Iggy Azalea: 21st Century Black Face

Iggy Azalea was one of the most successful breakout rappers of 2014; she also represents the best (i.e., worst) example of cultural misappropriation. Since before the conception of her mainstream career, she has openly and bluntly made derogatory remarks about various races, subsets of people, and has made a career out of cartoonishly imitating ghetto vernacular when she raps.

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Azalea is unapologetically racist.

Azalea, a blonde white woman from Australia, is perhaps the most inauthentic celebrity right now, and in a world of Kim Kardashians and Snookis and Nash Griers, that’s saying a lot. Many singers and rappers voices on record don’t always reflect their speaking voice, but in listening to Iggy Azalea speak (check out the link below), it’s impossible not to question the authenticity of her rapper persona when you listen to her music.

 

When she speaks, she does so eloquently. Sometimes her accent dips in and out of Australian due to her living abroad, but never does she speak in slang; her Idiolect (a person’s individual speech pattern, considered as a linguistic pattern unique among speakers of his or her language or dialect) is distinctly Australian. When she raps, she consciously changes her Idiolect to a more slang, stereotypically “black” idiolect, changing words like “this” to “dis,” “that” to “dat,” “business” to “bidness,” “something” to “su’tin,” “how I do that,” to “how I does that,” “love that” to “luh dat,” “stunting” to “stunting’,” in her hit song “Fancy” with Charli XCX. It’s hard to rectify the music with the actual woman, and when you think back to racist entertainment in American culture, most of it is rooted in a deep misappropriation of cultural stereotypes.

As far back as the mid 1800’s, according to an article excerpt on PBS.org by Dale Cockrell titled “Black Minstrelsy,” white entertainers such as Thomas Dartmouth Rice would participate in the form of entertainment known as blackface minstrelsy. Rice would act as a poor black man from Louisville for the purpose of entertaining a white audience. Rice would captivate his audience by dancing in a very hyperactive manner and acting in ways that he himself claimed to have observed from black people on the streets of Louisville (Cockrell 1). One characteristic that made blackface notorious in that time period was that the entertainer participating in blackface would paint his or her entire face black, except for the area around the mouth; this area was kept as the entertainer’s actual skin color to emphasize what white individuals considered to be distinguishing black features, such as big lips. Blackface minstrelsy portrayed black individuals in an ignorant and degrading manner all wrapped in the form of a variety show. What was even more degrading was the fact that when some black individuals were incorporated into blackface minstrelsy, they would also have to have their face painted much darker than their natural skin color and leave the area around their mouths free of paint. They of course then would have to act in the same clumsy and degrading way that white blackface entertainers did just for the purpose of entertaining the white audience watching them. Though blackface minstrelsy no longer exists in mainstream American culture, these destructive stereotypes continue to exist in the media today, and in no artist more specifically than Iggy Azalea.

How is Azalea’s fake accent, cartoonish imitation of black women emcees, and lack of respect for the black community — and other minorities — any different from blackface minstrelsy? Sure, she’s not painting her skin black, but what’s the difference when she’s profiting off of a culture that’s not her own and doing so by essentially imitating urban accentuation? The acceptance of this in white culture is just propelling the belief that it’s ok to satire black culture. If Azalea is going to appropriate black culture — a huge part of which is hip hop music — than she has an obligation to do so with respect.  Anyone can appreciate a culture that isn’t theirs. Anyone can pay homage to a culture they didn’t grow up around. However, all of this comes with a huge set of responsibilities, especially for someone of Iggy Azalea’s caliber, who uses aspects of a culture that she does not belong to, yet profits from tremendously.

Further proof of her ignorance is her use of social media to explain, in her mind, what the slang version of “nigger,” the colloquial “nigga” means:

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It’s become ingrained in Generation Z, anyone born between 1995 and 2007, otherwise known as the Internet Age, that “nigga” is a term that means anything other than “nigger,” which is a white man’s word of oppression, rooted in slavery, representing one of the worst periods in American history. By any account, use of the word outside of historical context, even in slang terms, is deplorable, yet so much of the current Gen Z teens, regardless of race, use it daily as a term of endearment. Azalea thinks it’s means “ignorant.”

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Methinks Azalea needs a history lesson. Or at the very least a lesson in etymology. Also, it’s worth pointing out that she says “most racists don’t use [nigga]” … perhaps implying that she knows from personal experience.

Shrug.

It’s clear that Iggy Azalea is severely misinformed about the culture from which she regularly and generously borrows from. Hip hop is a genre rooted in socio-political movements, and one of the biggest and most eye-opening series of events that has transpired in recent history occurred this year: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and the widespread protests across the country to end Stop and Frisk, racial profiling, and to raise awareness of the blatant racism in the murders of black men by police officers.

Iggy Azalea stayed quiet.

Many found Azalea’s silence during the Ferguson riots this past year resounding. Fellow rapper Azealia Banks, who has been feuding with Iggy Azalea for two years now, tweeted Azalea early in December, calling her out on her lack of voice/use of platform following the Eric Garner grand jury announcement:

 

This, of course, prompted Azalea to respond roughly three hours later:

 

Notice how she doesn’t address anything. Granted, Banks’ tweets attacked Azalea, but she (Banks) has a point. If you’re going to appropriate a culture for monetary gain, you need to be socially conscious. Shouldn’t celebrities be held accountable for their public image when they have millions of fans looking up to them, buying their brand, and, when all is said and done, ultimately looking to them for guidance. (Granted, Azealia Banks has proven herself to be sexist, homophobic, and transphobic, but that’s another piece for another time and doesn’t negate the current problem with Iggy Azalea.)

No doubt following the urgent advice of some PR guru, three more hours after the above tweet, Azalea sent the first rational tweets of her career:

 

Does this excuse Azalea’s silence? What does it say about her as a person, as an artist who capitalizes on black culture, that it took a high-profile collection of tweets to prompt her to finally speak out? This doesn’t mean that every celebrity has to speak out on timely issues, but 2014 was a wake up call to most that racism in America still bubbles under the “Nah, dude, racism isn’t a ‘thing’ anymore” attitudes. It was a call-to-action moment for many mainstream celebrities, and Iggy Azalea should have been one of them because of her flagrant use of black culture in her music.

Still, some could say that the above tweets by Azalea are too little too late, and doesn’t erase Iggy Azalea’s online history of blatantly racist tweets (which have since been deleted and now only exist online in screen caps — because nothing ever dies thanks to the interwebs):

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Makes you wonder how someone of her moral character has managed to top music charts in America throughout 2014. I think it speaks more about the current state of race affairs in the US and why attitudes regarding racism, and the preposterous notion that racism no longer exists,  need to change.

Rapper Q-Tip took to Twitter on December 20th to give Azalea a very respectful lesson in the history of Hip Hop and why the genre is so intrinsically connected to social and political issues:

 

He then goes on to say:

 

Perhaps she should just listen to Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” which is one of the most well-written history lessons of hip hop music.

Azalea then responded with:

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Unfortunately, Azalea’s social media past (and present) dictate that she does, in fact, need a history lesson, among lessons in tolerance, respect, and cultural appropriation.

Iggy Azalea is a metaphorical representation of current blackface; she’s trying to entertain, and perhaps some of it is well-intentioned, but ultimately, it’s misinformed, misguided, and downright offensive. She’s a pop culture manifestation of why younger generations need to be better educated about race because race is still very much a part of social conversation, not a novelty, and not a topic to take lightly.

* All images used are credited to the Tumblr “Iggy Azalea is Racist. For Real.”

6 thoughts on “Iggy Azalea: 21st Century Black Face

  1. I’ve had similar conversations with my friends. We find her accent so degrading. She’s emulating black rappers and its like a joke. God, reading through this has really made me hate her as a person. She’s really quite racist, especially in the context that you explained it in.

    This should be a required read for everybody who listens to her music. So many other outlets have written about her being racist, but you’re one of the other ones who actually analyEd it. You should really teach these other places how to write about pop culture you always do it the best!

  2. Thank you!!! Iggy Azalea is a horrible role model for kids. She needs to unerstand that her words are not innocent and that one day she is going to say the wrong thing to the wrong person and she is going to pay the price.

  3. Pingback: From 2014 to 2015: Bridging the Media Diversity Gap | HyperReality

  4. I totally agree with this article and I am completely disappointed in an artist with such callous disregard for issues with a race she copies and makes tons of money from. She is White Generation Z and represents a huge group that feels that whenever Blacks, Hispanics or Asians complain and stand up against this new fangled directly indirect methods of racism, we are playing race cards and oh no, here we go again. The Jewish community will never forget what Germany did to their people and Blacks or Native Americans will never forget what white people did to them . Mass murder and slavery are forever reasons to stand up against this new era of racists. No cards just facts.

    • Agreed.

      Celebrities often capitalize and profit off their own ignorance. Unfortunately, consumers are feeding her career, and the public loves nothing if not a controversial artist. Iggy Azalea represents exactly how secretly ignorant most of America is.

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