The controversial British rapper rose to fame in the shadows of the Sri Lankan Civil War. Does this accolade go against what she stands for?
This week, Maya Arulpragasam—the British rapper best known as M.I.A.—received her MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) from Prince William.
The MBE is awarded to Brits who have made major contributions to the arts, welfare organizations, and public service; previous recipients include Adele, Jackie Chan, and Ringo Starr. Though it's a coveted accolade, M.I.A. feels like a slightly ironic choice for the award.
The ribbon given to M.I.A. was sewn by her mother, Kala Pragasam, a refugee from Sri Lanka who began working for the Queen in 1986. At the time, jobs like making those ribbons was one of the few positions women who didn't speak English could hold (M.I.A. described it as the "classiest minimum wage job ever").
Despite the familial ties, M.I.A. accepting an MBE seems to conflict with her outspoken stances on world politics. After the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009, she criticized the BBC for downplaying the number of casualties. Her infamous 2010 video for "Born Free" graphically depicted a genocide of red-haired people, inspired by the real-life extrajudicial killing of Tamil males by the Sri Lankan Army. In 2012, she got into a Twitter argument with TV news personality Anderson Cooper after his blog inaccurately suggested she supported terrorism; the blog was hardly the first instance she was accused of being pro-terrorism, and it certainly wasn't the last. Throughout her career, she's had numerous spats with a number news outlets.
M.I.A. - Born Free www.youtube.com
Although the British Empire is now extinct, the Order of the British Empire has been criticized for the connections their name implies. In 1969, as part of his peace protests, John Lennon famously returned his MBE (30 years later, M.I.A. cited Lennon and suggested Obama should've done the same with his Nobel Peace Prize). In the 20th century, the British Empire was responsible for countless deaths due to famine, concentration camps, massacres, and more. Direct ties between that cruelty and the modern day Most Excellent Order of the British Empire are difficult to parse, but arguably, there's still a relation between them.
Even the record label M.I.A. founded, N.E.E.T., pulls its name from an acronym often used to describe impoverished people in Britain—"Not in Education, Employment, or Training"—a symbolic nod to her destitute, refugee roots. Just a month ago, she tweeted what seemed to be her own analysis of how England functions: "I will think only rich pretty people deserve to live...This is England now. F--k u you peasents. [sic]" Doesn't accepting an MBE clash with her opposition to class disparity? Does participating in these antiquated (and arguably arbitrary) traditions strip M.I.A. of her ruthless edge?
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