Who You Playin? Amber Rose and Hip Hop’s Mockery of Black Female Dignity

I’ve come to a sad, yet salient and all-important conclusion of late. It doesn’t matter how beautiful you are by society’s standards. You will always be the butt of someone’s joke.

God bless Amber Rose.

Out of nowhere, she’s become hip hop’s it-girl and I now find myself watching her every move. At the most superficial level, I follow her because she is the strip club chic. Pictures of her in colorful bikinis made of floss and flowing, elegant gowns on the red carpet have taken over my desktop.

Why is this woman so captivating? I ask myself. She has an edge to her, I suppose. She’s mysterious. She’s striking to say, the least. For years, mainstream hip hop has described the perfect woman in its lyrics—a woman with light skin, a racially ambiguous background, voluptuous curves comparable to a coke bottle, confidence, impressive dance moves, maybe even some cool pole tricks up her belt if the occasion calls for it. But never have I seen a woman that fully embodies the package in the way that she does. Rose’s presence is compelling because she alone symbolizes mainstream hip hop’s fetish and overall perspective on the (black) female body. Woman can be idolized for being beautiful, loyal and sexually adventurous or she can be denigrated all the same.

Does Amber Rose actually call herself a black woman? Rose has referenced her family lineage from Cape Verde, but is African ancestry a considerable part of her identity? Has she even had plastic surgery to enhance her famous buttocks? There are rumors she’s had surgeries done but it’s awfully hard to tell and she’s denied it in the past.

To be honest with you, I don’t know the answers to these questions. It’s really the unsavory public statements against Rose from her former lovers and peers in the world of hip hop socialites are driving my argument. The insults that have been hurled at Rose’s way are filled with racial and sexual implications that would make any feminist critic toss and turn in her sleep. Just today, Wiz Khalifa, Rose’s estranged husband, released a new song with Juicy J called “For Everybody.” He raps the scathing lyrics:

I fell in love with a stripper
Funny thing is I fell back out of love quicker
They don’t pay attention to the love anyway
They only concerned with what the haters say
Bottles be turning these girls into thots
Instagram turning these wives into hos…
She do what she told
Sharin is carin that pussy ain’t gold
Sorry you ain’t in control
You all about that money, thats shit that I throw
Just make sure you clean off that pole

Listening to the full song says more about Khalifa’s immaturity and lack of discretion than Rose’s moral compass. Still, it’s a little depressing to know that today’s heartbroken artists will drag their former lovers and muses through the mud in their songs while artists in years past would create romantic masterpieces like Here My Dear and “Ordinary Pain” when a relationship went sour.

Khalifa’s song seems like the perfect climax after Kanye West’s disparaging commentary during his Breakfast Club interview and Khloe Kardashian’s slut-shaming tweets about Rose’s teenage years as a stripper. I know celebrities are human and that (unfortunately for them) their dirty laundry has a visibility and sensationalism that ordinary onlookers like you and I never will. In any case, I’m disheartened by the way Rose has been disgraced for her past in sex work—the same past that put Kim Kardashian on a pedestal as one of the most desirable and famous women in the world.

I bring up the Kim Kardashian comparison because I genuinely feel that the black female body is most frequently looked upon for arousal, amusement or in outright disgust. Again, I don’t know if Rose technically identifies as being black, but from the way people have received her, she certainly seems to be read this way. And sure, I could easily make that statement for all women, but there is something undeniably sticky and salient about the stereotypes/stigmas of black female bodies and our sexual activity.

There’s the stereotype that our breasts and buttocks are larger than women of other races. (Though frequently referenced, this is a total myth, by the way.)

There’s the stereotype that even though we’re promiscuous, we don’t perform certain sexual favors out of discomfort. Curiously however, some say we’re more likely to oblige to anal sex than girls of other races.

My favorite is the stigma that we’re closest to the apes in the entire human race due to the patterns of evolution. As a result, we’re automatically less beautiful than other social groups and we have personality issues as a result of it.

So with all of these stereotypes in mind, I have to laugh at the way West made a complete about-face from a stripper with some honey in her skin for a chick with a sex tape the color of a porcelain doll. I don’t want to entertain the cliché idea that black men will bend over backwards to be with a woman if it means she’ll bring him closer to the ultimate ideal of whiteness (or at least what looks like whiteness). But with men like West around, that cliché has become a reality I’ve had to accept.

Sheryl Lee Ralph of all people (remember Moesha’s mom?) recently put in her two cents about the former stripper turned hip hop socialite. Her critique was geared at Rose for her role in the fetishization black female bodies, our sexuality, and Rose’s contemporary embodiment of the Sarah Baartman appeal that once mystified audiences in 18th Century Europe. In a public statement, Ralph urged black women to embrace their natural beauty and to recognize that it’s ironically white people driving the capitalism and plastic surgery trends in altering one’s appearance for so-called “black” features-darker skin, bigger butts and breasts, etc.

However, I don’t have much of a critique for Rose. I don’t have a manifesto for women to embrace their natural beauty, either because that’s not my angle. People like to categorize to women that chase after this new, strange trend of the basketball shaped buttocks as people who are traumatized by white and black beauty standards, desperately trying to claw their way to being seen as sexually attractive. I wouldn’t say women are traumatized. I think a lot of us are just kidding ourselves. I mean “kidding ourselves” in the most literal sense; the sea of photos and footage glamorizing women with exceptionally curvaceous figures appear more like farcical video clips poking fun at our at our ludicrous, unrealistic and deadly beauty standards. I rolled my eyes at Ralph for her history lesson on Saartije Baartman because it just came off as cliché and self-righteous. Still, Baartman curiously has her own place in today’s headlines because it seems we’ve all been living through a 200 year-old freak show that is completely centered on fetishizing the black female butt.

People will continue to deride Rose for her colorful past as a teen stripper, her questionable use of plastic surgery and her drama-filled relationships with celebrities in the hip hop game. Still, I respect her. She has navigated a life others wouldn’t know what to do with and has still come out as one of the most relevant personalities in pop culture. Wiz and Kanye can write disgusting songs about her all they want but clearly she’s doing something right.

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