How Cardi B Became the Political Advocate We Need During These Unprecedented Times
By Manuel Betancourt
Justice, equality and respect.
Cardi B may be dropping chart-topping singles, but she’s also making headlines for her advocacy. In between sharing the best "WAP" TikTok dance videos, posting adorable pics of daughter Kulture and beaming about her new Balenciaga campaign, the Dominican singer has been making time to speak out about everything from the government’s inadequate response to COVID-19 and the importance of registering to vote to racial justice and police brutality.
As with everything Cardi, though, there’s a welcome unfiltered sensibility in how she’s making her voice heard in these unprecedented times.
"I want Black people to stop getting killed and no justice for it," she told Joe Biden during a sit-down interview with the Democratic presidential candidate. "I’m tired of it. I’m sick of it. I just want laws that are fair to Black citizens and that are fair for cops, too. If you kill somebody who doesn’t have a weapon on them, you go to jail. You know what? If I kill somebody, I’ve got to go to jail. You gotta go to jail, too. That’s what I want."
CARDI’S ACTIVISM, A BRIEF HISTORY
For the Bardi gang, this interest in politics is nothing new for the 27-year-old. Ahead of the 2016 election, the rapper was already making her preference for "Daddy Bernie" public and voicing her fears of a Trump presidency for minorities during Desus & Mero’s "Live Election Special" later that year.
By the time "Bodak Yellow" and Invasion of Privacy made her a household name, she was name-dropping Franklin D. Roosevelt in GQ profiles and speaking fondly of him as “the real Make America Great Again” president, citing his success in establishing Social Security.
Cardi’s interest in these issues date all the way back to her high school years when she took AP U.S. Government and Politics. "It wasn’t studying to me, it was like a passion because I love to read about American history," she said during an Instagram Live following a heated exchange with Tomi Lahren last year. "I like to know about politicians, I like to know how everything is getting ran… I went to college for this sh*t. It really gets me upset when people be like, oh, you’re dumb. I’m not dumb at this sh*t!"
In 2020 alone, the South Bronx native has continued to find ways to put important messages front and center. She went live on Instagram with Bernie Sanders back in April to talk about the government’s response to the coronavirus as well as the senator’s decision to endorse Biden. In her chat, she voiced many people’s complaints about how the current administration had mishandled the COVID-19 pandemic, and further stressed why it’s key to support policies like Medicare for All.
Cardi also proved she was committed to helping those most affected by the pandemic by launching a campaign alongside Fashion Nova to give out $1,000 every hour until they’d given away $1 million to those in need and had donated 20,000 meal supplements to medical staff in the New York area.
And while she’s been busy these past few months planning her return to the charts and releasing a brand new single and video with Megan Thee Stallion that’s overtaken both the charts and TikTok, Cardi made time to interview Biden during a candid chat for Elle, where she clearly outlined what she’s looking for in a political leader in 2020.
There are those who wish the hitmaker would stick to music and others who outright suggest a former stripper should steer clear of talking politics, a laughable stance that attempts to silence the “Press” rapper while shaming her, in turn. But Cardi has long made it clear that she remains unbothered by the hate and pushback she gets every time she tweets about the president or speaks out about the injustices she sees on the news.
WHY 2020 IS DIFFERENT
There’s no denying, though, that the last year has shown Cardi more concretely wanting to better use her platform to talk politics. Currently, instead of using her own image, Cardi has placed Breonna Taylor’s name as her profile pic on Instagram, which has over 75 million followers. By prominently featuring Taylor’s name, the rapper is encouraging her fans to “say her name,” a campaign that’s re-emerged amid the current Black Lives Matter movement.
As many know now, Taylor was an EMT who was shot dead in her own home by Louisville police on March 13. It wasn’t until after George Floyd’s death in May, which sparked nationwide calls for the end of police brutality and systemic racism within America, that many people learned about Taylor’s story and started calling for the arrests of the cops responsible for her murder. In July, on what would have been her 27th birthday, many celebrities, including the rapper, honored Taylor with emotional and heartfelt posts on social media.
As she revealed in a cover interview with Elle magazine, Taylor’s death hit home. “What they did to her is really f**ked up. Really f**ked up,” she said while also detailing her hopes for the 2020 presidential election. “I want a president who makes me feel secure. I want a president who understands the pain of the people. I want a president who is going to give us answers.”
Her investment in the 2020 presidential race has been evident over the last year. In late 2019, for instance, she famously sat down with Sen. Sanders at a nail salon in Detroit to talk about everything from FDR and healthcare to the immigration policy, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and Social Security as part of a campaign video. “We’re here to educate you guys,” she told viewers as she addressed Sanders as both a fan and a concerned citizen, eager to hear more about his plan should he become president.
As was obvious in that sit-down chat, Cardi has an ability to distill her politics into bite-sized morsels that sound like the opposite of pre-approved soundbites normally spouted by politicians. Cardi is disarmingly candid.
Where other celebrities may agonize over their every statement, Cardi cuts through the noise — even if such an approach has often landed her in hot water, like when she shared an image of protesters holding up the Dominican and Haitian flags side by side with a caption about “UNITY” that was interpreted by many as her advocating for unification of the two countries. She later clarified that her post was about standing in solidarity, further explaining how in the U.S., Dominicans and Haitians “are treated the same, like sh*t.”
She brought that same anguish and frustration to her interview with Biden, which found her vocalizing feelings that capture what many people all over the U.S. have been feeling this summer. “I feel like Black people, we’re not asking for sympathy, we’re not asking for charity -- we are just asking for equality. We are asking for fairness, and we are asking for justice. That is all,” she told Biden. “I feel like everything people are asking for is getting interpreted in a very different way. No, it’s simple: We just want justice. We want to feel like Americans.”
WHY CARDI’S VOICE MATTERS
Cardi’s no-nonsense approach is perfectly tailored for our current moment. A social media savvy performer, she’s well aware of how much reach she has: her Live with Sanders alone gathered close to one million views while her Biden interview has already racked up over 1.1 million views.
But it’s Cardi’s ability to speak directly to her fans -- in both English and Spanish, as she did in the census PSA she shot with New York City’s Mayor’s office -- that makes the “I Like It” singer a necessary voice in 2020. When so much is at stake, there’s no time for niceties when it’s clear we all need to stay focused and engaged.
“Listen I don’t talk like a CNN correspondent and I don’t use all this fancy vocabulary,” Cardi wrote on her Instagram while promoting highlights from an April 2020 Live with then-presidential candidate Sanders, “but I do give you THE REAL while entertaining you at the same time to keep your attention on what’s important.”
It was a simple distillation of where her political ambitions lie (unless she follows through on that teased congressional run?) and how she’s using her platform during what’s turned out to be a transformative year. More than wanting to tell her fans who to vote for or what causes to support (though she’s open about what policies and candidates she herself is invested in), Cardi’s message is ultimately one that hopes to make her fanbase feel informed and empowered.
“I just want to bring awareness to what’s going on in our country and around the world,” she added. “I want to make sure all my followers are AWARE and make a CHANGE! WE HAVE THE POWER TO MAKE A CHANGE!”