Big Sean’s new video “Dance (A$$)” lets the word “ass” reverberate through your speakers while you get a visual dose of booty from scantily clad girls for your viewing pleasure. Creativity peaked, I can assume, as Big Sean uses a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air motif to signify his “ass-rific kingdom” and finished things off with Nicki Minaj saluting all of Europe with her hot pants, lyrics, and booty popping.
Interestingly enough, Minaj’s British-flag printed hot pants remind me of someone whose body also served European countries “well.” Saarijite Baartman, a Khoisan woman (a tribe in Southern Africa) was one of two women featured in a “freak show” in 19th century Europe. Her enlarged buttocks, small waist, and extended labia made her a symbol for objectified Black women – Europeans had never seen a woman with such big hips, full breasts, and an “ass so fat” as T.I. would have put it. If you’re unfamiliar with this woman, you may recognize her by her alias: Hottentot Venus.
Born the slave of Dutchman farmers, Venus was promised wealth and a better life if she “performed” for white audiences across Europe. For five years, Venus’ naked body was put on display for people to gawk, poke, prod, and in later years, recreate in drawings, paintings, and subliminally, in the images of women of color seen projected on T.V. screens across the globe.
An MTV article about the video says that Big Sean “celebrates the power of backing it up”; many may argue that Minaj is simply embracing her sexuality, that neither she nor Big Sean should be condemned for promoting hyper-sexualized images of women on television. Others will note that other cultures, especially those of the majority, aren’t discussing the sexual representations their women portray and that our discussions of the topic are refutable with the continual promotion of the same images we fight against in the media. While both sides may have a point, I would be remiss not to note that those same schools of thought or cultures haven’t had to spend centuries fighting the social stigmas of a slut, Jezebel, mistress, or the legalized capture and rape of our bodies.
So what images do we evoke when we see Minaj’s ass swirling ‘round and ‘round? The spectacle of her “enlarged buttocks”, much like Hottentot Venus’, is a stark reminder of the culturally depredating impact of the objectification of women. As the entire world gazes at Minaj’s well-paid rear end, Venus’ body will forever be etched in the memories of the countless men and women who stared at her body in awe and curiosity.
Big Sean isn’t the first (and won’t be the last) rapper to use a woman’s body to make millions of dollars or win Hip-Hop awards. Listening to his music doesn’t make you a villain against the women’s movement, either. A conscious awareness and deeper understanding of the history, power, and influence of our bodies is critical in changing the mindsets and discussions about women and their sexuality.
I mean, the next time you consider buying Big Sean’s album, remember what type of currency he prefers: “…she can pay me in sex.” While he celebrates the power of backing it up, I’ll celebrate the power of my purchases. Fair? Fair.