Why It’s Necessary to Call Nicki Minaj Out For Her Sexualization of Pocahontas
Nicki Minaj has participated in the continuation of the hypersexualization and erasure of Native women in our culture via lateral oppression.
By Arielle Gray
[TW- discussion and mention of sexual assault against indigenous women.]
Nicki Minaj proverbially broke the internet with the new cover of PAPER Magazine that dropped last week. The cover shows three versions of Nicki, one on her knees in front of another version sitting down whose breast is being touched by the third version. The cover is highly sexual but in a good way — the “Minaj à Trois” was not only a clever ode to her alter egos but a testament to sexual autonomy and queerness.
It didn’t take Instagram artists long to begin re-creating different versions of the PAPER cover. Most recently, she posted a reworked version called, “Pocahontas A Trois” on her Instagram page. “Which one should I get hung up in my Barbie Bedroom?” she asks her users in the post. “I’m torn between the bad bunnies…and Pocahontas.”
Before we begin the breakdown of why Nicki’s post (and her negligence to take it down) is so problematic, let’s get one fact straight: a large number of people labor under the delusion that Pocahontas was not a real person, and that Disney created the princess and her story. The reality is that Pocahontas was very much real, and was an underage girl who was forcibly married, raped, had her Native name changed to the more English “Rebecca” and on top of all of that, she was shipped off to England where she fell sick and died at the premature age of 21.
The saddest thing about Pocahontas’ story is that what she experienced is neither uncommon or rare. Her life is a historical testament to the power of racial misogyny and the erasure of indigenous women and their stories from history. Reworked into a Disney movie, her suffering (and the suffering of other indigenous women) was erased as well. Disney’s Pocahontas has served as a festishized, colonized and stereotypical trope for Native women, reinforcing the systems that are already at work against them.
As it stands today, ⅓ of Native women will be raped at some point in their lifetimes — this number is twice the national average. Furthermore, over 80% of rape cases are committed by Non- Native men, the majority of whom are white men. Federal loopholes allow non-Native rapists to get off scott free — tribal courts do not have the federal power to persecute non Tribal members when it comes to sexual violence and rape. This gap in the law perpetuates the predation of an already underrepresented, under protected minority group.
Suddenly Pocahontas doesn’t seem like such a feel good kid movie after all, right?
If we’re going to do this work of dismantling the systems that marginalize and harm us, we need to do the work when it comes to calling out fellow people of color when their behavior or their work is problematic.
The problem with Nicki’s post lies in her complete ignorance of Native history and an ignorance of the sexual violence that Native women face. Whether you like it or not, Nicki Minaj is a culture influencer and her enormous platform gives her very real power in our society. While Nicki didn’t commission or make the piece, posting it on her platform for over 84 million people to see — and failing to address the problematic history behind it — makes her complicit in the violence enacted against Native women across the continent. The difference is that Nicki chose to be on the PAPER cover — she had autonomy over her body and over her decisions when she made those choices. Pocahontas, however, did not. She had no say in how representations of her & her life are used by artists for profit and she certainly has had no say in how these representations further disenfranchise Native women.
As a Black woman, I would never be happy seeing historical figures like Saartje Bartman or Maya Angelou — both women who endured rape, misogyny and white supremacy — reworked into a hypersexualized version of themselves on a magazine cover. Images have power — it’s precisely why humans created art, why we’re such visual creatures. So when it comes to images, we need to be careful. We need to ask ourselves, does the image in question change or challenge the current dialogue? Or does it perpetuate it?
Collectively and in solidarity, as BIWOC, our work always lies in changing the current dialogue, not the continuation of it, and Nicki Minaj has participated in the continuation of the hypersexualization and erasure of Native women in our culture via lateral oppression. Nicki could’ve easily issued an apology and removed the cover from her Instagram page. Instead, it sits proudly on her feed, despite the multitude of comments from Indigenous peoples explaining exactly why the cover is so problematic and hurtful.
Related: IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH CLOTHING — BLACK WOMEN’S BODIES ARE HYPERSEXUALIZED NO MATTER WHAT WE WEAR
If we continue to ignore the voices of our fellow marginalized peoples, we have no hope of moving towards an inclusive and equitable future for all of us. Nicki needs to be held accountable for her mistake, as all of us should be held accountable when we’re being problematic. Hopefully the rap star takes the cover down and acknowledges her mistake, if she’s truly for women empowerment like she claims she is.
If not, then we know exactly where Nicki Minaj stands. And it’s not with us.
Author Bio: Arielle Gray is a black queer writer, music journalist and graphic artist from Boston, MA. Her work focuses on exploring the stories existing at the intersections of race, gender and mental health. Most times, you can catch her stalking live shows, interviewing musicians, eating Ethiopian food or binge watching Rick and Morty. Instagram | Facebook | Twitter