Why Cardi B's Political Activism Matters

Cardi B may not sound like your average pundit, but it’s for the best that she doesn’t

By Michael Arceneaux

In May, a study from a polling initiative from the University of Chicago called Gen Forward reportedly found that young Black people are more likely to consider themselves “strong Democrats,” even though one-third of them believe that the Democratic Party does not care about them.

One can imagine why. In the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, so much of the focus in political media went to white working class voters and the purported “economic anxiety” that supposedly pushed them to support Trump’s candidacy. That was always a far-fetched theory to nonwhite people, but our suspicions were justified as additional studies ultimately proved Trump supporters’s true motivations: The fear of societal change — in other words, a growing nonwhite population. And while plenty of “moderate” 2020 candidates are trying to reach across both sides of the aisle for a center-of-the-road vote, we know that if anyone is to defeat Trump in the next presidential election, they will need a sizable portion of the Black vote and the youth vote to make that happen. And the intersection is important: In 2016, 55 percent of young voters chose former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, down from the 60 percent that backed Obama in 2012, while 37 percent voted for Trump. But 89 percent of the Black vote went to Hillary, including 85 percent of Black people aged 18-29.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis, younger voters — including millennials, Generation X, and Gen Z — cast more votes than Baby Boomers and older generations in the 2018 midterm elections, seemingly leading the way for Democratic victories nationwide. Millennial turnout nearly doubled from 2014 to 2018 and there is great potential for Generation Z to make its impact felt next year. Whoever decides to take on Trump will need this population to be motivated, and right now, too many young Black kids feel like their party doesn’t give a damn about them. That is a problem that needs correction — otherwise, you can look forward to potentially four more years of that dimwitted demagogue.

It’s not a point many political pundits are talking about, but Cardi B has recently brought greater attention to this reality.

In a video posted to her Instagram in late July, the 26-year-old, multi-platinum rapper called on “bloggers, YouTubers and influencers” to get the youth involved in politics prior to the 2020 election.

“We have the power to influence our youth to get educated when it comes to our Democratic candidates,” Cardi said. “We get distracted with people putting Trump on blast, like CNN constantly putting Trump on blast and the illegal shit that he has been committing in this country because he puts things on Twitter that distract us from all the bullshit that he actually be doing.”

I’m not really a fan of the “distraction” argument — everything the most powerful man on the planet does and says matters. But her larger point is valid: People must pay greater attention to both Trump’s rhetoric and his policies. She has a point here, too: “Instead of us posting the little bullshit that [Trump] be posting on Twitter, why don’t we post every single day these positive things that these Democratic candidates want to do for our country ... This man has a big chance of winning in 2020 and we could change that.”

Changing that could mean progress on climate action immigration rights, and a more equitable healthcare system. It could stem the rise of anti-LGBTQ+ violence that has sharply increased in the Trump era, the assault on the civil rights of Black and brown people, and the attack on reproductive rights.

Many have saluted Cardi’s call to action, but there has been predictable pushback, much of which is rooted in classism, sexism, and racism, a devaluation of Black and Latinx opinions that have been limited to rigid contexts and presentations. “You need to stick to rapping sis you obviously don’t know what you’re talking about,” one commenter said. “Stick to stripping!” added another.

I’ve long recognized that many of the people who shape our political narrative are privileged, white, and live in a bubble that prevents them from offering much in the way of nuance and substantive conversation — and most are not interested in helping reduce this disparity in representation by hiring people who look and live far differently than them. This is partly by design: The exclusionary nature of political jargon often makes people who couldn’t afford to earn law degrees feel like politics isn’t “for them,” which leads them to opt out of the conversation. The people who do understand — which is to say, white men and those they deem “worthy” — can continue to set the status quo, insulated in their bubble. I’m still into politics in spite of this lack of diversity, but not everyone else is — understandably so.

So, though Cardi B may not sound like your average pundit, I’m confident when I say it’s for the best that she doesn’t. A lot of these people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about because they represent the same in-crowd, which is such a small portion of the population that their comments turn into an echo chamber, reinforcing their limited scope. At least Cardi B speaks in a way that is accessible to people who find often find politics to be exclusive to them and their interests.

That’s why it’s a good thing Cardi B is becoming more vocal about her politics, including her recent shows of support for Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ilhan Omar. Young people have been collectively excluded from the conversation, to the point where the youth vote is either taken for granted or considered an afterthought. If we give celebrities an all-powerful platform, it’s crucial they pay it forward and push their fans to shift the focus when it matters most.

You don’t have to be nonwhite to know what it’s like to be nonwhite living in America, but you ought to care; part of that includes making room for more nontraditional voices in politics. Cardi B isn’t trying to be Christiane Amanpour; she's helping people who have no idea who Christiane Amanpour is gain better insight into the world around them and how they can contribute. And if we want to see change in 2020, we should join in, disrupt the conversation, and fill the space with language the rest of us can understand, too.

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