Bitch Better Have My Money.
Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, then you know BBHMM is Rihanna’s latest song, of which the recent release of the accompanying video has caused quite a stir. I, for one, enjoy the song, and find the video interesting for many reasons. But more than the video itself, I have found the reactions to it, most compelling.
I like to think of the song as an anthem for anyone who has lent somebody money and wants it back. It’s also definitely the life song to anybody who’s ever been, or currently is a freelancer, and has to deal with fluctuating payment schedules. But mostly, it’s the kind of song that just makes you feel like a total badass while singing it. And who doesn’t like to feel like a badass every so often? But of course some people have a problem with it – especially the video.
Now there are arguments to be made about Rihanna’s “revenge fantasy” if you will – that is depicted in the video. There is a lot of violence and bloodshed. And there’s something to be said about the lengths that she, and by extension “we,” are willing to think about going because of the good ol’ almighty dollar, as represented in this fictional concept. Then there is an argument to be made about whether this is a good feminist, empowering track for women (of all ages).
Addressing some of these things is easier than others. In the first place, let’s get something straight: Rihanna isn’t here to raise your kids. I think she’s made that abundantly clear in the last few years. So any woman wondering why Rihanna isn’t being a “good role model” to your twelve year-old needs a reality check: Rihanna probably doesn’t know or care about your twelve year-old. Raising your kids is not really her responsibility. So that point is moot.
Then there are those who complain about the violence and bloodshed. Does the depiction of such bloodshed serve a purpose? Are we all negatively impacted by virtue of becoming so accustomed to seeing such violence? There are valid arguments on both sides, I would think. But in the context of this music video as being negatively critiqued for its showcase of violence, I have a different question: Do people who have a problem with the violence shown in the video, have a problem with the fictional and non-fictional violence that is represented elsewhere in media, and for a much longer time period than a music video?
I suspect that many of the people I’ve witnessed complaining about the violence portrayed in Bitch Better Have My Money are doing so not because they are fundamentally against the depiction of violence. But rather because of the racial dynamics that can be constructed from watching the video, in terms of who is the victim and perpetrator. As well as the consequences of the performance in the context of race, and womanhood in relation to feminism.
Last week, I stumbled across a tone-deaf piece of writing in the Daily Mail. A “concerned” mother of a twelve-year old finds the video “repulsive” – in her own words. But not only did she find it repulsive, one of her reactions is a desire to report Rihanna to the police (?!?!) with charges of, “pornography, incitement to violence, racial hatred.” Her description of the victim of Rihanna’s revenge was described as, “A rich, blonde, white woman with expensive hair and even more expensive breast implants is putting the finishing touches to her toilette.” While Rihanna’s description is rendered as someone, “styled like some sort of voodoo fashion victim in black lipstick and hallucinogenic eye make-up.“ Another notable word used to describe Rihanna’s performance is “savage.”
Entirely drenched in her Whiteness and indeed her White feminist perception of the world, she fails to realize that her description emphasizes what has long been a European description of womanhood – White women as “pure” and worthy of protection. While Black womanhood is rendered less than, tainted, and indeed “savage,” as used in her piece. No Woman of Color, and especially no Black woman who understands the historical social location of the use of these words, and the descriptors, is surprised.
There are some who believe the video is about Rihanna’s former accountant who she had problems with, and sued. But without knowing what is going on in Rihanna’s head, and analyzing the video based solely on the text and representations, there are multiple interpretations other than Rihanna is a violent, racist, abusive misogynist – all of which will be the easiest to ascribe to if you are a White woman who is unaware of intersectional feminism, racism, Black history, and the importance of multicultural lenses. My argument of course is one of many arguments (or interpretations) that could be made, and is not meant to implicate all Black women or all Women of Color in the chosen perspective.
Rihanna is being violent – that’s the point of a revenge fantasy. And the fact that the woman is White is very important. Her performance is indeed representing a sort of “payback” for prejudices inflicted against her by White people, and indeed White women who tend to shield themselves from being called out on racism, by claiming to be feminists. As if their feminism is often not contextualized in Whiteness, which still harms Women of Color.
That Rihanna has White women in her posse showcases that it’s perhaps a certain kind of White woman that she is fulfilling a revenge fantasy against – the most privileged kind: White, straight, in the higher economic class, and who manifests a certain European “standard beauty.” Personally, I think that had Rihanna included only Women of Color or only Black women in her posse, the statement that is being made in the video would have been much more controversial – but also much more attune to a historical response against Whiteness and White feminism.
Some argue that Rihanna should have directed the majority of her violence towards the White man – the presumed spouse of the White woman who faces torture. That a revenge fantasy on that identity would really make a larger statement historically on the violence that straight, White (wealthy) men have historically committed against everyone. What is lost is that for many Women of Color, White men have historically treated People of Color – both men and women – as social pariahs, in order to defend and protect the “purity” of White women. It is this notion of “purity,” I think, that Rihanna’s performance is avenging as a Black woman in the video.
Now as a Black woman, I get pleasure from this song most when I argue that it is a song about reparations – reparations owed to People of Color as a whole. As especially owed to Black women who have existed in spaces of oppression and marginalization across the globe for centuries. I don’t ignore the violence but I do interpret it with the same lens I would when I read about accounts of slavery where slaves revolt, or where indigenous people revolt against their colonizers.
The violence too, in the context of racial dynamics, also leaves me pondering about something else. This violence that many White women, and many who identify as feminists, have created a mini uproar about, is still a fictional performance. But I have not seen the same kind of reaction from White women, when Black women and other Women of Color, face very real (non-fictional) violence on their bodies, with regard to their identities, and in their humanity. Given that juxtaposition, it is telling then, that for many, the humanity of a fictional White woman supersedes that of many living, breathing, real Black women.
What does this say about Black women, White women, and feminism? It says what many have been saying for a while now: That #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen. And Rihanna, like many of Women are Color, are just not interested in that kind of solidarity.