We All Know Someone Like Nicki Minaj

To Nicki Minaj, even racists like Tucker Carlson can seem like allies so long as they are defending the same people — namely, her.

Kimberly Joyner
ZORA
5 min readSep 20, 2021

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Credit: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx via Variety.com

During the summer a number of high-profile Black musicians and professional athletes either voiced skepticism or skirted questions about receiving the covid-19 vaccine. Rapper Busta Rhymes was at the center of an expletive-filled anti-mask and anti-vaccine speech that went viral on Twitter. L.A. Lakers star Lebron James, normally outspoken on social justice issues, refused to state during an interview whether he had been vaccinated, calling the matter a “family” decision. Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Deandre Hopkins threatened to quit the NFL over its covid-19 protocols that punish teams that have to cancel games due to a covid-19 outbreak on the team.

But rapper Nicki Minaj’s recent Twitter post about the covid-19 vaccine — she claimed that a friend of her cousin became impotent after receiving the shot — was so ridiculous that her post elicited as many memes as it did comments of condemnation. “You have an enormous platform and have just spread unimaginable vaccine hesitancy to your fans,” wrote Meghan McCain, former cohost of The View, in response to Minaj’s Twitter post. “Not only is it deeply irresponsible, it is very sad.” According to Yahoo News, health officials from both the United States and Trinidad, where Minaj’s cousin lives, also called out Minaj, with President Biden’s chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warning Minaj of the dangers of spreading medical misinformation online.

In fact, the White House reached out to Minaj offering her a chance to speak with one of the doctors on staff to answer her questions about the vaccine. While Minaj claims she was invited to the White House and indicated she would go (the White House has so far only confirmed offering Minaj a phone call with a doctor), ultimately she doubled down on her vaccine skepticism, culminating in a retweet of a video clip of Tucker Carlson defending her against critics.

Minaj’s skepticism-turned-defiance was, at this point, predictable. I don’t think there was ever a window of opportunity to convince her that her posts were harmful. That’s because in Minaj’s world, belief in conspiracy theories about vaccines is not only nurtured by friends and family members but enforced as a kind of in-group identity marker. In other words, for the wealthy and well-connected whose public personas and personal relationships depend on the validation of people who believe in covid-19 conspiracy theories, there is more to gain from defying medical elites like Dr. Fauci than there is in admitting the people they care about are wrong.

But why do so many Black famous people believe in this conspiracy theory? The history of medical racism in this country (from Tuskegee to the HIV/AIDs crisis to Black women dying at disproportionate rates during childbirth to the lack of affordable healthcare options in Black communities) certainly can be a factor, but to posit it is the primary reason so many Black celebrities are vaccine skeptics suggests most other Black people share skepticism. And if we do, it can’t be because Black people are susceptible to the same kinds of misinformation and partisan political cues as everybody else. No, our reasons must be good and pure.

That logic doesn’t seem right to me.

Nicki Minaj’s attempt to rationalize her vaccine skepticism with a story she heard from her cousin points to another, and perhaps more powerful, source of Black celebrity conspiracy thinking around vaccines — the desire to be loyal to those who keep them grounded in the culture.

After all, Black people who become elites through music or professional sports tend to retain their ties to the communities they are most comfortable and familiar with even after they gain access to other elites. This is in part the business of clout— Black people are the primary consumers of hip-hop music, just as Black consumers drive the popularity of many athletic brands associated with professional sports — thus Black superstars like Minaj keep people around who can speak to their own authenticity as Black people who made it out of street life or generational poverty (Minaj has been open about her early struggles as a young Trinidadian immigrant).

But clout in this respect can also serve as racial in-group enforcement. That is to say, what began for Minaj as defending her family quickly snowballed into defending all Black people who don’t trust the government and the medical establishment no matter the reason. A recent review of Spike Lee’s new HBO miniseries on the impact of 9/11 and the covid-19 pandemic on New York City describes people like Minaj who indulge the conspiracy theories of their family members as operating not from a place of “paranoia and hatred” but from a place of love and loyalty to one’s community. This is likely the case for professional athletes as well whose closest relationships involve their teammates. Lebron James has probably received the covid-19 vaccine based on a statement released by the league during the summer; but given the dynamics of his in-group (other Black male athletes, some of whom have expressed doubts about the covid-19 vaccine), using his giant platform to reveal his status and possibly advocate for others to receive the shot would be like crossing a picket line.

Clout, both as a brand maintenance mechanism and as a racial in-group enforcer, can explain why Minaj defended her family despite evidence they were wrong. But clout doesn’t explain why she retweeted that video clip of Tucker Carlson defending her despite becoming in recent years the most prominent white supremacist figure on the right.

Perhaps Minaj isn’t very political and doesn’t know much about Carlson’s virulent racism. But even when confronted with it, she admitted she was willing to put it aside for open dialogue’s sake. But being able to put aside Carlson’s racism is a privilege that only Black people of a certain status can truly afford. Just as fellow rapper Kanye West used “freethinker” branding to mask the role status played in his access to, and political support for, President Donald Trump, Minaj cries for political independence from Democrats to deflect from the ways her money and fame insulate her from the worst of Carlson’s anti-Blackness.

As Black people we all know someone like Nicki Minaj — not someone famous, but someone whose tolerance for vaccine conspiracy theories isn’t motivated by fear and hatred of elites, but by being socially welded to those who do. They are the people we know and love up close unlike the researchers at Pfizer or Dr. Fauci in the White House. In 2016, the presidential campaign for Donald Trump understood the power of tribal identity and — more importantly — that given the right political climate, certain parts of people’s identities could be weaponized against other parts of their identities so that Republicans seemed more Black friendly than they really were.

Yes, even racists like Tucker Carlson can seem like allies to Nicki Minaj so long as they are defending the same people — namely, her.

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Kimberly Joyner
ZORA
Writer for

I write about American politics, current events, and gender/feminism in TV and film. Based in Atlanta, GA. Email: kimberlyjoyner87@gmail.com