Iggy Azalea, Girl, Bye!: On Using Faux-Feminism to Ignore White Privilege

by Anna Gibson

After a recent and ongoing dialogue that included a number of artists such as Azealia Banks, T.I., Lupe Fiasco, Q-Tip, about Iggy Azalea’s place in hip hop, Iggy Azalea has finally spoken out, stating that she feels much of the controversy surrounding her is a product of sexism.

Yeah, OK.

She was quoted in an interview with Vanity Fair that the criticism against her “has 100,000 percent with the fact that I have a vagina,” willfully ignoring the fact that many people have taken issue with her co-optation of a “blaccent,” cultural (mis)appropriaton, and refusal to recognize how her own white privilege affects Black people—both within and outside the realm of hip-hop. Unfortunately, hiding behind sexism as a shield for her blatant use of cultural appropriation and racism is just another way for Iggy to distract from the real issues people have with her updated “minstrelsy” of hip hop culture.

Azealia Banks made valid points about this “cultural smudging” and “taking the identity of black culture” in a recent interview with Hot 97. To paraphrase, she states that hip hop has been “hijacked” by white artists. She connects this to the slave trade and its foundations within white capitalism. Under this system, black labor was exploited and black identity was dictated all to serve white people’s ability to make a profit. Banks claims that artists like Iggy Azalea are continuing that legacy today.

The way she presents herself in her videos clearly demonstrates this. Her inauthentic Southern accent has attracted the criticism of such rap legends as Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian. Critics have suggested that she doesn’t write her own lyrics. And when an early music video of hers surfaced—that was undeniably not hip hop and very reminiscent of Britney Spears’ brand of pop music—many doubted Azalea’s true intentions and affinity for hip hop. Does she really love hip hop culture? Or did she find a way to rebrand herself and employ a gimmick to make herself, and those invested in her success, wealthy?

What Iggy Azalea fails to understand is that people’s issues with her are not necessarily about her being white or a woman—but rather, the cultural and historical significance her presence as a white woman in hip-hop holds. Statements by Questlove were right in suggesting that hip hop isn’t a monolith and that “you have to let go of something you love,” meaning that part of the power of hip hop lies in its global appeal. It can’t be denied as an art form that provides millions of people from around the world and from various backgrounds with a way to express and give voice to their lived experiences and the issues they face. Sri Lankan-British rapper M.I.A. is a great example of the power of hip hop, as she uses the genre to talk about her unique background.

However, Iggy Azalea has done none of this. Instead, she has performed a caricature of hip hop, basing her rap persona on stereotypes of Southern Black women—using Black women’s language, getting praised for having the same physical attributes that millions of Black women have, but we are still deemed as undesirable. And this is what many people find to be problematic about her. That she tries to peddle herself off as an emcee who cares about feminism and women’s empowerment, as she insults and disrespects millions of Black women daily, is why many of us can’t get down with her. And let us not forget her history of tweeting racist slurs, many of them about women of color.

The most infuriating thing about Iggy Azalea’s flippant response in Vanity Fair is not only her initial ignorance of how deeply she offends people within black and hip hop culture, but how after many people have tried to get her to reckon with her white privilege, she still doesn’t seem to care. She would much rather deflect criticisms of her as an anti-feminist issue, than take responsibility for how her actions perpetuate a cycle of cultural appropriation and white folks profiting from blackness, without actually being invested in changing the various social issues that black people deal with everyday. In his Hot 97 interview with Azealia Banks, Ebro said, “The amount of people who don’t feel anything for art, for culture, or anything else, far outweighs the people like you [Banks] who do.” It’s clear that Iggy Azalea doesn’t care about the way her presence is problematic, whether or not she does care for hip hop as an art form or culture.

If she wanted to, Iggy Azalea could use her platform to check white privilege and challenge the structural forms of oppression that still affect people of color and women to this day. I mean, if she truly felt anything about hip-hop or her place within it as a female emcee, then this would be a natural extension. What many people take issue with—and Black women especially—is that Iggy Azalea has amassed a great amount of success and wealth for (a) being a pretty white girl and (b) appropriating a culture and identity that is not hers to claim. Because of this, people have largely overlooked her mediocre talent. This is insulting, considering how many truly talented and gift Black women emcees there are, trying hard to make it in a game that still does not value Black women. This was the point Azealia Banks was making in her Hot 97 interview.

Sadly, Iggy Azalea has missed it entirely.

Photo: Shutterstock

Anna Gibson is a student passionate about telling the stories of the marginalized. She's also a devout Buddhist who seeks to engage with the community by creating positive social change. She's a huge fan of all things out of the ordinary, including Sci-Fi and Afrofuturism. You can reach out to her on Twitter @TheRealSankofa or on Facebook, where she's hiding under the name Introspective Inquiries.

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