Apparently I am not as clever as I think I am.
I know that the Oscars were two days ago, so we’re all super sick of talking about Quvenzhané Wallis and Seth Macfarlane and the red carpet reporters and the goddamn Onion and all of that, but something did occur to me as the discourse has continued.
I have friends — people whose opinions I respect a lot — who had some less-than-enthusiastic responses to Beyonce for calling her forthcoming tour the “Mrs. Carter Show.” And I understood why they bristled at it.
But thinking about the shit that Quvenzhané Wallis got on Sunday gave me a little bit of perspective on “Mrs. Carter.” Because she is a nine year old girl; she has an uncommon name; people whose job is to report about people who have been nominated for Oscars have chosen to call her everything from “Little Q” to “Annie” in lieu of actually learning how to say her damn name properly (kwuh-ven-juh-nay will get you pretty close); she was disrespected by a horde of white grown-ups all day right there on television; and, I don’t expect it’s unfair to extrapolate, she’ll probably be disrespected by other people, on television and off, in ways both subtle and overt, for years to come.
We’ve been having a public debate for two days whether it’s appropriate to make jokes where part of the punchline involves calling a nine-year-old girl a cunt. We’ve been arguing whether it’s playing the race card or something to ask why countless reporters can’t be bothered to call a little girl by her actual name. We’ve had to decide whether a joke from the host of the fucking Oscars that sexualizes that nine-year-old is appropriate or not.
I’m not going to argue any of that stuff. There are plenty of smart people on the Internet who’ve done that. But it does cast “Mrs. Carter” in a new light.
Because we’ve seen over the past few days about how a whole bunch of important people feel it’s okay to talk about black girls, to their faces or behind their backs or wherever else. We’ve seen a big public debate about how much disrespect is okay to throw in the face of a little black girl. So by the time you’re Beyonce’s age, in Beyonce’s position, with Beyonce’s power?
I get why you might want to go on tour and make damn sure that everybody knows to call you “Mrs. Carter.”
Yeah, she could have been “Ms. Knowles.” But watching the way we’ve treated Quvenzhané Wallis over the past couple days makes me think that, if you’re a black woman who’s been in the public spotlight since you were a teenager, and you’re finally in a position to dictate what people can call you, it can be any damn name you want.