Sia just proved a very important point about systemic racism this weekend, when she confused Nicki Minaj for Cardi B and then used the Black Lives Matter movement to offer a very problematic non-apology.
It all started on Friday, when a fan asked Sia if she would ever collaborate with Nicki Minaj. “Have u seen this pic?” the fan asked, alongside a photo of Nicki rocking a wig similar to Sia’s signature black and white bob. “Where’s the collab with Nicki Minaj? We need it.”
While the question mentioned Nicki by name and included a picture of the rapper, Sia replied, “I love @iamcardib and although this isn’t a collaboration, I would love to COLLAB with her any day!”
While white people mixing up popular black celebrities isn’t uncommon, Sia’s blunder was particularly erroneous considering that the rappers are famously feuding. The drama might have ended there, had Sia properly apologized for her casually racist misstep, but of course, the singer only made things worse when she attempted to defended herself by lecturing fans on systemic racism.
In a follow-up tweet, Sia wrote “Dudes. I also like @MissNikkiiBaby I don’t give a shit about feuds, George Floyd was fucking murdered Breonna Taylor. Murdered. Come on let’s rise in unity. You think @iamcardib and Nikki are so petty that they would want you focusing on a silly feud instead of REAL NEWS?”
In the first of many problems with this statement, it appears that Sia tagged the wrong person in the tweet, because @MissNikkiiBaby is not Minaj’s handle. Sia tried to amend this by posting another tweet: “Hey @iamcardib @NICKIMINAJ you aren’t thinking about a feud right now are you? We are focused on the problem of systemic racism.”
Sia then deleted her previous tweets and apologized, writing “I totally misunderstood a tweet earlier that has resulted in me making a buffoon out of myself. Sorry @NICKIMINAJ and @iamcardib if you hear about it. Can I just like you both?” This once again completely missed the point, since the problem was never Sia liking one artist over the other.
Even if it was a genuine mistake, in confusing two black artists with each other – especially artists as famous and recognizable as Cardi B and Nicki Minaj – Sia inadvertently contributed to a racist phenomenon people of color experience all too often. That is, non-black people, usually white, continuously mixing up ethnic minorities, especially black people.
These mistakes are not merely coincidental but point to the ignorance, minimization, and dismissal of black people in society. Instead of seeing black persons as individuals with distinguishing features and characteristics, many non-black people just categorize them by their race. Misidentification on the basis of race permeates the black experience beyond media, it happens on the street, in workplaces, and in police stations, often with fatal consequences.
Of course, Sia’s blunder was silly at worst, a genuine apology for her error would have worked. But her decision to appropriate Black Lives Matter messaging to deflect from her mistake was especially egregious in this context. Black Lives Matter isn’t a get-out-of-racism card, and invoking the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor to change the subject felt especially tasteless.