My friend and colleague Harling Ross has this adorable habit of sucking her teeth. I often think she does this when she’s pleased or wants to dial up the enthusiasm in a conversation or punctuate a punchy quip, and I find the whole thing incredibly endearing. I have taken to pointing it out by responding with a fervent tooth-suck of my own, which makes me feel as if we have a secret handshake (if secret handshakes were actually loud and verbal-ish and not really so secret at all). Harling, however, does not find the habit endearing and instead thinks of it as an annoying involuntary tic. To each her own, I suppose.
I would like Harling to know that she is not alone when it comes to involuntary tics, as I have one of my own that, up until very recently, I would have felt quite embarrassed to share: Whenever I see my own reflection, I actively check myself out. It does not matter whether a store window or foyer mirror catches my countenance and casts it back to me — I’ll do a double take no matter what, and gas myself in the process. Just like Cardi B.
As I’m sure you know, everyone’s favorite Bronx rapper Belcalis Almanzar released “Money” — her first solo single since the release of her album, Invasion of Privacy — last week. It is a banger in every sense of the word, and I have listened to it on repeat no less than 37 times over the past 48 hours. This is only the count for while I’ve been at work.
As is often the case when one of my favorite artists releases a new song, I have already memorized many of the tracks best one-liners so that I may incorporate them into my daily lexicon/give off the semblance of having not only recall but a prowess for incorporating pop culture into my regular degular life because, well, I was born to flex. These include lines such as:
I got a baby, I need some money, I need cheese for my egg.
Bitch, I will Black on your ass — Wakanda forever.
But the best, by far is this gem:
Walkin’ past the mirror, OOH — damn, I’m fine.
This line is so stand-out to me because Belcalis Almanzar, a Black and Dominican former stripper from the hood who has been judged for the way she presents time and time again, is making it VERY clear that she has not only discovered her own image, but is happy with it. Aroused by it, even. In a world where hegemonic forces like white supremacy and misogyny depend on our feeling small and insecure, proudly proclaiming love and acceptance is a supremely radical act (often the result of a continual process of resistance). I believe this is true for all, but especially when the love is being bestowed upon those who exist in the margins.
I tried to express a version of this radical acceptance earlier today by telling my boo she was the girl of my dreams.
“Prove it,” she said. I took this not as a challenge, but as a request for me to actively engage with and convey my feelings and experiences — just as Cardi does when she verbally caresses herself on the new track.
“You can’t tell?” I asked.
“It’s a continual process.”
Our exchange, simple as it was, served as a reminder to me that the shapes of our relationships are constantly shifting, and as such, we must always work to understand and define them — internally, externally, to others and to ourselves.
This exchange also reminded me of something else: We are not just in relationships with others, but with ourselves too. And just as the ways in which we relate to the people around us shift based on who we are or where we are in particular moments of time, so too do the ways in which we relate to ourselves as we navigate the world and negotiate our place in it.
Toni Morrison highlights this sentiment as it relates to people like me and Cardi perfectly when she writes in The Bluest Eye: “We had defended ourselves since memory against everything and everybody, considered all speech a code to be broken by us, and all gestures subject to careful analysis; we had become headstrong, devious, and arrogant. Nobody paid us any attention, so we paid very good attention to ourselves. Our limitations were not known to us — not then.”
Yes, before “Money” dropped, I might have been a bit more embarrassed to admit that I have become extremely proficient at paying attention to myself for fear of being seen as vain, or for fear of being vulnerable: If I let the world know how much self-acceptance I really do possess, how much love I have for Black, brown, queer bodies — othered bodies — will attacks against my worth, our worth, become stronger? It remains to be seen. What I can see now is that perhaps this vulnerability can also be a great strength.
I commend Cardi for my favorite line. In rapping about how fine she knows she is, she displays the kind of bravery with which I hope to move through the world. Whether or not she has “learned her limitations” — internalized the racist beauty standards, for example — is almost beside the point, because she is actively resisting.
It really is a continual process.
Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Power 105.1.