The Cardi Conundrum: How to Reconcile the Fine Line Between Realness and Ratchet

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Photo Credit IG @iamcardib

Oh how we love Cardi B, let us count the ways. She’s sassy, she’s smart, she’s incredibly talented, she’s fierce, she says it like it is and she is unapologetically real. She says all of the often-inappropriate things we wish we could say but usually only say in our minds. She shouts random phrases and exclamations (OKURRR) that would sound absurd if we said them. She makes no excuses for her history, her lyrics or how she rose to fame, and she manages to do all of this in revealing clothing that some might call borderline stripper attire (which is ironic, since she was once a stripper). 

Despite being out there with her charismatic honesty and her inability to tone it down, she still demands the respect and admiration she deserves. It’s truly empowering to watch. Which is exactly what she is going for.

Did we miss the lesson in school where strong, independent and passionate girls learned how to be real without losing the respect of others? What is the difference between real and ratchet, anyway? Are they one in the same, or is there a delicate balance between being raw and going overboard? It seems like it’s time we all learned a little bit about what it means to be real, and how to strike that balance in our own lives.

Ratchet Defined

First of all, let’s unpack what it even means to be “ratchet.” It’s not like this slang term was in the dictionary back when we were kids, and it wasn’t an adjective used to describe role models (or reality TV stars, who are often not quite role model material) growing up. Is it a positive term or an insult? Is it good or bad to be ratchet? What does it even mean? According to ratchet is a slang term that can mean flashy, unrefined, or low-class. It can also refer to someone exhibiting or affirming low-class traits in a way that is considered authentic. When you hear ratchet you often imagine someone who is slightly unhinged, unpredictable, wild and who will say anything without hesitation. 

Once upon a time the term didn’t have much of a positive association, and it was used more as a way to insult a woman who was being “over dramatic” or “promiscuous.” Ratchet implied that women — particularly women of color — lacked common sense or any class. Insert visuals of The Real Housewives of Atlanta in an epic and nasty catfight, or the women on Bad Girls Club getting feisty in an unflattering way. According to Michaela Angela Davis, an image activist and former fashion editor of Vibe in a piece for The Cut, “there’s an emotional violence and meanness attached to being ratchet, particularly pertaining to women of color.” Back in 2012 Davis launched a campaign called “Bury the Ratchet,” with the goal of reducing the negative depictions of African-American women in media, especially those images of black women as “ratchet” or uncouth. 

But in more recent years ratchet is actually transitioning from an insulting, negative term, to a more empowering way for a woman to establish her realness and to own who she is. It’s taking on multiple meanings, and can also imply a sense of being young, wild and free; it’s about letting loose and unapologetically being real and honest. It’s almost a celebration of your edginess, your authenticity and your fierceness. It’s realness, but on a whole other (slightly more uninhibited and often inappropriate) level. 

The Cardi B Effect

Cardi B Effect IG @iamcardib
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Balancing ratchet and realness is something Cardi B does effortlessly. It’s hard not to love her. The strong, sassy, makes-no-apologies-for-who-she-is stripper turned rapper lives her life the only way she knows how: authentically. The Trinidadian-Dominican Bronx native is very aware of where she comes from, what she has been through and who she is, and she’s not afraid to show it. She shot to fame on the VH1 reality show Love & Hip Hop during her years as a stripper in New York City, trying to make a name for herself in the music industry. As her Instagram fame skyrocketed (she now has nearly 48 million followers and growing) so did her career, and in 2017 her debut rap hit “Bodak Yellow” became No. 1 on the Billboard charts, an accomplishment only one other female solo rapper has ever achieved to date. 

And she credits her success largely to her personality and her ability to be who she is. She talks about her past. She is proud of her days as a stripper. She’s not shy about her sex life or her plastic surgery. She has a thick accent. She makes up words and talks fast and much of what she has to say is R-rated (sometimes even X-rated). But she will never apologize for who she is, whether she is being real or ratchet or some of both. 

“It was my personality that got me where I’m at,” Cardi has said. “I will tell you that you can use your personality and be bubbly and be yourself in any field that you’re in. That alone will take you far, for real.” And her natural authenticity is undeniable, especially when you look at it alongside so many fake celebrities who are “keeping it real,” even when they aren’t. 

“I’m so free-spirited,” she says. “Everyone has a me inside them, that loud girl that just wanna go ‘ayyyy!’ No matter if you are a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, it comes out.” 

Recently, an Instagram post from her past resurfaced in which she admitted to drugging and robbing men to survive. In response to that post, which understandably was met with a lot of shock and criticism, Cardi said, “I never claim to be perfect or come from a perfect world wit[h] a perfect past I always speak my truth I always own my shit.” She isn’t denying what she did and she isn’t making excuses; on the contrary, she’s not ashamed of what she had to do to survive, and she owns who she is and who she was, while also trying to be better for herself and her family in the future.

Her candor and oftentimes ratchet behavior are a huge part of who she is and why the world has fallen in love with Cardi B. So if all of that is true, then how can being ratchet be a negative quality? Or maybe it’s just that you need to learn how to walk the line between real and ratchet with a bit of awareness and intention. 

Focusing on Being Real, not Ratchet

It’s a fine line between real and ratchet, so how do you make sure that you make an impression and you capitalize on all the benefits that being real has to offer, without being offensive or overly uncouth? 

Authenticity is key. Focus on being your true self and not trying to portray a certain outspoken or obnoxious persona. It’s one thing to be honest and unapologetic about who you are, what you think and what you are passionate about. It’s quite another to be rude, disrespectful, lacking tact and unapologetic about offensive behavior that hurts others. The distinction, it seems, is in both your intentions as well as how you affect those around you. 

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If you falter it’s forgivable as long as you did not set out to fail or offend anyone. If you say something shocking or brutally honest it’s accepted because you’re just being transparent and real. If you say something cruel and hurtful just for the sake of knocking someone else down, that’s a whole other story. 

Don’t be completely unpolished or unfiltered — be unashamed and open. While she might not be the best role model for everyone in all aspects of life, love and success, in many ways Cardi B serves as a shining example of what it means to be just the right amount of ratchet. She is real, she is raw, she is sincere and original and she is relentless in her pursuit of fame and fortune. She got to where she is by being exactly who she is and has always been — a quality we could all learn from and try to emulate in our own lives. Okurrr?

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