Disclaimer: The words displayed below are in no way the direct words or perspectives of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Ms. Almánzar (Cardi B). It is merely an opinion piece on observation of the two mentioned subjects.
For the past two years, we have seen a culture shift that most of us have felt as unprecedented. Within the battle of the sexes, hope has taken new life. In its new form, the empowerment of those on the losing side have begun a comeback. Whether it be female, transgender, gay, lesbian, other alternate sexual orientations: even those cisgender heterosexuals who are beta ranked in the eyes of a patriarchal society. From the foundations of #MeToo, #TimesUp, #BlackLivesMatter, #NotOneMore, #SayTheirNames, #BelieveSurvivors come the seeds that have birthed a revolution on what it is to truly value and respect ones existence.
Women all the world have galvanized their struggles and experiences into one of uncompromising truth; yet with all revolutions come the pushback of an alpha male standard that fears their very purpose will flounder under the rise of an equality movement. For this particular subject we focus on two women who exemplify this new era of empowerment: ones that began as sub-genres only viewed to a particular demographic who found their charisma and actions catapulted them to the main stage of American pop and political culture.
Go nearly anywhere within the vicinity of this country and tell them to name a rapper on the radio-they will more than likely name Cardi B as one of them. For the last year we have been introduced to the seemingly overnight rap sensation; whether it’s through her number one platinum debut single “Bodak Yellow“, her subsequent platinum selling debut album Invasion of Privacy-or through her entertaining Instagram posts and stories and appearances throughout television, American society has been exposed to quite possibly the first artist curated purely out of the social media age crossing over to mainstream culture.
The sudden rise to the top was not rewarded, it was earned. She began her climb up the top by beginning to post videos on Instagram expressing her Boogie-Down-Bronx attitude and using it to fuel her drive. People took a liking to her brash exterior that covered her sweet sincerity. Eventually VH1 came calling and put her personality on Love and Hip Hop, where she immediately became a standout.
While reality television has had its share of stars, something certainly was different when she was on. It was as people felt when watching her that she was going to be a fixture in everyday American life for quite some time, and the target audience that she catered to for so many years could no longer contain her inevitable destiny in becoming a burgeoning superstar. Beginning with a pair of mixtapes, she had signed a record deal with Atlantic Records, and suddenly the thought of crossover felt real to Cardi. America had no idea what they were about to experience.
Yet even through her breaking records for Bodak Yellow, Cardi maintained a sense of humility and lack of pretentiousness not seen in other up-and-coming artists-something she attributed to her very unique-yet-familiar upbringing: being raised in a lower middle class family in the South Bronx to a Trinidadian mother and a Dominican father, and being raised in the rough blocks of New York gave her an edge that most street smart individuals are unable to translate into success. Her dropping out of school, becoming a stripper, getting plastic surgery for said occupation, gaining track of the internet from TV and now on the Hot 100 gives the average person (particularly POC who may not come from the best environments and education) a fighting chance to be successful if they truly believe they will get to their desired outcome, no matter the bleak or frowned upon circumstances. This made her spirit endearing to millions of fans and continue to grow to this second.
On the other side we have Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a fellow Bronxite who has seen herself zapped by the overnight sensation laser. Born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents, she relocated to nearby Westchester County and was raised in a middle class suburban environment-yet still very close to the native urban jungle being the Bronx, as she ventured there frequently and witnessed the inequality that came with being a person of color working for low wages in a city that demands high income for survival. The juxtaposition of her upbringing provides many middle class children of parents who come from low income environments two different perspectives: one that allows them to see the struggles their families endured just to provide them a slightly better lifestyle, and one that allows them to be raised in a side of town that if believed and if given the chance-low income, poor families could be given a chance as well.
While attending Boston University (obtaining a degree in international relations and economics), Alexandria began her climb up the Democratic Party ladder- while simultaneously working two jobs to pay her way through school and contribute to the household, as her father passed away in the middle of her studies. After leaving college and interning (one of her most recent stint helping organizing for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016), she continued to work two jobs, one of them being a bartender. The busy lifestyle however did not deter her from running for a senate seat in her hometown district of the Bronx and Queens’ 14th District.
Her opponent was Joe Crowley, a long time establishment Democrat who had by that point served four terms in the Senate, with a likelihood of him replacing Nancy Pelosi as the face of the Democratic party. Crowley had raised nearly $3 million dollars for his reelection campaign against Ocasio-Cortez’s $300,000-the latter raised with no money from corporate backing, and from that of the general public. In the weeks to the election, Crowley did not attend debates, leaving Ocasio-Cortez and her growing supporters to wonder if the door-to-door canvassing, social media blasts, and unique message of a democratic socialist ideal would resonate with The Bronx. Come this past June, it did.
A 28 year old Puerto Rican democratic socialist bartender with no political office experience upset Mr. Crowley. The small district victory sent shockwaves throughout the political realm. Here was this woman-young, a person of color-personifying a clear shift on what the youth felt like the United States should head towards. And for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, she went from relative political unknown, to rising political juggernaut.
With these sudden rises to relevancy, the two humbly raised Bronx natives found themselves speaking for a youth who felt oversaturated with information prepared to take on all challenges, whether it be politically, culturally, sexually. Their instant success did not come without criticism, and this is what I am going to explain in the next segment.
Be Careful with Fame
Upon Cardi B’s rise to the top came its praises-and its detractors. Within the millions of opinions that rose out the dark, Azaelia Banks found herself a critic pointing out the flaws of the overnight sensation.
Ms. Banks did not take too kindly to her success, pointing out how the empowerment of women in the past years-particularly black women-that have risen to great success-(Beyonce, Solange, Shonda Rhimes, to name a few) were compromised by Cardi’s blunt nature. Her honesty in Cardi uninformed and unhinged were in her opinion; a detriment to black progress beyond the stereotypes that defined us (and ones that she felt Cardi reinforced). This criticism wasn’t lost on many black intellectuals or even “hoteps” who in their numerous opinion pieces referred to her turbulent relationship with then boyfriend (now husband) Offset, photo-ops with presidents of her major label and connecting her lack of perceived business and industry intelligence with being the latest tool of the evil music machine to promote the “dumbing-down” of black people.
Ms. Banks comments certainly got to Cardi, as she even shut down her social media profile for some time-one of her many struggles with dealing with harsh criticism. (A good explanation of the Banks/Cardi B beef can be viewed here).
She made no apologies for her thought process, and has been very transparent on the struggles of fame. Cardi continued to ascend upon her meteoric rise, obtaining platinum status on her debut album, being the first female rapper in 20 years to top the Billboard Hot 100 with a debut single (last being Lauryn Hill), extending that record two more times with “I Like It” and her collaboration with Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You.”
She also birthed a daughter with Offset.
But ghosts from her past and new adversaries came to the forefront and with her latest spat with Nicki Minaj at NY’s Fashion Week, it appeared the collective social media universe would have her back with her unfiltered nature. That didn’t end up being the case.
Several commentaries on her lack of maturity in a reserved setting released fears the black community has about reaching the upper echelons of society: that once a black person in the U.S. acquires a sense of fame and wealth and reaches points normally reserved for a white presence, then we must act accordingly like said white people; any other forms of disapproving behavior is not just a poor representation of the black individual, but of the black American population as a whole. It appears many of the disdain for Cardi’s behavior for the Fashion Week incident and the alleged hits she put on two strippers who were intimately involved with Offset were deep rooted in this conditioning. Does it mean that we as a society, oppressed with visions of dreams of living truthfully, live vicariously through others for theirs find shame when we see those said truth tellers being too real for the public’s opinion; or is it just an insecurity we the people place on people (especially in the realm of celebrity)? This is something I don’t believe is lost on Cardi, as for the most part she has been transparent with the struggles of balancing new found fame and fortune, a family, feuds and feudal traits not ironed out in time for prime time.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for the most part has handled this new found platform quite gracefully, thanks in part to her experiences in public servitude. Upon her victory, she immediately hit the media circuit, hitting her talking points to anyone who wanted to hear: eloquent in her speech, she made the stigmatic notion that came with the words “democratic socialism” not only a front and center trend for the first time in forever, but made her message digestible to older generations who were raised and conditioned to have a pavlovian response of fear upon hearing the word “socialism”.
Then came the detractors in hordes. If it wasn’t Fox News making fun of her inexperience on the world stage and making her message for all seem like a 21st century retelling of Orson Welles’ The War of The Worlds, it was the centrist neoliberal media that sought to bring her on their platforms to seemingly question her mission as unrealistic and impossible.
Senior democratic officials and even the governor of New York passed off her win as just a one time occurrence, a microcosm of the Resist movement hijacked by corporate neo liberals in the era of Trumpist Neo-Con Populism. There is no doubt the pressure of being the face of a new movement got to Alexandria, as she has made some changes to her philosophy in the weeks since her victory. She has had to create balancing acts catering to her fringe left fanbase and pleasing the establishment politics that currently dominate the party. She went from being critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestine to supporting a Two State Solution. This alienated certain activists who support a complete removal of Israeli presence by overthrowing the Zionist principles (she has since relayed a “neutral” stance on the issue, instead agreeing to make a more concrete decision after being informed by other activists).
In addition, she supported Andrew Cuomo after he defeated Cynthia Nixon (the candidate she initially backed) in the New York Democratic Gubernatorial Primary. Progressive and social democrats argued her backing of Cuomo stymied momentum in radicalizing the party-hinting that she has to possibly “play the game” to support the party no matter what if it means a continued presence.
Despite this, Alexandria remains a rising star within the progressive movement, a catalyst in reinventing-or possibly dissolving-the Democratic Party similar to how the Tea Party populism infiltrated neo-conservative Republicans during Barack Obama’s tenure as president.
These two women work at completely different wavelengths when it comes to making a presence. Cardi prefers more of an outlandish, product-of-her-environment approach to handling situations and expression: while Alexandria finds her experience and preparation well suited in avoiding pitfalls and semantic setbacks. Both however have a similar desire to achieve change in the respective fields; ones that have already taken a hold on American culture and will influence many more rappers and politicians for years to come. However, the social media era has made what little actions they take magnified to a degree where people are unable to empathize.
This has created a “cancel culture”, of which public figures lose their influences at a rapid rate due to ongoing trends that encourage the opposite of their actions. This is especially prevalent in black, brown and POC circles. By preventing humans to actively explore the facets of what makes them human, social media deprives society a chance to see individuals as intent beings with histories that influence their decisions-and our ability to forgive or excuse them, for we can see those people within ourselves.
On the flip side had it not been for those internet outlets, we would have never heard of Cardi B or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We would have been forced to see the manufactured music industry’s next superstar, or another establishment politician labeled as the latest pawn of resistance. Our symbiotic relationship with the World Wide Web is also an enriching one, one that we must understand when dependent upon it, can make us addicted to fanfare rather than the valuable information that lies beyond a tweet or a post. It’s a double edge sword that we struggle to hold because we know we’ll get cut picking it up.
And it’s a sword that these two women, from similar circumstances in a concrete jungle, dare to acquire. They were born and bred to be cut and thrive in the pain. We see ourselves in these two outspoken, brave individuals. If people are to live through their actions, then we must float in their mistakes and flaws instead of insisting that we all can wade over them. In our pursuit for growth and prosperity we mustn’t abandon our humanity for the reputation that comes with alienating figures for rebellion.
We don’t have to look very far why people aren’t perfect. We don’t have to understand people’s actions. We do need to understand self before hand. Once we do that, we can stop taking ourselves so seriously and simply bare witness to the evolution of the changing guard.
We’re on the cusp of the narrative being solidified for all people for the first time in a long time.
It’s best it’s not altered by our insecurities.
your colored outsider looking in,