Why I’m Not Here for “Humble”
Yup. You read the title correctly. Before you pop out the blow darts and Nerf guns, I'm not here to "bash" Kendrick. I'm critiquing his lyrics in this particular song. While I wouldn't call myself a fan and that said, certainly not a Stan, I do enjoy a lot of Kendrick's music. He's a great lyricist and he reminds me of the A Tribe Called Quest era of rappers who used to have deep anecdotes in their songs. So after seeing a lot of the black men on my news feed talking about how great they thought the "Humble" song and video were, I decided to check it out.
So I watched "Humble." And before it was over, instead of feeling the emotional elation of my peers, I felt my heart sink.
Why? Because, regardless of his intent, Kendrick's message is not the best one.
How is telling black women and femmes that wearing makeup is unacceptable uplifting? How is calling what we choose to wear and how we adorn ourselves being fake (i.e. "Photoshop")? How is saying that we wear certain things to please men praising us?
It's not. It's telling people that in order to be respected and loved, black women need to look a certain way. That's still shaming black women.
It's telling people that black women and femmes are there for male approval and consumption. It's telling people that we don't make personal style decisions independent from what we think men want.
Some have argued these points, saying that the lyrics are aimed at "every" woman, not specifically black ones. I disagree. If that was true, black women's current natural hair movement wouldn't have been the focal point. In the black community, black women's hair has always been a topic of conversation--and intense criticism. Hip hop and every other predominantly black form of music, such as R&B, have always mainly focused on talking about black women, whether it be negatively or positively (rare). When songs of these genres address other races of women, their races are explicitly mentioned (and often, in a fetishistic manner).
That brings us to the bigger issue in the song: Kendrick's lyrics in conjunction with the video model. You cannot condemn other rappers for upholding light-skinned black and/or mixed-woman fetishism while singing a song about the most desirable woman--but ONLY showing a light skinned, biracial woman with 4C hair.
Now the issue isn't the model herself. The issue is that only showing her while her body type, hair type, and skin pigmentation are already what's preferred and lauded in black society makes no sense. How are you uplifting black women and femmes by only praising the same type every other rapper does? Uplifting the uplifted and calling every that deviates from your vision of desirable "Photoshop"? Where they do that at?
Sorry, Kendrick, but nah. The concept of respectability politics is still permeated with biases, even when you're the one using it.
Look, if you're gonna be woke, BE. F*CKING. WOKE. Don't wake up when it comes to racism, but Rip van Winkle snooze when it comes to sexism and misogynoir. Stop perpetuating the old gender stereotypes and simply let black women and femmes be.
I'm really sorry, Kendrick fans and Stans, but as much as I like his music, this song was a glaring NO for me. If he really, truly wants to uplift black women and femmes, he should be telling other men that they need to be respectful of us and our fashion choices, not outlining his idea of an acceptable woman. You can't put yourself out there as an extra-woke, super-conscious rapper and not fully understand misogynoir.