Saturday, January 11, 2014

Misplaced Chivalry

It all started simply enough. Facebook offered to help actor Wil Wheaton find "pages he may like" and offered up: Kim Kardashian, and Nicki Minaj. Mr. Wheaton was most emphatically not impressed, and noted as much on Facebook. The response? "no shit talking Nicki. Crapping on young black women who are popular with other young women doesn't make you look good." Needless to say, Mr. Wheaton was even less impressed.

But here's the thing: whenever I complain about this sort of thing, a nonzero number of people tell me that I'm not allowed to be bothered by it, because I'm a White Heterosexual Male in America and check your privilege, Wheaton.

This bothers me a LOT, and I resent being accused of making gender- or racially-motivated comments, when I'm really making talentless-crap-motivated comments.
While I sympathize with Mr. Wheaton's position here (although I don't follow popular music, so I can't speak to how talented Ms. Minaj is or is not) I think that he would have been better off sticking to the topic at hand - the fact that Facebook doesn't seem to understand what he likes very well. Allowing a Random Internet Commenter to draw him into talking on the intersection between Ms. Minaj's talents as a performer and her race is unlikely to lead anywhere good. Besides, it is, for the most part, off topic. And it perpetuates a discussion that I'm not sure that we need to have - Why should Nicki Minaj be above having white people say that they don't like her music? Are we, as black people, so brittle that we require the accolades, or at least the silence, of everyone around us? She has millions of Facebook likes - why should the opinion of someone who is, in the grand scheme of things, Just Another Random Dude on the Internet make any difference?

I could somewhat see it if Mr. Wheaton were an influential music critic. The sort of pop-culture tastemaker who could can make or break careers with a well-aimed sentence. Then it would make sense that his opinion of Ms. Minaj would be important. And if he'd then shown a persistent ax to grind against women and minority artists, there would be a valid complaint. But that's not the case. Mr. Wheaton is influential within certain circles of science-fiction fandom, but it's unlikely that even rabid fans of his work take their pop-culture music cues from him. And those that do, likely aren't big fans of Nicki Minaj in any event.

Shifting the focus from Facebook's suspect (and likely self-serving) algorithms for determining what users may or may not like to a fight over privilege - especially when the "victim" is a popular music star with a net worth in the multiple millions of dollars - simply reinforces stereotypes about black people that are as bad as the others that we've been working to overcome (or depending on your viewpoint, live down). Black and female (and not as "young" as some think) doesn't equate to "helpless before the raging juggernaut that is the reasonably well-known white guy."

Nicki Minaj doesn't need to free of criticism from those that aren't like her. And she certainly doesn't need criticisms of major corporations recast into hateful criticisms of herself, just so some random internet fan can convince themselves they're riding to the rescue. And the rest of the African-descended community doesn't need it either. We can take care of ourselves. And I suspect that the same is true of women.

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