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.