It took only five words to turn the world upside down in frenzy:
“Becky with the good hair”
If you aren’t familiar with Beyonce’s song titled “Sorry” then let me just take a minute to school you on the controversy behind the statement. Beyonce recently released her Lemonade album that has many listeners picking lyrics apart and playing detective. What exactly do I mean? Listeners from all over are trying to “connect the dots” and make meaning of Beyonce’s Lemonade lyrics that allude to accusations of infidelity with husband, Jay Z. The line about some lady name Becky who apparently has good hair has probably earned its place in music and meme history –BUT WHO THE HECK IS BECKY AND WHY DO WE CARE? Some presume Becky to be a Caucasian woman because of the alleged “stereotypical white girl” name and the assumption that “white people have good hair.” Some people have even gone to lengths to assume that Rita Ora (and other celebrities) is the actual “Becky with the good hair,” -- Jay Z’s alleged secret lover. His real secret lover is….
I kid. I kid.
Good Hair Standards
Figuring out if Becky is a real woman that Jay Z had an affair with or just some publicity stunt by Beyonce is not the purpose of this blog post. “Becky with the good hair,” was a contentious statement that caused many African American women to confront a more deeply rooted issue. Let’s be real for a second. African American woman or not, have you ever examined the relationship between an African American woman and her hair? While some African American women take pride in rocking their “natural” hair, others find no harm in rocking a nice weave or “permed” look. The bottom line is that the relationship between African American women and their hair has always been a source of convoluted discussion and has historically been a big deal. As an African American woman myself, my own hair has been a source of sensitivity. In its natural state, it has been called nappy, unruly, and a slew of other shaming and demeaning adjectives on countless occasions by all races -- including my OWN at times (“you NEED a perm on that head child”). This is hair that I was naturally born with. It is of a texture that had no choice over. So, when you are trying to understand why African American women are so sensitive to attacks on their hair, you have to take into consideration that insults on hair are more than attacks on physical features. Those demeaning remarks add salt to a much deeper wound formed from a history of shaming. The issue is deeper than hair. African American women are often subject to attacks on common characteristics that make us, us such as the “full lips”, “larger hips”, and “wider nose.” They are attacks on some of our deepest insecurities that have been perpetuated by the idea of a universal standard of beauty that we don’t often fit (mainstream beauty). If you are not an African American woman reading this blog post and you’re having a hard time considering why hair is such a sensitive topic just consider the following questions:
Try perusing the aisle full of toys that cater to our children. If you have already perused it before, did you notice anything peculiar? There’s nothing wrong with the blonde hair, blue eyed Barbie, but did you witness how disproportionate those blue-eyed beauties were to the brown Barbies with braids/natural/ethnic resembling hair?
To the African American women reading, this next question is for you. I have questioned this myself. As African American women, why are we willing to spend hundreds of dollars on bundles of hair that isn’t ours? For me, I have always been in favor a weave because it is simply easier to manage. However, is the notion that European straight hair or Brazilian wavy hair as the standard idea of beauty so deeply embedded in our minds (myself included) that we are unconscious of how much we naturally try to assimilate? Do we try to fit in to a certain idea of beauty because shaming has caused us to neglect our own beauty?
Appropriation of African American Women
We all have our own Becky -- the person or idea that we insecurely compare our self too... but I can only speak personally on behalf of a black woman. The Becky controversy opens up conversation with regard to the topic of appropriation of African American women. Why is it that we as black women sometimes feel lesser? Is it just an insecurity issue? Personally, I believe appropriation plays a large role. What is appropriation? -- the action of taking something for one's own use, typically without the owner's permission.
Consider the dance craze known as twerking. It was the source of outrage and disgust in social media for a long time. If an African American female posted a video of herself “gyrating” in front of a camera, mainstream culture labeled it as degrading and distasteful. When Miley Cyrus introduced twerking (in which she picked up from her African American friends) to the forefront of mainstream media, she was viewed as the originator of a movement that started long before her. Once Miley twerked, it became a fun, lightly joked about new dance craze . Twerk team (a group of African American women that engaged in the dance long before Miley) never received the degree of acceptance that Miley received. Whether twerking is distasteful or not isn’t the question. The issue arises when something is taken from a culture without credit. The issue is when something is not celebrated until another culture brings it to the limelight.
Consider braids that have always been a staple hair style for the African American community but are now going mainstream as other races wear them. It is not that African American women want to be selfish about everything they started. The feeling of appropriation goes back to being the only race that was involuntarily brought to the US as slaves and raped of our history, culture, and family ties. So many parts of the African American culture have been historically appropriated without any credit that when things are continually being taken away decades later we feel deprived, a loss of identity, and wronged sometimes.
To share cultural things with other races is not the problem. I personally think it is great to understand and celebrate different cultures. We live in a melting pot. Of course cultural ideas will naturally spread from one culture to another. However, often times the African American culture is not celebrated , is viewed as violent (rap), is viewed as distasteful (dance), is viewed as ghetto (style of dress, hair, etc), and more until aspects are adopted by another culture. Can you imagine what this does to a person’s psyche? Can you imagine living in a society that makes you feel like being you is wrong…but is right when someone else acts the same way? The very essence of being black begins to feel like the issues for the African American whose cultural aspects are so freely accepted but not them as an individual. It is not hard for the African American woman to feel lesser and compare herself to someone who seems better -- the Becky that she will never be.
Being Black Is Okay… Sometimes?
What else is so great about Becky?
Becky can be Becky whenever she wants to be. It is okay to be Becky all of the time because clearly Becky is perfect. That’s great for Becky, whoever she is. It is not always true for the African American woman who is constantly evaluating her “blackness” and “acceptance.” She questions many things: Are my braids too ethnic for my corporate America job? Do my jeans hug my hips a little too much for the comfort of others? Do my curves make this outfit too provocative? Should I go by a simplified nickname on my job application so that I am not stereotyped? Should I be overly kind even to those that disrespect my worth so that I am not stereotyped as the “angry, black woman?”
Consider Beyonce who is has a huge fan base. Almost everyone admires her. Long has she been around without ever showing signs of prejudice. However, her super bowl performance was recently the subject of great controversy. Beyonce, someone who is heavily praised, was accused of being anti-police with her performance that simply used her artistry to celebrate who she is as an African American. In order to achieve “all lives matters” we have to achieve “black lives matters” first -- you can’t achieve social equality until there’s a balance. It was as if being Beyonce was an admirable until she decided to use her platform to raise social consciousness on issues African Americans face. I doubt that Beyonce is “pro-black” and anti everything else. However, her message about being proud to be black (i.e. baby hair and afros), was not well received by all. Why not? Can an African American female not be proud of her culture without being threatening?.. or is being proud to be black only okay sometimes in certain places?
Consider the picture of the black West Point cadets who decided to raise their fists for a graduation photo. Those 16 ladies clearly have a passion to serve their country. For goodness sakes, they were attending a U.S. military academy to serve as future military leaders. How could their intentions be questioned when each one had the goal to selflessly serve for a country mixed of different races? However, it was yet another situation that seemed to follow the notion that being black is okay sometimes. It suggested that the African American should evaluate his or her every action thoroughly first for worries of misinterpretation -- even something as simple a pose. A picture that was supposed to represent a proud moment of triumph was misinterpreted and viewed as threatening. I fully believe that the girls were only celebrating the conquering of a milestone in their life.
Everyone Has a Becky
The blog post question was, “Should Becky feel bad just because she was born with naturally “good” hair? Would African American women feel offended if a Caucasian women sung a lyric that said, “Better call Kisha with the afro” – probably so. I’m not saying either is right or wrong. However, I will say there is a degree of heightened sensitivity when it comes to African American women as explained in my points. Too often, we are shamed for our natural born characteristics, qualities, and culture. I have friends of all color that I love deeply. I have friends of all colors that love me back in return just as much. However, to say there is no sense of internalized racism permutated by those that don’t view races as equal would be absurd. So, Becky is more than just an alleged woman that Jay Z had an affair with. It is the archetypal idea of something or someone that is better than me as an African American woman. It is the reminder that I will always be an African American woman and in order to survive in a society that puts me down sometimes, I have to have strength. I have to have confidence to be unapologetic of my roots..my culture..my appearance..my hair..and more. Are African American women against sharing our culture? I think I can speak for most when I say absolutely not. However, when the original is shamed for things that others adopt and gain praise for, it is mind boggling. When the original is duplicated without any credit, it is depriving and hurtful at times.
To people of all races, I think we should love each other and learn to coexist. More importantly, I think it is important that we love ourselves first. We, as women, have to especially look at ourselves as more than an assembly of our physical features. We have to stop objectifying ourselves to our simplest physical form and keep in mind that we have so much more to offer such as a mind. Though I elaborated on Becky for the African American women, I’m sure we all have our own “Beckys.” -- white, black, orange, pink, or red.
Whoever you are.. Whatever race you are.. don’t fall prey to your Becky. The allusion that “she” (or something’s) is better than you is all in your mind. It is your insecurity that “she” possesses a quality or feature that makes her better than you – something you will never obtain. Don’t let a betrayal from a partner or a universal standard of beauty make you question every beautiful thing about you that makes you unique. Stop comparing yourself. You have only one life to live.
Bye Felicia… and Becky.
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