Mentioning Michelle Obama and Nicki Minaj in the same sentence could be considered blasphemous, as they are two women in very different leagues, not even playing the same game. The commonality, however, is the great lengths to which both have been dissected in the attempt to determine how they represent Black women, if at all.

Michelle Obama was immediately the subject of national magazines, newspapers and television shows in 2008, when her husband announced his bid for the presidency. With her elegance, success, intelligence and chic style, we quickly embraced her, reveling in the positive image she created of Black women. She was scrutinized for her graduate school thesis, and her now infamous comment about being proud of America for the first time in her adult life. Painted as a militant angry Black woman, we still preferred that image which resembles the many successful women we knew, opposed to the trite jezebel or mammy figures that dominate the media.

Along comes Nicki Minaj. We don’t quite know what to do with her. Her music aside, some Black women complain that her image is problematic. The conscious, maybe elitist, sisters scoff at her provocative sexuality, animation, and play on insanity. They believe Nicki’s image will contribute to the reinforcing of stereotypes about Black women.

The resounding opinion is, it is ok if Michelle Obama represents us because she’s degreed-up, prim and proper. Nicki can’t represent us because she’s a raunchy rapper. What happened to the mantra that every Black woman probably says to someone weekly: Black women are not a monolith?

Moreover, why do we turn our noses up at anyone in Black culture who doesn’t fit our very limited view of this imaginary ideal woman? We hate Zane but love Joan Morgan. Michelle Obama can stay but Condoleezza Rice has to go. The Black women in “For Colored Girls” are unacceptable, but the ones in “Precious” depict real life. It doesn’t have to be an either/or.

Black people don’t have the luxury of being viewed as individuals in this country. Whatever one of us does is representative of the entire race. So I understand the notion we subscribe to, that whoever is in the spotlight must make the rest of us look good.

However, just as the First Lady may represent women out there who have led similar lives, Minaj represents Black women who relate to her story. And there are those of us, who, if asked to choose between the two, would select neither.

As much as I admire Michelle Obama, I do not relate to her. Her two-parent household upbringing, Ivy league degrees, and state of being happily married with two children while shopping at J. Crew, are all part of the reasons she does not represent me. I’ve never stepped foot in a J. Crew store in my life. Yet, because I’m an educated Black woman, it’s assumed Mrs. Obama is representative of me.

Same with Nicki. I’m a huge fan of her music, can relate to the lyrics—but, as a woman, she does not represent me either.

Undeniably, both are successful Black women; but that isn’t synonymous with being the representation of every Black woman.

We can’t catch a break as Black women. The media capitalizes on the depiction of us as hypersexualized “welfare queens.” Therefore, we oftentimes put unfair expectations on the Black women who become public figures to “represent us right.” But those women didn’t ask to carry an entire race of women on their backs. That load is far too heavy.

Waiting on the media to depict us as the multifaceted women we are is like waiting on our 40 acres and a mule. Change starts with knowing that, although Minaj doesn’t represent you, doesn’t mean she doesn’t represent another woman; and vice versa with Michelle Obama. There is room for both. But there also has to be a visible space for the many other successful Black women, so we do not feel forced to participate in this dichotomy.

And if we insist on viewing these women as caricatures of our race instead of individual women, we are only setting ourselves up for disappointment when those women succeed at being themselves, but fail to please all Black women through their representations.

Like Us On Facebook Follow Us On Twitter
  • Great article! Let’s not overanalyze it! Be your beautiful self! The end! :)

  • Well I’ll be honest, while I don’t run in the same circles as Michelle I’d much rather have her “represent” me, (because like it or not that’s what she does) than Nikki.

    That’s like choosing between a healthy 5 course meal at a 4 star restaurant, or Mc Donalds. Yes people do eat both but only one is good for you and is beneficial.

    Nikki has a trashy public persona, she’s in the same league with Britney Spears, and if I were white I wouldn’t want people equating me with Britney either.

  • Zion

    I definitely appreciate this article. The writer made a good point about black women being able to relate to both Michelle and Nicki. However, she opened a can worms, which is healthy. Everyone has a different perspective on the way they in which they view themselves and their place in this world. While some people are convinced that we are “individuals” and free from the constraints of societal stereotypes and scrutiny, we (as black women) are not!.

    For hundreds of years black womanhood has been degraded by sexual exploitation, subjectivity and silencing. For years the only depictions of black women were hypersexual jezebels, mammies, madeas and tragic mulattos. We as black women are still fighting to destroy these negative connotations and re-claim our womanhood.

    Forms of these stereotypical images are very much prevalant in the media and they effect us on a daily basis. The perceptions of black women effect us at school, in the workplace, in our relationships and in all of society. So don’t be to quick to think of yourself as this “individual” who is unaffected by what the next woman is doing. The more Oprah Winfreys, Michelle Obamas, Dorothy Heights, Ruby Dees, and Toni Morrisons we have in this world the more opportunities we all will have. We will continue to benefit from their contributions to society!!

    Its very disheartening to hear when people thing that we have come so far that we are merely individuals and not representative of one another. While I would love for black women to be free of oppressive constraints of racism and sexism, that is not yet our reality. We are very much accountable for one another!

    And this is why I am concerned by the image/persona Nicki Minaj has chosen to display. I’m more concerned about the message she sends to young black girls rather than white america. I believe it is more important for black women to be confident in themselves then to worry about conforming to societal ideals and expectations. Here extreme reconstructive work along with the “Im barbie bitch” movement is a lil more than problematic.

    Nevertheless, I respect black women like her who are also striving towards their dreams and goals. Despite our individual struggles and experiences we are all still connected and play a role in working together to better the conditions of society. We can combat and refute the constraints of society by being the change we wish to see. (so if u really have a problem with image u see in the media i.e tyler perry movies, nicki whatever stop talking ish and write/produce/direct/cast your own movies/songs/books/blogs etc :)

    By loving ourselves for who we are, embracing our unique talents and lifting each other up in the process we can truly make progress.

    :) Zion

  • Ahmad

    I watched the Minaj special on MTV. I see her hypesexed outfits and she spits kinda nice–bad lyrics, but nice flow. She said something though that disturbed me. She said “this sh*t has to work because I have nothing to fall back on.” Now, I will never knock someone’s hustle, and if she’s on the grind and discovered something that puts money in her pocket ha degree ( i use this term lightly, but bear with me) of integrity then I’m not going to hate. But to say being an entertainer is her ONLY choice is some statement…

    I like the example the First Lady sets. You can be darkskinned, attractive, and poised AND married to a black man. Do I like a woman with tattoos and low riders with a thong? Hell yea! But a sister rockn J. Crew? Poised and Professional? U got me 4 life…

  • Good Topic, I also covered this on my website… http://www.blacksenses.com. I agree with you but others can’t help but put people in categories. If you’ve never come in contact with a certain group of people, you are naturally going to go off what you see in the media. Thus, putting them in a category (in this case, black women)… It’s crazy that way.