There is an article about Nicki Minaj’s ‘Pound the Alarm’ video doing the rounds on tumblr. I didnt think it was accurate when i first read it. Then i saw it blasted by racialicious and i felt i had to comment because it was a form of representation by dominant US racial discourse about the Caribbean that pushed our own readings of ourselves out the window.
This is the second of two comments i made below the line on racialicious post:
Hi Adrienne, thanks for your response.
I fired my initial reaction off in a state of disappointment that an article I thought so wrong on tumblr had been promoted to added visibility on racialicous so I think I should quickly clarify that I am a fan of Minaj and proud of her in many ways for pushing the boundaries – as a women, as a trini, as a person from the Caribbean, as a dougla, as a POC, as a black women in the US racial binary, as an immigrant, as a minority and much more.
That she is appropriated by the capitalist entertainment machine and has her own unique voice still while obviously fighting against its patriarchal, misogyny is impressive and by no means was I belittling that. And I totally agree that it’s possible “for Minaj to have struggles with self-acceptance and also have a political opinion. The fact that Minaj operates on a wide spectrum should be heralded: she may not be a great role model or entirely unproblematic but I think she offers an honest and complex view of Black womanhood which is often denied to us.” That is a great point.
My issue was with the article itself and the oversimplication and misrepresentation of Trinidad, the political situation here, the history of Carnival and what the author claims the video is about. If statements by Minaj or the director were offered in support of the author’s readings – rather than a reading more in the style of literature studies essay then maybe I would be less critical. However, pushing political meanings into cultural objects where perhaps they don’t exist is problematic because it obscures the real politics and power relations at play for a more sanitised and hegemonic one. In this instance US racial politics read over Caribbean socio-cultural and economic realities.
So what I’m saying is my disappointment is directed at the author and not Minaj – it is also directed at racialicious for giving this argument more legitimacy. I should also add that the video has been discussed greatly in public and in academic circles in Trinidad (full disclosure I teach anthropology and political sociology at the University of the West Indies). To say a lot of people in Trinidad were disappointed with what they saw as a generic Hip Pop video wouldn’t be far from the mark too. However that is a different argument. It also doesn’t negate that some people love the video and for many different reasons. Our history is complicated – thus varied responses are normal. In that sense the author’s view might have a place here – however due to the many inaccuracies in the piece I am reluctant to let it slide.
Some examples of errors, problems and inaccuracies to add to those in my previous post:
The author overstates her interpretation and description of the curfew. I would also like to see the evidence for “several US and UK officials have informally implied threats of intervention.” That is pure hearsay.
Also, why report “a (unsuccessful) vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar”? It was knocked out of the park along party lines yes but it never had a chance since the ruling party has a substantial majority. In fact polls show that more people were in support of the Curfew than against it. This doesn’t negate that the curfew can be described as class warfare against poor black men – but our class and racial politics are extremely complicated. Many of the members of the Government – included our current National Security are black men so the curfew while racist was first and foremost classist.
The military and law enforcement aid from the US the author mentions is connected to the war on drugs which we all know is the most racist war there is. One forced on the rest of the world by the US Government and its capitalist cronies who launder hundreds of billions of US dollars through the first world’s banks and also support the corrupt class structure in Caribbean islands. A form of neo-colonialism if ever one needs an example. My point here is the author mentions such things and then just leaves them hanging without connecting them to Video. It a straw man and language used to politicise an argument where there isn’t much evidence of politics at all – i.e. the video has as an afterthought the Trinidad bandana as a gangsta symbol. Have you watch the making of the video? Minaj even mentions the bandana as an afterthought not as some political statement.
My biggest ire as someone who studies and has published on the history of Carnival is the author labelling the music video “a tribute to T&T Carnival”. This is just plain wrong. The history of T&T carnival is complicated and I touched on the basics above in my previous post. Put simply, a tribute to Trinidad Carnival and its black working class roots which were appropriated first on the road to Independence and now by the Capitalist machine needs to express the exclusion of the poor black working class from Carnival today. The author falls into the typical over hyped, multicultural b/s that does not mention how poor black people in an echo of the colonial situation are the servants to the middle and upper classes that now enjoy and pay between $4000- $7000 TT dollars for a costume (the average monthly wage here is $4000TT). If the video is a tribute to T&T Carnival then it is a tribute to the carnival that is stratified by cost and race. Not to mention the video has no shout outs to calypso or soca the real music of our Carnival. Nor does it have more than a few seconds of Ole Time Mas which again is part of the essence of our carnival. When the author says that Minaj “appears in a traditional carnival costume” I wanted to scream. She appears in ‘bikini and beads mas’ which is def not the same as a “traditional carnival costume”. Please do not represent us. That is what the author does with her analysis of carnival in the video. And even though she is claiming to give a political reading, the author speeds over the colourism at play in video which is extremely revealing of the local situation. I think the author needs to call the video direction out on the lack of black female bodies in the video for the high browns and light skin black women it uses. Yet the author speeds over this in less than sentence.
And I’d like to add that in contra to what the author says St James is not outside Port of Spain, it is part of Port of Spain. And today Woodbrook and Ariapita Avenue is the number one party district in Port of Spain. In fact the class, race and political differences between the two areas and their histories are an essay in itself.
Lastly, to call the ending of the video a “post-Mas apocalypse aftermath” when it is a generic pyrotechnic finale is another great example of the author overhyping her reading and misrepresenting an image as political. Does she even recognise where that is? It is the Savannah, the home of Carnival and definitely not apocalyptic to us. Maybe to foreigners. But it is the soul of Carnival for many – where the stage is on a Carnival Monday and Tuesday, and where for a few hours everyone gets to play king and queen.
So all in all the foundations and pillars that the author builds her argument on about the video are either overstated, open to disagreement or plan wrong.
Maybe the author has a point in her intro about most reviews hardly do Minaj justice as a political figure with agency, or recognize the political subtext of her video. But let’s not overhype it and get carried away with Pound the Alarm – that does more damage than good. In this instance it rewrites our local history, race politics and class situation. For me, that is the same thing white hegemony does to black history in the States. Here it is US based intellectuals – through the visibility the website racialicious provides the author – doing that to people in the Caribbean. It is the same hierarchical situation you always write against but you are doing it to us rather than having it done to yourselves.
If you got this far thanks for reading.