The topic of Rashida’s sudden and meteoric rise to Internet fame is not something I’d planned to discuss, but a handful of people reached out to me and asked me for my thoughts privately and asked when I’d share those thoughts publicly, so here it is. I beg you not to take this as the final word on the issue, as there are 1001 ways to discuss Rashida’s rise (some people think that it will be her eventual demise) and it’s good that we listen to all points of view….Or at least to those views coming from persons who honestly have Rashida’s best interest at heart.
For those unfamiliar with the 15-year-old Internet sensation, she’s a junior high school graduate who made a diss video dedicated to her ex-boyfriend, Kushman. She describes – in graphic detail – how she got him open, as Kushman was apparently a sexual novice, while she served as his skillful tutor for however long they were dating. As fate would have it, he took that newfound skill and began to apply it to his latest paramour, Abigail.
Armed with only her cellphone and a data bundle, Rashida responded in one of the myriad ways that the gender does when faced with heartbreak. Clad in all black and a pair of blinged out flip-flops, Rashida stood in a compound with her camera raised above her head so that Kushman – and anyone else watching – could get a glimpse of what he had stupidly let go of. Judging from the number of kwasia’s (translation: foolish/idiot/stupid) dropped during her tirade, Rashida surmised Kushman to be the worst deadhead dolt she’d ever met indeed. After all, she is THE Rashida ‘Black Beauty’.
Let me remind you, she’s 15 and only has the equivalent of a 7th grade education.
Her videos were so widely watched that some area boys seized on the momentum and sampled a portion of her tirade, turning it into the background for a new song called “Malafaka.” (Yes, I’m aware of the close resemblance it bears to my name, thank you very much.) It’s a mispronunciation of the English words “mother” and “shut yo’ mouth.” In fact, Rashida’s videos were viewed so many times they earned her a Jigwe Award… which is equivalent to The Onion handing out plaques to those who made their most outrageous headlines possible.
For that, Ghanaians – specifically the Moral Middle Class – are furious. That’s right: The very people responsible for her rise to fame are incensed that she is being recognized for the very same fame they facilitated. The working poor – who vastly outnumber this class – can’t afford the apparatus needed to stream these videos, so it’s down to the offended ones to look to themselves for making Rashida relevant. But they have yet to.
“Why don’t we reward true artists who spend time, effort and energy to honing their craft with these awards?” they wonder.
Why indeed. Obviously, there is a limited appetite for whatever form of art and enlightenment this group seeks to peddle to their peers, and that’s not Rashida’s fault: That’s society’s.
You might be reading this thinking that this is an African issue. Not so. Even if you don’t know our Rashida personally, you’ve known a Rashida at some point of your life. If you live within 3 miles of Any Hood, you’ve seen her getting on the bus, meandering down the grocery aisle in the top ramen section, or talking too loudly on the phone on a corner. Rashida has served you a cool drink at a local dive. There are millions of Black Beauties all over America, the UK and Africa. The problem with Rashida’s rise to fame isn’t with Rashida: It’s with the millions of other people who found so much glee in a young girl’s visible pain that their fingers couldn’t wait to hit the share button. The problem is that the communities that churn out one Rashida after another go ignored and unaffected by focused investment until an outlier shines the spotlight on the community. In this case, that spotlight was Rashida’s video diary. She put on a brave face, but any girl or woman who has been unceremoniously dumped by a guy they truly cared for or felt betrayed by recognizes that tinge to her voice, colored by disappointment and fury. Whether you’re familiar with the language she speaks or not, you get the spirit of what she’s experienced, and it connects us all.
One of the favorite pastimes of the Moral Middle Class (MMC), populated with its patriarchal princesses and ethical earls, is pretending. This group of people loves to pretend that the world and everyone else in it operates by the same rules that govern their existence. They think all children ought to be raised the same way, all women need to dress a certain way, there’s ONE way to achieve success in this world and all behavior ought to be guided by the mores of this class. These are generally the people who begin sentences with “It is unAfrican to….” before denouncing whatever behavior they find intolerable in the moment. To them, Rashida is a disgrace who ought to be silenced before she pollutes the mind of a vulnerable youth who may find themselves seduced into emulating her behavior.
The Moral Middle Class preaches responsibility, but manages to eschew it where they are concerned. There is no greater influence on a child’s life than that of their parents and family nucleus. If you abdicate responsibility for raising and inspiring your child, then you have cause to worry. Only THEN does a Rashida become “dangerous”. If not, your children will understand that like the Wallaba You?! girl, Rashida is a fad and a passing fancy.
The MMC does not understand the types of environments girls like Rashida come from. I lived but a five-minute walk from the hood, and I barely understand it. The things my neighbors confided in me were unimaginable. The things that children – girls in particular – have to do to survive and cope will make your head spin; be that getting a meal, affording school fees or navigating matters of a broken heart. We who are privileged have our blogs and our forums and international conferences to discuss and make sense of these things. We get to hit the club a pair of expensive heels with the girls to get over a painful breakup. All these moments will be documented on Instagram under #NewLifeNewMe #LiveItUp #150lbLighter #HeThoughtHeCouldBuryMe #YASSSS. This is an acceptable, “classy” way to mourn. You’ll earn no mockery there. But a girl from a humble background speaking undiluted Twi is a novelty and one too good not to make fun of. Even the recently heartbroken socialite can’t pass up the opportunity to watch Rashida and laugh.
About that background: With this level of sexual experience and confidence, you have to wonder with whom and under what circumstances Rashida was introduced to sex. There’s no way that she’s having sex in a vacuum, and this should raise a red flag to the people who work in public health. But again, no one thinks about these communities until a girl like Black Beauty ends up with a viral video that betrays “good Ghanaian morals”. The folk wringing their hands are too concerned with the symptom (Rashida) rather than the causes (failed communal sex/health education).
Given that her parents could only afford a JSS education, I don’t doubt that they’ve laid out what her future might look like for her. She is likely destined to become a petty trader turning tricks for a few extra cedis on weekends. This is not uncommon in the class she comes from. Of the thousands of Rashidas that populate the nation, how many become the Minister of Finance? None. If they’re really lucky, one of the two major parties will bankroll them in the position of a serial radio caller whose sole job is to hurl insults at the ruling government. THIS is the world she comes from. This is the world her mother, father, and everyone she’s grown up with come from. To them, Rashida – and her rant – is probably quite normal. I’m sure she’s seen her fair share of women chasing philandering men down the street, calling them every name in the book. Is anyone willing to consider that Rashida is the way she is because this is the way she was raised?
So when I hear people saying things like “She’ll regret it in 10-20 years time because it will preclude her from future opportunities”, I have to laugh. What opportunities has a country like Ghana provided for a girl like Rashida that should cause her to worry about the effects of social shame? Very few, if any at all. There is no Harvard ending for Rashida, unless Aseshi or some charitable organization comes calling first. And even if they do, so what? What about all the other Rashidas we walk by on a daily basis?
I think Rashida’s parents have raised her to be tough. Given how fierce her tongue is, I don’t think she’s been instructed to hold it. I imagine she’s respectful to her elders, but fierce with her peers. She would have to be in order to navigate her world, which is not genteel and comfortable. You’ll get eaten alive if you’re soft.
There are some people who have said privately that they want to fund her education, since she’s expressed an interest in completing high school. They want to “mentor” her. That’s wonderful. However, mentorship can’t be done over the phone. If you want to change a person’s life, you have to take them OUT of the environment that shaped them. Your once a week chats – when you remember to call – are not going to be effective. This is not some grand experiment, like My Fair Lady. This is a young girl’s life. Anyone with designs of “saving” Rashida will also have to bear in mind that this is a girl whose sexual appetite has been awakened quite early, which presents itself with a whole host of challenges that extend beyond the cessation of making diss videos and rap tracks.
As we do in such cases, we implore people to be guided by empathy with hopes that doing so will persuade the empathizer to support our view of an issue. I’m not asking you to support my position on the matter, which is that everyone needs to let Rashida and her family alone. They didn’t beg anyone to watch her videos.
I have a daughter who just turned 12 and has started to develop little crushes and who also likes to publish YouTube videos, so if we were truly a ratchet family, I could see this happening in my house, unpleasant as it is. If Rashida were my kid, I’d say:
My dear. My beautiful little girl. I’m sorry that this boy hurt you. I hate to say it, but he’s not going to be the last man to break your heart. At 15, you still have two more heartbreaks to go before you learn to guard that thing beating in your chest. You will continue to trust men until you learn that trust is something to be earned, not offered freely.
It is unfortunate that you didn’t feel like you could come and talk to me about this, but I understand that too. Sometimes, young people forget that we older ones were once young too. Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in ourselves that we forget the days of our youth and the wild things that we did.
There are going to be those that claim that this video is going to signal the end of you. Don’t listen. In a year, no one will remember. Wisa whipped out his penis on stage and no one thinks about the event with any real angst anymore. It’s sad, but it’s fortunate for you. You have a chance to build your life on a new foundation. People are offering to help you. Take that help, but take it on your own terms. Don’t let your poverty and lack shame you into doing anything that you’re not comfortable with or that betrays your true self.
Above all else, I want you to live a healthy and happy life. Define success for yourself and enjoy these fleeting moments. I see you have a Jigwe Award? We’ll treat it like it’s a MOBO until you earn one.
Now… come and help me pound this fufu. We still gotta eat.