Anatomy of a Clapback Fail: Azealia Banks versus Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin Azealia Banks

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, Robert Altman/Invision/AP

When I’m not writing, I proudly teach twenty-somethings at an HBCU.  Doing so keeps me connected with youth culture and philosophies, and honestly has taught me to listen to millennials—to see their intellectual value, voice and vision—instead of ridiculing them because of their inexperience and immaturity.  Daily, I have to dig for the gold in their messages, even while, sometimes at least, not understanding (or agreeing with) how those messages are delivered.  It’s why New York based emcee Azealia Banks, and her antics, initially didn’t alarm me too much.

Like many of my students, Banks seems to approach the world (and her social media accounts) without a filter, and the kind of thoughtfulness that necessitates filters sometimes.  I’m not opposed to this.  Sometimes social commentary needs to be direct and explicit.  As we age, we can lose the fire of our messages trying to make those messages digestible to others.  Banks’ gritty observations about White, Australian rapper (I guess) Iggy Azalea, seemed like important and critical analysis of how cultural appropriation has infiltrated Hip Hop.  Banks asked (back in 2012 when Iggy was included as the only woman on the XXL freshman cover), how we could support and celebrate a White woman who rapped that she was a runaway slave master as a new, important, voice in Hip Hop.  She was fair in her critique, even if that critique was guided by a bit of seeming envy of the Aussie’s popularity and success.

Then in 2015, Banks took her beef offline and had a physical altercation with a flight attendant whom she called a fagg*t while trying to finally exit a plane.  This was some time after Banks tweeted the same slur towards gossip blogger Perez Hilton.  Some argued that because Banks is openly bisexual, and also because of her obvious adoration of drag balls, she cannot be homophobic, which is ridiculous.  And Black folks, of all folks, should understand that admiring the products of one’s culture doesn’t mean that a person admires or respects the culture (or people) that produced those products. Amiright? Banks has absolutely been homophobic, and we need to stop finding nuance in the instances that she has been and take a cue from her—be direct in calling her homophobia what it is.

In the same way Banks can be both bisexual and peddle dangerous homophobia, she can also be a woman who peddles dangerous misogyny, as we saw last week when she tweeted, essentially, that former vice president hopeful (ain’t that crazy to say outloud?) Sarah Palin should be gang banged by big Black men with big black penises.

Not like this, Azealia, girl.  We collectively can’t stomach Palin and the Tea Party she represents, but we simultaneously can’t have Banks out here wasting quality clapback opportunities. (Palin is producing many of said opportunities as she surrogates for Donald Trump—vying for a position in his administration).

Here’s why Banks gets it wrong, again.

As Banks admits in an apology letter she wrote to Sarah Palin via her Tumblr (and after Palin threatened to sue her) she, “was completely kidding.” And that she has, “a really crass, New-York-City sense of humor, and regularly make silly jokes in attempts make light of situations which make me uncomfortable.”  But that’s no excuse.  Banks also tries to characterize her threats as a suggestion for group sex, instead of actual gang rape, which we all know is bullsh*t.

Considering that in the U.S. alone, there are approximately 293,000 sexual assaults committed annually, rape is no joking matter. At all. Full stop.  What complicates Banks’s tweets even more is the imagery of big Black men raping Palin.  Historically, we know that the myth of big Black bucks raping virginal White women has been used to inflict merciless violence on innocent Black people, families and communities.  Even recently, Dylann Storm (who pitilessly murdered nine Black people as they worshiped at a church in South Carolina) told churchgoers that he had to kill them because Black men rape White women.

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Banks cannot defend the Black community against racism and anti-blackness while upholding the kind of racist tropes that place our very lives in danger.  And her misogyny proves that sexism and misogyny is not about what’s between one’s legs, but instead what’s between one’s ears (or not, in this case), as my fellow Black feminist scholar friend Renina Jarmon reminds me all the time.

Shamira Ibrahim says it best over at VSB when pointing out that Banks “obstinate lack of self cognizance will continue to be an albatross on her career until she realizes that no matter the intent, being strong and wrong does not provide an incentive for potential new fans to be invested in her success,”  or for old fans to keep defending her ridiculous antics.

Josie Pickens is an educator, culture critic and griot.  Chat with her on twitter: @jonubian


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