Ellen DeGeneres' parody of Nicki Minaj merits an apology, at the very least

Oct 14, 2015 at 1:40 a.m. ET
Image: FayesVision/WENN

On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show aired a skit spoofing Nicki Minaj's upcoming television series and, to say the least, the ill-conceived parody was in poor taste.

Listen, I love Ellen. You love Ellen. Who doesn't love Ellen DeGeneres? But sometimes even the best among us make mistakes — to err is to be human, after all. And, in my opinion, DeGeneres seriously slipped up with her Minaj-centric skit.

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The short segment starts with an introduction from DeGeneres, who jokingly stresses that it is an exclusive clip from the rapper's upcoming ABC Family series chronicling her upbringing in Queens, New York. The scene opens on Nicki's fictional mother standing behind a couch, from which she pulls out a pair of colorful sneakers. Enter the actress playing young Minaj, who is summoned by her mother for stuffing her shoes in the sofa again.

Nicki Minaj
Image: The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Down the stairs bounces a seemingly innocuous preteen girl — who quickly turns and bends over, revealing a larger-than-life prosthetic backside. And that's where DeGeneres lost me, even before she trotted out the same oversized posterior on Minaj's fictional mom, dad and, yes, even the family dog. Before, even, they fumbled around the living room knocking decor over like a family of Clumps in The Nutty Professor.

Does Nicki Minaj have an impressively voluptuous bum? Yes. Is Nicki Minaj a grown-ass woman? Yes, yes she is. The problem with this skit is that, well, hold up... there are multiple problems with this skit. One, though, is that while Minaj celebrates her body type for the empowerment of women — and particularly black women — this skit makes a mockery of that body positivity.

Not to mention, it employs a young black girl as the crux of its farcical shtick. When you have a demographic that is already woefully underrepresented in mainstream media, is this what we want them to see when they turn on their TVs? What message are we sending here — that their bodies are, quite literally, the butt of the joke?

Nicki Minaj
Image: The Ellen DeGeneres Show

So there are obviously also implications of race. Can we really call this humor? The entire parody was little more than a modern-day minstrel show, relying on the comedic relief some people find inherent in nothing more than the complexion of other peoples for cheap laughs.

Do I think Ellen DeGeneres is racist? No. Do I believe this skit is an example of racism? I do. When the entire punch line of a parody centers on a black woman's body for bemusement, I don't think we can argue it isn't racism. I think it's important that we understand a person can say something racist without being a racist. I think it's important we understand racism is a system designed to subordinate non-white peoples, and sometimes we inadvertently proliferate this system like DeGeneres did here.

So, in that respect, I think DeGeneres' skit brings to light an incredibly important conversation we should be having on a topic far too many of us are unfamiliar with: intersectionality.

Coined by feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw in the '80s, intersectionality is the study of how different power structures interact in the lives of minorities. So, intersectionality would hold that I, as a white woman, cannot know the oppression of sexism that a woman like Nicki Minaj has faced, because society's attitude toward her as a black woman is intrinsically different. Her oppression has been shaped by both gender and race.

As a gay woman — and, therefore, part of another historically disenfranchised group of society, or "double-minority" — one would hope DeGeneres would be more sensitive to the marginalization of black women like Nicki Minaj.

If you think I'm simply being reactionary by connecting these dots, you're ignoring intersectionality. In DeGeneres' parody, women are essentially being body-shamed and, more pointedly, they are being shamed for a body type most often culturally attached to black women.

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So while there's no denying the sheer amount of good that DeGeneres does in the world, this simply wasn't one of those times. Here's the silver lining, though: She now has the opportunity to further the dialogue surrounding controversial but vital topics such as covert racism and, for those arguing that anyone upset with this skit is being ridiculous, white fragility.

Until then, we'll all be on the lookout for what Minaj has to add to the conversation.