Yonce’s all on Bill O’Reilly’s mouth like liquor. At least it was a few weeks ago when O’Reilly, the notorious Fox News political commentator, yet again took up the task of publicly attacking Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Time Magazine’s Most Influential Person. He points to her groundbreaking latest album, Beyoncé, as to why her Knowles-Carter isn’t “influential.” Centering his critique on songs like “Partition,” O’Reilly completely ignores other tracks like, “Heaven,” which some have speculated alludes to the pain of the pop superstar’s miscarriage. O’Reilly decided to put on his mask of “concern” for Black folks to hide his disdain for Black women. Under this mask, Beyoncé becomes the spokesperson for the Black community and O’Reilly gets to ignore how her artistry nods to the fact that Black women miscarry at a higher rate than other women and the overall Black genius of her album.
After the attack on his own show, O’Reilly went on to visit David Letterman maintaining his argument that, “Right now, in the African American community, 72% of babies are born out of wedlock. Back when Motown was hot, in the 60s, it was like 10 or 12 percent. So what we’re seeing then is a deleterious effect on American society.” I’m sure O’Reilly conveniently left out the fact that when “Motown was hot” (when did it cool down?) Black women didn’t have the right to vote, couldn’t access the same educational resources as white folks and were busy being the backbone of a civil rights movement. There were also different cultural norms in the 60’s that are no longer relevant today. Even still, perhaps Black women were exhausted and not really in the mood for their Freakum Dress. Or, perhaps O’Reilly’s data is manipulated and divorced from the reality of the periods referenced.
There is often very little attention paid in mainstream media white men’s assaults on Black women. Or when a group of white men sit together to discuss Black women’s bodies. White men need to understand the sense of entitlement associated with consuming and commenting on Black women’s bodies. Instead, we can focus our attention and collectively listen to Black women’s experiences. Last week, Drexel University put together a panel where Black women discussed Black women, sexuality, beauty and so much more. With all the speculation on Beyoncé as spokesperson for Black women, Treva Lindsey noted, “Beyoncé had so much parental care, nurturing, and investment so many Black girls are not afforded.” Followed up by Dr. Brittany Cooper arguing, “I don’t know that there’s the same [sexual] freedom when we talk about this for unmarried [Black] women.” Despite the fact Beyoncé is a married mother of one and respectability politics are alive and well, her sexuality is still policed and condemned. This begs the question: if this is how Black women with the power of celebrity are treated, what does this tell us about how Black women are generally treated?
I have little interest in the fact that Bill O’Reilly’s fascination with pregnancy doesn’t begin or end with Beyoncé—the women he sexually harassed over a decade ago volunteers at Planned Parenthood. I’m interested in the long history of white men making up imaginary stories about and harassing Black women. I’m interested in the fact most of the public debate is centered on Beyoncé instead of the entitlement of white men or issues impacting Black women. Of course, no conservative white man is going to touch the fact that white men have felt Black women are readily available for consumption since the days of chattel slavery. Yet even more recent is the history O’Reilly completely ignores; the history of how stereotypes about Black mothers persist despite evidence that refutes them.
Instead of celebrating Black motherhood, O’Reilly joins a long line of white men hell-bent on maintaining stereotypes about and blaming Black women for structural barriers they may face. Like one of his predecessors, Ronald Reagan, we see that cultural “analysis” divorced from the political landscape is an inaccurate portrayal of communities. Reagan was the father of the socio-political image, the “welfare queen”—an image designed to blame Black women for the structural obstacles that limit the opportunities their families face. And just as Reagan blamed the fictitious Linda Taylor, O’Reilly got to thinking he was irreplaceable when he tried to problematize Black teen pregnancy then blame Mrs. Carter.
If only this stopped with Reagan and O’Reilly. We see these types of harassment everywhere from daily life to television to virtual reality. Whether it is Piers Morgan sensationalizing Janet Mock’s story as she tries to promote her New York Times best-selling book, “Redefining Realness” or the various ways Black women are treated on social media, we see continual warfare on Black women throughout culture, our social interactions and policy formation. Culturally, we need to move beyond scapegoat devices of blaming individuals to see the structural barriers Black women face—from reproductive rights, housing and employment discrimination to collective care.
So here are a few ways white men can start re-imagining Black women, to the beat of Beyoncé’s lyrics. Yes, bring the beat in!
1) Put A Ring On It: Call local legislators to protect reproductive rights. There are any number of issues, including the rejection of bills like SB 1391, a dangerous Tennessee bill designed to prevent childbirth that will hit Black women the hardest or the need to end the over-criminalization of pregnant mothers.
2) Recognize Who Runs the World and work to disrupt and change it. Beyoncé understands that men have had chances and now it’s time to shift the paradigm. Instead of using media to condemn Black women, support Black women in media. Check out then donate to Esther Armah’s campaign to build a weekly talk show run by women of color.
3) When you hear other people condemning Black women, say, Driver, roll up the partition please! Check them with facts that center Black women and incorporate their lived experiences. You can do this by reading books written by and building relationships with Black women.
4) Check On It: Instead of focusing on misguided perceptions of who’s to blame for Black teen pregnancy,shed light and awareness on the fact 234 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from their dorm rooms. #BringBackOurGirls
White men need to stop being Beautiful Liars and join the Party. Wake up and realize that Black women are***Flawless. Let’s focus our attention on building social practices and policies that support Black women instead of neglecting them.
Johnathan Fields is a writer and activist living in New York City. He believes in racial justice, mental health advocacy and Beyoncé. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnnyGolightly.