On the surface, it may seem admirable, if not endearing that someone has finally given it to 50 the way he has been giving it to other people. However, if there’s something that fans and even casual watchers of Chelsea Handler know, it’s that she loves black men, more specifically black men who happen to rap or sing. In fact, it is almost on the verge of being obsessive. They are frequent guests on her E! talk show and are often the subject of her stand up material. She is very open about her Mandingo fantasies and even integrated these thematic threads into her routine as host of MTV’s 2010 Video Music Awards (VMAs), where she was chased down the hall and fondled by aggressive black men who just can’t seem to get enough of her.
The irony is that within her long professed love of rappers, she didn’t care about how 50 Cent and other rappers frequently used the bodies of women of color as instruments to visually present their phallic-obsessed masculinity. Likewise, nowhere in her dismissal of 50 and his juvenile behavior is any concern about Ciara. It is as if Handler identifies with that and feels that these interpretations do not apply to her. Instead, Handler is much more concerned about being reduced to the same level that he has reduced other women, therefore, she’d prefer to call him almost a n***** but not exactly.
I think that what both Madonna and Handler have in common is this unspoken privilege that white women have in society to be both seen as victims and as a protective class. Both women cloaked themselves in female empowerment and are often applauded for being gutsy and liberating. No one can deny the impact of Madonna in challenging the status quo of sexual and gender identity, nor deny that there is something invigorating in how Handler expresses her sexuality so freely. But at whose expense do these representations of womanhood express themselves?
As noted Black feminist author bell hooks pointed out, Madonna frequently adopts the position of the white patriarch using marginalized people, including people of color and the gay community (particularly true of the gay people of color community) to boost her image as this pro-gay, feminine radical. It is beyond cultural appropriation, as hook pointed out in her 1994 book, Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations: “Madonna occupies the space of the white colonial imperialist, taking on the mantle of the white colonial adventurer moving into the wilderness of black culture (gay and straight), of white gay subculture. Within these new and different realms she never divests herself of white privilege.”
We’ve seen it in Vogue, a form of theater, which started in the gay community, in “La Isla Bonita” (Spanish Lullaby) where she decided to be Latina and in “Like a Prayer,” where she uses black gospel music to scandalize. And again, we see it with not only the Superbowl performance but the video itself for her track, “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” in which Minaj and M.I.A serve only as subordinate instruments and popular background images to help Madonna reach their fan bases and to help push along her dominate version of femininity. I think that this also applies to Handler, who in addition to fetishism with black men, particularly the hyper-masculine rappers, only does so by relying on stereotypes, which her primary audience can identity with and thus reward her for. I mean, without the radicalized humor she presents, what else would Handler have to talk about?
I know that the inclination is that as women, we have a shared experience and that our feminism or expressions of femininity should be universal. However, there is an intersection of race and gender, which for women of color we can’t just ignore. Folks like Handler and Madonna take advantage of these dichotomies because they know that after all their slumming and adventure seeking, they can always come home and shield themselves in the institutionalized protection against the angry Sri Lankan chick flipping the bird or the big black man with a history of degrading women.
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.
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