Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter announced her pregnancy and the impending arrival of her twins on Instagram this past Wednesday 1st February 2017, the first day of America’s Black History Month. Happiness, joy and glee instantly burst forth from every corner of the internet, it’s light shining bright in the political darkness that has shrouded the world recently. The much-needed reprieve from the turmoil felt from seashore to seashore revealed itself in lapping waves as more photos from Beyoncé’s maternity shoot were released on her website accompanied by a poem, “I Have Three Hearts” written by Warsan Shire, the poet responsible for the words in the 2016 film Lemonade. The race was on to come up with the wittiest tweet or the most creative meme celebrating the joyous occasion. The beautiful photograph, shot by celebrated, Ethiopian photographer Awol Erizku, quickly became the most liked photograph in Instagram history and as of the writing of this post has more than 9 million likes and counting.
Alas the jubilation was not shared by all. If the happiness was a ship in the night Janet Street-Porter CBE, Rosie Millard, Rebbeca Farley, Leandra Medine, Micaiah Bilger and Sarah Vine were all drilling holes in the hull and shredding the sails. The most alarming thing is these women are all white and their disdain towards pregnancy announcements is reserved exclusively for this black woman. Beyoncé’s joy, and black women’s by extension, almost causes Janet Street-Porter physical pain as she demands to know why the audience is applauding before claiming “she looks like a terrible display outside a petrol station.” Street-Porter then goes on to display a photo of Demi Moore’s immortal 1992 Vanity Fair cover praising her as “stylish” as opposed to “now it’s come down to a cheap bit of net curtains on your head and a bunch of economy flowers.” It is not the fact the pregnancy announcement was made that frustrates Street-Porter, it’s her perceived lack of value and “style” in the photograph that riles her so thoroughly. The bright colours and unfamiliar imagery, in which she sees “no miracle”, offend her, where Demi Moore’s is more acceptable, palatable if you will. As we travel through the arguments these women present for their reasoning as to why they cannot abide with Knowles-Carter’s unabashed, unapologetic exhibit of black excellence we’ll see fantastical interpretations of what they’ve seen and in the end they all scream one thing- “this black woman is too much, too loud. In order for me to feel secure in my womanhood, she must lessen herself. I’m going to centre my whiteness and desperation for attention by attempting to make her smaller.” Take my hand -hold on tight- as I take you on an adventure that is an example of white fragility in its purest form.
Kelvin Allred opines the initial photograph is “yet another salvo in Beyoncé’s fight to de-center whiteness” as well as a “deeply subversive political act.” Allred, unlike Street-Porter who ridicules what she doesn’t understand, points to Kehinde Wiley’s stunning work drawing attention to the fact Beyoncé has many times before drawn inspiration from the Madonna. While Allred points to modern art movements, Anna Furman for The Guardian (also taking time, wisdom and knowledge to dissect the image’s artistry) goes further into history citing the 17th century Rococco period as a reference for the photoshoot. Whether by coincidence or a purposeful act of dissent in reaction to her government’s treatment of immigrants, Beyoncé’s choice of recent Yale graduate, 28 year old, Ethiopian born Awol Erizku isn’t lost on me even though the layers of art history behind the photo flew over my head before I did my googles. This is not some trash the creative team threw together in the Carters’ back yard and to imply so is to do a disservice to not only Erizku’s art but also Beyoncé’s intelligence. Headlines such as Slate’s which calls her underwater maternity shoot “ridiculous” highlight the lack of care and investigation into this black art. The derision levied against Beyoncé speaks to a systematic devaluing of blackness which leads writers like Rebecca Farley for Refinery 29 to discern the photograph as “tacky”.
It cannot be denied the photographs are bold, but despite having read Anna Furman’s Guardian piece, Farley is adamant we “not get too hoity-toity here: The photo is meant to be garish” and concludes Beyoncé is “not redefining taste…” Farley’s insistence she is tacky and consequently Beyoncé has permission to be tacky because she’s “ok with it” is galling. Although Farley also adds “the photo is a statement of the dominance and a testament to the Bey swag” the fact remains this is a black art commissioned by a black woman on the first day of America's Black History Month and the reduction of that to “tacky” in the first place is fuckery. The race between these women to be first, not even to be right stinks to the high heavens and I detest it. The lack of nuance and research into the subject matter irritates me greatly especially now that I know how much thought and effort has gone into producing these images.
Vogue kindly put together a listicle of celebrities who’ve recently revealed their pregnancies via Instagram. From Olivia Wilde to Bar Refaeli, the expectant mothers all shared their pregnancies with the world on social media, but it is the audacious nature of Beyoncé’s that seems to have got under the skin of Sarah Vine and Leandre Medine. The former contends Beyoncé “has many talents but modesty isn’t one of them” and the latter points to the superstar’s use of Instagram to share her news as an indication of her lack of “humbleness” (humility will suffice, babe). In the case of Medine’s article, she makes it known “I’m not actually mad at Beyoncé. That would be insane” but that she feels hurt when she learns of people becoming pregnant because she had a miscarriage. My heart goes out to her, the pain she’s suffered is clear and pours from the page as you read her words but nowhere does she acknowledge or make reference to the fact that Beyoncé’s own miscarriage. Nowhere does she take time to think maybe the fact that Beyoncé is so daring with her art is because she understands the value in celebrating life after loss. The dismissal and inability to attribute pain and loss to Beyoncé, the idea that she is strong and perfect, never having experienced challenging, soul destroying moments is the form of dehumanisation Medine unconsciously uses to project her feelings onto Beyoncé and not onto any of the other numerous stars who’ve also announced their pregnancies publically. Medine could have spoken about the helplessness she feels when people share their pregnancies online without choosing to use Beyoncé to express herself.
And Sarah Vine? Before you teach your husband how to clap like a human you’re online proving paragraph after paragraph what a bitter, vile, spiteful, hateful person you are. The clawing need to mock Beyoncé is so palpable you can taste it through your screen as she questions “Why isn’t there any cellulite on her thighs? And, mostly, just why?” Because she is better than you, Sarah. It’s that simple. And you know why she’s better than you? While you were sitting behind your laptop stringing together every negative adjective your nasty, little mind could conjure Beyoncé was rubbing the billionaire’s version of Bio Oil on her stomach and assuaging Blue Ivy’s fears that her inheritance would in any way be affected by the arrival of her siblings; Bad & Boujee. You know what's really "obnoxious, vulgar and narcissistic"? Your attempt to derail this moment of black joy with this cacophony of hostility masquerading as clickbait.
Rosie Millard echoes Sarah Vine and like Janet Street-Porter praises Demi Moore’s pregnancy picture because “it was an easy picture to mimic, for a start. I know because I did it.” The scorn in Millard’s article begins to take shape in her not being able to replicate Beyoncé’s now iconic image but coalesces around her anger that anyone who recreates the image “has no idea what it’s like to actually be preggers” because “Beyoncé’s saintly wackiness can be achieved by no normal woman.” It’s exhausting to witness the lengths at which these women go to discredit and malign Beyoncé’s pregnancy and her womanhood. What you are left with at the end of Millard’s piece is a call for Beyoncé to share the reality of the struggles of real women, the “haggard face”, “the acne” and “the hopeless hair with grey roots showing.” The question is whose reality of womanhood does Millard want Beyoncé to portray? Why doesn’t she require this candidness from Demi Moore?
Then there’s dry head Micaiah Bilger with her pro-life extravaganza entitled “Why Aren’t Abortion Activists Calling Beyonce’s Unborn Babies “Fetuses”? Because she’s decided she wants to carry them to full term, you myopic, deep fried idiot.
I imagine some will feel this piece is divisive; pitting black women and white women against one another in a time when we should be uniting to defeat fascism. But I will not silence my requirement of equality, in the hopes that should I do so I will appease those who choose not to see that while we are all fighting a common enemy, some of you are enemies. “You’re making it about race.” You damn skippy. The only physical identifier that separates Beyoncé from other celebrities who share their pregnancies online is her blackness. I take note that this turn against her comes on the heels of her blackity black af visual album Lemonade and its centring of blackness and black womanhood as beautiful, valuable, worthy of love and respect. White women seemed happy to consume her art when her race appeared, to the uninitiated, as ambiguous. Now that she’s made it clear that while being a woman she also recognises and values her blackness, the collective thought amongst Street-Porter, Vine, Medine, Farley, Millard and Bilger is that she is a threat one to be ridiculed into submission. The refusal to see the value in black art and black women dehumanises us and our work and I can multitask, hoe. I can call out the bullshit of this group of white women while simultaneously decrying the atrocities of our governments perpetuate. If us articulating what is going on affects you more than what’s being done and has been done for decades to black women by white women, then check in with yourself and find out why. Black women don’t want special treatment. Treat us and our pregnancy announcements, our art, our humanity, with the same respect afforded to nonblack women. That’s all.
Click the heart below.
Jump in the comments and tell the world how you’re feeling.
Follow me on Twitter.