Disrespectability Politics: On Jay-Z’s Bitch, Beyonce’s ‘Fly’ Ass, and Black Girl Blue

The birth of baby girl Blue Ivy Carter to parents Jay-Z and Beyonce’ earlier this month has cemented their status as the First Family of Hip Hop. Seriously, they have become the Obamas of the Hip Hop Generation, a comparison that is no less compelling given President Obama’s public admission of Jay-Z fandom, Jay-Z’s claims that the multi-racial fan base of Hip Hop made an Obama presidency possible, Beyonce’s performance at the inaugural ball, and her partnership with Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity campaign.

But within the context of Hip Hop culture itself, this couple represents the possibilities of Hip Hop all grown-up, in love, married, and pushing the “proverbial baby carriage.” In fact, based on age alone, they are the blending of the first generation of Hip Hop, heads Jay’s age who came of age in the 80s,  and Hip Hop’s 2nd Generation (the middle children I like to call us), folks’ Bey’s age who came of age in the 90s. Destiny Child’s first album dropped when I was in high school (Holla, if you hear me), and I got put on to Jay when I headed to Howard for college (It’s [still] a hard knock life.)  Btw, 1998 was a great year in music. Lauryn, Outkast, Jay, DMX. #ButIdigress.

So the conversations—both doting and derisive– that have surrounded the newly nuclear Carter family in the last few weeks offer a pretty interesting gauge for how Hip Hop’s multiple generations of folks are thinking about family, beauty politics, gender issues and the potential of Hip Hop. The ways in which these two perform couplehood and parenthood have become a marker (alongside the Obamas) for  both the possibilities and limitations of the traditional family narrative among a generation most known for popularizing the terms “baby-mama” and “baby-daddy.”

Over at VerySmartBrothas, Champ rightfully called foul against those women who were ready to let Jay off the collective black girl hook and re-brand him as role model,  after doing two decades worth of dirt.  I think that rush to see Jay as an upstanding father and family man is summed up thricely.

A.)Black women are too damn forgiving. (which is ironic considering how bitter everyone says we are)

B.) Nothing can get the panties wet like a reformed bad boy: a bonafide alpha male, who in a questionably-feminist  (but nonetheless desirable) Black masculinity narrative has the potential to sex you senseless, beat the shit out of…  protect you, cuddle you, and listen to you, depending on your needs at the time.  

C.) Hip Hop Generation Black folks still have a deep love affair with respectability politics, or this notion that obtaining/creating a traditional nuclear family makes us grown up, middle class, and “fit” to participate in the larger body politic, American dream and all. Don’t believe me?:  Remember how much folks were disturbed when Chrissy proposed to Jim Jones on Love & Hip Hop? No worries though. He turned the world right side up again and proposed to her.

Just a couple of days after Blue was born,  Jay dropped a touching tribute to her called “Glory feat B.I.C.” While the current ur-text of Hip Hop masculinity showed his soft fatherly side serenading “the most beautifullest thing in the world/daddy’s little girl,” Blue made her debut via gurgles and cries not only to the world but also onto the Billboard Charts, becoming the youngest person ever to do so. While Jay was content to let Blue speak herself into existence amidst his loving words, his audience looked askance, wondering whether other Black girls will have such luxuries and pleasures of voice in the discursive world that Jay-Z has helped to create.  

A world in which bitch trumps beautiful, ho trumps human, and golddigger trumps golden. #everydamntime

A world, incidentally, in which Beyonce’s ass provides the inspiration for a group of Australian scientists looking to name a new species of insect with a golden posterior.

The Beyonce Fly

 I ain’t blaming Jay for that.  But suffice it to say, Beyonce’s “flyness” is forever memorialized in insect form. The legacy of Saartjie Bartmann lives.

In this world, the global desirability of a Black girl’s ass excuses her allegedly less desirable dark complexion, full lips, and kinky hair. Somehow, I think this will be a sorry consolation prize for Black Girl Blue, whose beauty (or potential lackthereof) is already fodder for internet renditions of internalized Black self-hatred.

This is a world where disrespectability politics reign, a world where black women’s bodies and lives become the load-bearing wall, in the house that race built, a world where the tacit disrespect of Black womanhood is as American as apple pie, as global as Nike. (Just do it. Everybody else is. )  In this world, Black women have moved from “fly-girls to bitches and hoes” and back again to just, well, flies.  Insects. Pests.

But getting back to bitches…

Right on cue (and a little too conveniently) reports surfaced that Jay-Z was relinquishing his use of the b-word, and it seemed that Blue had already begun to work her magic.  Like others, I was skeptical, but intrigued. I mean, if you weren’t already convinced, read Jay’s (and dream hampton’s) book Decoded, and there’s no denying that he’s a highly intelligent brotha, one who is no stranger to defending his word choice. Even Oprah, who took him to task for using the n-word, respects him enough, finds him worthy enough of an OWN Masterclass.

Turns out that the whole thing was a hoax, a story hatched with a half-way believable poem, by an internet writer hoping to create buzz with a side of consciousness. Annoying as such tomfoolery is, I can’t knock a Black girl for wishing that a man’s relationship to the women in his life would lessen rather than heighten his investments in patriarchy and misogynoir (black girl hatred).

As much as I didn’t believe the story, I thought the strategy ingenious. I mean, what self-respecting new father, what respectable man, would actually issue a statement reasserting his right and intention to the use the b-word copiously?  

But fellow Sagittarian Jay-Z is nothing if not principled, so that’s exactly what he did, letting it be known through his camp, that all b-words– bitch, Beyonce, and baby Blue—remain in his lexicon.  It was a respectful fuck you to doing the respectable thing and a straight up diss to respectability itself. Hip Hop aesthetics at their finest.

And herein lies the conundrum. Black feminists have long pointed to the limitations of respectability politics, steeped as they are in elitist, heteronormative, and sexually repressive ideas about proper Black womanhood. When disrespect becomes where we enter, we confront a reality that is pretty dismal for Black womanhood. But when we enter at respectability, there we confront limitations, too.  I mean, Michelle Obama, the country’s Leading Lady, can’t even get no respect.  It is time to face the fact that the more-than-century-long project of respectability politics has been an utter failure, particularly since it hasn’t convinced Black men to treat us any better either.

Our recognition beckons new strategies, even as we confront the terrible realities of the challenges that give rise to them. If you’ll permit me to put on my professor kangol and theorize for a moment, I think we must consider the potential in the space between the diss and the respect—the potential (and the danger) of what it means to dis(card) respectability altogether.  This space between the disses we get and the respect we seek is the space in which Black women live our lives. It is the crunk place, the percussive place, the place that makes noise (and music), the place that moves us,  the place that offers possibility in the midst of two impossible extremes.  And frankly, that is what I would wish for baby Blue anyway, the ability to make her own way in the midst of two largely unattainable extremes of Black woman- and manhood represented in her mommy and daddy.  I hope that in having access to their humanity, she can draw from who they actually are, rather than who we make them out to be. And I hope she will know that she, like every other Black girl, is the most beautifullest thing in this world, simply because she is.

For the rest of us, we might have to accept that this magical, Edenic, place “when and where” Black women “can enter in the quiet undisputed dignity of our womanhood” is not forthcoming. We’re gonna have to fight for the dignity that’s rightfully ours. So um #nodisrespect but excuse me while I #takeoffmyearrings.

crunktastic

57 thoughts on “Disrespectability Politics: On Jay-Z’s Bitch, Beyonce’s ‘Fly’ Ass, and Black Girl Blue

  1. This was wonderful to read – thank you! “It is the crunk place, the percussive place, the place that makes noise (and music), the place that moves us, the place that offers possibility in the midst of two impossible extremes.” BADASS.

  2. So dead-on: “This space between the disses we get and the respect we seek is the space in which Black women live our lives.” And, you are definitely speaking truth to power when you say, “We’re gonna have to fight for the dignity that’s rightfully ours.” It’s all about equipping ourselves and each other with the tools we need in that struggle, a struggle which is not always about how others see us but often about how we see (and treat) ourselves. I am grateful to this Collective for so consistently offering us those necessary tools!

  3. I really have nothing left to say. I love my crunktabulous-super-fly-full-of-feminist-fyah-sistrens on here! Speak ON IT!

  4. this piece is a chock-a-block full of golden quotes. i love your respect and use of language. and yes, every bit of this needed to be said in this elevated register!

  5. ~~ For the rest of us, we might have to accept that this magical, Edenic, place “when and where” Black women “can enter in the quiet undisputed dignity of our womanhood” is not forthcoming. We’re gonna have to fight for the dignity that’s rightfully ours. So um #nodisrespect but excuse me while I #takeoffmyearrings.~~

    Does this mean Black women should hold Dream Hampton accountable for insinuating folks are dead wrong to question Jay-Z vs B—H word?

  6. motherfreaking amazing post

    “I think we must consider the potential in the space between the diss and the respect—the potential (and the danger) of what it means to dis(card) respectability altogether. This space between the disses we get and the respect we seek is the space in which Black women live our lives.”

    may the church say amen

    • Hi BL Media,

      I’m actually a postdoc at Rutgers currently in the Center for Race and Ethnicity. My info is available on the CRE website. If time permits, I’d love to stop by your class sometime this semester.

      Best,

      Crunktastic

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  8. I love the thought of distance in your essay…

    “space between the diss and the respect—the potential (and the danger) of what it means to dis(card) respectability altogether.”

    Beyonce once preformed for Moammar Gadhafi for 2 Million dollars – she was then pressured by the U.S. Government to give back the money. Jay Z and other musicians attended this horrifically decadent event, all were pressured to return everything and anything. This was a WikiLeak and the NY Times ran the story.
    Full Source: http://bit.ly/gWfxUk
    (Sadly, BTW, FYI, long story short – Gadhafi is rich from raping and pillaging Northern Africa)

    The shear ignorance or chase of capital to interact with a life long rapist, murder and psychopath such as Gadhafi, unfortunately has led me to question Jay and Beyonce’s character since the event.

    You don’t just preform when someone snaps their fingers and throws money at you.

    Integrity alines itself with respect and together creates respectability from a distance.

    While hip hop is a fantastic culture and has done more to eliminate racial divide only second to Martin Luther King, I think we should remember that its just that – a fantastic culture, albeit one that has many negative connotations intertwined through it, albeit so do most/a-lot of things.

    The African American’s plight is much more then a single moment in time, space or culture.

    This child will most likely be an entertainer. I pray that it does not, for in the real world, the world that governs man – jesters preform at the snap fingers. Not kings or queens.

    “this couple represents the possibilities of Hip Hop all grown-up, in love, married, and pushing the “proverbial baby carriage.”

    However, hip-hop is predominantly uneducated and/or just massively misinformed. The Obama’s would for all purposes be considered corny or oreos, during the magnificent 1980′s and 1990′s, Barrack Obama was a Constitutional Law Professor at the University of Chicago and he says Michelle is smarter then him.

    Its much harder to kill an idea, then it is to kill a fellow human being.

    Why are we celebrating this birth? I believe because our sub-conscious is screaming to think harder.

    1 <3.

    • dream, your work, which I’ve been a fan of for years, helped to create the space for us to do this work. So I thank you.

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  10. This was a great post, period. That said, I was so taken by the whole media blitz surrounding Beyonce’s pregnancy and (B&J’s) child, which included: 1. Beyonce wasn’t really pregnant, she was wearing a prosthesis and brought her baby back from somewhere (WTF was that all about?), 2. Blue is the name of Jay Z’s ex-g/f, so somehow that meant, what? That he doesn’t really love Beyonce anyway or is trying to reclaim a lost love? and 3) That Beyonce — not the Beyonce/Jay-Z family or household, inconvenienced non-celebrities women/babies by reserving a wing of the hospital in which they gave birth. The emphasis and negative attention Beyonce got through the whole process says something…I’d like to see more analysis of that because the whole of the last nine months was ugly. Racialized, sexist, classist, and then some. Still appreciated what parts you did get to. Bravo to CFC!

  11. Thank you for this and for taking off your earrings, along with insightful, beautiful commentary on our culture.

  12. I’m usually a lurker here, but Crunktastic, I applaud you for this brilliant (BRILLIANT!!) post.

    Everything that needed to be said and then some!

    Thank you.

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  14. And the crowd goes wild Yaaaaaahhhhhhhyyyyyy for yet another brilliant post by crunktastic. Honestly I did not follow the Bey and Jay celebrity pregnancy at all (dissertating), but I love reading your perspective on the politics of dis-respectability/diss-respectability and crunk feminism….. More more more!

  15. ” It is time to face the fact that the more-than-century-long project of respectability politics has been an utter failure, particularly since it hasn’t convinced Black men to treat us any better either”

    Bravooooooooooo! This is what Im talking about. Back to following the CFC again :-)

    Crunktastic you are on point and this here is
    stimulating
    thought provoking
    challenging
    jaw dropping
    reason we love the CFC

  16. I hear you sis. Damn near agree. But when you allude black men not respecting black women… I found it a really sharp point. That I both agree and disagree with. In hip hop over the years a light has shone on a particular community in hip hop. Whereas once it was conscious community or black hippy community. It now scrapes the street under class mentality and uses that to exclusively represent all and in the street underclass. Niggas bitches dogs and hoes are all the vogue choice of lexicon. But a Dead Prez that represent the conscious side of street culture who revere the black woman are marginalised. Not that they don’t exist. But a light is not shone to give them credibility. But sis. We are out here speaking too!!

    • Not that it matters, but I have observed Dead Prez in actual life. They live or have lived in Brooklyn, and even though they talk that Black love business they dont live it. They deal with Asian women. But at least they proclaim something different on wax right?

  17. I’m normally a lurker but I had to come out of the woodworks and give this a standing ovation. This is truth and an excellent call for women to be more conscious of what music – rap or otherwise – they listen to and tacitly promote. You need a bigger platform with this – I hope you look into getting it republished in the lamestream.

  18. That space, it exists alright. And it is why my doggone blood boils everytime, everyDAMNtime, I hear people blather endlessly on and on about “Multiculturalism”, “Multiracialism”, “Post-Racial”, blah, blah, blah-freaking BLAH!” For Black women and girls, it is STILL 1920 Missisipipi! We are the most HATED, inprotected, discriminated against group ON EARTH, and it NEEDS TO BE ACKNOWLEDGED! Not constantly denied or slept under the rug!

  19. We must respect and protect the.. “undisputed dignity of our womanhood”. It’s a ‘New Year In Style’ original music by and 4us!:) Best wishes!

  20. I have nothing else to add other than I really enjoyed reading this. And that it must suck to have everything you do under magnifying glass. Really unfair to bear the weight of representation and blackness on your shoulders–especially when you are just days old :(

    • Thanks so much for reading! I really liked Deconstructing Tyrone. And I totally agree about the baby bearing the weight of representation. Smh.

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  24. One last thing… on an interview with Stephen Colbert to talk about her new book, Melissa Harris-Perry said something that shook me to the bone (and I’m not American) and I think overlaps nicely with what you’ve said here. She said (paraphrase) “people love to hark back to this golden era in American history, but the truth is, if you put a black woman at the centre of the narrative, there has never been a golden era in US history”. I think your piece really captures that – that even in the flourishing of rap and AA art in the mainstream, black women still get caught in this problematic discursive space. I’d love to hear you speak on Nicki Minaj’s new track and the awful things that we sometimes do to each other.

    Keep on keeping on sista! A luta continua!

  25. I am familiarizing myself with the blog and falling in love. Can I just say y’all are fly as hell?

    There are too many wonderful lines for me to even cite them all but more germane is the fluidity and accuracy of your perspective. Your articulation is especially germane at a time when people seem hell bent on kissing the ass of African Americans icons and not calling out their failings. The reach and breadth of Hip hop’s influence is incredible which makes their perpetuation of gender and racial stereotypes, imagery and negativity that much more daunting. It’s not real, and it’s not helpful. Imma #TakeOffMyEarrings now ;)

  26. “people love to hark back to this golden era in American history, but the truth is, if you put a black woman at the centre of the narrative, there has never been a golden era in US history”.

    So true. This sista is on point.

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