Bump Your ‘Becky’ Beef

Part of me knew Beyonce’s “Becky with the good hair” line would cause a wave of uninformed, poorly thought out responses, but for some reason I still hoped for the best. British fashion, beauty and style magazine, Glamour UK, may have had the worst public blunder (to put it mildly) so far, but their antagonistic white girl antics are nothing new. For Black women, “Becky” and “good hair” are euphemisms that have been around for a long, long time.

I had a conversation with my partner about how bizarre it was to see the dialogue around these tropes develop across social media platforms and among pop culture outlets. It was one of those weird moments when you’re reminded how drastically separate the Black American experience is from the rest of mainstream America. Black people have always known there were two Americas, but it’s another thing to witness the sincere confusion (or just blatant inaccuracies) coming from white people regarding a term that has been in the Black community since before I was even born. And because Twitter is such a readily available source of real-time commentary, the evolution of initial reactions, and reactions to the reactions made the separation that much more well-defined.

Although for Black Americans in general, “Becky” is a well-known social trope, for Black women, it carries some emotional weight as well. “Becky” is the white girl specter who has transformed across history. She’s the white feminist who argues that white women and Black women were both oppressed during slavery. She’s the white feminist who champions Miley Cyrus’ “sexual liberation” as sex positivity but goes on multi-paragraph expositions about how Amber Rose’s Slut Walk set a bad example for women. Or how Nicki Minaj is bad for women. Or Beyoncé. Or Rihanna. But Madonna is somehow a feminist icon. She’s Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” philosophy. She’s the white girl putting #AllLivesMatter on everything, swearing she’s part of the human race or a citizen of the world, while planning a mission trip to Africa. None of us know where in Africa, but just Africa. She’s the white girl who makes up hashtags in response to anything that celebrates Black women—and I do mean specifically, Black women (see: #WhiteGirlsRock). She’s the white girl who “appreciates” Black culture at Coachella but not when it’s living and breathing down the street from her because they’re sketchy and bad for the neighborhood and she just can’t wait until the Whole Foods opens up around the corner. She’s every white girl who took the patois out of their acoustic cover of Rihanna’s “Work” and liked it better that way. She’s the white girl who posts selfies with some caption about how Black men want her because she’s not like us. She’s Kylie Jenner. She’s all of the white girls that the Gabrielle Union Bring It On scene was made for. She’s every Vogue article talking about cornrows and big butts and baby hairs and bantu knots, though still can’t seem to find any Black models to save their lives.

Most of us know her. In fact, most of us have known her since our childhoods. The embodiment of “Becky” and her supposed “good hair” shows up everywhere—from playgrounds where little Black girls first learn how to feel ugly, to feminist retreats in the 70’s and 80’s (see: Mary Daly from Audre Lorde’s “An Open Letter to Mary Daly”)—and ranges from perplexing ignorance to deliberate antagonism. What’s being lost on many white people looking for the definition so they can claim offense to it, or looking for the definition so they can try to pretend they knew all along (because it’s really hard for white people to be in the dark about POC cultural markers) is the reason the phrase exists in the first place.

Black women’s use of the “Becky” trope is a social response to the cumulative shit Black women have had to witness, endure, ignore, rise above, defend, joke about, remember and explain for generations. The annual Black Girls Rock celebration can be understood similarly, and so can the phrase “Black Girl Magic.” Beyoncé using this specific cultural marker in LEMONADE is less a question of who’s excluding whom and why, and more so just us watching Beyoncé be the same hood ass, Houston-raised, multi-layered Black woman with the Blackest, southern-est New Orleans roots she has literally always been, whether we—as the entertainment public who’s been kept at arm’s length from her personal life for the majority of her career—have been privy to it or not.

If your concern about the use of “Becky” is more focused on your hurt feelings than why Black women have a white girl trope that has literally existed in various iterations across multiple eras, then you know what? You may be a Becky—or at least Becky’s friend—too.

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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