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Cardi B., Offset, and Public Displays of Manipulation

(Evening Standard) Getty Images

It’s not romantic. It’s not sweet. It’s manipulation and it’s dangerous.

Over the weekend, Cardi B (whose real name is Belcalis Almanzar) headlined Rolling Loud Festival, the “largest hip-hop concert in the world.” She is the first woman to do so and the three-day concert was one of the many new opportunities for the New York artist to build her budding career and brand. But before she could get into the performance, her estranged husband, Offset (né Kiari Cephus), ambushed her with flowers, a cake and an ill-conceived apology. In just a few moments, Offset, took all air from Cardi’s performance and overshadowed the rapper’s accomplishments.

“I just want to tell you I’m sorry, bruh,” Offset told Cardi. “In person. In front of the world.”

He seemed to have no qualms about stealing a shining moment from the woman he professed to love. Since then, any buzz about Cardi’s performance has centered his attempt at atonement — not her talent or the energy she brought to the stage. Media across the country has focused on Offset’s move, not Cardi or her well-choreographed display. Even local news stations have put her actual performance on the backburner. Rolling Loud officials insist they had nothing to do with the incident and even claimed Cardi’s management team was in on Offset’s stunt. Although Cardi has defended her publicist for helping Offset to the stage that night, it is disturbing to think that a woman’s personal team would allow her to be subjected to such a level of gross ego-stroking, patriarchy and male control under the guise of love and hip-hop.

What Offset did was completely inexcusable. His ambush came after he made public pleas for Cardi’s forgiveness on Instagram and Twitter. Despite what other artists — like T.I., 50 Cent, 21 Savage and The Game — may think is a proper way to convey remorse, what women (especially women who have survived sexual harassment, stalking, and intimate partner violence) know is that this kind of behavior is only the beginning of something more sinister.

To be clear, when men behave this way, it is not genuine — it is a method of control. Many Black women and girls who have experienced abusive relationships know this pattern of emotional manipulation all too well. Appealing to the public is a common tactic for men wishing to secure their power and control in a relationship.

Cardi and Offset’s relationship was fraught with discord and rumors of infidelity, many of which Cardi was forced to explain and publicly address on her own. After months of headlines about Offset’s casual cheating, Cardi ended the relationship. In response, Offset, in full manipulative form, announced the intimate details of his misdeeds to portray himself as noble and remorseful. When that did not work, he hijacked Cardi’s performance and enlisted the help of the public to coerce her to return to a toxic relationship.

Offset’s public attempts to “win Cardi back” appear to have less to do with saving his marriage, and more to do with maintaining a sense of ownership of a woman he was consistently unfaithful to. This display is only made more egregious by his trivialization of infidelity, downplaying its harm to a monogamous relationship. But Offset isn’t the first man to wield his fame, power, and influence to pressure a woman into doing what he wants (powerful men including Future, Chris Brown, Robin Thicke and more have employed this tactic) and he won’t be the last. Many high-profile men have used the public to garner sympathy they do not deserve from women to whom they have not privately made amends. Men have long used these public declarations and displays of manipulation to secure a relationship without acknowledging a need for accountability, emotional transformation, and a change in behavior.

Although Offset admitted to being culpable for the relationship’s demise, his birthday celebration where he was adorned from head to toe in diamonds, crystals and single women, spoke to the lifestyle of a man who wants to have his singlehood and relationship too. Men who manipulate women into staying with them despite their unfaithfulness and other forms of emotional harm, are dangerous. There is a clear sense of entitlement to the time, attention and devotion of women with whom they are in relationship — regardless of their behavior. As instances of harassment, abuse, and gender-based violence have long taught us, male entitlement can lead to violence against women from whom men believe they are owed a second chance.

What looks like a romantic gesture is really an act of dominance; an expression of power.

Don’t ever be confused. These displays, and overtures like them, are the precursor to more threatening behaviors in the future. Survivors of sexual violence know all too well that when men are pushy in public it is a demonstration of their entitlement to the women they wish to control and dominate. Being rebuffed only escalates these situations. Thus, resistance is risk. A public display of manipulative can quickly turn into a private display of violence. There’s no way to gauge whether or not this escalation will include overt assault.

Although we do not assume to know what goes on in Cardi and Offset’s personal lives, their intimate conversations and agreements; this pattern of public behavior — and the motivations behind it — are easily recognizable.

With that, let us be clear: Romance does not look like this. Love doesn’t embarrass. Love doesn’t impose itself on others. It does not guilt through public apology. Love never manipulates.

This is not love. This is dangerous.

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