In his newest single and accompanying video, Kendrick Lamar once again proves himself to be amongst the most dynamic, political, and important artists of our time. Lamar, like anyone else, is not above reproach. In his second verse, Kendrick threw in his two cents on standards of black beauty, “I’m so f**kin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop/ Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor/ Show me somethin’ natural like a** with some stretch marks/ Still will take you down right on your mama’s couch with in Polo socks, ayy”.
Boy, oh boy, do I wish he would have saved them instead. Although his fans have rushed to social media insisting that Kendrick only wants women to love themselves, his critique is entirely through the male gaze. Kendrick is not “f**kin sick” of black women being held to European beauty standards that result in self loathing, he’s sick of them not performing black womanhood by his “woke” standards. He wants us to know that he’ll take women down even in their most natural state-and that’s all we want isn’t it? Don’t we wake up every day and photoshop ourselves for the sake of the male gaze? We just want men to want us, right?
Wrong. Which brings us to my second point: it doesn’t matter what Kendrick is sick of. The way that black women love themselves; even if it’s with weave, and photoshop, and so many filters you can’t recognize the original lighting, is our business. Our existence is not a performance to be critiqued. We survive in patriarchy. We survive in white supremacy. If some of these ideals alter the way we love ourselves, so be it. This is the water we swim in; this is the behavior we adapt. We are still magic. We are still black. We are still enough.
Yet, somehow, girls with afros don’t seem to be enough for Kendrick. In his video, he juxtaposes his lyrics about Richard Pryor afros with a light skin woman with freckles and loose curls who certainly isn’t starving for representation. The a**, however, is distinctly dark skinned and belonging to a woman whose face is never shown. What a lesson on self love.
What was more disturbing than the problematic Kendrick proved himself to be on Humble, however, is the response that black women got for daring to challenge the standards he set forth on the song. The notion that we need to be grateful for a black man even mentioning us is rooted in black patriarchy. It is not pro black, or intersectional, for black men to demand an image from black women. The only way for black men to support black women is to defend us, listen to us, and acknowledge that they do not speak for us.
It is beyond exhausting for our beings to be grounds for political discussion. It is dehumanizing. And we need not tolerate it. Whether we bob our heads to “Bad and Boujee” or only listen to Lauryn Hill, we have the right and the need to shut down and unpack and disregard limits that others put on us. Black men do not own us. We do not exist to arouse or disgust you. We exist for ourselves; all magic and attitude, and twenty-inch bundle, or one inch afro, or anything between.
It matters not what Kendrick has said before, or after Humble. The right to critique a project lies in that project. Lies in the moment that a man opened his mouth to speak on that which does not concern him. If your fave is as woke as you would like to claim, as woke as he would have us believe; then he will take his own advice. Be humble Kendrick; man who was once babe who drank and got fat from black bosom. Sit down. Take note. Be humble.
Haddiyyah Ali is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.