This post may end up being all over the place as it was inspired by a number of things happening concurrently. 1) For some reason, I keep replaying the 2015 Emmy Awards in my head, which makes me tear up every time. 2) I’ve been having the same hard time for the past few months and find myself a bit mystified that I have people in my life who actually want to see me survive and even thrive. 3) I’m slowly still editing the novel where I use the term “Blackgirl love” and making sure I know what it means to me and the character who “discovers” it. 4) And Azealia Banks released some new music recently. 5) Then she deleted her Twitter account, purportedly for good.
All of these things have led me back to something that weighs on me quite a bit every once in a while: why I find it so hard to let go of Azealia Banks. So yes this is going to be one of those longwinded posts where it takes me forever to get to the point because I want to make sure the context is intact. So perhaps I should start with the novel.
One of my characters in her late 20s comes up with a philosophy that she simply calls “Blackgirl love.” She is inspired by a group of women her grandmother had a close alliance with during the 1970s, a group of Black feminists who put socialist values into practice even as those around them shunned them as detrimental to the patriarchal Black community. My character is convinced they were on the right path and hopes to create a similar collective that allows her to live out her activist aspirations. Of course, nothing she wants to do is new, but she is passionate about her philosophies.
What I slowly realized about the character is that she is not exactly sure what “Blackgirl love” means beyond its face value. This made me think about how I felt about it, if her ignorance of the subject was indicative of my own ignorance. I had to evaluate what I meant by “Blackgirl love” in my own life and how far I can extend it.
In simplest terms, Blackgirl love is the unconditional love I have for Black women and girls. This love does extend to non-Black women and girls but primarily extends to women of color who have shown me that same love and support unconditionally. Many men of color also get my Blackgirl love, but they are usually the ones who unabashedly champion and support Black women. Yes there are some white people I’ve found worthy of my Blackgirl love, but they are rare and few and far between.
Most of all, Blackgirl love is that love I try to give to all Black women regardless of who they are. I live in a world that hates to see Black women and girls loving themselves on our own terms, so loving ourselves and each other despite that hatred is the essence of Blackgirl love. It’s what prompts hashtags like #BlackGirlMagic and #BeingABlackGirlIsLit to celebrate those of us who still get left behind when a few chosen Black women and girls make it to the forefront.
Blackgirl love is Black women and girls openly showing support for each other and being sincere about it.
It was this thought that led me to BlackGirlSquee’s patron saint: Taraji P. Henson. The reason I can’t stop thinking about the Emmy Awards is because I felt a new love and respect for Taraji that night. The way she stanned for Regina King and embraced Viola Davis during her historical moment was the living and breathing example of what I want to be. I don’t mean I want Taraji’s talent (though that would be nice), but I want to live in a way that allows me to be a cheerleader for the Black women in my life who do their thing whether or not they excel at the top of their fields in it.
And this brings me to Azealia Banks. Oh Azealia…
Azealia just can’t seem to keep her foot out of her mouth. The first time I found her being problematic, she had made some disparaging remarks regarding the trans community. However, I was pleasantly surprised when she made what seemed to be a sincere apology for those remarks even though she wouldn’t say the exact remarks she made (which is probably for the best because who needs to repeat hateful slurs).
After this, I was willing to give her another chance. I rocked “Heavy Metal and Reflective” a couple of times while Broke with Expensive Tastes was in promotion. I had already included a track from her mixtape on my first Afrofuturism playlist. I like her flow and her overall talent. I felt for her as I saw her attacked for her “feud” with the considerably less talented but more successful Iggy Azealia. She seemed to receive a vitriol usually reserved for Black women, especially dark-skinned Black women. I was glad to see her speak out about the misogynoir she experienced in the industry and supported her for it.
Then it happened. Azealia not only turned on full respectability, but she also blamed Black media and Black consumers for her lack of success. She also defended Bill Cosby, calling his sexual assault allegations something akin to a witch hunt for him. These are only a couple of her missteps. However, her most grievous one appears to be her lashing out at Black media outlets such as Hot 97 for not supporting her.
Every time Azealia opened her mouth, it became even more difficult to support her. She would occasionally get it right and show an astuteness to the world around her. She called what would happen when Madame Toussant’s wax museum revealed its Nicki Minaj wax figure with Nicki on all fours. As people would say, Azealia was like a broken clock: right at least twice a day. But that was not enough for those who were tired of her antics and wrote her off as having talked herself out of a career.
Even through all of this, I still find it difficult to completely let go of Azealia Banks. Something in me wants her to see the error of her ways and use that astuteness to come to terms with the ways her words have hurt other marginalized folx as well as her own chances for a more successful career. Something in me still wants to see her win.
This isn’t strictly because I think Azealia is talented. It has a lot to do with the ways in which Black women are held to different standards as everyone else. Black women are not allowed to make mistakes. Black women are not allowed to outlive their pasts. Black women are not allowed to be problematic at any point even if they realize it later and try to make amends. Black women are not afforded the privilege of youthful ignorance and experimentation well into their 20s even though most of us in our early 20s have said and done things that now make us cringe. (Seriously, Black women are expected to have it all together at 17 like Amandla Sternberg. Surely at 24 Azealia should have known better than to say many of the things she said at the time.)
I’m not saying we should support Azealia despite the horrible things she’s said in the past. Anyone who chooses to ban her from their lives for their sakes should do so. However, I am noting that many public figures, particularly white ones, have been given a pass on problematic or troublesome behavior, sometimes without apology or explanation, and allowed to continue with their careers. Some of them even thrived. While I don’t believe we should give Azealia a pass on transphobic and other problematic remarks, I can’t help but see that public memory is longer for problematic Black women than for other groups.
I don’t want Azealia to have a pass on these things. However, I do want her to have room to grow and learn from her mistakes. I want her to be able to have a career if she realizes that much of what she says contributes to continuing violent thoughts and actions to other marginalized people. I believe she has the capacity to see exactly where she went wrong and make an attempt to set things right. But I don’t believe we have the capacity to give her that opportunity.
And this is where my Blackgirl love becomes complicated. Do I still try to love Azealia unconditionally when I know she can be problematic as hell, especially to those who face even more marginalizations as she does as a dark-skinned Black bisexual woman? Have I really achieved my goal of Blackgirl love if I let go of Azealia once and for all instead of waiting to see if she can grow fully into a well-rounded adulthood? The things that make her problematic are not simply warts but real prejudices and beliefs that contribute to harm (and violence) against others.
It also forces me to think about how I define Blackgirl love. Is it unconditional love if I praise aspects of a person I like but admonish problematic elements? Or is it simply defending Black women and girls against misogynoir even while I criticize the ways they are problematic? I mean I might even come for someone who comes at Stacey Dash sideways with some misogynoir even though I might not throw her a lifesaver if she was drowning. (Yeah I know that’s horrible, but she is the worst.) Is this akin to hate the sin, love the sinner?
I try to look at this way: we have to explain that ride or die means stay with that person whether they have $5 or $5 million, not when they cheat on you 20 times and show no signs of changing. This is kinda how I feel about Azealia. It’s mostly how Black feminists feel when it comes to her: we might not fuck with her when she’s being problematic, but we are the first to come to her defense when she’s obviously being attacked based on misogynoir, not based on anything problematic she’s done or said.
And perhaps that has to be part of Blackgirl love, too. Your friends need to tell you when you fucking up. Your friends should not enable you to keep being problematic, especially when your problematic actions (potentially) hurt others. If you have that type of relationship, then your friends may even help you learn from your mistakes and check you when you fall off.
Face it: Azealia Banks and I don’t know each other in real life and may never encounter each other even in a virtual capacity, so I can’t call her my friend. I have no business writing open letters to her or otherwise trying to call her out when we have no relationship. But we are both Black women striving to survive in a world that would much rather we sit quietly in the shadows and wither to nothing. That kinship and knowing her potential for greatness make it difficult to simply role my eyes and wash my hand of Azealia no matter how much I want to. After all, I still listen to Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and David Bowie and I don’t need to go over where they are problematic.
I know that doesn’t justify wanting to give Azealia another chance. She may continue to be problematic, but who knows since she deleted her Twitter. Perhaps she is looking for a clean slate so that she can focus on her art again. The question is will we be willing to give her a chance to make herself right in a way that does not denigrate others. The Blackgirl love in me really wants to believe that she will indeed make an effort. My Blackgirl love still wants Azealia Banks to win – just not with all flaws that make her unbearable.