Why Are We Mad At Blake Lively Instead Of Sir Mix-A-Lot?
Yesterday, you may have noticed that actress Blake Lively was trending on Twitter and even Facebook. You might be wondering, what did this little, White lady do that has the internets in a frenzy? Well, while attending the Cannes Film Festival, she posted this picture on her Instagram feed.
It’s not the picture that’s causing the stir, it’s the caption.
She wrote, “LA face with an Oakland booty.”
For those you pop culturally literate out there, you may recognize the lyric from Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s famous/infamous “Baby Got Back.” The song was the second highest selling record of 1992, right after Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” That’s how big it was. And the following year, it won a Grammy. And let’s be honest, we all danced to it. We giggled and applauded at the way in which it mocked White people’s disgust for our bodies. And brothas and sistas alike nodded their head in agreement as Sir Mix A Lot explained that while Eurocentric beauty standards frowned upon an ample posterior, they are all the rage in the Black community.
“I’m tired of magazines/ sayin’ flat butts are the thing/ Take the average Black man and ask him that/she gotta pack much back.”
Y’all know it. We could quote these lyrics in our sleep.
But in the midst of shaking our healthy butts we might not have noticed that this song, like so many other Hip Hop anthems, is all about the sexuality of Black women. And I mean that would be all fine and good, if it weren’t the most pervasive message many of us receive from that community. And it’s not just on Sir Mix A Lot, there are plenty of Black men who’ve told us we’re great to f*ck and not much else. He literally says, “I’ve seen them dancin’/To hell with romancin’/She’s sweat, wet/Got it goin’ like a turbo ‘Vette.” The very booty he spends the entire song praising is so distracting, so all-encompassing, that he can’t be bothered to romance the actual woman, the person.
And honestly, I can’t help but wonder if that’s why White people were so accepting and embracing of this song. While it certainly celebrated our natural physique, it also perpetuated some of the classic tropes when it comes to the Black woman’s figure: large and meant for sex. And not just the Black woman, the song speaks about the Black man’s insatiable lust quite a bit too. And even though it also mocked the hell out of White people and their standards, the stereotypes were still very familiar and accessible, ones their own ancestors had created.
So, now to the line Blake Lively quoted. Interestingly enough, it’s more of an ad-lib than an actual lyric. A high-pitched, digitized voice repeats, “LA Face with an Oakland booty” over and over. At first glance and one-millionth listen, it might sound innocuous. But when you think about the fact that Oakland is associated with Blackness and LA is White, the message becomes painfully clear. White is the beauty and Black is the booty. Which sheds some light on the reasons why people are so mad at Lively. When are Black women going to be associated with beauty and not just sexualized for our body parts?
It’s a valid question. And I understand why people would be frustrated and even angry with Lively. But I wonder if I’m the only one who believes most of the blame should be placed on Mr. Mix-A-Lot. After all, he’s the one who gave her the language. And furthermore, as a Black man, a member of our own community, likely the son of a Black mother, he’s more guilty. Blake Lively probably didn’t even think about the deeper meaning and ramifications of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s words. She likely thought, “I’m feeling myself. I work in LA.” “This baby weight has my booty on swole.” “LA Face with an Oakland Booty.”
It’s a shame that in a song that was supposed to celebrate us, also added yet another tool in the arsenal of weapons used against the Black woman. But what’s even more of a shame is that White people, Black men and even us, Black women, were so accustomed to the degradation, so numb to the hyper sexualization, and the uplifting of Eurocentric beauty that it took 24 years and an ignorant White actress to wake up our outrage.