Forget Beyoncé’s Becky And Let Black Women Have Our Moment
It’s been almost a week since Beyoncé dropped Lemonade, the complex, nuanced visual album that helped launch her Formation tour and set the entire Internet abuzz. Since Saturday, my Twitter and Facebook feeds have been chock full of memes of people getting their edges snatched and asking one question in particular:
Who is Becky?
The masses are still wondering, but I get the feeling that the artist and her camp aren’t going to spill the tea in the near future. While scrolling down my timeline, though, I can’t help but notice an insidious undercurrent running through my friends’ posts: the feverish witch hunt for Becky, the woman who might’ve engaged in extramarital affairs with Jay-Z. I know fans don’t have one-track minds — they can engage in the artistic experience while also wondering who Becky is — and I think it’s fine to wonder. But the endless stream of mindless clickbait pouring in from the periphery of the Internet, all jostling for our attention, feels . . . opportunistic.
USA Today had an article entitled “What Does Becky Mean?” Vox asks “Beyoncé’s Lemonade: Is Rachel Roy ‘Becky with the good hair?’”
People, US Magazine, ABC, and NBC news verticals have dedicated airtime or print space to the question. And then, of course, there was Glamour UK’s “article,” “Things you only know if you’re called Becky and you have good hair,” penned by two white women, that was so racist and tone-deaf, it was ultimately deleted. Harper’s Bazaar’s “10 Beckys With Good Hair,” however, remains online, no doubt still driving traffic (if predominately hate-clicks).
On xoJane, Karrine Steffans-Short just published an article entitled “I am Becky With the Good Hair,” describing a hook-up with Jay-Z that ends with her stating: “We are all Becky with the good hair.” Ooh. No girl. No we are not. But Steffans-Short has a book to sell. Which illustrates my point.
The quest to unearth the person who caused the pain Beyonce expresses allows her audience to fall prey to speculation, and shifts the focus from the person who’s been hurt and currently healing to the person that caused the pain — who in this case might not even be real. It also allows us to continue perpetuating misguided misogyny by engaging in the tired trope of blaming the “other woman” instead of sitting with the emotions that betrayal evokes. After all, it’s easier to go looking for someone to blame, someone to drag and shame, instead of staying with the feelings that have been unmoored within us.
And on top of it all, our focus is entirely diverted from the talented black artist to those attempting to capitalize on her creative success.
I’m concerned that our society is so fixated on one single line from one song in this artistic collection, that we’re missing all the positive aspects of a groundbreaking visual album. Lemonade features a ton of incredible women in its celebration of womanhood — specifically black womanhood and its value within the American experience.
The witch hunt allows other people to draw attention to themselves — we’ve seen it, for example, with Rachel Roy (and inadvertently Rachel Ray), Rita Ora, and Iggy Azalea, who have center themselves as victims of torture and bullying at the hands of the Beyhive and its lemon-shaped emojis, coupled with accusations of slut-shaming and threats of harassment.
Headlines zero in on how Iggy Azalea finds the term “Becky” problematic — even though it’s not a racial slur — and here we are again, at the mercy of a white victim pandering to the media to get something that wasn’t theirs to begin with (and is it any surprise that Iggy just so happens to have a single out right now?). The media is falling all over itself to cover every transparent probably-gimmick in the book — Rita Ora is getting some play merely because of a bra with lemons on it and a necklace with a “J” initial.
Perhaps this is the nature of art in the age of social media: Everybody wants to see their name trending in the Facebook sidebar, everyone has a reaction, everybody wants a slice of the viral pie. This is, of course, the artistic statement that launched a thousand think pieces, and an overwhelming number of them are good. Still, white people are crying that they’re getting hurt by a black woman being empowered, and I’m tired. Late Night with Seth Meyer’s sketch hinted at the same idea — women are inconveniencing men and destroying things for the sake of destroying things, “inspired” by Beyoncé. (To add insult to injury, the sketch isn’t very funny.)
Deeper than just a desire for attention, there seems to be another trend at play. It seems we’re uncomfortable sitting with an experience that may not be our own. It seems that someone else’s artistic interpretation of truth might just be too much. It seems there is little tolerance for women to express pain, discomfort, and the myriad of emotions that we’re taught to squelch. But we knew that already.
Still, this is a historic moment.
How many times will women of color get to speak their truths? How often will eloquent writers of the diaspora get to have these conversations and engage with the mainstream public?
As a writer and an academic, it took me time and effort to extrapolate and process the visual album — to truly analyze what the artist was trying to communicate and the vehicle she used to execute that vision. Becky speaks to a social hierarchy that exists in America, and the fact that black women constantly find themselves at the bottom of the race/class/gender pyramids, often overlooked and uncelebrated while bent under the yoke of historical racism.
All of which leads me to say: Forget Becky.
I refuse to let her be a specter over one of the most interesting artistic statements of my lifetime. This is one of the few times when the Black Renaissance has first dibs — focus on that. Focus on the poetry, the expression of pain, and even the reconciliation. Focus on what Beyoncé has put into the world, and the lush writing that has sprouted after it — articulations and analyses of “fruit too ripe to eat,” and retellings of secrets kept, sins confessed, betrayals and the quest for salvation. Women of color have important things to say — don’t minimize that by focusing on Becky because it allows white women to say they’ve been hurt by a woman of color expressing her hurt and the conversation about victimization has shifted . . . again.
It gets old. I’m not going to let Becky have this one, not when there are women out there having dynamic discussions about the power of art.
Focus on Warsan Shire. Focus on the dynamic duo that makes up Ibeyi, or the other remarkable cameos that happen in the videos. Center yourself on the themes of protest, torture, solidarity, sisterhood, retribution, and other intangible moments and emotions that comprise the experience of black womanhood.
I choose to celebrate the seen and unseen collaboration on this — performers, choreographers, stylists, and artists that were part of this larger experience that gave the world a snippet of the way we experience our inner selves, and how that understanding orients itself as part of the larger society of black women. It is a world that can be seen as captivating, or perhaps terrifying and strange.
Dear white people: Newsflash — perhaps, just perhaps, this isn’t about you. Art can be made to satisfy a population other than the well-defined Caucasian heteronormative mainstream audience.
Stop forcing a viewpoint of speculation and victimization into a space where it is unwelcome. Relegate your unhappiness to the dustbin of misunderstandings, the way our concerns about micro-aggressions and racism have been silenced for years — never attributed as authentic or original, but rather as influencer, an insignificant outlier, the way people of color have been cited for generations. If you need concrete evidence, google “boxer braids.” Now google “cornrows.”
This is our moment. Finally. Let us have it — without the footnotes, the victimization, and the backlash.
How does it feel y’all?
Maybe one day you’ll make a visual album about it.
Lead image: Youtube