Yesterday, I was pretty clear on where I stand on the whole Blake Lively booty controversy. I think she did a dumb thing and she deserves the backlash. To recap, Blake posted an Instagram photo of her ass with the caption “L.A. face with an Oakland Booty.” That caption is a lyric from Sir Mix-a-Lot’s Baby Got Back. When he wrote the song, he was challenging the standards of beauty that denigrated black women and women of colour in pop culture, which is why a lot of bloggers (including me) felt like it was racially insensitive for Blake to flippantly use those lyrics to describe herself. Well, Sir Mix-a-Lot himself has now chimed in on the issue.
In an interview with THR, he’s coming to Blake’s defense. Some highlights:
“For her to look at her butt and that little waist and to say "L.A. face with an Oakland booty," doesn't that mean that the norm has changed, that the beautiful people have accepted our idea of beautiful? That's the way I took it.
It sounds like to me like she was giving the line props. I think she's saying, "I've got that Oakland booty," or "I'm trying to get it." I think we have to be careful what we wish for as African-Americans, because if you say she doesn't have the right to say that, then how do you expect her at the same time to embrace your beauty? I mean, I don't get it. I think it's almost a nod of approval, and that was what I wanted. I wanted our idea of beautiful to be accepted.”
While I agree with Sir Mix’s articulate points, I’m not sure that Blake’s post means that she is in fact embracing the beauty of women of colour like he says instead of claiming it as her own. He brings up Serena Williams. Well, Serena is still the subject of vitriolic comments about her body. While we’re waiting for that proverbial “nod of approval’ to come from white women, the issues that fuelled the song in the first place still exist. Sir Mix-a-Lot says his goal was for big magazines to change what they thought was beautiful. Yeah, well when Vogue declared 2014 as the “era of the booty,” they attributed the trend mostly to white celebs. And his points ignore the inherent privilege that comes with being someone who looks like Blake Lively.
Listen, I get that these may just seem like silly lyrics to a rap song from the 90s that you hear at high school proms and office Christmas parties but for a lot of people, the song was an anthem for body diversity. Body diversity does come in all races but only certain ones have been persecuted for it. Sure, we might be overthinking it all but isn’t putting thought into our opinions a good thing?
Thank you for all of your tweets and emails yesterday. Even if you were yelling at me or disagreeing with me we were having an intelligent conversation about cultural appropriation that I think is an important one to have. There is no clear answer. The history of appropriation is long, complex and nuanced. It’s something we can’t unpack in a blog post or Instagram comment. It’s way bigger than Blake Lively’s booty.