The subject of Jay-Z and Beyoncé is not one I tend to think about much—yeah, they promote retrograde gender roles in their music, but that’s more common than not, honestly—but the recent rush of politicized stories around the birth of their daughter has caused me to pay attention. For The American Prospect, I have a piece up about why it was not a good idea for so many liberals to be passing around tabloid stories claiming that Lenox Hill Hospital was so protective of the couple while Beyoncé was giving birth that they prevented other couples from receiving decent care and treatment. The main reason is basically, I think the stories are bullshit. There’s only one couple really hitting the tabloids—which they went to instead of going to the hospital first—and some of what they claim to have sen is fishy. The woman also made a particularly revealing comment, saying, “I guess that was the only special event happening in the hospital.” Complaining that celebrities get a lot of attention for doing normal people things strikes me as not news. Also, honestly, a blessing for us non-celebrities, who can walk around unmolested by photographers who can sell photos of us doing our grocery shopping for thousands of dollars. Anyway, I also have points about class resentments and why we need to be thoughtful about how we look for examples to highlight for political purposes.
But mostly I just caution people not to exploit obvious bullshit for political gain. It just makes you look foolish. That’s why I rolled my eyes at all the people breathlessly passing around that poem supposedly written by Jay-Z where he denounces the word “bitch”, now that he has a child that will undoubtedly be called that name in her future, because pretty much all women are. I didn’t think it was clever, like when the Yes Men punk corporations by pretending to be them and getting them to have to go on the record defending unconscionable acts. Mainly, it’s because I’m not a big fan of reducing discussion of complex problems to simple point-scoring on words. When you do that, perversely, you give cover to people expressing foul ideas, by letting them know, “Hey, as long as you use code words instead of the really obvious ones, you can always say, ‘Hey, it’s not like I said X, like those real -ists!'” Or, let me quote Ta-Nehisi:
I understand the focus on the word “bitch,” given its particular history and usage. But we should mindful of reductionism for reasons both political and artistic. There is a whole school of thought that holds racism is impossible unless attended by the word “nigger.” And there are plenty of ways to regard a women as bitches, without ever saying the word.
You really see this problem on the heels of the South Carolina primary, which Gingrich won mainly by running around insinuating racist arguments without saying them out loud, and then when he was called on it, his supporters took umbrage because they’ve put so much work into avoiding saying the N-word. Where is their cookie, you food stamp lovers? There are plenty of rappers and singers who don’t use the word in their lyrics, but paint a condescending and toxic view of women that’s harder to argue with, because it’s more complex. But instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ll just link Samhita and my podcast where we discuss this. Samhita was also quoted in this article, which I highly recommend reading.
All of this, however, is really just an excuse for me to post this video, which is how I imagine Jay-Z’s conversation with his daughter about the B-word went before he announced that the poem was definitely a forgery: