According to NBC News, a representative for Beyoncé said in a statement that “the word, not used intentionally in a harmful way, will be replaced.”
When Beyoncé sings, the world listens.
The 28-time Grammy winning Beyoncé is of the culture, she wakes up and goes to sleep as a proud Black woman and the music and imagery she’s created over her illustrious career reflects the deep sensibilities to her culture. When an artist like her uses a term which has been in circulation within our culture for decades, its usage is meant to hit a certain sector of her audience who knows what she means. Yet, with a global platform and fans on each corner of it, her melodic words can mean something totally different depending on the listener.
When words circulated among the culture are ingested by those outside of it, instead of outsiders educating themselves, many who are offended only look to how a word is contemporary received, as opposed to asking themselves if there is a historical precedent. Due to racial segregation and a lack of educational opportunities for African-American children, even after the abolition of slavery, most of us could not get lessons in American English.
Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., historian and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, has announced he will soon serve as editor-in-chief of the Oxford Dictionary of African American English.
“Words with African origins such as ‘goober,’ ‘gumbo’ and ‘okra’ survived the Middle Passage along with our African ancestors,” Gates Jr. explained. “And words that we take for granted today, such as ‘cool’ and ‘crib,’ ‘hokum’ and ‘diss,’ ‘hip’ and ‘hep,’ ‘bad,’ meaning ‘good,’ and ‘dig,’ meaning ‘to understand ’— these are just a tiny fraction of the words that have come into American English from African American speakers … over the last few hundred years.”
Black folks have been redefining food, language, and culture since we were forcefully brought to America. Creativity through language has been one of the pillars of our connective tissue that has survived generation after generation, and while many lambasted Lizzo and Beyoncé for the term “spaz,” there seemed to be no recognition of the culture which existed prior.
Both lovers of humanity, Lizzo and Beyoncé edited their music to make it more inclusive and non-offensive after learning of its harmful impact. Yet, as one Twitter user described,“We’ve been over this, Spaz in AAVE (African American Vernacular English) is not the same word.”
Another Twitter user agreed in a since-deleted post, saying, “Please educate yourself on our language the way we’ve been ‘encouraged’ to read up on ableist terms,” according to NBC News.
In 2018, Beyoncé released a song entitled, “Ape Shit,“where she describes the crowd and stage losing its mind and inhibitions over her music. She didn’t release this song to be malicious to people without a grip of their mental facilities or anyone suffering with self-control. It was a song meant to get people moving by expressing her [and Jay-Z’s] values, lifestyle, and self-worth.
In 2022, there is enough space and awareness for us all to feel seen, safe, and secure in our language. When language is offensive to a group of people, it should be considered and if the offender is compelled to apologize and reverse course, all the better. However, our language cannot be under attack when it is the very foundation of who we are.
Words mean different things in our community because they’ve always had to. Ebonics was born out of sense of desperation. Black people were not allowed to read and write and could be murdered if caught doing either, therefore, we created slang, sounds and expressions to convey the feelings we were not allowed to learn we possessed.
Beyoncé making the choice to change her song lyric reflects a deep empathy to her fans and humanity at large, however, when our words are under attack, critics should also take the time to understand that our culture is not theirs and the words we use are reflective of a shared experience that most outsiders cannot and will not relate to.
Comments are closed.