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New Favorite Things

Jaclyn Friedman’s Unsolicited Advice column in GOOD. This week she advises Blue Ivy Carter:

One of the things that’s going to be especially weird, if the response to Shiloh Jolie-Pitt’s haircut is any indication, is that a non-trivial minority of the global population will soon consider what you do with your body and your sexuality their business. In fact, they’ve already started. Most people would welcome a new addition to their family as “the most beautiful baby in the world,” but in your case, perfect strangers are already being invited to assess that claim.

And unlike Shiloh’s experience, race is going to play a factor. (Ask your parents to explain race. It’s a loooong story.) 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. That’s a bullshit amount of pressure for a baby!

Do read it all. I can’t wait for more.
UPDATE: There have been many criticisms of Jaclyn’s piece, which I think are well-founded. Jaclyn has responded here.

22 thoughts on New Favorite Things

  1. Seriously, Blue Ivy, a little black baby girl, has already been deemed “lucifer’s daughter.” Before she was born people were creating pictures of what they thought she’d look like and implying that she’d be ugly or “look like a man.” She’s a newborn and adults around the world are already bullying her.

  2. It is a little ironic to write a blog post about someone in which you complain that too many people around the world are discussing said person.

    1. It is a little ironic to write a blog post about someone in which you complain that too many people around the world are discussing said person.

      The fact that people are talking about her wasn’t the complaint. It’s the content of the discussions.

  3. Are you serious? Are you honestly condoning this tripe? As if Black women don’t have enough on our plates trying to just exist, you’re upholding this … person’s calling out of an infant, basically telling the child that she’s destined to be nothing more than a misguided hood rat because of what the writer perceives as a future of poor parentage, based on nothing but the parents’ chosen careers, juxtaposed against their skin color.

    The writer is full of it, and so is anyone who thinks that she has any right to explain anything to a young Black child, without their credentials including having been a young Black child.

    That post, frankly is the most racist thing I’ve read this week. Granted, there’s time yet, but it’s already Thursday night. Not much time left. I imagine I’ll see plenty more, starting with responses to this.

    Shame on the writer for submitting that attack on an infant’s sexuality, on her parentage, on her race, and on her very existence, and shame on you for promoting it.

  4. I think criticism of how people are talking about the baby is fair game, but this format isn’t working for me at all. “Hi, I know you’re an infant, but let’s talk about human sexuality using your parents as case studies!” is just too weird.

    Also, parts of it really made me wince: And unlike Shiloh’s experience, race is going to play a factor. (Ask your parents to explain race. It’s a loooong story.)

    I can’t think of any reading that makes this sound good, especially since the whole piece is functionally a lecture from a white woman to a child of color.

  5. Oh, cute. A white woman telling a black woman how to raise their child. That’s not problematic or anything. And then another white woman saying it’s awesome.

    Newsflash: you should probably read The Angry Black Woman’s take on this before you decide to talk about how great this is, just saying.

  6. I have to agree with Evil Fizz and the others here, though I usually enjoy the writer’s work and hope she will respond to the criticisms.

    On top of the issues already raised: for me, framing the piece as a conversation with the baby where one presumes to give this baby advice about her own parents, and preemptively second-guess/supercede the parents’ own guidance for their own newborn daughter, just did not sit well–even without the added element of it being a white stranger presuming to do this to parents of color.

    Regardless of our thoughts about their lyrical content and public images (and I’ve certainly had a few of those thoughts myself over the years), none of us is really in a position to judge or make assumptions about what sort of parents the actual human beings named Shawn Carter and Beyonce Knowles will be. Especially after only a week! They don’t even fully know what their journey of parenthood will be at this point.

    So making these preemptive judgments about them as parents, and projecting those judgments/assumptions into a public sphere that is already revving up to heap tons of scrutiny and scorn on them as prominent parents of color (just as the piece predicts it will for the baby), just didn’t feel right for me. But again I do appreciate Jaclyn’s work in general and hope she will follow up on this.

  7. Does Jaclyn have children herself? If so, I couldn’t find it on any of her on-line biographies. If she doesn’t, then her conceit of giving child-rearing advice to anybody — whether the baby or her parents — is even more patronizing. It’s bad enough to have people who don’t know you or your kid from a hole in the ground giving you advice about how your kids should be raised, but to have someone who has no experience at all is particularly irritating. (Can you tell I’ve been on the receiving end of this stuff?)

    If she had wanted to talk about how tough growing up is for girls (especially black girls) in this society, I wish she would have just said it plainly, and left off the fairy godmother shtick.

    BTW, some advice to anybody who wants to talk to a kid, or even pretend to: there’s no faster way to alienate a kid than to criticize his/her parents to his/her face, however indirectly.

  8. That whole article was filled with WTF. Like:

    On the other hand, she’s (Beyonce) also perfectly comfortable promoting marriage as a commodity exchange in which diamonds are traded for vaginas.

    Apparently, this professional white feminist wasn’t around for all the nuanced critique offered by black feminists when the song came out.

  9. Yeahhhhh. I consider it a red flag if one read that piece and one’s first thought was “awesome!”. Because what the hell was that.

  10. I didn’t initially see the article through the lens of a white woman being condescending toward the Black parents, though I see now how it could be read that way. I see it more as a critique of the celebrity culture and patriarchal oppression that results in the obscene levels of scrutiny and judgment that “famous” girls inevitably must contend with (the Pitt girls, the Obama girls, Paris Jackson, Chelsea Clinton, Blue Ivy, etc).

  11. Look I immediately thought the piece was pretty suss, and was glad to see the problems with it expressed by Karynthia. Also, kudos to Friedman for apologising.
    But I don’t want to get all pile-on on Jill either. If that’s how my comment came across, or the direction this thread goes in, I’m sorry. Getting this stuff perfect all the time isn’t possible, and my feeling is that Jill gets it right enough often enough for me to have an awful lot of respect for her.

  12. When I was young I used to babysit my friend’s son. She instructed me to, when he acted up, put him in the corner until he said he was sorry and realized what he had done. He was um… high spirited, so he spent a bit of time in that corner, especially since he knew that all he had to do to get out was apologize. In fact, he made up a song about it, and after he thought he’d been in there long enough, he’d sing– “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, ha ha ha ha HAH ha!” and out he’d come. He did, always, say he was sorry… as for the realization of what he had done, though, I have my doubts 😉

    Anyway, I don’t think this — “Getting this stuff perfect all the time isn’t possible, and my feeling is that Jill gets it right enough often enough” works anymore. More than that, I don’t think it should. This is not to mean that I think everyone should yell at Jill — this goes far beyond just her. But still…

    One of Jill’s problems (or, at least, it’s a problem in this case) is that she likes to support her friends in their endeavors. But another one of her problems is that many of her friends are, if not outright bigots, simply clueless on anything to do with race beyond making mouth noises about “intersectionality” and the like. They, each and every one of them, know the words, know the terms, know even the concepts — but they simply refuse to think beyond that.

    A couple of things could have happened here (and in just about any other “internet scandal” or “flame war” incident involving white feminists and women of color.)

    1. Friedman could have come up with a “brilliant” idea of a hook for her writing — addressing the issues she had with the parents through a barely week old Black baby. An alternate universe Jaclyn Friedman might then have stopped and examined both the thought and the instinct behind that thought — where did it come from? What, traditionally, has been the relationship between white women and women of color, especially in the area of raising children, sexuality, and beyond? Is the instinct to write to this baby, to sexualize this Black little girl coming from a good grounding in what that might say to women of color?

    Or is it coming from the centuries of layers and layers and layers of white supremacy and privilege that white people, including white women, are steeped in from the moment they themselves are born? Then alternate universe Jaclyn might have made a different choice. She might have recognized the pattern she was engaging with. As might have Jill and others, in loving and promoting the piece. That this knowledge was there for white women and men to grasp is evident by the fact that some, in fact, did just that and made those connections before any person of color said a thing.

    Anyway, my point is– it’s been years worth of this stuff. Screw ups, mistakes, not thinking, not absorbing, blah blah blah. It’s time for many white feminists, both big names and small, to move out of the “101” territory they appear to be stuck in. It’s time for some to go beyond “hey, cool thing! look!” and, if it has to do with people of color, with marginalized people of any sort, to stop and think. Stop and ask themselves, or heck even ask someone else, where the instinct to either produce something, or to like what has been produced by someone else, even a friend, is coming from. Is it a place, that deep, deep well, that you want germinating within you, unexamined, ready to pop out like a zit on a nose the night before the prom? Or is it maybe time to grow up, grow out, grow deeper and keep peering into that abyss, sternly and patiently, until it dries up–or, at least, until you recognize its life sounds? It is work, but it can be done — people have and are doing it.

    As for me, when Black babies and children are brought into the mix and used in this fashion, sexualized and criminalized as they have been over the centuries, it touches something deep inside me and turns any squishy impulses toward understanding and forgiveness agate hard.

    I speak only for myself, of course, but the refusal to think first, to examine first – to instead speak/write first and then go through the never ending (and always waiting) ritual of apology is meaningless to me. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, ha ha ha ha HAH ha” simply does not, and should not, work anymore.

  13. Now that Jaclyn has apologized for her article and acknowledged the ways in which it was white privileging and racist, are Jill/Feministe going to make any comment about their endorsement of the article? How about some feminist accountability?

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