled Asian!
Even better, Nicki threw in another cliché of bigotry, a twist on the old standby, “some of my best friends are…” Invariably that’s followed by a desperate grab at the one or two tokens in your social circle, or some distant relative by marriage.
I don’t for one minute buy that Nicki and her token Jewish friends were unaware of the Nazi overtones in her video. This wasn’t like Outkast at the 2004 Grammies. G-d love them, it simply never dawned on them that non-native women gyrating in Indian costumes might not go over well with actual Native Americans. You’d think black people with a history of being degraded by whites in blackface would have a particular sensitivity to that, but the group was genuinely shocked by the backlash.
Nicki and her pals, on the other hand, made a conscious decision to be offensive in order to generate buzz. And it worked. The blogosphere blew up with indignation. People watched the video who normally wouldn’t have. Probably more than a few of them downloaded the song afterward. Nicki is laughing all the way to the bank, so I totally get why she would think the provocation was a swell idea.
What I don’t get is why Jewish video director and producer Alex Loucas went for it, or why Drake, also a Jew, would participate in the debacle.
It’s not that they’re pioneers in this sort of thing. Some Jews collaborated with Nazis during World War II. On some slave-era plantations, black overseers whipped fellow slaves. When there’s a powerful oppressor in a position to lynch or gas you, there are always going to be a few who will cross any line to save their own skins.
But Drake and Loucas weren’t pondering their options aboard a train to a concentration camp. They’re both enjoying a great deal of freedom and professional success, so there was no reason to resort to Final Solution references in an N-word laced song about big butts and screwing.
Racial and religious minorities have for years lamented our imagery (or lack thereof) in the media. If we aren’t completely invisible, we are frequently shown in the worst possible light, rehashing painful and degrading stereotypes.
Minaj’s new video falls in that vein, and it’s an epic feat of multitasking. In one five-minute song, she manages to simultaneously diminish the murder of millions in the Holocaust and confirm the tired image of black women as hypersexed, profane, and angry.
There are intelligent, thoughtful people fighting hard in media trenches to obliterate such imagery, but videos like this set back those efforts.
We can’t ask others to respect us if we don’t respect ourselves. I wish more minority artists would use their platforms to get that message out, instead.
Courtenay Edelhart is a journalist, Reform Jew and single mother by choice via adoption. She lives in Bakersfield, California, with two children, an obnoxious Chihuahua, and assorted dying houseplants.
Header image courtesy of Pixabay.