Screencap of SNL cast members in The Day Beyoncé Turned Black

SNL’s “The Day Beyonce Turned Black” and America’s Continued Erasure of Black Women

We can all tell when the SNL cast really gets it right—the satire is just the right degree of painfully accurate and comically precise. But their latest skit, “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black,” was one of the best I’ve seen in a while.

The skit is set the day before the Super Bowl, and opens with a a series of white people unassumingly going about their day, in the midst of various unremarkable activities. Twenty seconds in, viewers see a frantic hodge-podge of news cycles announcing Beyoncé’s video for “Formation,” with Bey’s apparent blackness making headline news. In response, all hell breaks loose, and the video goes on to feature white America’s response–basically a montage of white people running amok and generally losing their minds in end-of-the-world-crisis mode. Shocker, Queen Bey is, indeed, black. It’s hilarious. I mean, scream-crying hilarious.

But there’s one part I still come back to. I’ve watched the video at least five times, and each time, there’s one scene in particular I kept getting hung up on.

“I don’t understand—how could they be black? They’re women.”
“I think they might be both!”

It’s just two lines. I think I laughed nervously the first time before cringing in reflection. I watched the skit with some peers recently, and hearing them laugh at this part specifically bothered me more than I expected. It seems simple, right? The joke is, ya know, she can’t be black and a woman. I mean, she can’t be a woman and black, right? Ha. Ha. It’s so funny that white Americans, who the skit is clearly parodying, can’t seem to wrap their minds around someone being black and a woman at the same time. Right?

So I’ll be the girl who takes things too seriously, I guess. Sojourner Truth gave her pivotal “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at the Women’s Convention in 1851, and over a century and a half later, mainstream America still obviously struggles to answer that question. Or at least, perhaps we’ve finally progressed to a maybe, whereas back then, the answer was a decisive and resounding no. But a maybe isn’t good enough.

Black women have a long and torrid history of having their woman-ness questioned, dismissed, ignored, abused, exploited or utterly erased. White folks’ unwillingness to see Black women as women—as worthy of protection and safety from violence and harm—was, and in some ways still is, the rationale for much of the gendered and racialized violence Black women have faced. It’s what contributed to the commonly-held and dehumanizing notion that Black women were un-rapeable—that Black women were neither women nor human at all. And although the pedestal that white womanhood is placed on is both oppressive and dehumanizing in its own way, the fact that it sits directly opposite Black womanhood makes room for various kinds of violence that very specifically target Black women.

That violence is often both a hyper-visibility and an invisibility at the same time. It’s not a new idea, but it is a dangerous one. This particular brand of dehumanization is one in which Black women are read as not woman enough to be afforded protection, while being simultaneously read as so woman (read: inherently sexual) that any concern for their well-being or autonomy is thrown out the window. The recent case against Daniel Holtzclaw, an officer in Oklahoma who abused his role as a police officer to sexually assault 13 Black women, is an easy example of this. Holtzclaw’s decision to target poor and working-class Black women and the mainstream media’s coverage, or lack thereof, of the case itself is a demonstration of our country’s inability to register Black and woman existing together in singular body as fully human.

On the flip side, when it comes to Beyoncé, I think most Americans have a pretty easy time perceiving her as a woman. I mean, it’s King Bey. It would be difficult not to. But what does it mean that in order for mainstream America to accept Beyoncé into celebrity and pop culture royalty, that they had to unconsciously strip her of her Blackness? So much so that white mainstream music journalists sort of fumbled to review “Formation” properly when it dropped? So much so that white people planned a protest in response to her performance at the Super Bowl? Literally. Forget everything else going on in the world worth protesting against. White people. Planned. A PROTEST. Because of how they perceived King Bey’s artistic expression of her Texas-Bama roots.

What kind of progress have we really made if an artists’ Blackness is seen as such a dramatic intervention in how her woman-ness is perceived that it’s cause for that kind of uproar? What is it about being Black and woman at the same time that confuses and upsets so many people? I live it every day. Millions of Black women live it every day. Every. Damn. Day. But that’s exactly what it means to be a Black woman in America. It means that we’re constantly at odds with a country that still struggles to reconcile our blackness with our woman-ness, and as a result, refuses to see us as wholly human. Thanks to online movements like #SayHerName and #BlackGirlMagic, and even events like the annual Black Girls Rock awards show, Black women are resisting erasure by carving our spaces for themselves and each other, one step at a time.


Jacqui Germain is a published poet and freelance writer based in St. Louis, Missouri. Her work is focused on historical and contemporary iterations of black, brown and indigenous resistance. She is also a Callaloo Fellow, and author of "When the Ghosts Come Ashore," published through Button Poetry/Exploding Pinecone Press.

Jacqui Germain is a published poet and freelance writer based in St. Louis, Missouri.

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