So, thinking about the title I would give my politic–feminist or nah–has gotten me thinking about another title that’s circulating in black culture these days.
I don’t get called “queen” very often, but when I do, I notice it’s in very specific situations.
Before or after I read poetry in an artistic venue . . .
When I am out and about with my daughter . . .
When I encounter men or women that you might call “Afrocentric” . . .
Younger men–in their late teens or early 20s–call me queen.
Younger girls refer to me as a “queen” when talking about the fact that I’m educated or I don’t work in, say, the sex industry.
People that are visibly impressed with my afro call me “queen.”
People trying to sell me things call me “queen.”
And, yes, I understand that it’s totally meant as a compliment. It’s meant to signify my so-called respectability or dignity. To put me on an idiomatic pedestal.
But I don’t want to be on a pedestal. First of all, because we place objects on pedestals. Second, because the things we place on pedestals are in a likely position to fall and break.
Hence, I don’t like the category that people create with the concept of “queens.” This concept puts certain black women in what is meant as a place of honor, but only so women outside of that place can feel castigated.
This concept feeds back into that false ideal of the “good girl,” which comes out of patriarchal thinking about what makes a woman “worthy” of loving or even just decent treatment by men or society as a whole.
You can see this in all the memes that contrast “queens” with “hoes” or “THOTs.”
Chauvinistic thinking determines who gets crowned a “queen.” Only women that conduct themselves in a very circumscribed way get to be “queens.”
You don’t see many people calling sex workers “queens.”
You don’t see many people calling poor women “queens.”
You don’t see many people calling lesbians “queens.”
You don’t see many people calling transwomen “queens.”
Only the most “accomplished” or “successful” single women or single mothers get to be “queens,” and only the most “modest” or “pious” younger women get to be “queens.”
And most “queens” are conventionally attractive or genderbread, too.
“Queens” are cishet, feminine, middle class, “accomplished” women.
“Queens” are women in traditional wife, mother, and sister roles.
They are usually called “queens” in instances when they are being self-sacrificial or living up to the standards for “proper” female behavior established and maintained by men.
Sometimes, “queens” are high-powered, single women whose main focus seems to be making money and accruing power.
Religious women or women in roles like community activists–women in the throes of loss–widows and mothers that have lost their children–are “queens.”
Women that show their racial pride by wearing natural hair and diasporic garb are “queens.”
And I’m not saying these women don’t deserve recognition for their strength, tenacity, focus, work, wisdom, generosity, beauty, or pain. They do. But so do all women, is what I’m saying.
And by calling only specific types of women “queens,” we elevate these women above other types of women.
We create a bigoted and counterproductive hierarchy.
Hierarchical relationships–relationships in which one group is more respected, treated better, and unfairly rewarded for fitting into arbitrary boxes–create resentment, and resentment creates division. Division–particularly in the black community–makes it easy for problems and oppression to persist.
And we don’t need that.
Too, when we call women “queens”–when we propagate this title that a woman must earn–then we make it possible for her to have that title ripped away from her for doing the “wrong” thing. We create a fear of losing the title that makes it easy for men or certain social factions to control women.
But back to the trouble with creating yet another hierarchy in the black community. I get the appeal of using “queen.” I get how flattering it can be to be called a “queen.” Black people, understandably, want to raise their self-confidence in this place that spits–nay–shits–on black lives and culture. And so do I. Of course I do. I just don’t think black people need to be “queens” or “kings” to do this, especially when these titles are used exclusively.
When only some of us are “queens” or “kings,” then the use of these titles is nothing but an echo of the false, racist division that white people make between “niggers” and “safe” black people, or the division we black people make between “niggas” and “respectable” black people.
It’s nothing but another tool of oppression.
Audre Lorde said you can’t dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools. Binary thinking is a definite tool of the kyriarchy.* Racism flourishes because of the black-white binary, in which black equals inferior. Sexism flourishes because of the woman-man binary, in which woman equals inferior. This goes for the poor-rich binary (classism), gay-straight binary (homophobia), and cis-trans binary (transphobia).
I could go on. You get the picture, though.
Binaries are perpetuated to keep certain groups in power. Binary thinking is one of the most powerful and effective tools of any cultural system that aims to oppress. Black people cannot afford to continue to think in binaries if we are to get out from under racism.
While we bicker back and forth–divide ourselves up into categories that–yes–boost our self-esteem–but ultimately do not better our material conditions–white people profit.
We can’t be so easily–or needlessly–distracted.
There are–as I have said before–all kinds of black women. There are as many ways to be a black woman as there are black women in this country. And around this world.
I don’t know whether there are some actual queens left in Africa (another reason I don’t like the title is because it generalizes ancient African history–it assumes that African nations were run like European empires or that African leaders acted like European leaders), but I do know that American women don’t need false titles to elevate us.
We need men to be able to call us by our names, see us as dimensional, flawed beings, and still respect us.
We need them to stop measuring us for imaginary crowns that carry no real power or influence and–hey–start measuring more of us for–I don’t know–wedding rings or give more of us their last names–if they want us to understand how much they love and honor us. Not that I’m saying marriage is the ultimate prize–or even a prize–to which women need to aspire. But I’m saying, though–
You–men–already have means for showing black women respect and allowing us our dignity. You don’t have to invent any more. We–women–already have means for showing solidarity and support. We don’t have to invent any more.
We don’t have to be queens. We don’t need to be queens. We’re women. We’re fucking amazing enough as plain old women. We have to get to a place where we believe this whether someone else is telling us–through the use of a title like “queen” or some other similar, superficial method–or not.
We have to know our worth beneath every name we are called or not called.
*Kyriarchy is a “social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission.” It encompasses “sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, economic injustice, colonialism, ethnocentrism, militarism” and other dominating hierarchies that can be internalized or that are institutionalized.