Blake Lively has received quite a bit of backlash since posting a photo of herself on Instagram, captioned “L.A. face with an Oakland booty.” Critics saw the actress’s use of the lyric from Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” as appropriation of a song intended to celebrate black women.
However, in a recent interview with Pret-a-Reporter, Sir Mix-a-Lot said that while he is “in no way trying to say that I speak for all black people,” he was a “little surprised” by the criticism Lively received.
The rapper began the interview by explaining the context in which he wrote the 1992 hit song, primarily the marginalization of African Americans and their idea of beauty in the media. “If you go back and look at 1990, 1991, you only saw African-American women and Hispanic women who were either a maid or a hooker.” Most notably, these stereotypical black characters were almost always “overweight, and that’s the way [directors and producers in Hollywood, magazine editors, etc.] wanted to see us.”
The same media that was erasing the beauty of black women were at the same time promoting a standard of beauty akin to “waif-thin, borderline heroin addicts.” What Sir Mix-A-Lot observed was “people of color either being ashamed of who they were or trying their best to assimilate” in order to be considered beautiful as well. And that was his inspiration behind his widely-quoted song: “I wrote the song because I wanted Cosmopolitan, I wanted all these big magazines to kind of open up a little bit and say, ‘Wait a minute, this may not be the only beautiful.'”
Despite this context, Sir Mix-a-Lot insists the song is not about race. “That song was written with African-American women in mind, but trust me when I tell you that there are women out there with those curves everywhere, and they were once considered fat. And that’s what the song was about. It wasn’t about some race battle.”
Commenting on Lively’s Instagram post, he says, “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?”
Furthermore, Sir Mix-a-Lot insists, “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?” Rather than appropriation, he sees it as “almost a nod of approval, and that’s what I wanted.”
While the rapper may not have a problem with Lively’s use of the lyrics, his last comments bring up an important question: Why does the beauty of women of color have to be approved, commodified and popularized by white women in order to be accepted?