In 2013, way before Beyoncé even thought about serving up Lemonade, I wrote a blog post about a girl named Becky. An actual person. By my own admission, it’s a terrible essay. But it’s gotten consistent hits for the last three years mostly from White women named Becky. Well, thanks to Queen Bey, now everyone knows (or thinks they do) who “she” is. (And they’re still hitting up my blog for answers thanks to Google’s search algorithms.) Consider this an update.
Today, I cringe when I read my apology to Becky because it’s unnecessarily ingratiating. It was not ever my place to apologize for a word I don’t even use. The tone gives the impression I’m angling for brownie points from the vanilla brigade. I wasn’t. Consequently, it reads as if I am issuing an apology on behalf of other Black people. I wasn’t. I wasn’t trying to provide the Contrary Black Opinion™ for the linchpin in a “reverse racism” argument.
I stand by my compassion for my friend Becky at being catcalled. That was the impetus for me writing the piece originally. But there are a few points I didn’t explain in my original essay that I’d like to do now.
“Yo f*** you, Beyoncé, first and foremost
For making me do this s***. Muh’f****r.”
Dear White People: Congrats on collecting a “new” Black word! Allow me to echo the exasperation I think many of my peers may feel about this whole snafu. “Becky” isn’t new and Beyoncé didn’t originate the usage. You’ve got a whole culture to contend with, not just a pop star. Also: Ya’ll have tugged at ONE LINE amid a beautiful tangle of lyrics by Warsan Shire?! One. Line. “Becky with the good hair” is all you got from Lemonade?
Over the past week, I’ve discovered that even Black people really don’t agree on exactly what “Becky” means. My brother thought the meaning was a blow job. My husband thought it was a ditzy blonde. I disagree with both of them; I always thought the reference was a generic White woman, and sometimes a Valley Girl. Either way, it’s code.
Why would Black people ever use a coded proper name to mean White women? The origination is more than just a desire to have a snappy (but overall toothless) barb for the Other Woman. Becky’s historical parents are Miss Ann and Mister Charlie. Black people have long used covert-but-in-plain-earshot language to talk around White folks from slavery through Jim Crow. Best believe this practice saved lives. You don’t easily relinquish a cultural practice like that, especially when the centuries of Black subjugation outnumber the relatively few decades of “freedom.”
Additionally, there are deeper implications behind “Becky” and “Miss Ann.” “Miss Ann” originated from an attitude of haughtiness and superiority toward Black domestic workers. If you return to Sir Mix-a-Lot’s skit at the opening of “Baby Got Back,” the unnamed White woman talking to “Becky” utters with disdain how Black the woman with the big butt is. The song itself was a tongue-in-both-cheeks ode to Black women’s curves at a time when the White gaze looked at booty with disgust. Essentially, the original connotations of both “Miss Ann” and “Becky” in Black vernacular are defensive responses to anti-Blackness.
“Becky” is not the new nigger.
I can understand feeling a certain way about being called out your name. No one likes being stereotyped. That’s human. No, “Becky” is not a nice thing to say. “Becky,” however, does not come with the historical baggage of systemic racism. That is not an exculpatory statement; it’s simply fact. “Becky” does not and never will conjure the image of fetid bodies swinging like Spanish moss the way “nigger” does.
“Becky” is also not the trump card in a game of “Aha! Black people are racist, too!” There’s no such thing as reverse racism. And even if there was, racism is not merely a game of the dozens where the only consequence is hurt feelings. There is prejudice. There is stereotyping. There is bias. There is even abject, odious hatred. Racism combines all of that and kills, binds, and oppresses whole demographics. That’s not going to happen with this word. (That’s a good thing.)
Next week someone White (cough, Iggy Azalea, cough) will claim to “reclaim” the nickname and we will all forget Beyoncé ever said anything about it. Black slang tends to die after White people get their hands on it. I wish anti-Blackness could fade out of fashion as quickly as Black vernacular does from the White imagination. I’d gladly kiss the term “Becky” bye in exchange for that.
The real question is: Who in the Black community actually says “Becky with the good hair?” (Kidding!) What do you think about the term “Becky?”