If you thought pop music was a space where children can be allowed to roam without guidance, then I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. And yet, there were loud cries about the “inappropriate” nature of Beyoncé’s Grammy night performance of “Drunk in Love,” during which she did that sexy, half-dressed Beyoncé thing I thought we were all used to at this point and danced provocatively with a chair and her husband. The one heard ’cross the world came from the UK’s Metro, who ran a story with the headline “ ‘Whore’ Beyoncé Angers Parents with Raunchy Act.”
Someone said this. And then someone reported on it and deemed it was appropriate for the hed. And someone else, an editor, agreed.
Now, I’m not here to debate anyone who feels that Beyoncé’s performance was too sexually provocative. That’s a fair accusation, and there’s certainly a conversation to have about popular music getting so sexually risqué that the Grammy Awards is no longer an appropriate viewing event for kids. Personally, I don’t like the idea of little girls stanning for Beyoncé, because she’s making increasingly grown-up music for grown-up people, which is not a crime at ALL.
But if we want to talk about the hyper-sexuality of the current iteration of Miss Third Ward, those charges must also must be leveled not just against usual suspects Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, but against OG agitator Madonna, (who made out with) Christina Aguilera, (and) Britney Spears (on the same stage at the same time), and Pink, who took to the stage in a similar outfit, spread her legs wide open during her acrobatic routine and performed some amazing physical feats that put her way closer to the male dancer on stage than Beyoncé was with her husband. Her husband.
This is new. I’ve never heard of “whore” and “with her husband” conflated, but Black people are really the Steve Jobs of getting White people to take lows to new highs. Don’t believe me, ask Thug Richard Thug Sherman. Now, I’m not suggesting that the presence of her husband means that the performance is above reproach. But if a whore is someone who is promiscuous or sells sex for money, I’d wager that the one person with whom one wouldn’t be a whore is her own partner.
I really don’t want to be the writer who turns around a “This racism is KILLING me!” rant each week. But I also just want to make sure everyone is keeping his/her third eye way open to the chicanery going on in this “tanned,” “post-racial” ’Murrica.
Beyoncé been Beyoncéing for a long time; why are White women so bothered by her now? Is she doing something wrong? Or is it because she’s blonde, light and prettier than they’ll ever be? Is it the ass? The man? The fact that she nabbed that whole package that feminism tells us we can reach for: child, partner, career, (seeming) sense of autonomy? Is it the fact that she’s calling herself a feminist now, even without their permission? Miley Cyrus can flail around the VMAs looking like absolute hell on Earth, whilst grinding on someone else’s husband, but Yoncé can’t put that ass on her own man? Where are the people who defended Twerky Jerky? Why so silent?
And then we have Jen Polachek’s complete nightmare of an essay for XOJane, in which she claims she CRIED about seeing a heavyset (which could really be a woman who weighed 150 pounds, seriously) Black woman in her yoga class struggling, and she thinks probably maybe that the woman was struggling with the thin Whiteness in the room or something. You have to read it to believe it. Then, you have to print it out and use it as toilet paper.
“I got home from that class and promptly broke down crying. Yoga, a beloved safe space that has helped me through many dark moments in over six years of practice, suddenly felt deeply suspect. Knowing fully well that one hour of perhaps self-importantly believing myself to be the deserving target of a racially charged anger is nothing, is largely my own psychological projection, is a drop in the bucket, is the tip of the iceberg in American race relations, I was shaken by it all the same.”
Girl, WHAT? Can I let you in on a secret, Jen? As a Black woman who has been a size 8 and a size 20 and every single size in between, the sight of skinny White women has only rarely, barely triggered jealous feelings in me. And when it did, the ire had less to do with finding these women’s bodies enviable than it did being annoyed with the fact that they had been anointed ideal in the first place.
And even if I do look at a double-zero and covet the (presumed) discipline required to maintain such a small frame, I’m just too in love with my Black girl magic to wish I were anything but. I wonder, if this woman was really looking at Polachek at all, if she might have been looking at her in disgust. Perhaps she thought she was too thin. Or ugly. Maybe she was body snarking, not body coveting. Maybe she was tired. Maybe she was frustrated because yoga is hard for any beginner, regardless of size. Maybe someone smelled bad. Maybe she couldn’t focus on the class because was out late making love or painting her house or MINDING HER BLACK-ASS BUSINESS.
While there are certainly those Black women and, more likely, girls who feel bad about themselves for failing to live up to European standards of beauty, there also the many, MANY White women who are made uncomfortable about the attractiveness of Black women—especially those who look very different from them. I see the way husbands and boyfriends get clutched when I walk by, even though I don’t have a taut yoga tummy. I also see the blatantly obvious ways in which these husbands and boyfriends look at Black women while in the presence of their White partners. It’s disgusting (and absolutely unfair to both groups of women.)
I also have seen White women publicly struggle to understand the attractiveness of (and their own attraction to) women of color who don’t fit the Eurocentric mold that even excludes most of them. And I wonder if that’s what we’re seeing in some of the Beyoncé shade, or even in that God-forsaken yoga bit. Is Jen Polacheck sad that this woman might be sad because she is so thin and Euro-approved? Or is she struggling to understand why someone else who looks nothing like her can look in the mirror and say, “Got damn, got damn”? Was the woman prettier than her? Did she make Polacheck feel like she’s working so hard to be the thin yoga chick and falling short? How dare this big broad (again—was she even really “fairly heavy”? Because I don’t know if I trust this woman to be the judge of that) exist?
The fact that Polacheck somehow became a victim of this woman’s mere existence made me wonder if there’s something deeper. I could write a whole script for her, but I won’t do to her to what she did to the sister who probably wants to stomp a mudhole in her right about now—not because Black women are just so angry and violent, but because she really sounded like an asshole in that piece.
I am kindly requesting that White women just remove their eyes and expectations from Black thighs from now until further notice. Because there seems to be a massive inability to speak to and about us like human beings with the same rights and feelings. We are not curious spaces or natural whores. We are women, and if you can’t process that, just please leave us alone, okay?
Or, at the very least, keep your thoughts to yourself. Write a note in your journal. Text yourself. Call your friends. Schedule an appointment with your analyst. Scribble it on a piece of parchment paper and throw it in the ocean. But whatever you do, keep it away from us.
Jamilah Lemieux is the Senior Editor for EBONY.com. She tweets @jamilahlemieux.