Cardi B, the African Connection -Women Kings and non binary gender
Recently, Cardi B caused quite a controversy with the line from the recently released song, "Who Want the Smoke" with Offset an Lil Yachty. In the song she proclaims she is the King of New York an while many people focused on the lyric itself as a bold proclamation, my attention was drawn further into a context wider than lyrical prowess. Honestly, I loved that she specifically declared herself King and later on instagram she took it a step further and called herself the Emperor of New York.
My past scholarly work focused mainly on gender and identity in Africa and in the Caribbean. In those spaces I found more freedom, boldness and nuances in gender roles. In my travels I encountered circumstances that may confusing when met agains the United States construction of gender roles.
For example in Akure, Nigeria, I met the Regent who takes the place of the King while a new king is being selected. She is not merely a place holder, she is respected as King and assumes the role of a social male. All of the gender labels are shifted to the masculine and she does not share the throne with her husband.
Female Kings among the Yoruba are not just found in political circles. The fluidity is also found in spiritual contexts and works in the "opposite" manner as well. Gelede is a celebration of women and ancestors whereby males (only) dress as females and in spirit possession carry messages that some have labeled as gossip and it is rumored that because of Gelede's power to reveal deep secrets, some people fear the appearance of Gelede.
Cardi B's self proclamation on the surface appears to refer to a vainglorious self-proclamation, but what if it's deeper than that? What if she is embodying some sort of ancestral memory following a long practiced tradition and extension of power beyond the lines of male/female, masculine/feminine and typecast gender roles. At least among the Yoruba, these roles are not so singular.
For further reading:
Invention Of Women: Making An African Sense Of Western Gender Discourses
Oct 1, 1997 by Oyeronke Oyewumi
Sex and the Empire That Is No More: Gender and the Politics of Metaphor in Oyo Yoruba Religion (2005)
J. Lorand Matory
Yemoja: Gender, Sexuality, and Creativity in the Latina/o and Afro-Atlantic Diasporas
Nov 1, 2013by Solimar Otero and Toyin Falola
Gelede: Art and Female Power among the Yoruba (Traditional Arts of Africa)
Aug 22, 1990by Henry John Drewal and Margaret Thompson Drewal