[Trigger warning: Mentions sexual assault and systematic violence.]
Our faves (short for favorites) can be some of the most important folks in our lives. Whether they are our family, friends, or role models, they hold special places in our hearts.
Can you think of a time when you were talking to someone, and you were ready to break down something problematic that a third person did, and the person you were talking to completely shut down the conversation because of their love and admiration for that other party? These situations can be annoying. But they happen a lot, and many of us refuse to address the issues that can arise with people we care about.
When you care about someone, it can be difficult to navigate critiquing their problematic behavior. But why is it so hard? We have no shame or hesitance in critiquing the behaviors of co-workers, of neighbors, and of acquaintances. But once people reach a certain level of love in our lives, we stop being able to call out those same behaviors.
I’m not exempt. I stan for Beyoncè. She has been my Queen Bey for quite some time now. And it’s very rare that you find me critiquing her. However, while watching her performance at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards, all I could think was, “Why isn’t Ledisi performing?”
Of course, as John Legend said, “You don’t say no to Beyoncè.” However, the issue was that, if Beyoncè had not proposed this song to the Grammys, they would have never cared to consider the performance of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Beyoncè could have leveraged her superstar status to convince the Grammys to have Ledisi perform the song.
Beyoncè performing the song wasn’t the only issue that I had with the performance. She chose to center her performance on cisgender, straight, able-bodied Black men. She chose to use her platform to further marginalize Black women, girls, queer folks, trans folks, and disabled folks. Black women experience similar rates of police brutality as Black men, and queer, trans, and disabled folks of color experience systemic violence at even higher rates. If we truly want to combat systemic violence and oppression, we can’t continue to center these conversations on cisgender men.
Beyoncè is still one of my favorites. However, I have to admit how problematic her performance was. If we choose to remain silent on problematic behavior, it makes us complicit in that behavior.
Our family and friends can also be the people we have a hard time critiquing. While watching the episode of “How to Get Away with Murder” that featured Cicely Tyson, I was reminded of many moments with my own mother. For most of my life, my family just consisted of my mother and me. I am my mother’s world, and she is mine. However as a radical, queer feminist, I often have different opinions from my straight, somewhat conservative, and religious mother. Most times, when we are discussing my clothes, hair, and piercings, she says something problematic.
In the past, when dealing with my mother’s offensive behaviors, I would just deflect and act like they never happened. Over time, I would convince myself that it was just easier to ignore them. However, during the summer of my junior year of college, a heated conversation with her over a dress made me realize the importance of holding her accountable.
I was only in town for a few days, so early on I planned a meet up with my friends from high school. As I was heading out to meet them, my mother yelled out to me, “Girl, what do you have on?” Whenever my mother is particularly mad or frustrated with me, she simply refers to me as girl. I let out a sigh, and I begrudgingly answered her in anticipation of what I was sure was going to be an argument.
I replied, “A dress.”
I had thrown on a summer dress. Even though it fit a little snug, I thought I was cute. My mother did not. She went into a full rant about how my dress was too short and my body was too big. In my head, I was entertaining myself with quips that I dare not let come out of my mouth — quips like, “For goodness sake, how dare I show my fat thighs in 90-degree Georgia heat?”
For most of the rant, I just blankly stared and tried not to laugh at how ridiculous she was being — until her ending statement sent me full speed back into reality.
“It’s clothes like that dress that get women raped.”
Out of all the problematic things that my mother had ever said to me, those words changed the way I thought about interacting with her. I could justify most things as coming from a place of love and non-malicious intent. But those words came from a deeply problematic internalized understanding of sexual violence against women, and there was no way that I could allow myself to justify or excuse it.
Fighting back tears, I mumbled, “You’re wrong” and hurried out of the house. When I got back home, I had the tough conversation with my mother about why what she had said was wrong. Honestly, I don’t know if she took what I said to heart that day, but she’s never said anything similar to me since that conversation.
The situation that happened that day made me realize that I couldn’t keep giving my mother passes just because she is my biggest hero. As someone I love and care about, I need to love her enough to call her out on her problematic and harmful language and behavior. And in loving myself, I shouldn’t accept things that hurt me, especially if it is coming from someone who says that they love and care about me. If I can critique my mom and Beyoncè, then I know I can hold my other faves accountable.
When those we love mess up, we have to be willing to let them know so that they can do better. I’m not advising folks to put themselves in spaces or conversations that could put them at risk of physical, verbal, or mental harm. However, I feel that when we don’t address our faves’ problematic behavior or words, we risk them hurting others or us with those same actions. They aren’t perfect and will make mistakes, just like any other human being.
My mother is still one of the most important folks in my life and one of my favorite people, and it’s because I love her that I care to hold her accountable. I want her to grow and not continue a cycle of problematic behavior. I think that is something that we should want for those folks in our lives who are important to us. If that person doesn’t want to engage in dialogue about what they did, then they may not be a person I should have that close in my life.
Our faves can be problematic. And that’s okay, as long as we are willing to hold them accountable.
[Headline image: The photograph shows a young woman with short black hair wearing a light green shirt with a white collar and a white border around the sleeve. She is holding both her hands out and to the side, palms up. In front of her are visible the shoulder and upper arm of a person wearing a blue shirt.]