OPINION: In defence of Azealia Banks
Azealia Banks has recently been banned from Twitter after throwing slurs at Zayn Malik, an ex-member of One Direction. The spat began on her Instagram, but her actions quickly escalated to some pretty racist tweets at Malik. If you’ve heard gossip on Banks, you’ve probably heard she’s a reckless, aggressive bigot - but here’s why that’s wrong.
Banks has a history for making ‘controversial' comments and music due to her public profile and actions; likening the LGBTI community in America to the KKK, publicly supporting Donald Trump for President, and her explosive temper often expressed on her twitter.
She’s a regular field day for anyone with a social media account. Regularly belittled for her behaviour, the claim is often that her personality overshadows her music and turns people off - to which she seems not to care about anyway.
But this personality beat up and her twitter ban aren't fuelled by social justice or a basis for equality - she’s simply the easiest target for people to cause further controversy around. Those on the right see her as a young woman of colour who’s fighting against White Americanisation through traditionally Black music such as rap.
This seems to be a strong view from the music industry too, who want her to focus on producing music to sell rather than the music she would prefer to make. She’s been dropped from the Born and Bred festival, fought with over creative control by her label, and is constantly asked in interviews to stop fighting through social media and instead fight her haters through her music.
She’s also regularly thrown under the bus by small-l liberal types who struggle with intersectionality and respectability politics. Her unapologetic and aggressive demeanour is touted as oppressive, when often her target audience comes from a position of privilege to begin with. This has been seen mostly by the LGBTI community in America.
Indeed, she is seen as an outsider who makes brash comments on queer topics, instead of the black bisexual woman who’s continually denied from queer communities. Several links in her music feature over-the-top, mocking and brash attitude towards the culture LGBTI change-makers have adopted in approaching music, art and activism.
So, how does this change her actions on twitter?
Even a fan like me will admit her slurs at Malik were racist, and went way too far. Her beef with him however is justified. He’s at no risk of punishment even when he publicly rips off Banks’ ideas with no credit to her. He is protected by the white music industry because - as Banks claims - he’ll happily play the role of the token brown to make money and boost his career.
Compared to the unapologetic, political, and pro-black artist Azealia Banks, Malik represents part of the institutions which have made her life harder. As well, Malik’s record companies can defend him from anything he does. Banks has a mixed relationship with record companies due to their profit focus, which was a large influence for her latest mixtape Slay-Z being self-released. He’ll continue to be protected and sheltered from his intellectual theft, whereas Banks will continue to be ignored regardless of what she does.
But why was she banned from Twitter? We see social media as a haven for freedom of speech, but in reality that only exists for the privileged and rich. Donald Trump has spewed forth racist hate speech since announcing he’d run for the Republican nomination for President of the USA, to absolutely no consequence.
More so, this construction of Azealia as a perpetrator of structural oppression only helps us shut down the potential for nuance. If she’s a ‘big, bad bitch’ then she’s a much easier target, and is a regular free headlines for celebrity media. The only person who misses out is Banks, who arguably could just see any press as good press.
Most importantly, Banks has faced ongoing structural oppression throughout her life. Losing her father early in her life, an abusive mother, and independence at 14. As well, the social oppression faced by black bisexual women has illustrated a need for compassion and respect for her. She’s come from a rough life, fostered her talent and become an international musical sensation.
Everyone in society has been taught that racism is effective, and it’s plagued Azealia her entire life. So when she lashes out using racism, we have to take responsibility for how our world has injured black bisexual women who’ve faced ongoing life trauma. We must not condone this behaviour, but we must contextually understand and support them instead of feeding the inequality that rages inside the hearts of artists like Banks.
Let’s hope her Twitter hiatus teaches her to take some more responsibility for her actions, as well as adding our compassion and understanding to her life.