The Problem With Kendrick Lamar's "Humble" Video

Photo: MediaPunch/REX/Shutterstock.
Kendrick Lamar just dropped one of the most powerful music videos since Beyoncé’s “Formation.” Using a mixture of religious and super pro-Black imagery, K. Dot continues his tradition of advocating for Black people and the issues that affect us in the visuals for his new single "Humble." It truly is lit. I’ve had it on repeat all morning and will be carrying it with me into the weekend. But it’s not flawless. One part of the new release has sparked a heated debate about what it means to be “woke” and advocate for Black women.
In one line Kendrick raps, “I’m so fuckin sick and tired of the photoshop. Show something natural like Afro on Richard Pryor.” A woman with makeup and a slicked-back ponytail walks to the other side the screen, where she appears with her hair out and no make up on. Kendrick continues, “Show me something natural like ass with some stretch marks.” Cue the ass and thighs of a Black woman, whose stretch marks and natural cellulite are on display as she twerks. He follows that up with, “Still will take you down right on your mama’s couch in Polo socks.”
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To the untrained eye, this might look and sound like an affirmative moment that encourages women to love their own bodies. That’s certainly the message that those who are bashing feminists defending Kendrick on Twitter have taken away from the video. But to those of us who know better, it’s actually just another example of Black men giving women directives on how to present themselves to the world based on what men find attractive. Kendrick is cute, but my self-worth is not contingent on whether or not he (or anyone else) would fuck me on my mom’s couch. The point Kendrick missed is that bodies do not exist solely to satisfy whatever version of attractive — natural or airbrushed — men have conceived. And for the record, Kendrick’s beauty standards aren’t revolutionary.
It should be noted that the woman who loses her makeup is a thin, light-skinned, woman of color with long, loose curls and slanted eyes. And the faceless woman with the stretch marks has an hourglass figure that probably wouldn’t even fill a pair of size 8 jeans. Both of these women fit into the same narrow standard of beauty that supports the culture of photoshopping Kendrick claims to detest.
The unfortunate truth is that fitting into heteronormative beauty standards is a very real commodity for women. There are social benefits and privileges that come with being considered beautiful under a male gaze. Instead of challenging that system of value, Lamar is prioritizing his preferences in it.
Men like Kendrick Lamar have built their careers on the pretense of social consciousness. But the reach of that consciousness never seems to go the distance when it comes to gender. Their vision of empowerment for Black women is usually just a different version of sexism and misogyny. In the same way that it’s possible to be critical of this moment on the track and still love “Humble,” Kendrick can be woke and still wrong on gender. Get you someone who can do both. Better yet, be someone who can do both.
Check out the video, below.
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