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If you've been following the reactions to Beyoncé's Lemonade—or if you haven't been living under a rock—you've probably heard speculations over the character "Becky with the good hair."
The album's lyrics imply that Jay Z cheated on Beyoncé with this mysterious figure theorized to be fashion designer Rachel Roy. But "Becky" wasn't just a random pseudonym—it's a popular term with some racial implications.
What is a "Becky?"
While its origins aren't clear, the Internet has a few theories on where Beyoncé's lyric came from.
According to Urban Dictionary, "Becky" is a term for blow jobs and references the "stereotype that Caucasian women are somewhat more sexually liberal."
For this reason, rapper Iggy Azalea finds the nickname personally offensive.
However, some corrected Azalea, arguing that the term actually comes from the line "Oh, my God, Becky, look at her butt" in Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back."
"For years, 'Becky' has been used as a general reference for a particular type of White woman," Damon Young wrote in Very Smart Brothas. "There are several theories on its etymology, but the one that makes the most sense is that it stems from the first line of 'Baby Got Back.'”
Others said "Becky" is used to describe white women just because it's a stereotypically white-sounding name.
Karsonya Wise Whitehead, associate professor of communication and African American studies at Loyola University, told NTRSCTN over the phone that the term actually has two meanings.
One use of "Becky" is simply to describe a woman considered beneath the speaker's level. The other is to refer to "a white woman who is clueless, who is kind of racist, [and] who makes statements without knowing what she's saying," said Whitehead.
So, is saying "Becky" racist, then?
While speculating on the origins of "Becky," Azalea claimed that by using the term, Beyoncé was perpetuating a racist stereotype towards white women.
Several Twitter users disagreed, though, saying Azalea's claim relies on a false parallel between racism and making a valid critique of white people:
Whitehead said saying "Becky" isn't really the same as using a stereotypically black-sounding name to make a generalization.
"It's not a racial slur," she said. Stereotypical black names like DeShawn, she explained, are caught up in racist, classist stereotypes, while "Becky" is not.
Whitehead's not even convinced Beyoncé was saying "Becky" with any racial connotations. Instead, she was conveying the sentiment, "she is not even on my level. She is beneath me." The "good hair" part of "Becky with the good hair" is more racially significant, she explained, because it refers to the notion that straighter, thinner, less stereotypically black hair is "good."
Furthermore, Whitehead added, the only reason we're even having this conversation is because a white woman started it.
"It's interesting, out of everything she said on Lemonade, this is the one statement that becomes the topic of discussion," she said.
The album, she added, makes important statements about "what it means to struggle as a woman and what it means to love someone," and these deserve more attention than the tired debate about reverse racism.