The coronavirus pandemic changed our lives. This is no longer a shocking statement. But as the reality began taking form, an anthem of sorts was sounded by Cardi B on March 10, 2020. The rapper, songwriter, and famed social media personality entertainingly announced the disease’s arrival on her Instagram profile after her tour was suspended. On video she expressed her frustrations, doubts, and fears about the virus—emotions most Americans could identify with at the time. Her vulgarity-laced spiel in her chain-linked, see-through dress was quickly transformed into the Billboard chart-topping “Coronavirus” song, remixed and produced by DJ iMarkkeyz. Since then the rapper has used her platform, which carries a following of over 62 million people, as a beacon of help, hope, and reality.
Cardi’s energetically layered responses to the coronavirus are certainly different from the standard we’re used to when it comes to celebrities giving to and informing their fans and the public.On the surface, the 27 year old Bronx native Cardi B (born Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar) seems like an over-the-top social media mogul who uses her body to garner mainstream attention. To a certain degree, that is true, but her debut album Invasion of Privacy revealed she’s a much more layered individual than usually displayed. On that album she raps and sings about the hardships of relationships, infidelity, and the various obstacles on the path to success. And yes, she also raps abundantly about money, sex, and power.
Contextually, Cardi B is like most Americans—nuanced, concerned, confident, and skeptical. She’s even like most self-described capitalists, though she wouldn’t ascribe that label to herself. Regardless, she is more of one than she’d probably like to admit—a private citizen willing to use her life experiences, fashion, and body (her resources) to amass profit. Nevertheless, her rags-to-riches story falls in line with the “American Dream” mantra.
Cardi B’s attention-demanding personality is always center-stage, but is not entirely an act. The way she talks and behaves is comparable to many who live in her city (I have this on good authority from my brother-in-law who is a born-and-bred New York native).
The New York personality and hood rich mentality of Cardi B communicates the sort of common-speak many can relate to. Her thick Dominican accent, paired with her comical, relatable, and vulnerable rants about news headlines, connects her with the average citizen who finds such headlines crippling or confusing. The way she communicates has the ability to give average citizens someone they can identify with if they too feel uninformed and inexperienced about how to respond or what to do in a pandemic.
When there was widespread confusion about the availability for COVID-19 testing, who could get tested, and if whether or not testing was even accessible, Cardi B took to her Instagram to call out her celebrity peers. Donning a surgical mask, the rapper scolded celebrities who announced they got tested for the virus without having any symptoms after the President of the United States told people to not get tested if they didn’t have any symptoms. “Y’all have the luxury to pay [thousands] of dollars to get tested and treated. A lot of these people don’t have that [type of] money,” she said. “Some people don’t even have money to have healthcare,” which segued to what she believed to be the government’s responsibility to “charge coronavirus testing for every citizen to the game” (she believes the government should pay for everyone to get tested).
Cardi’s rants aren’t just soliloquies from an ivory tower, though. The famed rapper doesn’t allow her success to make her forget the plight of what it’s like to be an average working-class citizen. She identifies with and speaks on behalf of those who find themselves victims of classism and, more recently, the coronavirus. The hip hop mogul teamed up with the clothing brand Fashion Nova to give away $1,000 every hour for people directly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The giveaway would last until they gave $1 million in total. And as if giving money weren’t enough, she also was inclined to give her time, personally reading through stories and fact-checking individual Instagram pages to make sure the pages and stories are legitimate. Cardi B’s willingness not only to speak about the economic disparities of people but to also financially help them displays her understanding of the economic difficulties endured by many people, because she was, and in a way, is many people.
The New York City Mayor’s Office recognized Cardi B’s relatability and representation of the common individual and drafted her to become a spokesperson for their 2020 Census ad campaign. In the video, adopting a demeanor different from her Instagram videos, Cardi very seriously informs New York citizens of the importance of participating in the census. “If you want to stand up to the status quo and defy people in power who want to silence us,” she says as her long baby blue nails point back and forth to the camera, “start by getting counted in the census.” The mayor’s office even recorded a version of Cardi giving the same PSA en español, notifying people that the citizenship question is not listed on the census and is thus safe to fill out. This, too, is an act of solidarity with the common citizen.
And before you think Cardi B’s charismatic, philanthropic, public–service-announcing activism ends there, she’s using this period of social isolation to inform the public about information regarding the coronavirus by connecting political leaders with her following. In one of the most intriguing displays of American diversity, Cardi hosted an Instagram Live chat with former Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Picture the elderly white Sanders conversing with the youthful Dominican/Trinidadian Cardi on Instagram. It is, visually, an odd-pairing. But their knack for staying true to who they are made it work. Cardi’s caption for the video reads, “Listen I don’t talk like a CNN [correspondent] and I don’t use all this fancy vocabulary but I do give you THE REAL while entertaining you at the same time to keep your attention on what’s important.” Cardi asked Sanders raw and unfiltered questions about the coronavirus and Sanders gladly answered in his usual wide-eyed, crazy-haired manner.
Cardi’s energetically layered responses to the coronavirus are certainly different from the standard we’re used to when it comes to celebrities giving to and informing their fans and the public. Her colorful language, body–revealing fashion, and overly-sexualized innuendos with her husband, Offset, are more than most can bear. But this specific attention to her engagement with and charitableness to the public is worth analyzing and maybe even applauding to some degree. In the recent book Uncommon Ground, Tom Lin writes: “Christians should not fail to affirm the good, true, and beautiful wherever we see it, even if it emerges from sources with whom we would disagree.” And in that vein of thought, we can pronounce Cardi’s benevolence as acts of mercy.
Some will disagree. Nevertheless, whatever qualms one may have with the Washington-Heights-born Cardi B, her outspokenness and generosity is a reminder for us all to reflect on how we can use our time to practice selflessness. We all can admit it’s easy to focus on ourselves right now—the space we crave apart from our family, the birthdays we can’t celebrate, or our financial losses. It’s easy to make this moment about ourselves. It’s tempting to dismiss Cardi along with her celebrity peers since she has the personal resources to sustain her and her family during this period of self-quarantining. But after observing how she distinguishes herself by stewarding her resources and her platform for the advocacy of others, we might do well to reshape our perspectives and look for ways to instead serve our family and our neighbors with the little (or plentiful) resources we have. Then we might be driven to pray and ask God for our literal and spiritual daily bread if we are truly dependent on him. All time, money, and resources are his. Will we be faithful borrowers of what he’s given us or selfish hoarders?
Cardi B is just one of many living examples showing us how we can use our time, authority, and vulnerability to promote the welfare of others, no matter how big or small our platform. This is central to what it is required for human flourishing. It’s what Andy Crouch discusses in his book Strong and Weak: “What we truly admire in human beings is not authority alone or vulnerability alone—we seek both together.” And in this way, there is something admirable about Cardi B and her efforts to serve her neighbors. She imperfectly uses the voice and resources she has for the uplifting of others. Might we be the same if we penetrate the fear of loss of finances, time, or dignity and use our authority to champion humanity instead?