5 Reasons Why We Never Needed Ali Spagnola's 'Bodak Yellow' Translation
A black woman reads Ali Spagnola.
October 27, 2017 at 6:06 pm
Unfortunately, I have to preface by saying I am a truly happy person, but by the time you reach the end of this, you might not think the same. Ali Spagnola, this is a read.
Growing up both black and a woman, I have heard a lot of ish. I’ve been the recipient of some pretty foul treatment, and all of this was well before The Trump Administration, or the New Massa Movement, as I tend to call it. Even still, when I watched Ali Spagnola’s newest video on Facebook, my jaw high-fived Satan. The video, “Bodak Yellow - Cardi B (LITERAL LYRICS)” is Spagnola’s translation of the black, Bronx born rapper’s number one single, “Bodak Yellow.” Topping Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in September of this year, and being only the second sole female rapper to do so, one could argue “Bodak Yellow” is one of the most listened to records out at the moment. Good, sensible and American people, surely you would not listen to something for so long, and for so many times, if you couldn't get a gist of what the damned thing was about. According to Spagnola, you’re darned tootin’ you would.
Sarcasm aside, there are several issues with Miss Spagnola’s video. And rest assured, I will be going through them all. However well-intentioned you were, Ali, you unfortunately played into a trope categorizing blacks as illiterate and inadequate communicators. This stereotype is as old as American culture; simply put, likening black folks to ignorance makes it that much easier to reclassify us as less than humane. The issue of denoting "broken English” as a moniker for blackness is still VERY relevant. We might not be teaching ebonics as a high-school elective anymore, but it is very clear that “black English” is and will always be a deviation from Standard American English.
Whether you intended or not, translating Cardi B., a self-professed black woman, into whatever you were doing, is erasure. Point blank. Just because it ain’t the English you heard when you were growing up, don’t mean it ain’t English, Ali. Even Walt Disney whitewashed the fairytales you based your American Dreams on so they would sound more like his version of English. Please don’t take it personally, but Ali girl, you walked right into this one.
1. Your caption
Ali. Your first lesson comes in marketing. You seem to have a head for business. Your account is verified, so good for you. This is why I cannot forgive you for your caption, “SHARE to be a hero and let people know,” implying you are not alone in assuming “Bodak Yellow” was written in some ancient form of ATLien. I googled the lyrics — ya, it’s a thing — and found they were the same alphabets I was taught in kindergarten. Sharing this video isn’t going to make me a hero. It’s just going to make me look foolish for assuming I need to translate English from English. Do better.
2. Your translations
The translations were textbook whitewashing. It was like you watched The Help and The Blindside because you’d never spoken to a black person in real life. Girl. Stop trying to correct grammar when dialect is itself a literary device. The skill, to authentically capture the way people sound, is often heralded as one of the most difficult to learn as a writer. Yet, here we are — Cardi B. and me. And, when Yung Scholar Cardi said “These expensive. These is red bottoms,” she did not mean “I’m wearing Christian Louboutin shoes.” When you stripped down her words, you eliminated elements of the metaphor Cardi created. Her shoes are bloody because like most black women, she has had to claw her way from the bottomless pit where her life begins and your privilege ends. She said what she said, when she said it.
3. Your MO
Unfortunately, this ain’t your first time coming for black folks under the guise of not understanding our ish. Scrolling down your timeline for research — ya, we can read — I found an earlier video claiming “To be honest, I don’t know what ‘get the bag’ means.” Well, that must mean it ain't for you. You not understanding the premise of the song does not give you ground to "translate" it. That’s cultural appropriation, chile. I can’t be out in these streets remixing “Bohemian Rhapsody” just because I don’t understand “white people.” Maybe I should. We out here being reckless, anyway.
4. Your reality
Girl. It is 2017. Every single day is a battle of trigger warnings, clapbacks and dodging microaggressions. Don’t say you didn’t feel that little tingle at the back of your throat when you hit post. You felt that sense of danger and uneasiness, the same you probably felt when you were four years old and tried to touch the stove to feel the fire. You probably feel that fire right now, as I’m sure you have realized the video was wrong. Some people on the internet might be making your life hell now, and you might even imagine me to be one of them. Ali, what do you think it feels like to have people doubt your intelligence and ability to communicate just because when you opened your eyes to this reality, you opened them black and woman? Just this week, I was complimented on how eloquently I spoke, then asked to explain my education. Black folks are capable of learning. We are capable of intellect. We are capable of eloquence. We are capable of magnificence, and it does not have to come out sounding like you. We can be brilliant and black at the same time. That should not threaten you.
5. Your heart
I know you are a good person. I just know you are, just like I know I am full of inextinguishable joy. Ali, please take this as an opportunity to learn and grow. There is a long, painful and, unfortunately, prevailing desire to strip black folks of the one thing we have to convince ourselves we’re beyond the point of fighting for — our humanity. We are not some subspecies. We speak English, and we do not need to be translated. My heart broke when I saw that video because I know Cardi B. is me. I have a thick southern accent, and I am very proud of my blackness. My vernacular pirouettes between inside jokes, shared cultural experiences, influence and authenticity. I have been translated against my will, and it feels humiliating. It feels degrading. It strips the color I purposefully painted into each of my carefully chosen words. In actuality, the song is really about how Cardi B. worked so damn hard; she went from a stripper to being leagues above her peers by sheer determination. Don’t strip that away from her because you don't understand that life.
Sis, and I use that term affectionately, please take this as a lesson learned. Gone on and go home; the library is closed.