Chances are, you watched the Super Bowl halftime show Sunday night. And if you are a living, breathing organism, then you were undoubtedly impressed by Beyoncé’s performance. If for some reason you missed it, or need a reminder, let’s all take a minute to bask in Queen Bey’s glory.
But here’s the thing: there’s a right way and a wrong way to express your appreciation for her majesty. An example:
Right: “Wow, Beyoncé’s performance was so great. She’s really inspiring.”
Wrong: “OMG SHE SLAYED! SHE’S MY SPIRIT ANIMAL!”
What’s the difference between the above two statements? One acknowledges her skill and artistry while the other dehumanizes her and makes her a creature of your own desires. It might seem flattering to call a person your spirit animal, but at its root this compliment really isn’t one at all.
I’ve long thought calling a person “your animal” was problematic. It belittles traditions that actually believe in spirit animals while simultaneously transforming a person into an object. But there’s something extra wrong when white people objectify people of color and call them animals or use language that implies ownership.
You might think I’m bringing a joyless perspective to a lighthearted statement. But consider the reality here. Women of color fight every day to have even a fraction of the privilege and rights that white men and women enjoy. White racism is not a historical fact; it is a facet of daily life.
Women of color hold less wealth and have more trouble finding jobs than white workers. Black children are punished more often than white kids, and the rate of incarceration for black men is obscene. The concept of treating people of color as chattel did not go out with slavery. It is part of our world, and refusing to acknowledge that only perpetuates the problem.
Language is important. The way we express our thoughts and feelings has real effects on society and those around us. Although it can be fun to express our love for celebrities with hyperbole, we must be careful that we do not put our own desires over the needs of those around us. There’s no amount of fun that’s worth making someone else feel small.
Next time you feel like saying someone is your spirit animal, or find yourself inclined toward language that objectifies or dehumanizes women, brainstorm a better way to cheer on your heroes. It might not be as fun or edgy to earnestly say, “I liked what she did there,” but it will hurt those around you quite a bit less.
And just because I wanted to work this quote in, but couldn’t find a way, I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from Beyoncé herself: “Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper.”