Whitewashing Beyoncé, Or Any Black Woman, Will Never Be OK
The Internet lashed out at Glamour UK after it posted an insensitive article defending Beckys everywhere.
As part of a global community of journalists and editors who, at least in theory, strive to educate and inform, I was disgusted Thursday to come across a Glamour UK article that in one little gif-filled, navel-gazing story undermined Beyonce’s “Lemonade” message and in turn the experience of many black women.
Both the story and the tweet were deleted less than 24 hours after being published, I would hazard a guess because many readers called out Glamour UK on social media for publishing a culturally tone deaf and ignorant article.
Since Queen Bey dropped her visual album on HBO Saturday, the Internet has been ablaze with commentary about its unapologetic nod to the struggles and strength of black women, its powerful feminist current, and the pain and redemption of heartbreak.
Many mainstream outlets latched onto the Becky narrative in reference to a line in the song “Sorry” that appears to be about infidelity. “You’d better call Becky with the good hair,” the singer spits closing the song with a bang.
There’s no smoke without fire, right? And many speculated that Bey was talking about her relationship with rapper husband Jay Z, who has been confronted with rumors for years that he cheated on Mrs. Carter. When model and fashion designer Rachel Roy posted an Instagram post (which she later deleted) Saturday night, seemingly outing herself as Becky, she fanned the flames of suspicion and caught a lot of heat from the Beyhive.
While the main focus became trying to figure out on the salacious details of who Becky could be, as though we’re all stuck in some macabre murder mystery, other more thoughtful commentaries took a moment to shine a light on the symbolism of “Becky with the good hair” in the context of how the black female form is so often a target of criticism, appropriation and violence. This includes constantly being told by the media, popular culture, and even family and peers that if we don’t look like a passable version of a white woman (read: light complexion, long straight hair, fine European features) then we’re not attractive, smart or worthy. In other words, we’re constantly being told to measure up to “Becky,” a slang term for white women among African-Americans.
The “good hair” symbol is a crown of thorns hanging over (and thanks to the invention of weaves, wigs and micro-extensions often literally worn on) the heads of many a woman of color, particularly those of African descent. We’re the one group whose hair is constantly discussed, marveled at, judged and even touched because “the other” (not exclusively, but predominantly white society) has given itself permission to express opinions about who we are, can be and should aspire to look like. Which brings me back to the Glamour UK article, with the offending title: “Things you only know if you’re called Becky and you have good hair.”
This story missed the point on so many levels that it’s embarrassing at best and deeply offensive at worst. If it was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek angle or fresh take on “Lemonade” it would have been advisable that the authors firmly hold their tongues.
In just a few words and gifs, a respected publication contributed to the whitewashing of the black female experience.
It’s an insensitive story that on the face of it is defending the world’s Beckys but at its root is yet another instance of attempting to silence black women and invalidating our struggles navigating a world that frequently disrespects our intelligence and beauty. In just a few words and gifs, a respected publication contributed to the whitewashing of the black female experience.
Damon Young, editor-in-chief of verysmartbrothas.com, encapsulates this problem well, writing: “Admittedly, referring to White women as “Becky” isn’t particularly nice, but it’s ultimately a reaction to a certain type of privileged young White woman who exists in a state of racial obliviousness that shifts from intentionally clueless to intentionally condescending.”
The fallout from the Glamour UK Becky mess is a perfect reminder that not everything black women express needs a rebuttal, especially when the voice of the oppressed is, for once, having a rare moment to shine. There was a glaring lack of awareness and care shown in Glamour’s story that black women are often oppressed, that white feminism is a reality and the movement often renders women of color invisible — and that the world should not revolve around protecting the feelings of powerful and empowered structures of cultural and material privilege.
Hopefully, a lesson has been learned that will be internalized by the media at large and society in general. The magazine put out a tweet, and responded directly to some concerned Twitter users, apologizing for offending readers.
If Glamour UK really wants to make amends, it could pin a tweet or Facebook post and publicly own up to the offense. Better yet, the conversation should be changed from within by hiring more women of color to foster an authentic and diverse outlook from the outset.