Dear Jaclyn Friedman,
Recently, I read your piece “Unsolicited Advice for Blue Ivy Carter: Growing Up As the Girl of Beyonce and Jay-Z,” on GOOD, and I walked away feeling perplexed. I know who you are. You’re a pretty well-known feminist author, from Boston, Mass. You wrote and published Yes Means Yes: Visions of Sexual Power and a World Without Rape a few years ago. Keeping these facts in mind is what led me to become perplexed in the first place, because I’m sure you wrote this piece as your way of helping, not hurting, the newest addition to the Knowles-Carter family.
If there is anything that we’ve learned from Forbes’ “If I Were A Poor Black Kid,” by Gene Marks, I would hope it would be that when White people talk down to Black people about what they SHOULD do with their lives, without actually knowing what it’s like being said Black people firsthand, problems ensue. And yet, here I am, reading your “unsolicited advice,” wondering what on Earth made you think it was a good idea to write a letter to a Black baby that is barely a week old badmouthing her parents, and telling her how to “properly” assert her sexuality in a sexist world.
This is a problem that many Black people have with the mainstream (read: very White) feminist movement; intersectionality is not taken into account nearly enough. I understand that Blue Ivy, as a girl child*, will have to deal with issues of sexuality as she grows up. But unfortunately, not only will Blue Ivy’s sexuality and related choices be complicated by the infamousness of her parents, but because she’s going to grow up a Black woman. The sexuality of Black women in America is much more complicated. Throughout history Black women have been hypersexualized- we suffer from higher rates of rape, Black people’s “endowments” are used to dehumanize them, and our sexuality is often controlled (for example, see: forced sterilization) and shamed by White people. So, telling Blue Ivy how to navigate her sexuality is problematic at best. At worst, it’s entitled, and indicates that you think you know best.
You should know all of this by now.
On to the next piece: I’m not really sure where you get off telling people, especially Black people, how to raise their children. I sincerely hope you did not think telling Blue Ivy about her parents’ shortcomings (in your eyes) would benefit your career. I know you aren’t totally ignorant, because you did say this:
Some people are going to expect you to act like a “perfect lady” at all times (they will all define this differently), asking you to single-handedly extinguish centuries of cultural stereotypes about black women being sexually incontinent. Others will jump on any evidence they can find to “prove” that you’re destined to live up to that stereotype. Either way, to millions of people, you won’t just be Blue Ivy Carter, human being. You’ll be an Ambassador of Black Girlhood, and later, Black Womanhood.
And that is absolutely true. But you don’t earn any brownie points by pointing out Jay-Z’s misogynist lyrics (because of course only Black rappers are misogynists- it’s not like it happens in other genres or with other races. Oh wait…), or by shaming Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” because you don’t approve of using the symbol of a diamond ring to symbolize commitment. The fact of the matter is, it’s none of your damn business, and Blue Ivy is not your child.
You have a tremendous amount of privilege as a White woman, even if you are a woman (and therefore don’t have male privilege). Please keep this in mind the next time you feel the need to indicate that you would be a better mother to a Black child than her actual parents, or to tell a Black child how to assert her sexuality properly.
*As of now, we only know that Blue Ivy was born with a vagina. We don’t know yet that they identify as a girl, it’s too soon to know that. This article was written assuming Blue Ivy is a cisgender girl, which should not be considered the default.
Edit: Jaclyn Friedman has apologized for her column:
This column has received some strong criticism, and rightly so. It erases the long, damaging history of white people (specifically white women) telling Black women the “right” ways to be sexual, as well as how to raise their children. Worse, it contributes to that dynamic. This was far from my intention in writing it, but intentions aren’t magic. I was wrong.
Obviously it would have been far better if I’d understood all of this from the get-go, and not written the column. The best I know how to do at this point is to offer my deep, sincere apology, commit to donating the fee I’ll receive for this column to SisterSong, and redouble my ongoing efforts to understand and undo racism, both within myself and beyond. These efforts take many shapes, but one specific approach I’ll be focusing more energy on is increasing my reading and listening to women of color who work on sexuality issues.
(I’m publishing this here as GOOD has a no-retractions policy.)