From an Australian researcher claiming Beyoncé’s name and her celebrity bum with a horse fly, a pissed Wisconsin congressman attacking the national obesity campaign by deriding the First Lady’s derriere, to Diddy riding on somebody else’s butt for more fame in his new book called Culo, across the academic, political, and the popular, our booty remains integral in what CF crunktastic has deemed disrespectability politics.
I came across Culo as a recommended Christmas stocking stuffer from Amazon. The accompanying website bends over backward to market the “coffee table” book as high art by telling the would-be buyer that “culo” is an Italian word rather than the familiar Spanish slang tossed about in rap and reggaeton songs by Pitbull, who pairs with Timberland to provide the soundtrack to the book’s R-rated promotional (music) video. The site also hypes famed fashion photographer Raphael Mazzucco, who has made a career of capturing near-naked women for Victoria Secret and Sports Illustrated. Diddy’s collaborator, Jimmy Iovine, suggests the book is a part of Interscope’s diversification—expanding from music to book publishing [and I would add, expanding the Black American hip hop aesthetic to include diverse women (read: non-Black)] as part of Interscope’s global booty. (Interscope is a part of the largest multinational music group in the world.)
The art claim is supposed to give Culo international cachet and curtail local cries of racism and sexism. The claim is also deployed to distinguish itself aesthetically from similar visual representations, such as those seen in Waka Flocka’s “No Hands.” It is supposed to celebrate a so-called new era in which “the world is no longer flat.” It ain’t so flattering for African-descended women who carry the cultural baggage of the fuckable, unrapeable, insatiable, and hyperfertile jezebel because of a muscle. Along with my frustration with the postrace rhetoric is the postfeminist one that wants us to believe that Culo is a celebration of women’s power and beauty (by reducing us to a body part). I mean, actor Al Jolson celebrated his mammy in blackface, but most black folks ain’t remixing that cinematic minstrelsy. [Insert your Tyler Perry comments here.] My 15-year-old Sir Mix-a-Lot big butt loving self might have bought some of P. Diddy’s pro-woman posturing. But, the glossy-printed, 240-plus page fake feminist fantasy could not be sold to me today. I am a grown ass woman.
I am a grown woman who grew up in a southern inner-city believing that outer beauty—the booty specifically—could trump intelligence and was the biggest asset for a dark skin Black girl, so when I heard about young Black and Latina women participating in p(l)umping parties where they inject one another with illegal infertility hormones, industrial-grade silicone, cement, or superglue, I became deeply disturbed that the thang that has narrowly defined our desirability is also taking our lives. Such is the case for the Nigerian-born Londoner, Claudia Aderotimi (aka Claudiyah “Carmella” James), who came to a Philly hotel for the injection and died 12 hours later when a poisonous concoction entered her bloodstream. Aderotimi, named an African princess by 50 Cent, was convinced her hip hop stardom would be deflated after folks figured out her booty was padded.
The sensational news coverage about botched butt injections is as much about the illegal (and deadly) act as it is about criminalizing particular Black bodies. (BBD said you can’t trust a woman with a big butt and a smile in the 1990 hit “Poision.”) Duchess, a transgender woman who has been charged with the near-death of a Florida woman seeking an injection, has had her mug shot along with a full body photograph released to the press. The side view harkens to pictures of Saartjie Baartman, a South African woman dubbed the Hottentot Venus in 19th Century European freak shows. Fast forward two hundred years and African-descended women are still at center stage, fulfilling the twin feelings of lust and disgust regarding Black women. There was no retraction when the Miami Herald news reported Duchess as having a backside the size of a “truck tire.” And, two women providing a PSA about pumping parties (which turned into an attack on race and gender conformity) saw nothing wrong with describing the supposed ugliness of (transgender) women whose full lips looked like “inner tubes” and whose booties were just too big for their bodies. There was a reason why Baartman was pejoratively called a Hottentot Venus: It could recall erotic beauty defined by the Roman goddess while reminding folks that our so-called less-than-human bodies could be exploited for commercial profit under white patriarchy. In the “new era” of booty worship, we might want to remember that one.