What Nicki Minaj reveals about the anti-vax wars

OPINION: The rap star was crucified in the media after a series of tweets people found uniformed about her decision not to get the jab after having COVID

I have to admit when Nicki Minaj became a mother my heart softened towards her. After years of writing about her problematic ways, a part of me had hoped that motherhood would have ushered in a more thoughtful and nurturing side of the rapper.

And honestly, for a while, it appeared my hopes had come true. Over the summer the 38-year-old entertainer emerged on Instagram Live appearing more relaxed and gushing about life with her gorgeous baby boy. It was heartwarming to see her so raw and happy.

Nicki Minaj thegrio.com
Nicki Minaj attends the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 27, 2017 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

But then this week happened.

And suddenly it became very clear that the old Nicki – who uses generally valid points about the plight of Black womanhood as a smokescreen to excuse her own questionable behavior – is back.

Sis is up to her old tricks and still allergic to accountability. Except for this time, the stakes are higher and the health of all her fans who take her word as the gospel may be at risk.

Oh Nicki. I was rooting for you. We were all rooting for you.

For those who have been living under a rock the last few days: in a nutshell, Minaj tweeted on Monday that she wouldn’t be attending the Met Gala because they wanted her to get a vaccine and if she ever did make the choice to get it, that event wouldn’t be the reason why.

On its own this message is benign. I am fully vaccinated but have several friends who are not and have never felt the need to shame them about it.

But then the Queens, New York native took things a step further by tweeting, “My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied.”

This now infamous tweet is just as comedic as it is dangerous.

Billboard Women In Music 2019 Presented By YouTube Music
Nicki Minaj at the Billboard Women In Music 2019 on Dec. 12, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for Billboard)

In under 300 characters, Minaj manages to endear herself to her 22.6 million followers with a story about her homeland, inspire fear (and maybe a few chuckles) with the mention of enlarged testes, and then attempts to wipe her hands clean of any responsibility by telling people to pray on it and not get bullied. The choice of the last word being particularly ironic given she’s been plagued by accusations of being a bully for years.

In my not so humble opinion, that tweet was a masterpiece of manipulation and ten years ago Minaj may have gotten away with it. But unfortunately for her, the audience she now speaks to has gotten a whole lot smarter, and she was very swiftly hit with a tidal wave of fans and haters alike calling bulls—.

But here’s the thing fam, as MSNBC’s Joy Reid so brilliantly pointed out on her primetime show, this isn’t just an incident of an entertainer posting kooky tweets. This is a woman with a major platform spreading misinformation about a global pandemic that is still killing millions of people every day.

What Minaj (perhaps unintentionally) did was embolden those who conflate folklore with science and potentially prevented millions of people “on the fence” from getting a vaccine that could quite literally save their lives.


Yet another Civil War…

When Donald Trump became president, he ushered in a new age of blatant infighting in this country that we probably haven’t seen since the Civil War. Bigots were emboldened to spit out their vitriol in the same ways their grandfathers had 40 or 50 years ago, except that this time they were met by formidable “woke” opponents who were now even better armed to fight back against them.

America has been more divided over the last five years than many of us has ever seen in our lifetimes. When Joe Biden became president, some of us hoped that we’d be able to catch our breath and start the healing process.

Until the vaccine came along. Suddenly, instead of fighting over race, we were all fighting over our medical autonomy vs. the need to play our part in flattening the curve of infection.

Given America prides itself on individualism, it should come as no surprise that the citizens of this land didn’t respond well to being told they had to take other people’s health and safety into consideration.

Add to that the fact that Black Americans, in particular, have a history of being medically mistreated by the government and suddenly another civil war has emerged: pro-vaxxers who think anyone who doesn’t get the vaccine is a selfish idiot vs. anti-vaxxers who swear anyone who does get the vaccine is a mindless sheep.

Any way you slice it, for the last year both sides have been slinging shame around like mud, leaving dirty track marks of resentment all over the place. Trump may no longer be stinking up the Oval Office, but the spirit of division that he conjured up still lingers in our hearts.

Nicki Minaj thegrio.com
Rapper Nicki Minaj attends TIDAL X: 1015 on October 15, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for TIDAL)

As a result, Americans have now become accustomed to seeing their neighbors as enemies based on personal choices. But this time the stakes are much higher.

Then here comes Minaj, casually spreading misinformation so dangerous for someone with her platform that both the CDC and Trinidad’s Minister of Health both had to step in and denounce her claims to prevent her devotees from making potentially fatal decisions.

Like I said before, I am personally not in the business of shaming people. Me being vaccinated doesn’t make me feel like I have to cuss out anyone I love who isn’t. But what I can say is, whether you choose to get vaccinated or not, you can’t dismiss the facts in order to make your point.

And it’s been disturbing the last few months to see many of my friends who rolled their eyes at Trump supporters for being resistant to any facts that went against their stance – now acting the exact same way when it comes to the vaccine.

I’m starting to feel like tribalism is just as dangerous and contagious in this country as the coronavirus. Over the last five years, we’ve gotten used to throwing civility, nuance, and basic human kindness out the window. We’ve all gotten comfortable dismissing facts as fake news. We’ve given ourselves permission to spew out whatever we feel in public without first considering the impact (especially on Twitter).

Basically, some of you spent all that time voting Trump out – just to turn around and lowkey become just like him. And that scares me more than I have the words to currently convey.

Nicki Minaj is no saint, but in this case, what she ultimately did was turn a mirror back at us and show just how irresponsibly the public has been showing up in these “vaccine wars.”

Are we really mad at her or at the reflection looking back at us?

Blue Telusma thegrio.com

Blue Telusma is a Senior Writer and Executive Producer at theGrio, whose viral think pieces have been featured on CNN, HuffPost, Buzzfeed, USA Today, BET, and several other national news outlets. Her work mainly focuses on dissecting pop culture, promoting emotional intelligence, and fostering activism through the arts.

Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram or Twitter

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