Not shockingly, Azealia Banks' Playboy April issue, which came out on Monday, is brash and bold. The 23-year-old rapper looks pretty damn incredible on the cover; her long, dark purple hair is the perfect addition to her leopard print Catwoman suit (she's even hanging out with a real cat). Banks opened up in the long, serious interview with the magazine, discussing everything from black culture, the appropriation of hip hop, her bisexuality, and the first relationship she had when she was 17 with a 43-year-old man. Banks is as candid as always, and there's so much in this interview that'll make you clutch your pearls. You should give it a whole read, but a particular standout was the way she addressed the hate she gets for being controversial.
Of course, the conversation turned to Twitter. Playboy asked Banks if the hate she gets for her presence on social media is about race, and she responded:
It’s always about race. Lorde can run her mouth and talk sh*t about all these other bitches, but y’all aren’t saying she’s angry. If I have something to say, I get pushed into the corner.
Banks is right that she is often labeled angry, aggressive, and ranting when she discusses cultural appropriation, black voices, and reclaiming language. And it's not untrue that she has some controversial views that are problematic — she maintains that she has the right to use gay slurs because gay men are allowed to use misogynistic terms like "bitch" to talk about women. And in the Playboy interview, Banks admits that she hates America, specifically "fat white [racist] Americans." But once again, if we focus only on the most startling and simply shocking things that Banks says, we miss her extremely valid points on the complexity of race and hip hop and oppression, and we can't do that.
As to her comment about Lorde, for example, it's worrisome that it could easily be twisted into "Azealia Banks disses Lorde," which misses the point. Banks is addressing the difference in reaction and expectation of black and white artists; when Lorde has been involved in Twitter spats, people HAVE praised her, and yet there is an ongoing conversation about how Banks' feuds are "distracting from her career."
Banks, of course, is known for using her Twitter to talk about race, black culture, and hip hop. It came to a head when she and Australian rapper Iggy Azalea really got into it about the appropriation of black culture when Banks criticized Azalea for wanting to imitate black culture for her benefit, but was silent when the verdict on the Eric Garner killing was returned. "Black culture is cool, but black issues sure aren't huh?," Banks tweeted to Iggy. This started a shitstorm that still has not yet totally passed; Iggy's comeback was a semblance of insults amounting to "Azealia, you're a miserable person," and then this gem:
It's more than patronizing to tell a black woman that she is "ranting" and "making it racial" when talking about serious, important issues of race. It's silencing, and ironically, proves Banks' point. "I get pushed into a corner," she says, perhaps because her voice is too aggressive or loud. But asking Banks to "tone it down" is employing, well, the tone argument, which condescends to angry minorities by derailing the conversation from the content to the way its presented. Apparently, if Banks can't talk nice, she won't be listened to.
But Playboy also asked her if she thinks that anyone who hates her is a racist, and Banks said no. "Not at all. There’s misogyny, and then there’s something called misogynoir [a term coined by writer Moya Bailey to describe “the unique ways in which black women are pathologized in popular culture”]." Banks has an understanding of these complexities and histories of racism, and she shouldn't be written off as unintelligent because she's loud and unapologetic about it.
That might be why she's so mad in the first place (note: it is NOT wrong to be angry). She summed it up quite nicely when she said: "I am black, and I am a pain in your ass. But I’m not really talking to you, and that’s what makes those people mad. You’re not invited to this conversation. This is not about you."
I do not think Banks is infallible; far from it. But the fact that she gets called angry and ranting stems from ingrained racism itself. Her Playboy interview is basically a diatribe about how she's sorry she's not sorry, and she shouldn't have to be — at least, not for talking about race and hip hop on Twitter.
Images: Playboy, Getty Images (2)