Tuesday, July 25, 2017


You may be aware that Beyoncé gave birth recently to a set of twins, and even more recently posted pictures of her holding them.

Many people felt compelled to offer their opinion on this. They also felt compelled to offer their opinion on her pregnancy photos. Complaints included narcissism, making things look to easy (because that's not what "real" pregnant women and new moms look like), and insensitivity to people struggling with fertility issues. What they often overlooked was their own racism.

Here are a few things to think about. Posting her own pictures of the twins relieves some pressure from paparazzi trying to ambush them for the first photos. By publishing to Instagram, she made the pictures available to anyone with internet, for free. An exclusive deal with a magazine would have still cost money for people interested in the pictures, whether the Knowles-Carter family had accepted payment or not.

I did see at least one complaint that the money spent on the photo shoot should have been donated, but they do donate a lot; I'm not going to begrudge them that, especially given the mother's interest in visual artistry.

I had not really been thinking about that previously, but one of the pregnancy photos I had not seen earlier shows some nice parallels with the "after" picture:

Back when I reviewed Solange, I became aware of a real sensitivity to structure and texture and visual imagery, which is also pretty true of her sister. Beyoncé probably gets some enjoyment out of creating the lush images, and why not? After all, for her this is a celebration.

And that's where we really get to the racism part.

First of all, let's remember Demi Moore - nude, pregnant, and never feeling so confident and beautiful - and Jessica Simpson imitating it. Also Nicole, pregnant fiancée of Michael Phelps taking some stunning underwater pregnancy photos. Pregnant photo sessions are pretty standard now, often with a professional photographer. I know someone who kept posing with larger pieces of fruit as the baby grew. If some people get fancier as a reflection of their personal aesthetic, there should not be a problem with that.

Now let's talk about insensitivity to infertility problems. Do you think Beyoncé is callous to those? She has had them. She adores children, but she has struggled to conceive, and had miscarriages, and her twins were premature and spent time in the NICU. For some perspective on that, I would like to defer to Sydette:

Issues of environment and access creating obstacles to Black fertility and maternity is important, but I want to go backward.

Let's remember that it isn't that long ago that Black maternity included many children who were the results of slaves being raped by their masters. It included children being sold away. It included being expected to raise the white children of the owners.

Let's remember that emancipation didn't end the threat of rape or the need of many women to keep raising white children just to be able to support their own.

Let's not forget that once Black children were no longer property they were such a threat that sterilization without explanation or consent was common. Fannie Lou Hamer was just one woman who was subject to a "Mississippi appendectomy".

Let's not forget how often Black children are perceived as already adult and menacing when they are still so young, at risk to their lives. Let's not forget that despite how scary Black men are perceived to be, racists still love calling them "Boy". Beyoncé's son will be addressed as "Sir" for all of his life. Give her credit for some thought to her choices.

And let's not forget how often Black joy is policed, with a new tenant of Harlem calling the cops about the ice cream truck, or a book club being kicked off of a wine train for laughing, or a mother being criticized for being happy about her twins.

If you felt distaste for the pictures, I know you can come up with many reasons why that is not racist, but simply because of some other reason. Interrogate that. Look at the patterns. There is a lot of conditioning that is built in to our reactions. Sometimes it is built on ugliness, and the only way we can become something better is by questioning, and challenging, and not accepting the status quo.

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